“Lying on top of a building,” by U.K. artist Liam Gillick, wraps around the Pacific Rim Hotel in downtown Vancouver. (photo from Pacific Rim Hotel)
If you happened to have missed Ira Hoffecker’s Berlin Identities exhibit at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver recently, you’re not entirely out of luck. Hoffecker’s work has a seemingly permanent spot on the walls of Sooke Harbor House on the west coast of Vancouver Island.
The stylized maps and cityscapes, similar to those shown in the Zack Gallery, are quite the contrast to the First Nations wall hangings, Group of Seven-inspired landscapes and whimsical nautical- and plant-themed room décor. But gallery manager Sharan Nylander says the collection is meant to reflect a range of B.C. artwork and, as works are sold and replaced, the exhibit is kept fresh and varied.
Indeed, the display in Sooke Harbor House has much more of a gallery feel today than it did when I last visited more than a decade ago. And, while Hoffecker’s work definitely leans in a more modernist direction than other pieces, perhaps there is more of a connection to Harbor House than one might think.
Hoffecker’s work speaks to her past growing up in Germany, and her interest in how society and cities change. Sooke Harbor House is believed to have been the location of a safe house for immigrants, and the book Generation to Generation: A Collection of Jewish Thoughts and Remembrances relates a story where the house was used as refuge for 15 German Jews.
The boutique hotel, just an hour from Victoria, is so committed to showing local artists’ works, it is creating a dedicated art gallery/ meeting space, due to be completed by year end. Until then, visitors can get their fill by wandering the winding corridors, hidden passages and surprise stairways.
Sooke Harbor House is not the only accommodation that makes a point of emphasizing artwork as part of its brand. The Fairmount Pacific Rim in downtown Vancouver has not only devoted space for some exquisite exhibits, but also provides a half-hour walking tour you can download to a smartphone. In all, four Jewish artists are represented on the tour.
If you stand at the corner of Cordova and Burrard streets and look up, you’ll notice strings of words that wrap around the outside of the building. The installation is a poem by U.K. artist Liam Gillick: “Lying on top of a building the clouds looked no nearer than when I was lying on the street.” It’s comprised of two-foot-high letters on floors five through 22, created in 2010 when the hotel opened for the Olympics.
Approaching the building’s entrance, you’ll see “Tree 16.480” by Omer Arbel, creative director of international design firm Bocci. The installation stands more than 18 feet high and is named for its 480 glass leaves. Arbel was born in Jerusalem, but moved to Vancouver as a teenager with his family.
If you’re walking past “Blackwater Ophelia” by Adad Hannah on the main floor and think the photograph blinks at you, you’re not hallucinating. The piece is actually a tableau vivant – a costumed actor poses in what looks like a still life, but is actually a video combined with stills – a little creepy, but stunning. “Ophelia” runs on a 10-minute loop and, if you pause long enough and look closely, you’ll see the subtle movement of her hands in the water, as well as that of her eyes.
Finally, if you’d like to feel you’re actually part of the artwork, take a seat in the dining area on the terrace just off the lobby. Phrases from Bob Dylan lyrics are projected across the tables so that plates, cutlery, napkins – and you – become part of the installation.
Baila Lazarus is a freelance writer and media trainer in Vancouver. Her consulting work can be seen at phase2coaching.com.