Michael Yahgulanaas's new art piece SEI unveiled at Vancouver airport

The Early Edition

CBC News

July 9, 2015

SEI at McArthurGlen Outlet Mall at the Vancouver International Airport, by Y Public Art
Photo: Heather Saitz

Visitors to Vancouver Airport's new luxury mall will be greeted by a 3,855 kilogram steel sculpture called SEI.

The public art installation by acclaimed visual artist Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas is his largest work yet and one of his favourites.

"Sometimes when I walk away from a project I'm never quite sure. I'm always thinking I could have done things differently. This one is a slam dunk," Yahgulanaas told The Early Edition's Rick Cluff.

The sculpture, which took 18 months to complete, is named after the sei whale, one of the largest of its species. The arch of the stainless steel structure which rises four metres above ground is meant to represent the whale out of water.

"Consider the second largest mammal on the planet leaping out its natural habitat and into the air and then dashing back into the ocean."

Yahgulanaas is known by some as the father of the Haida Manga style — a form that combines indigenous imagery and Asian comic book style. He says it was that cross-cultural appeal that influenced the piece.

"One of the things that I'm really in search after some 20 years of being an artist is hybridity. I'm wanting to take my cultural inheritance as a Haida artist ... and find a way to connect to people who are not Haida."

He says the real beauty of the piece is that everyone will interpret it differently.

"The stainless steel is highly polished so it's like a mirror. I want people to stand up and see themselves in the piece.

"This is a very important piece... people who aren't used to having a relationship with art seem to be responding quite well."