Storey: SITE SENSITIVE Sculptures that MOVE and Make you THINK
> John Grande
Alan Storey is a rare phenomenon in Canadian art.
His projects, exhibitions and commissions combine intelligence, humour
and hands on practicality in such a way they seize the public imagination.
This has been one reason he has received an increasing number of commissions
of late. As an artist, Storey divides his artistic practice into three
categories. The first consists of machines that make marks, effectively
drawing machines. The second consists of gallery installation works
that investigate architectural and social space. The third category,
and the one Alan Storey is rapidly becoming best known for, are his
public art projects which, for their accessibility and innovative
use of technology simply to communicate are truly democratic in conception.
One of the earliest Drawing Machine shows titled Draw was held
at Or Gallery (1984) in Vancouver consisted on an ingenious Alan Storey
innovation, a machine that made drawings across the walls of the Or
Gallery in a full rotating circumnavigation. (One full round of the
gallery took 35 minutes). The contraption involved the use of a wheel
with a drive motor that pulled itself on its course along the walls,
all this held in place by a central wooden column on bearings with
a spring and weight system to keep pressure on the walls. The marking
left behind became records of this machine generated action in real
At the Southern Alberta Art Gallery, Alan Storey fully exploited the
7 foot high walls by stretching a 35 X 55 foot canvas like a drum
skin across the tops of the walls. Draw II: Machine for Drawing
on Prairies (1989) had two openings with the stylized shape of
an oxbow lake. The wooden support structure beneath likewise mimicked
the trestle bridge of the CPR and also had a meandering form characteristics
of the southern Alberta riverscapes. A staircase in the support structure
under the canvas enabled viewers to climb up and see what was above.
Sticking your head through the canvas into the light, viewers could
see a small vehicle based on the bump and go principle with 5 pens
attached to its rear. This vehicle moved to and fro leaving its plow
marks - like a tractor across the surface of the canvas. The results
were fascinating for they were affected by the wear of the vehicles
tires, and random patternings developed every bit as intricate as
intentional drawings. All of this was embroidered upon with the sound
of a radio on the vehicle tuned to a local AM station that blared
out country and western music, the farmer's weather broadcasts - all
things loco and local.
One of Storey's most memorable shows Handle with Care - Cause and
Effect (1991) held at Oboro involved drawing machines. Six crates
with instruments for drawing conceived and created by Storey for the
show kept a drawn record of their journey to the Montreal gallery
while being shipped. Stickers reading THIS SIDE UP or ROTATE REGULARLY
or other such messages ensured each box contained a different drawn
story upon arrival. They were shipped on different days so the voyage
down the Trans Canada Highway for each might be different. Most of
the drawings inside the boxes were then presented for the exhibition.
In Bloomington, Indiana, Alan Storey made a rudimentary foray into
World Wide Web art to initiate a Web Site for the Henry Radford Hope
School of Fine Arts with his Draw No. 6: machine for drawing all
over the world (1995). The piece consisted of a floor-placed vellum
Mercator projection world map. The aluminum grid of the green terrazzo
floor actually showed like latitude and longitude lines through the
vellum map. From a web page, participants could attempt to direct
the movement of a drawing instrument, thus developing a kinesthetic
sense of the physical size and space that the continents and oceans
of the world respectively occupy. A Climatic Drawing Machine was built
into a tower-like structure based on a Stevenson screen onthe grounds
of Toronto's Power Plant in 1990. A cylindrical drum inside recorded
weather variations, literally a nature drawing recording temperature,
precipitation, air pressure, and wind, similar to the hygrothermographs
used in art galleries and museums for monitoring climactic conditions
and interior atmospheric conditions for the proper care and conservation
of art works.
One of Alan Storey's most interesting and innovative works involved
building a Head Gear helmet in Paris that reversed the order of sound.
Two hearing horns took in environmental noise and sounds from the
right to the left ear and vice versa. In Hudson, Quebec Storey made
a privately commissioned device called The Bird Listener for
hearing bird calls. Again horn-like tubes projected from ground level
upwards into the arboreal heights of trees. Designed to enable people
to hear the sounds of the many birds who come to this town west of
Montreal, in part because DDT is banned. With no DDT the birds thrive
on bug diversity.
Storey's first public art commission, and one that attracted serious
attention was Pendulum (1987) done for the Hong Kong Bank of
Canada Building in Vancouver. Storey says he never thought he would
get the commission so he went ahead with his proposal - no holds barred.
Over the years the pendulum piece has functioned, largely faultlessly,
as an example of how interactive large scale public art can capture
an idea, communicate it and yet remain simple in conception. Canderel
commissioned Urban Language (1992) for Maison Royal Trust Plaza on
Blvd. RenÈ Levesque in downtown Montreal. It remains one of
Storey's most successful and succinct commissions to date. People
notice it when walking or driving by, and its graceful aluminum and
stainless steel forms, its gradual hydraulic movement upwards and
downwards, and the siting, all add to the piece's shiny urbane, almost
futurist allure. Urban Language shares something in common with Head
Gear and The Bird Listener. All these sculptures involve aspects of
hearing and communication. They have variations on horns as one feature.
