Lost in #VanRELand ’98 – ’04, the Dark Years (2004)

(2004, colour scans from 35 film negatives)

Lost in #VanRELand is a long-term photography project that explores the intersections between consumer culture, the built environment, the everyday, and the themes of cultural constructs, colonialism, myth-building, and utopias, as communicated through commerce, advertising, real estate, urban planning, and human behavior, as found strewn across the metropolitan region of Vancouver, Canada, a place deeply marked by #VanRE, its anti-genius loci.

This set focuses on years ’98 to ’04.

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ARTIST’S STATEMENT

“Resorting to happiness is quite convenient from a technocratic point of view. Happiness seems to provide a humanizing varnish to the dehumanizing worldview of [individualism-driven neoliberal] technocracy.” (Cabanas, Edgar. Illouz, Eva. Manufacturing Happy Citizens: How the Science and Industry of Happiness Control Our Lives. Polity Press. 2019. Page 47.)

In 1998, I wasn’t at all aware that a certain Martin Elias Peter Seligman was being elected to the post of the president of the American Psychology Association, and was preparing his inaugural manifesto, “Positive Psychology: An Introduction” (2000), nor that this high priest of psychology was orchestrating an ideological marriage of neoliberal individualism to New Age “positive psychology”—and facilitating the birth of the resultant mutant love-child of the pseudo “Science of Happiness”, whereby, as Edgar Cabanas and Eva Illouz write in Manufacturing Happy Citizens: How the Science and Industry of Happiness Control Our Lives, “with the help of worldwide press coverage and media hype, positive psychologists successfully disseminated amongst academics, professionals and the lay public the idea that a new science of happiness capable of finding the psychological keys to well-being, meaning and flourishing had finally arrived” (p. 19)—nor was I the least bit aware of the profound effects this seemingly faraway phenomena would have on the social, urban, economic and cultural fabric, and the still-developing, adolescent psyche of the metropolitan region of Vancouver, and its near and far peripheries.

In sync with these emerging energies, the real estate development industries of metropolitan Vancouver—already in the process of erecting a new nature, outdoor, and adventure experience consumption mythology to conceal the region’s (rightly-earned) reputation as a real estate speculation, resource extraction, and securities fraud Wild West, and legitimizing it as a “world class” node of leisure within the burgeoning global utopian fantasy narrative of late postmodern capitalism—began to fortify their marketing campaigns with the mythologies of this nascent ideology.

At that time, I was as much seduced by these promises as I was suspicious of them, especially since I lived in a dense, diverse urban neighbourhood just west of its (downtown peninsula) business center, and—resisting the centrifugal forces of the city’s public spaces trying to spin me out to its picturesque, hypnotizing “waterfront edge condition” that Lance Berelowitz delineates in his Dream City: Vancouver and the Global Imagination (see pages 127-29)—I spent more and more of my time walking and biking its streets, and became more and more intrigued by its unique urban and suburban fabric which was unlike the ideal-typical symbols of Anglophone North America I was exposed to through mainstream media.

(For reference, at that time, I was only able to come across two types of representations of non-rural characters in mainstream television shows, movies, magazines, music videos, and news reels: i) inhabitants of nondescript American suburban utopias living in sprawling single family homes with expansive, zoning setback mandated front lawns and mysteriously underused backyards located set in lush, orderly, ethnically sterile neighbourhoods, who moved about exclusively in personal automobiles; or, ii) hip, underemployed (but somehow still materially well-off) American East Coast urbanites living in brick-with-exterior-metal-fire-escapes buildings in inner city neighbourhoods on the cusp of gentrification, who moved about without moving about.)

Since these mass-produced cultural constructs were so at odds with the urban and suburban reality around me—as well as with the Canadian housing reality of “the dwelling that’s most Canadian, in its sheer numbers and popularity, […] the slab farm – the block of high-rise rental apartment buildings, generally constructed between 1955 and 1979, located closer to the countryside than the city hall, in the suburbs or fringes of major cities” that The Globe and Mail wrote about in a January 2, 2019 article—I felt an urge to address this extreme disconnect between the mainstream media hyperreality and tourism and real estate marketing and the physical reality of my day-to-day experience, and produce more authentic visuals representations of the streets of the city and its near peripheries.

And, so, over the six or so “Dark Years” that saw the end of a tumultuous century and the start of new one (of supposed endless growth), the shuttering of small businesses and large-scale demolitions, an explosion of drug and mental health problems on the city’s East Side, a boom in façadism—a logical extension of destructive neoliberal individualism hiding behind a thin façade of positive psychology, in both architecture and real estate marketing—and a literal darkening of the streets under the guise of one “Vancouver Model”, as well as the start of decreasing housing affordability accelerated by the other “Vancouver Model” (cf. Sam Cooper), I would see a young city, the business center of a wealthy geopolitical region that would soon dub itself “The Best Place on Earth”, and under the guise of its innocence and naiveté make a wager with the devil and lay the path of its eventual social and economic deterioration.

To bear witness to these times, I took it upon myself to document them for posterity through these sometimes cinematic, sometimes just plain dark photographs, using just a manual, wide angle SLR camera and monochrome 35mm film.

I hope they lighten up your day, like they paradoxically do mine. 🙂

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ALSO IN THIS SERIES:

Lost in #VanRELand, ’90 – ’94, the Early Years (1994)
Lost in #VanRELand ’94 – ’98, the Impressionist Years (1998)
Lost in #VanRELand ’98 – ’04, the Dark Years (2004)
Lost in #VanRELand, ’04 – ’10, the Bubble Years (2010) – (TBR*)
Lost in #VanRELand, ’10 – ’14, the LoFi Years (2015) – (TBR*)
Lost in #VanRELand, ’14 –  ’17, the Stasis Years (2017) – (TBR*)
Lost in #VanRELand, ’17 –  ’18, the Textnecks Years (2019) – (TBR*)

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