Alan 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 time.

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 Magazine, Montreal

Watch for John Grande's upcoming new book ART NATURE DIALOGUES - published by SUNY (State University of New York) Press, 2003

Year01 Forum Index

Bird Listener - Hudson, Quebec

Pendulum - Hong Kong Bank of Canada, Vancover

Public Service/Private Step - 401 Burrard St., Vancouver
Urban Language - Maison Royal Trust Plaza, Montreal
Fluid Motion -Sapperton Skytrain Station, NewWestminister, BC

Fluid Motion -Sapperton Skytrain Station, NewWestminister, BC

The Coopers Mews - False Creek, Vancouver

Draw #6 Machine for Drawing all Over the World