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Flow, a Vancouver public art piece, is named one of best in North America

Flow, a photo/media-based permanent piece installed at the new Mount Pleasant Community Centre, has been named one of the best public artworks in North America.

Flow, a photo/media-based permanent public art piece installed at the new Mount Pleasant Community Centre, has been named one of the best public artworks in North America.

Flow

Flow is the creation of Emily Carr University integrated arts assistant professor Fiona Bowie and University of British Columbia computer scientist Sidney Fels. It’s a giant, slowly changing artwork located in the community centre’s games room. 

In the daytime, the 28 foot wide by 10.5 foot high glass projection surface, made up of computer controlled glass, creates portals into and out of the room. When translucent the glass blocks the view, and when clear, it provides a view. But during the night hours, Flow transforms into what Bowie calls “an ever-evolving mise-en-scène”, blending hundreds of photos, some taken by Bowie over the past few years, some from Vancouver’s past, along with text supplied both by visitors to the installation’s website (http://flow1kingsway.com/) and taken from lyrics by The Residents, The New Pornographers and other bands.

Americans for the Arts’ Public Art Network named Flow one of the top 40 public art pieces created in 2009. It was the only Canadian winner among entries from New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle and elsewhere in the United States. The projects were selected from more than 390 submissions.

You don’t have to go to the community centre at 1 Kingsway to experience Flow -- the website features a live feed of the installation -- but the impact is much stronger when viewed in situ, both because of the impact of the size (6 window panes wide by 5 panes high) and the street ambience. 

Bowie says the effect of the large viewing area is cinematic, but any expectations of a cinematic experience are negated by the slow two to four minute transition between the tableaus. The transitions are gradual enough that a dreamlike effect is sometimes experienced. “One woman sitting in a coffeeshop across the street thought she was hallucinating,” Bowie says.

According to her website, Bowie "works with superimposition of time/still based media and sculpture to create narrative works that address subjectivity, the experience of time and consciousness. She is known for her 360 degree immersive environments and for the creation of unique image systems in the realization of her work." 

In an interview with the Observer, she said she's “interested in existence that is fragile or things in a state of fragility. The result is something that’s somewhat tenuous; the image disappears before the viewer.” Flow, she says, “sets up a number of possibilities. The landscapes are in a liminal state that’s neither here nor there; they haven’t become anything anything yet.” Coherent narrative is also frustrated when the special projection material causes portions of the imagery to disappear as the projection surface switches from translucent to clear, fragmenting the image, she says.

Flow was, in part, an experiment in narrative, Bowie says. “Narrative is implied in Flow,” she says. “Some of the people in the photos become main characters. And the dialogue consists of phrases that are fairly open-ended but have a certain, melancholic character.”

Bowie says Flow was a true collaboration between her and Fels, who helped translate the vision into reality and contributed to the concepts of daily flow and daily influence on the images. They were assisted by computer programmer Morgan Hibbert and others as well, she says.

Bowie describes the implementation as an adventure. “You can conceptualize it theoretically, but until you start installing it, you don’t know what’s going to happen.” 

She occasionally tinkers with the dialogue but isn’t adding any new images, though it would be easy to do so. “I’m kind of happy with what’s there, and I’ve moved on to other projects now.”

Besides being an artist, Bowie is also a musician. She’s written several compositions and currently writes songs, plays sax, keyboards and vox in a two-person group called SLickerslacker. 

Her latest public art project is Surface. It’s a live documentary of the underwater life of False Creek, transmitted from a camera mounted under one of the Aquabuses that services Granville Island and False Creek. The submerged camera feeds streaming video 24 hours a day to the project website at www.surfacer.ca. The camera is also connected to a TV monitor mounted inside the boat, which people can watch while riding the ferry. The live footage can also be seen on screens at various locations on Granville Island, Bowie says.

“With Surface I was interested in bringing people’s consciousness to the water,” she says. “False Creek is a perfect analogy for the world’s oceans. “The ecosystem is reviving in some ways, as we can see from Surface’s archival footage, but it’s still suffering from what we’ve done to it over the years.”

Bowie says Surface is still a work in progress. “It will evolve over time, reflecting the health of marine life as evidence of our collective activity: the future of the work and what is manifest is wholly dependent on us.”

For more information:

Flow: flow1kingsway.com

Surface: surfacer.ca

Fiona Bowie: fionabowie.org

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