Student’s work inspired by art of Douglas Senft titled
The over-reaching new insight that I have grasped from this aesthetic inquiry with public art is that most people in our society look on art, perhaps on life, as a series of isolated experiences or even objects that are strung together, but rarely integrated into a whole.
The artists among us, however, see reality as fusion, as integration, where the sum of the parts or bits of experience always adds up to more than the whole. To them, Art is a part of life, a sort of crystallization within the work of art of both their vision and the essence of their culture.
The Cathedral is in Waterfront Park, North Vancouver, and was placed on this location in 1986. It resides on the unceded, traditional lands of the Coast Salish people including Tsleil-Watuth and Squamish Nations. It was created by Douglas Senft.
The steel beams of The Cathedral were created and designed to represent the outline of the mountains that surround the North Shore and to broadcast the spiritual quality that nature provides. This piece invites the public to experience the “spirit inside the work” by walking through it. (North Vancouver Recreation and Culture, n.d).
I live in Surrey, BC, on the traditional and unceded territories of the Semihamoo, Katzie, kwikwetlem, Kwantlen, Qayqayt and Tsawwassen First Nations. My mother came to Canada in 1972 when her parents moved from England to British Columbia, and my father was born and raised in Vancouver. Ever since being a young child, I have always had a great sense of pride for where I live and have felt connected to the west coast life of mountains, open waters, and extraordinary landscapes.
Out of her passion for the arts, my paternal grandmother created a stained-glass studio business for herself in Vancouver forty years ago. Growing up with her influence of imagination and creativity has provided me with a great sense of appreciation for the arts and allowed me the opportunity to work full time in her shop for four years after high school, developing and improving my vision and gratitude for artistic expression.
Getting the opportunity to work on a project that engages with the beauty of art and expressive translations is an exciting experience, and I feel like the piece I have chosen perfectly describes my relation to art, land, and spirituality.
For this assignment, I arranged a meeting with my grandfather to seek my family history. My grandpa told me that, during my great-grandfather’s time as one of the first doctors in the Canadian Arctic (Aklavik, NWT, 1924 – 1927), a salesman from Vancouver came in one day on the boat just before freeze-up. He wanted to get the Inuit to buy his new, lightweight aluminum sleds. He said they were lighter, easier to take care of, easier to handle, carried more cargo, and were faster than the Inuit sleds that were made of whalebone.
The Inuit put one question to all the advantages he listed: WHY? In their worldview and their language, they had no way of expressing the concepts “faster”, “less”, or “more”. Their culture had been living in harmony and integration with the harshest environment on earth for thousands of years. With the super-fast aluminum sleds, they would move heavier loads, spend less time on the trail, more idle time at destinations and more time for talk. The socio/political impact of these sleds would have been huge.
For the Inuit, sled making is cultural practice, the honour of the hunt, the strength of individuals, the knowledge and creativity of families all blended into the physical sled. The whalebone sled ‘grounded’ them and gave them a sense of place wherever they went. In practice and importance, the whalebone sled was a form of Art.
The salesman understood none of it. To him, the lightweight sled was an object you imposed on a ‘problem.’ He saw no correlation between the sled and the cultural and inner spirit of the people. Now I realize that at the beginning of this project, I was that aluminum sled salesman.
I approached the assignment as finding “something” to satisfy my professor’s requirements, take some pictures, make a few drawings and observations, and move on to the next assignment.
As I got into it, however, I found myself being taken over by the relationship between The Cathedral and its immediate, physical environment in Waterfront Park, by the artist’s purpose, by the larger historical culture in which the object was imbedded, and most important of all, by a new, confused sense of where I saw myself as a perceiver of the art. I no longer saw the parts of The Cathedral as objects of a separate experience outside of me; rather, my perceptions were becoming part of the art piece and the art piece was becoming part of me . . . and this strangeness was new to me and very difficult to write about!
Through this process of artfully engaging with The Cathedral, I have taught myself that it is hard to colour between the lines, because there are no lines. How do I develop a pedagogy out of a new distrust that there really is any objective reality for me to teach children, to give them faith that the world is a solid place that will sustain them?