One thinks of Swiss mountaineer's horns, and of communication in the
broadest sense. The gentle undulating up and down rhythm, where each
section meets the other in the middle is a sincerely beautiful expression
of balance and harmony.
In process now are several most intriguing Storey public art works.
for one, title Public Service/Private Step at 401 Burrard St.
in Vancouver incorporates the latest in interactive technology and
gimmickry, to create maquette-like models of elevators in the buildingís
core complete with their own structure of seven 10 x 10 x 65 ft. high
steel columns. To ensure structural safety the steel columns are filled
with concrete. The 5 elevator "cars" of this public art
piece will glide up and down in exact correlation to the real elevator
cars inside the Federal Government building, newly reclaimed. A multi-contact
membrane switch under the pumpkin colored carpet in the real elevators
will pick up the foot imprints of real passengers and transmit them
onto a LED matrix screen on the underside of each of the corresponding
artwork cars. Viewers will actually be able to see how many people,
with their exact position, at any time are in the real elevator cars.
Such projects exemplify Storey's genius.
For Vancouver's new Sapperton Skytrain transit station located at
the Labatt Brewery and Columbia Hospital in a suburb of New Westminster,
Storey has installed Fluid Motion (2001), a low maintenance
public art works that consists of a bicycle with driveshaft located
some 40 feet away in the centre hub of the station. Turning its wheels,
participatory visitors can auto-propel a vertical carousel situated
between two waiting platforms. The wheels on either side have 16 panels.
As the wheels (18 feet in diameter) turn in opposite directions on
either side, they make visible successive moving images of the phases
of the moon on one side, while on the other there is a generic crosswalk
symbol of a man (in this case doing a back flip) waiting Skytrain
passengers can see. The device, loosely based on the 19th century
cinematic device called a Phenakistiscope, creates an effect of animation
through the optical effect of visually "reading" the successive
variations of a similar image.
A second Skytrain commission, in process to date, involves two electronic
footpads and 2 leaf shaped LED screens. Bystanders who stand on certain
designated areas will see their own footprints, along with those of
other people who may be standing at the time on another such designated
area at the Broadway Commercial Streets station in Vancouver.
The Cooper Mews, installed on the north shore of False Creek
in Vancouver for Concorde Pacific Developments has its origins in
a smaller piece done by Storey in 1986 called The Babbling Boardwalk
for the Brewery Creek project, originated by the Mount Pleasant Town
Planning department and Western Front. It references the old Sweeny
Cooperage, a historical Vancouver enterprise in operation for 75 years
until it was torn down in 1984 to make way for BC Place, Cambie Bridge
and Expo 1986. Five barrels have been placed along a 250 foot long
track in the air. The boardwalk has been made of wood in places and
concrete in others. In other areas it simply trails away into grassy
lawn while the ìrailsî of the sculpture above likewise
trail off into space at the extreme ends of the piece. Pre-recorded
pipe organ-like sounds emit bursts of sound and steam in different
frequencies from out of the openings of the barrels (There are 15
different tones that depend on which of the boards you step on and
sound tonalities vary according to water levels in each barrel) recalling
the age of steam. The piece successfully encapsulates a sense of history,
and fuses public space with sculpture in a fun and unobtrusive way.
For the Surrey Arts Centre, Storey has conceived Out of Thin Air,
yet another highly imaginative, almost futuristic piece that features
the use of copper refrigerant tubes and a copper surface. A refrigeration
unit behind the piece enables frost to build up in designated surface
areas of the copper plane. They form words that will ever so subtly
appear and disappear as viewers look at the wall-like surface over
time. One of the actual words visitors see is DREAM. This word is
recreated in frost on the copper metal in six languages. They include
Punjabi, Hindi Coast Salish, English and French. Panels located in
various places in the building will refer to the senses, such as scent,
taste, in their frosty word combinations.
As Alan Storey comments "Part of the philosophy in my approach
is that a work of art in the public realm should intrigue and engage
a passerby into an exploratory investigation of the content and its
relationship to the surrounding site." With such an interesting
admixture of foresight, imagination, the ability to take on large
scale projects, and to conceive public artworks that engage the publicís
imagination, Alan Storey will undoubtedly attract further public commissions
in the future. As his track record has demonstrated, he never repeats
his ideas in exactly the same way, and he challenges us to think about
time, place, space, history, and the future in a way few sculptors
do - anywhere.
- John K. Grande
This article originally appeared in print in the autumn
02 issue of ESPACE Sculpture
Watch for John Grande's upcoming new book ART NATURE
DIALOGUES - published by SUNY
(State University of New York) Press, 2003
Year01 Forum Index