Vancouver – Artspeak

65
Artspeak

Artspeak, Vancouver, September 30, 2008

Carrall Street is a site-specific event choreographed by Althea Thauberger. The 200 block of Carrall Street, one of the oldest streets in Vancouver, sits on the cusp of extreme gentrification and equally extreme decay, flanked by the tourist strip of Historic Gastown on one side and the impoverished Downtown Eastside on the other. The neighborhood is home to radically diverse communities both economically and socially, with a mix of social service organizations, low-income housing, advocacy groups, boutique shops, new condominiums, and cultural organizations. Alongside this, ubiquitous, roaming film crews in the area ensure that the lines between reality and its fictional representation are constantly blurred. This proximity of extremes creates a number of fissures that never neatly resolve.
Weighing into this fraught arena, Thauberger starts with a seemingly simple, formal gesture: lighting the street as if for a film shoot, essentially transforming it into a stage. The event has no central focus. Audience, staged actors and random passersby alike are implicated and immersed in the conflation of seemingly random acts. A young, well-dressed couple approaches us, clipboards in hand, requesting our responses to a survey concerning gentrification in the neighborhood. We are each given a twoonie for our participation. We turn and a homeless man asks for change. We hand him the money we were just given and he slips away. My partner is called away to a nearby pub and asked to make a call to a long-lost friend—the woman in the green jacket standing across the street. They reconnect while a young man steps up onto a milk crate and delivers a political speech dated a century back.
This constellation of performances, some staged, others real, continues until late when the lights shut off and the street returns to its usual sequence of events that are, in many ways, not dissimilar to what just passed. Thauberger worked in close collaboration with members of the communities over the course of a year to develop this project, tapping into an important aspect of the experience of the street in the Downtown Eastside—an inherent performativity.
Thauberger’s practice typically involves collaborations with specific groups of people that result in representations that are both directed by its members and by the artist. These representations take the form of films, photographs, and performances and involve groups as diverse as young female singer/songwriters, wives of American soldiers, Canadian tree planters, and young men in the German civil service. Thauberger’s practice can be characterized by a deep consciousness, even anxiety, about representation. This manifests in images of people that, in conflicting confidence and awkwardness before the lens, are often difficult to watch, thus asking viewers to critically reflect on the complex of power caught up in acts of looking.

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