Whether sculpture, painting, poetry or music, all art, I have learned through this assignment, is a language of incredible value because it both recognizes the ‘rightness’ of a child’s first impression, and works as media to encourage the child to explore new places.
I have come to situate the four phases of this assignment as a “smarten-up call’. The Real Issue that has emerged for me, however, is pedagogical. As Baloy (2016) stated, “visible ‘minorities’ have surpassed the white ‘majority’, reaching 51.8% of Vancouver’s population according to the 2011 census” (p. 210).
As a future young white teacher of ethnically diverse, small children, I need to acknowledge my privilege and recognize all the ethnic and cultural backgrounds of the future children in my classroom. I will need new perspectives; my own evolution in perception of The Cathedral has opened my eyes to the complexity of perception itself. For example, I now see the huge challenge of reaching the child from China, sitting next to two Haida children, across from a little girl from India, in front of two boys from Chile. My adult perspective will of course be dramatically different from theirs, but, however diverse their points-of-view I will be honest, direct, and focused in my listening. Any truly workable pedagogy goes two ways, and I will learn more from the children than they will from me.
Through the exploration of the Cathedral, I have come to learn many new perspectives and have deepened my knowledge of colonizing processes that were imposed on the Coast Salish community, where the Cathedral rests. I have learned that ‘[f]or over 500 years, settler colonialism in Canada [had] been manifested through ongoing complex, continually shifting processes of control, erasure, and genocidal displacement of Indigenous peoples” (Battiste & Henderson, 2000; Morgensen, 2011; Wolfe, 2006, as cited in Nxumalo, 2020, p.39). This beautiful art piece sits on a location that benefits from the dispossession of lands of the Coast Salish peoples. Our ties with colonization abound.
Being a white female in Canada, I have never experienced the prejudices, marginalization and racism that are inflicted on people of colour, including the Indigenous peoples of these lands.
This assignment has caused a lot of self-reflection about my own perceptions and biases and has made me come to terms with the fact that I will never truly understand the grief and sorrow the Indigenous people endure, but what I can sensitively and respectfully do, is to seek to become an ally.
To be an ally, we must “…acknowledge and include Indigenous knowledge and perspectives but in non-determined ways that do not stereotype Indigenous knowledge or identities” (Nxumalo, 2020, p.46). We must continue the process of “righting” our wrongs, disrupting the legacy of colonization in the ongoing appropriation Indigenous lands.
It will be my responsibility and priority to respect the voices of our Indigenous community, acknowledge the trauma and racism Indigenous communities still face today, value their culture and seek to deepen my knowledge about past and ongoing racism against Indigenous people. Finally, as a future educator, I am to seek a pedagogical practice that is guided by the Indigenous mentors of this land and embedded with Indigenous history and culture, so that I can support restitution efforts. This is echoed in the British Columbia Early Learning Framework:
EDUCATORS FOSTER A CURIOSITY THAT LEADS THEM TO SEEK WAYS TO EXTEND NOT ONLY CHILDREN’S LEARNING BUT ALSO THEIR OWN. THEY EXAMINE THEIR PRACTICES AND EXPECTATIONS TO CONSIDER THEIR BIASES AND EXPECTATIONS AND HOW THESE MAY PERPETUATE RACISM OR PREJUDICES.
– (Government of British Columbia, 2018, p. 18)
The history of Canada must be rewritten so as to bring to the forefront the voices of Indigenous people, speaking to the legacy of colonization and its ongoing practices of erasures, appropriation of land and racism. As a public art piece standing on Indigenous land, the Cathedral brings attention to this much needed conversation.
When drawing my photos, I wanted to capture a realistic essence of the space and draw a photo that properly provides a vision of what one would see at Waterfront Park. In my second drawing, I wanted to take a different approach and do an ekphrastic drawing and show the sculpture through my own unique perspective.
When I use my imagination, I see bright orange colours; I always imagine the location with an overcast sky (probably influenced by both of my cloudy visits), but through the clouds, I envision a glimmering view of the sun, trying to find its way in and shine. I see beautiful blue waters and colourful flowers all over the field.