This time, we’ll look at artists who can visit a particular place and, through curiosity and research, find ways of showing us how it used to look in the past. Wherever they go, they don’t just see what’s in front of them. They strive to make the invisible visible.

StanDouglasStan Douglas, Lazy Bay, 2015, digital chromogenic print mounted on Dibond


For Stan Douglas’s Lazy Bay (2015), the artist did tonnes of research looking at old photographs of Lazy Bay, a community of squatters who lived in shacks in Deep Cove. There’s an interesting story here: the squatters argued that the mudflats didn’t belong to the city of North Vancouver, because the tide is always shifting the sand and mud. They believed that, by living on hand-built wooden shacks on the mudflats, they wouldn’t have to pay taxes to the government. Lazy Bay was formed in the 1930s, and survived until the 1950s, when municipal authorities burned all the shacks down and drove the squatters out.

Studying surviving photographs that were taken of Lazy Bay, Stan Douglas worked with CG artists to make 3D models of the wooden shacks. Douglas was able to use computer graphics to reconstruct a realistic image of Lazy Bay. But what else is striking about the work? Can you see any hints about the time of day it’s depicting?

altheaStill from Althea Thauberger’s Listers of Earthy, 2018, HD video


In the late 1960s, a community of squatters banded together and built wooden shacks on the Dollarton mudflats, picking up where the Lazy Bay squatters left off. Around that same time, a Hollywood film called McCabe & Mrs. Miller was being shot in West Vancouver. It was a Western film, set way back in 1902. When the studio executives came up from Los Angeles to scout locations, they saw the Dollarton mudflat squat – and the shacks were exactly what they had in mind for their movie!

Of course, they couldn’t shoot the movie down in the mud. So, they hired the squatters as set builders. They drove them up to West Vancouver, dressed them up in historical costumes, and had them build the film set. If you watch McCabe & Mrs. Miller, lots of the people in the background are actually real-life squatters, working on the carpentry even while the camera’s rolling.

When designing the costumes for Althea Thauberger’s video work Listers of Earthy (2017-2018), Natalie Purschwitz pulled inspiration from different time periods and cultures: from early twentieth-century colonial clothes, when McCabe & Mrs. Miller is set; and from the bohemian style of the 1960s and ’70s, to reflect the hippie culture of the Dollarton mudflat squat. It reminds us that oftentimes, change in society isn’t necessarily reflected in the buildings or landscapes around us. Oftentimes, the biggest shifts are seen in the ways we dress ourselves, or the objects we carry, or the activities we do in our spare time. When thinking about fascinating transformations, don’t be afraid to think outside the box.

The Bigger Picture: Chief Janice George

N_Vancouver-56Shelley Thomas, Xaxhaynumet (detail), 2007-2008, woven wool


As recently as the early 2000s, Salish weaving was pretty much gone from the North Shore communities of the Squamish Nation. Nobody had learned to do it. Inspired by old photographs and even older stories, Chief Janice George of the Squamish Nation was determined to restore this art. She travelled to other Salish First Nations to learn, and studied existing weavings, in order to learn how to weave. George then taught a group of ten students how to do traditional weaving on handmade looms. These students then went on to have students of their own.

Fast-forward to 2018: Chief Janice George’s weaving programme, based out of L’hen Awtwx Weaving House, has reached over 2,500 students. It’s amazing what a photograph can inspire – and what we can achieve when we look beyond what’s in front of us, and rediscover parts of culture and heritage that have been lost.