News / Vancouver

New sculpture a collision of Vancouver's nature and consumer culture

A new sculpture to be installed Monday beside the Expo SkyTrain line and the Georgia Viaduct in downtown Vancouver will reflect the city's ancient past and its current throw-away consumer culture.

Trans Am Totem will feature an old growth cedar tree base holding up four crushed cars with a gleaming Trans Am on top.

“It's an attempt to reconcile where we've been and where we are now,” explained North Vancouver artist Marcus Bowcott, who has been working on the project for two years for the Vancouver Biennale sculpture exhibition.

He plans to watch it being installed next Monday at Quebec St. and Milross Ave., located north of Science World.

“It's a contradiction of culture elevated above nature,” he said Wednesday in an interview.

“In a sense, we trying to keep up with technology, but we seem increasingly out of step with nature – not just internally but externally.”

Bowcott, 64, taught drawing and painting for 22 years until last year at Capilano University, when the studio art program was eliminated.

He is a graduate of London's prestigious Royal College of Art and became interested in the crumbling car culture when he spent his early years working on the tow boats along the Fraser River, where he saw stacks of crushed cars.

“I noticed cars being used as breakwaters along the Fraser,” Bowcott recalled. “I love the design of cars – it's the closest thing people have to sculptures. The sculpture is a collision, of sorts, a metaphor for us being sealed off from others in our cars.”

The idea of mixing car culture with old-growth cedar is an idea he has played with for years in his sculpture and paintings.

The original plan was for a stack of wrecked cars that would tower high above the SkyTrain line, but the city was worried about people climbing the sculpture, so he came up with the idea of an old-growth cedar tree base, which has a large metal column running up the middle, which holds up the cars.

The ancient tree base was from Vancouver Island and was donated anonymously.

A successful painter, Bowcott used more than $40,000 from the sale of his paintings to create Trans Am Totem.

He and his wife, Helene Bowcott, stripped the interiors of the donated wrecks, then sanded the exteriors before painting by Classic Customs in east Vancouver.

He said engineer Eric Karsh and another engineer donated about $15,000 in engineering services before the sculpture could be installed.

To help pay for the final $6,500 cost of the heavy equipment needed to lift the work into place Monday, Bowcott launched an Indiegogo campaign.

Rock Hushka, chief curator of the Tacoma Art Museum, wrote about Trans Am Totem: “By stacking smashed automobiles and levitating them high above the roadway, Bowcott’s sculpture serves to remind us of the ultimate responsibilities we bear to our planet and future generations.

Trans Am Totem fantasizes a justified end to car culture even as countless automobiles zoom past on asphalt and concrete ribbons and ooze pollutants and spent carbon fuels into the atmosphere. Bowcott’s vision of nature triumphant subversively reminds ultimately of our ongoing contributions to global warming and further environmental degradation.”

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