Vancouver City Centre: Tight City

TIGHT CITY (2014)

The Graey

With the real-estate bubble expanding and gentrification in full swing, affordable housing in Vancouver has become scarce. In TIGHT CITY, the youth art collective “The Graey” raises questions about sustainable living conditions. Posing as urban residents, members of the collective play with illusion to stage a high-density living space that appears to fit inside a Canada Line exit shelter. It’s an absurd solution to a critical issue. Yet TIGHT CITY points to the crammed space not only as fantasy, but also as a reality for many apartment dwellers today.

TIGHT CITY draws on a number of art-historical references. These include M.C. Escher’s 1958 lithograph Belvedere, wherein the artist manipulates our perceptions of space and depth, examining how spaces can appear expansive when they are actually flat. The fictitious living space depicted in TIGHT CITY embodies the idea behind Escher’s impossible cube by creating a sense of impossible dimension in a two-dimensional picture plane.

A similar sense of illusion is evident in Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Still #3 (1977), in which the artist poses as a coy housewife. While Sherman’s piece uses disguise to manipulate the viewer’s perception of reality, TIGHT CITY highlights the constructed nature of their imaginary living space.

The three residents lounging on the bed in TIGHT CITY are positioned in reference to Edouard Manet’s painting, Le Déjeuner sur lL’herbe (1863). Just as Edouard Manet was interested in depicting the economic and social transitions that resulted as 19th-century France moved from agrarian to urban centres of production, TIGHT CITY points to the increasingly upscale movement in Vancouver real estate due to globalization. TIGHT CITY changes the context of its residents’ pose from a pastoral setting in Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe to an interior living space, responding to the challenges associated with rapidly developing, urban spaces.

The Graey is a Vancouver-based youth artist collective based at Satellite Gallery. As a collective, the group is interested in creating public art interventions that resonate with the city's culturally diverse population.

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