View from the back of 818-826 Main Street, c.1968, courtesy City of Vancouver Archives, CVA 203-15

View from the back of 818-826 Main Street, c.1968, courtesy City of Vancouver Archives, CVA 203-15

The Presentation House Gallery will be opening its new exhibition tomorrow night! Titled Synthetic Pictures, the exhibition presents new photographic works by Douglas, many of which relate to overlooked parts of Vancouver’s history – the city as you may have never seen it before.

What about this photographic work? Know what part of Vancouver it relates to? (It’s not the recent hockey riot!)

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The work is Abbott & Cordova, 7 August 1971 by Stan Douglas. You might have seen it at the Woodwards complex in the Downtown Eastside, where it’s been since 2009. Stretching eight by thirteen metres, it’s visible from the Woodwards atrium inside, and the plaza outside it.

Douglas often works to meticulously reconstruct historical scenes, and has paid particular attention to conflictual or overlooked parts of Vancouver’s short history.

To recreate this scene at Abbott and Cordova streets (right by today’s Woodwards complex), from 1971, Douglas dug into public archives and interviewed residents, police and protesters from this time and place. Initially, he planned to shoot on location, but it became so complicated and expensive, Douglas and his hundred-person crew set up shop in a parking lot of the Pacific National Exhibition to stage this elaborate work.

The kind of reconstruction you have here, which projects us into a specific place and time, might seem like a complex trip down memory lane, but it also shows us how images can be elaborately staged and constructed, just like our impressions of history. 

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Why’s the police there? What’s going on? Well, in the early 70s, the Vancouver neighbourhood of Gastown was undergoing an interesting social transformation.

Hippies from Kitsilano moved across the bridge into Gastown, settling into areas once occupied by factories. Following weeks of drug arrests, the new residents staged a “smoke-in” with thousands of participants, a foot-and-a-half long joint and free popcorn. Police arrived in riot gear and a violent confrontation ensued. This event, known as the Gastown Riot or the Battle of Maple Tree Square, is what’s at the centre of this artwork. But the depiction of this city intersection also represents a historical juncture, because after the riot, local zoning was changed  from residential to purely commercial, which drastically altered how people experience the area and the sense of community.

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