|What is this enigmatic figure on the Coal Harbour seawall saying to the tourists below?|
|Plaque includes poet's words written on sculpture.|
|Boats, mountains, Stanley Park; there's lots else to look at on the seawall.|
|Most seawall-walkers have their eyes on the scenery, including the unusual green-roofed convention centre.|
The 2003 sculpture, called sliding edge, is by artists Jacqueline Metz and Nancy Chew, whose webpage says they explore ideas of "place and perception, landscape and culture." They say the sculpture's name refers to the always-moving edge of the waterfront; that the black stone waterfall suggests the coal cliff of historic Coal Harbour; and that the "enigmatic figure" on top is looking north and "acting as our compass."
The poem they used, November Walk Near False Creek Mouth, was written in the early 1960s and does not appear to be a happy one. Literary critic L.R. Early says it represents Vancouver as "the last issue of an attenuated civilization, threatened with nuclear destruction and waiting for the end." It refers unkindly to the masses who walk there -- a lanknosed lady, wrinkled tourists, snorkeled manlings. Tom Marshall, author of Harsh and Lovely Land: The Major Canadian Poets and the Making of a Canadian Tradition, says that in Birney's poem, "a solitary man broods upon human incapacity, decay, selfishness and vulgarity in the face of impending disaster, solitary man on the furious edge of an ocean of chaos and irrational violence."
Which makes me think it's a good thing there is so much spectacular scenery to draw tourists' gaze out over the water as they walk the Coal Harbour seawall -- the mountains, the seaplanes, the grass-roofed convention centre. It may be best if they don't inquire too vigorously into the meaning of the strange figure looming over their heads on the opposite side.