Liz Magor, "LightShed," 2005, cast aluminum, public art installation, Coal Harbour, Vancouver.
LIZ MAGOR, LightShed
Public art installation, foot of Broughton Street, adjacent to Coal Harbour Community Centre, Vancouver
By Ann Rosenberg
The best way to experience Liz Magor's recently completed LightShed public art sculpture is to start from the foot of Broughton Street in Vancouver and walk south along the sea wall, past the Coal Harbour Community Centre. You first become aware of a small structure in the distance that could be the attic of a metal building that services the boats in the harbour. A full view of Magor's installation is concealed by the cluster of yachts in the marina. Only after you approach the mini-park that separates the two clusters of high-rises that constitute the Coal Harbour residential site is the minute and otherworldly LightShed perceived as a free-standing sculpture.
At a literal level, the title of LightShed is an apt description of Liz Magor's artwork. It appears to be a virtually weightless, half-sized hut poised on four pilings that seem to have sprung effortlessly out of a carefully sited brick pavement. This semi-circular extension of the sidewalk facilitates a correct viewing of the sculpture from afar, keeping its total design a mystery until the perfect moment for revelation. This exedra allows a comfortable circumvention to take place where very detail of the shed can be observed: the four small glazed windows on each side, the closed side gates of the structure, the slightly ajar front door which faces the park leading up to West Georgia Street, the hooks and patches one might expect on an old boat house or boat repair shop, and the pitched roof covered with three overlapped rain-proof layers.
Close up, it becomes clear that all elements of the shed — even the board and batten cedar walls — have been cast in a soft grey non-shiny aluminum. Every detail is precise. Looking at them, it's like putting on reading glasses or adjusting the focus of a camera to the utmost clarity. Similarly, the slightly askew supports for the hut display vertical fissures appropriate to the wooden posts they were originally cast from. The four compositions of seaweed, mussels, and barnacles that cling to the surface of the pilings are as beautiful as a Rococo-carved still life in an eighteenth-century Paris salon, and more convincing, since they cling well above our reach, at an implied low tide line. Homogenized by the material in which they are cast, all the elements in the composition have the hue of weathered wood, yet unlike wood the metal shimmers and changes tonality according to the time of day and the weather.
LightShed, however, is not simply a light shed, but also a fantasmagorical structure which — as is customary for this artist — leads us into other worlds through the gates of "realism" and by the persuasive power of meticulous technique. The sculpture, which was selected through the multi-layered process of the City of Vancouver's Public Art Program, was likely chosen not just because of its beauty but especially because it creates so many connections with the Coal Harbour site and its history. LightShed is a ghostly remembrance shedding light (pun intended) on the structures formerly located on the waterfront wharfs for servicing, sheltering, or repairing boats. As night approaches, internal lights set on timers illuminate each LightShed window in turn and create a glow in the crack of the front door that is ajar, causing the sculpture, in actual terms, to be a light shed/ shed for light — and a place where one imagines spirits at work.
I visited the site for the first time on a grey December afternoon. The roof of LightShed vanished into the foggy white atmosphere. At night, when I returned to the foot of Broughton Street, the lights in LightShed pulsed like those in a lighthouse, adding another appropriate reference to this meaningful structure.