Rain art drops into Vancouver
Under overcast skies, artist Peter Courtemanche explains his installation, Drop = Blip = Clatter (Rain Stick). (Dominic Schaefer)
Spring in Vancouver is a minefield of rainy days, with umbrella-wielding locals routinely forgetting what the sun looks like for days on end. But one city-based art collective is taking a different approach to the deluge of grey by staging an al fresco show that embraces the region’s tempestuous weather.
Running until 14 April in Chinatown’s Dr Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, the show Rain Gatherers comprises several abstract art installations that use technology to respond to rainfall. The group behind the exhibition – Second Site collective – hopes the diverse works will encourage visitors to reflect on their environment.
“The idea is to bring attention to subtle natural phenomena that people wouldn’t normally notice,” said artist Peter Courtemanche, whose contribution to the show – Drop = Blip = Clatter (Rain Stick) – shows that even nature’s smallest movements produce energy.
A series of four bamboo poles rigged with piezo film sensors, microprocessors and converted pager noisemakers, Courtemanche’s work translates raindrops into electronic sound. Drips from the garden’s tile-roofed walkways fall onto the poles, eventually producing intermittent clicks that visitors have likened to the chirping of birds, insects and frogs.
Despite the role of nature in the exhibition – and the lush ornamental Chinese garden setting – the show’s high-tech element is equally important, said artist Diana Burgoyne.
“All our works deal with how technology can be juxtaposed or integrated with the environment,” she said. Her installation, Acoustics of Rain, includes a series of saucepans and lids mounted on a frame. The rain hits the lids while the upturned pans are wired to act as speakers. The resulting percussive sounds vary greatly, from slow beats to symphonic swirls.
According to Burgoyne, the new show came about after a sun-related installation at the city’s VanDusen Botanical Garden was hit by unpredictable weather in 2009. “We did a solar-powered show and then it rained,” said Burgoyne, laughing. “So this time we did pieces that would respond to precipitation.”
And what if, in a region that locals have nicknamed the Wet Coast, it fails to rain on cue? “I like that the weather is unpredictable,” Courtemanche said. “It changes the artworks and makes the show more experimental. But I can’t believe it won’t rain in Vancouver for most of the month – if it doesn’t, there’ll be a lot of people more worried than us.”
John Lee is the Vancouver Localite for BBC Travel