“Listen”, the Stanley Park Environmental Art Project

more images of “Listen”

Stanley Park is a forest of tranquility on the edge of Vancouver. With the West End being the most densely populated Vancouver neighbourhood, many here consider the park as their own backyard that we willingly share with the rest of the world.

When my kids were younger I jogged many a kilometer in park pushing them in our double jogging stroller. From that time I became familiarized with the trails and part of the closeness I have with my kids is connected to the park and the time we spent there together. My girls learned how to walk in English Bay after there little naps during the jogs.

Over the holidays I had the opportunity to go for a little walk in the park with my oldest daughter. We had been apartment-bound for the entire morning both glued to our respective digital devise of choice: me – my MacBook and she- the Nitendo DS. I thought it my responsibility as a parent to get outside for some exercise. My daughter had been endowed with a new pair of binoculars as a holiday present and we decided to go to the park to look at birds.

On first entering the park, evidence of the 2006 windstorm is still visible. I knew that there were a lot of trees blown down up at Prospect Point, but I had not realized how many came down on the edge of the park by Lost Lagoon. It was an awe-inspiring experience to walk by these upturned mammoth trees.

While my daughter and I had a nice time bonding and reconnecting to park, we discovered a piece of environmental art on the trail Lovers, which is part of one of my favourite running routes. The trial starts high and runs into a little meadow. On the lower part of the trail a huge cedar fell in the middle of it during the 2006 windstorm. The tree must have been at least 500 hundred years old with a trunk diameter of over four feet high. To provide trail access, a section had been cut out of the trunk. Off to one side of the fallen tree is a black orb, a sphere made of burnt wood. It is a work of environmental art call “Listen” and is part of Stanley Park Environmental Art Project.

The Stanley Park Environmental Art Project from the Park Board website is described as:

“The Stanley Park Environmental Art Project was born out of a desire to respond creatively to the windstorm that devastated the park on December 15, 2006. After two short hours of gale-force winds, some reaching 119 km/hr, the storm subsided leaving a level of devastation that had not been seen since Hurricane Frieda in 1962, and for the first time in over 40 years the entire park was closed to the public. The storm had a tremendous impact on the park, but out of the devastation, opportunities to renew, restore and improve the park presented themselves. One of these opportunities is the Stanley Park Environmental Art Project.”
VPB Environmental Art Project

In addition to “Listen” the Stanley Park Environmental Art Project commissioned six other artist to develop environment art works that respond to the 2006 wind storm. “Listen” is by John Hemsworth and Peter von Tiesenhausen. More information about the artist is on the VPB website:Artist Bio

The first time that we found “Listen” the light was just starting to go and the whole area seemed lush and mysterious. As the light was going I decided to return another day to document and to explore this piece a bit more.

Yesterday seemed the perfect day to go and find this artwork again to try figure out what it is about. The biggest compliment one can give a work of art is to wish you had the idea first. As soon as I saw this thing I thought wow this is smart. For the past couple of years I just love how burnt wood looks with moss. Below is one of my attempts to capture this feeling of how it looks. Beyond the visual effect of how the dark black of charcoal wood looks against the green of moss, on another level the combination of colours and materials speaks to a process of renewal from catastrophe. Part of the natural process of the forest is for it to periodically burn. This burning creates new growth as new nutrients go back into the forest soil.

untitled found wood assemblage at cultural crawl 2006

Charcoaled wood seems an apt metaphor for the times we live in. While it is hard to draw a straight line between climate change and the windstorm of 2006 there is a growing awareness that the effects of climate change are with us. 2006 was also the year when in November we had so much rain that the tap water went muddy. I remember back after the rain and the windstorm there was a sense of impending ecological catastrophe in the making here and in different parts of the world. Even now in 2010 as a culture we seem in incapable of making the changes necessary to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change. With the failure to reach an international agreement in Copenhagen, it seems that we are even more mired in confusion and indecision about this issue. OK that is the end of my rant, but for me some of elements of this piece speak to these feelings and thoughts.

There are hopeful elements in this work, because when you see this black charcoal of the sphere in the forest you know that in the years to come it will soon be cover in moss and saplings and will be starting to grow from it. That is an incredible feature of the park this lush green forest where trees are growing from the stumps of old growth covered in moss. “Listen” is like a big charcoal seed born of destruction and fire, but within its destruction lies the future growth.

In an artist statement that is on the VPB website the artists state:

“Listen is not necessarily about the sounds of this place but rather about taking the time to hear what the forest has to offer. This sculpture, carved from cedar remnants of the wind storm of 2006, is meant as a place of reflection – an opportunity to find a silence between ourselves and our environment. As the gap in the ancient fallen cedar informed what this space required, so too may we all listen more closely to the world around us.”

The artist statement speaks to some important elements of the work of how it is tied to this place being made from the wood of the forest, but more importantly it is space around the work that some how becomes more important than the work itself. Having this burnt charcoal sphere in the middle of forest makes one look more deeply at the surrounding forest. In the end we know that the work itself will decay back into forest. I love this ephemeral part of the work, that it will change into something else and take on a different form and be lost later. “Listen” has the massing of monumental sculpture that speaks to big ideas, but as time passes it flows back into the setting that it came from and the space turns into something else.

Ok now for the day I went. The first time I found this piece it was a surprise and magical. Yesterday when I went, it was like bedlam in the park. For some reason VPB staff where in there doing their special selective forest practices and running a chainsaw the entire time that I was there. So I am taking stills and really interested in trying to get into the magic of this thing and the only thing I can hear is this chain saw running. Then I am thinking well this is the irony of the whole this situation I am trying to document a work called “Listen” and I am barely able to think because of this chain saw. The other noises I hear simultaneously include a floatplane flying over and some emergency response vehicle blasting its siren on the causeway and then this damn helicopter that’s been been stationed over the West End for the Olympics passes over. I am not making this up check out this video that I shot.

One Response to ““Listen”, the Stanley Park Environmental Art Project”

  1. Todd says:

    Very cool find Brent. I’ll look for it next time I’m out running there.

    It’s amazing anything grows in Stanley Park with so many humans buzzing around it.

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