let’s heal the divide, 30 foot neon sign, located on the north facade of the Vancouver Community College, 2015-2016 Vancouver Biennale open air installation
In this work, Toni Latour explores the 2015/16 Vancouver Biennale theme “Open Borders/Crossroads Vancouver” to reflect upon the history and current conditions of the city she lives in.
Latour acknowledges that this installation is located on the occupied, traditional, ancestral, and unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples – specifically the sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), sel̓íl̓witulh (Tsleil-Waututh), and xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) Nations.
let’s heal the divide is a site-specific work that addresses the socio-economic, political and cultural points of disconnect present in the area. The location highlights the glaring economic disparity between neighbourhoods and acts as an intersection between perceived borders. It marks a physical division between one of the most impoverished postal codes in Canada and one of the wealthiest. The piece sits at the border between Vancouver’s Downtown East Side (DTES) and its financial and commercial district.
Celebrating its 50th year of commitment to community, diversity and accessibility, the Vancouver Community College (VCC) was specifically chosen to host this work. In the darkness of governmental cuts (most recently to the ESL program), VCC continues to be a point of light for so many. Through barrier reduction, the College offers opportunity and success in post-secondary education and training. Latour’s 15 year career as a post-secondary art instructor meshed with the political and economic struggles that exist at this site and others across the country.
The use of neon in this work echoes Vancouver’s history. At its height in the 1950’s, Vancouver was home to nearly 19,000 neon signs. Subverting the commercial use of this one-time ubiquitous medium, the artist sends an alternative message through the warm yellow glow. With an environmental consciousness, neon was chosen for its energy efficiency. This 30-foot sign costs approximately $100 a year to light, and will last for decades.
The theme of the Vancouver Biennale prompts us to question the sometimes arbitrary lines that divide us. In the spirit of hope, this piece calls for action, collective healing, connectivity, and inclusion.
This piece was aptly installed on International Women’s Day (March 8, 2015). The official lighting of the piece took place on March 11, 2015 with a welcoming and blessing by Carleen Thomas who spoke beautifully about the message of the piece and the cleansing power of the rain. A panel discussion followed with a packed room inside VCC. Panelists included Toni Latour, Sandra Seekins, Romi Chandra-Herbert, Michael Geller, with moderator Gordon Price. The impassioned dialogue that preceded included diverse community members, artists, service providers, activists and more.
The conversation continued beyond March 11 with a series of video interviews produced by the Vancouver Biennale asking the question “What does let’s heal the divide mean to you?”. Noteworthy interviewees included musician Bif Naked, artist Tiko Kerr, and politician Constance Barnes. Interview Series
The media coverage of the piece was extensive, and the ground level dialogue continues.
let’s heal the divide was fully funded by the Canada Council for the Arts and the Kwantlen Polytechnic University 0.6% Faculty Professional Development Fund. The artist would like to thank both institutions for their generous support. She would also like to thank VCC and the Vancouver Biennale for hosting and supporting this piece. Finally, Latour would like to recognize the strength, resiliency and heart of the Downtown Eastside community.
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