Trans Am Totem is the latest installation of the Vancouver Biennale, part of the 2014–2016 Vancouver Biennale Open Air Museum supporting public art. It consists of five partially restored car wrecks atop the base of an old growth cedar tree. It’s 10 metres high and weighs 11,340 kilograms. The cars and the tree base were donated for the project.
The creator is North Vancouver painter and sculptor Marcus Bowcott, seen in the photo above with his hand outstretched. The totem is a meditation on modern culture intersecting with nature. It is located at the north end of False Creek on a median where Pacific Boulevard turns into Quebec Street. It’s a busy area, perfect for the installation’s concept.
Historically, the area was filled with huge cedars and Douglas firs, some of the largest trees in the world, upwards of 60 metres. After European settlement, False Creek turned into a busy industrial area with sawmills, logging booms and later a variety of factories. Today, particularly in the area of Trans Am Totem we see highrises, the Sky Train, the Georgia Viaduct, Pacific Boulevard, Quebec Street and bike paths. All this development includes a lot of traffic, especially that of cars. In the totem, cars supplant the natural world the cedar tree repre-sents. So we have the duality of man vs. nature, past vs. present. And looming over all is the question of what the future holds.
The top car in the sculpture is a Pontiac Trans Am, an icon for speed, power and status. All the totem cars also represent a throwaway consumer culture. They harken to the artist’s past when he towed logs on the Fraser River and observed wrecked cars spilling into its North Arm. At the same time, the totem cars are colourful and the whole sculpture is somewhat whimsical. If you walk around the cedar tree base of the totem, you may notice a bear paw carved into the tree. This was created by Coast Salish Squamish artist Rick Xwalacktun. It represents a welcome blessing.
At night the Trans-Am car on top of the totem is lit with a green light. This is in solidarity with residents in the northeast False Creek neighbourhood who live directly across from the sculpture. They have green lights in their windows to remind the City of Vancouver and developer Concord Pacific of their now 25-year-old agreement with the residents to complete Creekside Park and the Sea-wall at the northeast corner of False Creek. This created an on-going dispute between the City of Vancouver and the False Creek Residents Association (FCRA) which recently went to court. The FCRA lost with the judge upholding the city’s power to relax by-laws to allow Concord Pacific’s condo sales centre to remain on the 9-acre lot intended for the park. Concord also rents out the space to other event promoters and Cirque du Soleil. The city has promised the park will come but perhaps not for another five years as they finalize plans to do away with the Dunsmuir and Georgia viaducts. So the local residents, like the totem cars, will be left in suspension while development trumps green space.
For more information on Marcus Bowcott, visit: marcusbowcott.com