Downtown Vancouver has never seen a traffic jam quite like this one.
Five full-size cars have been stacked on top of one another, then perched atop a 20-foot-high cedar stump, all part of a brand new sculpture called Trans Am Totem on the edge of False Creek. Located not far from Science World, the monumental work of art is the latest installation for the Vancouver Biennale, the city’s biannual public art exhibition.
The provocative sculpture is the work of local artist Marcus Bowcott, who spent part of his career towing logs along the Fraser River and around False Creek. For Bowcott, the installation is a commentary on the evolution of the area and the ascendance of consumer, throwaway culture in Vancouver.
The “totem” theme is an allusion to Vancouver’s First Nations legacy. As recently as 150 years ago, the area around False Creek was tidal flats and pristine old growth forest. A Squamish village stood at the mouth of the inlet and nearby were Musqueam and Tsleil-Watuth communities.
The old-growth cedar stump in the sculpture – brought over from southern Vancouver Island – references False Creek’s logging and industrial past. The shores were once lined with sawmills and beehive burners, and the waterway itself was filled with booms of old-growth Douglas Firs floated in from surrounding areas.
Meanwhile, the collection of five scrap cars – bigger and bigger models stacked one atop the other, with a Trans Am at the peak – offers a commentary on the dramatic transformation of False Creek and Vancouver since the 1980s. The area is now crawling with traffic and thick with high-rise towers, symbols of a Vancouver that is wealthier than ever but less connected with the landscape and more addicted to consumerism.
“In a certain sense I’m saying, ‘Let’s realize we’re on the horns of a dilemma here,’” Bowcott said to The Georgia Straight. “We’re fascinated by speed, we’re fascinated by consumer objects, and this consumerism has an effect on our nature.”
The sculpture took two full years to complete and involved meticulously stripping out the interiors of scrap cars to minimize weight and then mounting the vehicles on a steel column. Finally, the cars were repainted in vibrant colours and the head and tail lights were wired to be illuminated by solar power.
Trans Am Totem stands at the eastern end of False Creek, near the intersection of Quebec Street and Pacific Boulevard. The artist has started an Indiegogo campaign to recoup some of the costs of the installation.