The private lives behind public art: exploring public space with Metz&Chew

Public artists Jaqueline Metz and Nancy Chew | Photo courtesy of Metz & Chew

In some ways they know our cities best; they observe, experience, and interpret a city’s beat, rhythm and pulse. They are public artists. In Vancouver we have Jacqueline Metz, and Nancy Chew, or better known under their collaborative banner: Metz&Chew. Apart from Vancouver, their work spans across Canada, even to the United States. Art Gallery will soon feature their work, with otherpublic artists, in the September exhibition, City As Site: Public Art in Richmond.

Metz&Chew have been working together for 17 years, beginning in 1997. Since then, they have garnered numerous accolades, including the Public Art Award of Excellence for their piece, out/look, in North Vancouver. But the two hail from different disciplines: Metz held interest in photography, and literature, and Chew dedicated her hand to painting, and curating. Their friendship drew them to enter a public art competition held by the City of Vancouver, and it was their winning that sparked their working relationship.

Their varied background may stimulate their artistic success, enabling them to correctly scale and frame a particular piece. Metz reasons their combined skill sets help them choose what to portray and what to leave out to obtain the most impact. Such finesse is especially vital in their area of public art.

“We like working with ideas, and figuring out how to express them in different media, because you start to think about how people move through the space, and they how they react as well,” says Chew.

YOU YOU + YOU public art in Winnipeg. Your touch invokes music and light. | Photo courtesy of Metz&Chew

YOU YOU + YOU public art in Winnipeg. Your touch invokes music and light. | Photo courtesy of Metz&Chew

How public art enhances space and the people.

Throughout the almost 20 years of working in the public sphere, they have found an increasing level of warmth and reception ofpublic art. The feedback from the community has been surprisingly personal, some even making exhibits necessary destinations in their city. Often they hear of their work as being “markers” to the collective identity. However, their goals have never been to define a space, but to quietly comment on it.

“We’re revealing the sense of the place. That can be through our exploration of its history, or our own abstract experiences,” says Chew.

Metz emphasizes this by citing one of their more prolific works, arboreus, after Rodchenko, in Lynn Valley. It is a massive glass installment immortalizing a looming tree: a cultural significance to the community. But they mark it with a meditative quote from Jorge Luis Borges,

“The original is unfaithful to the translation.”

Public art, and transcending barriers

For a multi-faceted city like Vancouver, one may wonder where to begin to capture its activity. But Metz&Chew use the liberties of public art not only with the exploration of space, but also contact. Their piece in Winnipeg, YOU YOU+ YOU, is a celebration of senses. Metz&Chew attempts to amplify your experience with touch and sound, accompanied by a wall of light dancing in time with your tune.

“Our work is enriched by our appreciation of the quality of life, and the people who move through it. So we try to transcend what can be perceived as differences,” says Metz.

Such an enthusiastic and exuberant approach is grounded on their belief of space; that quality art is without the parameters of everyday language but in human connection. Therefore, in places like Vancouver, where the atmosphere is never singular, they find limitless

“I think art should be transcending barriers. We draw inspiration from the evolving history of each place; Vancouver is continuously changing and becoming something new,”
Metz says.

Metz&Chew will be among the public artists featured in Richmond Art Gallery’s exhibition. For more information on City As Site: Public Art in Richmond, visit

To learn more about Metz&Chew and the locations of their public art, visit their website,