When pioneering West Coast avant-gardiste Eric Metcalfe – aka Doctor Brute – covered the façade of the old Vancouver Art Gallery with leopard spots in 1973, they were designed freehand and painted in over five nights.
Forty-three years later, his signature spots appear on the exterior of the VAG as high-tech projection mapped creations, part of the city’s second annual Façade Festival.
The brainchild of the fledgling Burrard Arts Foundation – and partnered with Microsoft, the VAG and Go2 Productions – the festival features the work of four other city artists, and aims, says BAF director Christian Chan, to be 'an exercise in place-making'.
Designed to challenge traditional perceptions of civic architecture, the festival unfolds in Vancouver’s de facto town square, the newly pedestrianised Robson Street on the southern edge of the VAG, that links it to the rest of Arthur Erickson’s iconic Robson Square complex.
Subverting the often corporate overtones of projection mapping, and taking cues from the likes of Luminato in Toronto and Vivid in Sydney, the festival employs the neo-classical façade of the Francis Rattenbury-designed courthouse-turned-gallery as a portal into luminescent worlds.
From the neo-psychedelic code-based animation of Chris Shier, that uses motion-sensitive street cameras to bring passersby into the projection frame, to the surrealist paintings of Rebecca Chaperon suggesting narratives of mysterious landscapes and ghostly figures, Façade offers ephemeral delights. The intriguing intersection of visual art, architecture and public space is achieved via a rather rigorous creative process of maquette-making and precise measurements. Vancouver is at its best, it seems, by night.