Lit up

Ken Lum’s “Monument” piece was installed a few days ago at Clark & 6th, just down the street from where I live. They lit it up today. It’s a lot larger than I thought it would be, but maybe that’s because I’m viewing it from only a few blocks away. I’m sure it will get the town talking…




Filed under with/in process

3 responses to “Lit up

  1. hi Heidi,
    I was thinking of posting something about the new East Van landmark on my blog too. Like you I’m not really sure what I think of it yet.

    I’m a fan of Ken Lum’s work and know about him mainly from a Radio 3 magazine article I was involved in. But I’m entirely convinced that

    I can’t get past the association this ‘logo’ has with the Dog Town icon of the 70’s that I grew up with as a kid skateboarding in Ottawa. It seems so derivative and unoriginal.

    seeya soon

  2. heidimay

    I’ve been thinking about this…

    Haig, your comments inspired me to do some online research into what the artist has said about the work and what the public is blogging about. It has really made me contemplate interpretation itself, how our individual experiences inform how we think about art. This sounds like an obvious point but, humour me a little, and I promise it will go much deeper 🙂

    Because I was not familiar with the symbol, have only lived in Vancouver for 12 years (5 years now on the east side), did not grow up with skateboard paraphernalia like you have mentioned…I didn’t bring any of that reading to this work until afterwards. That said, I immediately recognized it as a logo, which conjured up connotations with design culture, however, the presence of the cross urges me to move away from those readings, even though I am still drawn back to the slick aesthetics. I bring to it my knowledge of the history of neon signage in this city and the divisive relationship between east and west. Yet, I also bring to this work my knowledge of Ken’s work with signs, text and photographs ( selected work online here: ) …which undoubtedly affect my relationship to the piece. I draw strong connections between “Monument” and the sign pieces he did in 2000 that were shown at the Contemporary Art Gallery downtown, and I am also reminded of his Language Paintings from the late 80s. Admittedly, I am affected by my schooling in the interpretation of art, and by the fact that I worked with Ken while completing my MFA at UBC where he was a professor. With all of that said though, my interpretation is also affected by the conversations and dialogue a work creates.

    This last point is what I’ve been thinking about the past couple of days. Like I said, I was inspired to research the blogs as well as what the “legitimate” sources have to say ( ). I found some interesting debates happening. Particularly on this site:
    I was driven to know just how much Lum knew about the origin of the symbol, even though he states that “nobody knows the origin of it”. He said he attempted to trace the roots and “heard” that it was once used by either the Clark Park or Riley Park gangs of the 1950s. Postings on the blogs also discuss its origination in East Vancouver gangs.

    So…is Lum suggesting that this symbol existed before the gangs and was taken up by them? Is this what he wants us to think about? But, what if, as you say, the viewer can’t get past a particular usage of this symbol in order to think about these histories. For me, the interpretive practice I am illustrating right now, and what others are discussing on the blogs, is what is the most interesting part about the work. My train of thought has led me to think about the origin of the symbol, the object, and makes me wonder if there is ever an original to anything. I told you this would get deep!

    This does not necessarily mean that “Monument” is a “success,” it means that in this particular instance, in this point of time on this blog, it has been successful in leading me to these thoughts. My interpretation is temporal as well. I happen to walk by this piece every time I venture anywhere west of Clark Drive (interesting, huh?). I get around the city on public transit and walk to the bus loop at VCC station to travel to the west side. I walk towards the light…The more times I experience the work, the more I am left to think about commercialized religion…still contemplating that one…:)

    Thanks for getting me to somewhat articulate my daily walking route, Haig!

  3. great follow up, Heidi
    very thought-provoking indeed. The symbol and it’s many iterations over time leads me to think about the way East Van may have been back in the 1950’s. Using the symbol as a historical reference is as you say successful in invoking a response.

    Something about when a sign that’s been spray-painted on the backs of garages for decades gets adopted into a huge glowing LED landmark just doesn’t sit well with me.

    I’ve been in Vancouver about the same amount of time you have, Heidi. And I distinctly remember all the trouble that was kicked up over the Bow Mac sign in my first year in Vancouver. Many people fought to save the sign, which they called a historic landmark. The City chose to protect the sign after the protests and forced Toys-r-us to put their neon lettering over the Bow Mac letters. Wow, that was worth the fight!

    I hope Monument can stand the test of time.

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