The Body Politick: an interview with curator Angela Clarke

As Vancouver’s Italian heritage month comes to a close, Angela Clarke, curator and director at the Italian Cultural Centre, reflects on architect Bruno Freschi’s contribution to the Vancouver architectural scene.

In 1986, the World Exposition was hosted by what would become one of the most important cities in the Pacific West; Expo 86 brought Vancouver into global prominence.

To host a global fair, however, an architectural makeover was needed and the chief architect in charge was Bruno Freschi.

Italian-inspired architecture

He had studied all of these world fairs throughout history, like the ones held in Paris and Chicago,” Clarke says, “and what he noted is that directly after, these cities ended up becoming cultural hubs for the world. He had this vision ahead of him.”

June 2019 is Italian Heritage Month in Vancouver, and Freschi’s Italian origin in a city as diverse as Vancouver is a source of pride to this community. A year ago, this month, he was given the Italian-Canadian award of the year, coincidentally around the time of the anniversary of the exhibition.

“Expo 86 was the catalyst for a lot of Italian-Canadian events; for example, the start of the Italian Canadian writer’s association, along with a lot of other things in the Italian community,” says Clarke.

According to Clarke, Freschi’s work, too, possesses very Italian sensibilities along with wider themes. He believed Vancouver and Venice shared similarities.

“He felt that they were both port cities at junctures between the east and west,” she says. “Also, the immigrant community here – at least the first two waves of immigrants – came from the areas around Venice, and Bruno Freschi’s family is from that same community. When he received the Italian-Canadian award, he spoke about the values, familial belonging and love of culture that played such a key role in his identity.”

In Freschi’s art, like last year’s No Sun in Venice, spherical themes are prominent. | Photo courtesy of Italian Cultural Centre

Clarke says Freschi is also an artist within the school of expressionism, bringing forth themes of politics and urbanization.

“As I was working on Bruno Freschi’s exhibit and his concept design for Expo – this kind of spherical, circular thing – I was reminded of the Romanian author Mircea Eliade’s writings on rituals of initiation and how these are symbolized by spherical patterns,” she says. “I found so many parallels between these writings and Freschi’s concept designs. It appeared almost like Expo was this initiation that brought Vancouver into adulthood.”

The Body Politick

I wanted to look at the similarities between his grasp of art and architecture in last year’s exhibition The Body Politick,” says Clarke. “His art series have these human nude figures that struggle to find their identity. It’s a mix of bodily identity and political identity, hence the exhibition title. It also looks at Carl Jung’s notion of the persona: the mask that you wear in your community. So, it examines the stages of shaping identity: you have the body, and then the face that you present the world, and finally the flag or the collective national identity. His concept drawings for the Expo were based on these figures that are struggling collectively, figures who have abandoned the persona and national identity and instead focus collectively on holding the world.”

When looking back at the momentous change Expo 86 brought to Vancouver, Clarke agrees that the zeitgeist has changed significantly.

“In some way I would say that the Expo has enhanced this notion of Vancouver being an expensive city, which was not really the intention in the first place. The theme at the time captured the need to have a SkyTrain, a transit that would link up the whole city,” Clarke explains. “There’s definitely this class element where a lot of the more affluent areas don’t want the SkyTrain through their land in the belief that it would reduce its value. Expo 86, on the other hand, was conceptualized as a celebration of democracy, where it attracts all people everywhere from all classes.”

In Clarke’s opinion, Vancouver is known for its diversity but possesses no inherent character of its own; Clarke says we could chalk this up to its architecture.

“I strongly feel that ‘building up’ is the very culture of the city nowadays,” says Clarke. “Land has become very expensive here, but funnily enough, that’s another way that Vancouver is like Venice!”

For more information, please visit: