Skip to content

5 unusual pieces of public art you (probably) haven't seen in Vancouver

From a "demon beaver" and "berserker rats" to an auditory experience to a baseball-and-Wordsworth themed piece, these aren't new, but may be new to you.
Clockwise from left: Peaceable Kingdom by Tom Dean; Traffic Circles by Shauna Gillies Smith; Backstop: A Stage for Wordsworth by Karen Kazmer, Mark Grady, and Todd Davis; A Long Conversation (for Oona) by Peter Gazendam.

Public art is all around us.

Many pieces in Vancouver are well-known, iconic even. The Digital Orca, the Reclining Figure in Dude Chilling Park and A-maze-ing Laughter are all examples of the accessible sculptures across the city. At the same time there are murals aplenty thanks to the annual mural festival.

These are not those. While they may be recognizable as public art, they're some combination of odd and out of the way in most cases.

In one case it's not visual art at all.

1. Peaceable Kingdom by Tom Dean

This one probably sticks out to anyone who has visited the VPL's Kensington Branch. Outside the library there's a (small) zoo's worth of animals (though they're bronze, not living).

More than a dozen individual pieces make up the piece, with a pig and python in one spot, a goat and a leopard over there, some rats with a beaver here, a bear and a child there and more.

Some are friendly, some seem worried, and some are...interacting with each other.

"Serene beasts coexist in a precarious sensual paradise," reads a portion of the city's description of the work.

The piece is supposed to evoke the idea of a paradise, but with the tension of it ending.

"It could collapse in a moment into sex and violence as a demon beaver leads berserker rats into paradise, and a giant vulture waits patiently for someone to die in paradise," reads the end of the description.

2. Traffic Circles by Shauna Gillies Smith

Garden Drive is a small residential street in the Hastings-Sunrise neighbourhood; like many such streets in Vancouver, there are several traffic circles.

Unlike others, these three are art.

Instead of concrete circles of some sort, three large boulders (one per intersection) pose a very real barrier, with signs letting people know they should go around them.

"Rocks are objects and obstructions. They are 'super nature' and their scale and siting are what raises them beyond being just rocks," reads the artist statement on the city's website. "The context around them may be what appears strange."

3. Backstop: A Stage for Wordsworth by Karen Kazmer, Mark Grady, and Todd Davis

Installed more than 25 years ago in Cartier Park, this backstop is both a functional backstop and public art.

With the chain link fence folded back like theatre curtains and a quote from William Wordsworth, it's perhaps the only piece of public art in the city regularly used as sports infrastructure.

Oh, and the quote is:

"This city now doth like a garment wear the beauty of the morning; silent, bare, ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie open upon the fields, and to the sky."

4. A Long Conversation (for Oona) by Peter Gazendam

People who spend time in the plaza next to Columbia College on Terminal Avenue may have noticed the two gigantic Pacific Banana Slugs in the middle of the area and realized it was a piece of public art.

But in fact, the two are just a small fraction, as 40 slugs populate the area, all made out of bronze. They were installed in 2017.

Given the speeds slugs move at, a long conversation seems likely.

5. Speaker A by Theatre Replacement, Vanessa Kwan

This one isn't very recognizable because there's nothing to see. In fact, one has to walk through a very specific area to experience it, as Speaker A is really a speaker. Well, three: Speaker A, Speaker B and Speaker C.

"Speaker A is a permanent sound installation that creates impact with the precise manipulation of directional sound as an auditory, ‘sculptural’ presence," reads a note from the artists.

"Each speaker retains a constantly shifting presence; each listener experiences a unique sequence of narrative and sound."