Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Public Furniture | Urban Trees

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There is a sculpture exhibit on Spanish Banks at present. It is the latest manifestation of Vancouver Biennale – and the title is theirs. And that is really what has inspired this opinion piece. I think it is misleading – the furniture is not public. The artist, Hugo França comes from Brazil. This is what the signage at the exhibit says

Hugo França reimagines fallen trees in poetic ways, transforming them into beautiful sculptress for public enjoyment. The sculpting process respects the natural features of the trees, promoting minimum waste and the beauty of the natural organic forms, lines, flaws and imperfections. Their memory remains alive with their uniqueness, offered back to the community in harmony with the natural environment. This is the first time the artist is creating public sculpture outside Brazil and using a variety of of local wood species.

The pictures are all in a set on flickr which includes a Google map showing the location.

Public Furniture | Urban Trees 1
Public Furniture | Urban Trees 2
Public Furniture | Urban Trees 3
Public Furniture | Urban Trees 4
Public Furniture | Urban Trees 5
Public Furniture | Urban Trees 6

The signage also includes the warning “Please do not cross the line” (in large friendly capital letters) but as you can see from some of my images this seems to be moot. The line – a bit like crime scene tape – has been supplemented by snow fence, which has also fallen – or been taken – down. One of my flickr contacts Tom Abrahamson remarked “Elaborate and nicely done bench at the beach. Just have to hope that the usual brain dead idiots are not trying to put it on fire or damage it.”

This is an issue for all art works outside of private houses. Put something on display in public and unless you guard it night and day it is at high risk of damage. Even if the damage is unintentional. There are, of course, raw logs that end up on all our beaches. It is a feature of the remarkably careless way logs are moved around – in log booms.

River Eagle North Arm Vancouver BC 2007_0530

But also the natural erosion of the banks of streams and inlets mean that trees – or what remains of them – get cast up on beaches. In Vancouver these are carefully marshalled to provide a certain amount of amenity to visitors, who thus bring much less in the way of furniture to the beach with them. In other places, chairs, tables, loungers, windbreaks – and umbrellas – all proliferate. On many beaches around the world the provision of such amenities is a source of income.

4 poster beach bed

Yucatan Beach

At the beach in Spanish Banks near where the sculptures are placed, the city allows people to cut up spare logs for fuel or other purposes

Trunk full of stepping "stones"

The sound of chainsaws is as common at this beach as dogs barking at others. There seems to be a clear understanding of which logs are for cutting – and that people will not take the work of others for themselves. But somehow we are not so trusting when it comes to art.

Rainblossom Project

Not long ago near this location another art installation appeared. Red umbrellas hung from some trees. They did not last long. I saw some being “adopted”. Just as some people will pick flowers in public places. Though they do seem to respect the floral tributes left on benches.

bench marker and flower

I have heard of flowers being stolen from graves, and I am afraid some of my family’s monuments in a cemetery in East London were destroyed by anti-semitic vandals.

The art work benches are not actually public furniture – because they have not been provided for people to enjoy through use but merely by looking at them. Even though their very nature invites touch – they have been lovingly smoothed – and relaxation. Unlike the unfinished logs on this and other Vancouver beaches

View from the Boat House pano

The art is also not going to last very long in this state as the cut surfaces have not been “finished”. Exposed to the elements, they will decay. Indeed in their natural state trees decay and return to the soil even before they fall

Detail of downed tree

It isn’t the tree we want to preserve, it’s the work of the artist we value. But the work has potential value that exceeds that of the visual amenity. We long ago recognized that lawns – the product of careful gardening, extensive and expensive maintenance – are vulnerable when used for human activities, but we stopped putting “Keep off the Grass” signs in most city parks many years ago, recognizing the value of lawns for games, recreation or even a quiet snooze.

early tanner

The introduction of tables and chairs onto city streets was also a risky undertaking, but in New York at least, theft – or other unintended uses – does not seem to have been a problem.

I think it would be a Good Idea if we could turn the guys with chainsaws loose on some of the raw logs on our beaches to see how they could be improved. Not for firewood. Well not initially anyway: for the failed experiments, possibly. But to increase their utility – and quite possibly their beauty too. And pubic art will get used as a sitting place or a climbing frame, and needs to be sufficiently robust and secure enough to withstand that.

Art climbing

Art reduced to a bench

Art as adventure playground

Art climber

Written by Stephen Rees

April 20, 2014 at 3:43 pm

One Response

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  1. I have nothing important to say, just thought it was a waste to have no comments on that beautiful art project.

    Rico

    April 23, 2014 at 9:26 am


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