Passing Encounters: Towards a Visual Archive of Vancouver Public Culture

There’s an interesting and short – it ends Friday – exhibition in the lobby of the Lasserre building (map).  Passing Encounters: Towards a Visual Archive of Vancouver Public Culture was put together by AHVA lecturer Alice Campbell and Prof. Charlotte Townshend-Gault.  The exhibition critiques the presentation and representation of a dominant visual culture in Vancouver. I’d say more, but I think the curatorial statement says plenty.  From the Facebook event page:

This exhibition offers a visual archive of Art History 376 and 377 students’ passing encounters with the multiple forms of Aboriginal representation that circulate in Vancouver’s public culture. Many of these are forms of Northwest Coast art and design. Others are forms of non-Northwest Coast Aboriginal art while others still are Non-Native produced imagery that trade on widely recognized icons and stereotypes. The ubiquity of these often ephemeral forms in Vancouver ensures that they are genuinely hegemonic: highly visible, yet seldom noticed.

This archive emerges from two class projects in which the students of Art History 376 and 377 (Arts of the Northwest Coast Peoples: The North and The South) in 2012/2013 photographed the Aboriginal and Aboriginal-inspired imagery that they encountered in their everyday lives. They used whatever cameras they had on hand, ranging from cell phone cameras to DSLRs. In both classes, students carefully noted what information about the objects and images is made available to passers-by and what is obscured. Students asked questions about the objects, including how they and the objects came to occupy the same space. They considered their own shifting relations to the objects, and how these are structured by the colonial past and its enduring effects in the present.

The individual photographs, and the archive as a whole, are material traces of the students’ everyday travels, spaces, histories and habits. They offer a situated perspective, determined by the spaces the students travel through, and the objects and images they encounter there. Alone and together, the photographs provoke reflections on the role these objects and images play in our everyday lives. They point to the complexity of Aboriginal life, presence and representation in this multicultural, cosmopolitan city.

The exhibition is experimental with respect to both curatorship and education. It’s an attempt to share the collective knowledge generated in our classrooms with a wider community. Just as these objects have come into visibility for the 376/377 students, we hope our audience will increasingly notice these objects and images in their everyday lives. In other words, the exhibition is not a passive representation of Northwest Coast art, but rather an active incitement to look, to notice, to reflect and to inquire.

Related Topics


Dave Semeniuk spends hours locked up in his office, thinking about the role the oceans play in controlling global climate, and unique ways of studying it. He'd also like to shamelessly plug his art practice: