Abstract form of jumping salmon unveiled at Vancouver International Airport mall

Kevin Griffin

The Vancouver Sun

Visual Arts - Art Seen

July 9, 2015

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

Artist Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas has designed a new stainless steel sculpture that recalls natural forms such as the curve of a jumping whale or salmon.

The public art work is made from highly polished stainless steel. In contrast to those reflective surfaces is the underside of the 12-metre long sculpture which is covered in copper leaf.

“Yes, it’s like a whale jumping or a salmon jumping,” Yahgulanaas said in a phone interview.

“These things are all arcs – like the sun appears to cross from one horizon to another. They’re like folds in the body. It’s a repetitive organic form that we see throughout our lives in phenomenon and in objects.”

The highly reflective surface, he said, is similar to the surfaces on large-scale public art works such as Cloud Gate in Chicago made by Anish Kapoor, the British artist born in India.

The work is called SEI (pronounced ‘sigh’). It expands on Yahgulanaas’s unique Haida manga style which fuses traditional Northwest Coast forms such as ovoids and formlines with the pop culture designs of Japanese comic books known as manga.

SEI is the centrepiece of the outdoor mall McArthurGlen Designer Outlet at Vancouver International Airport. It is part of the extensive public art program at Vancouver International Airport. Earlier this year, YVR’s public art program unveiled The Rivers Monument by Kwakwaka’wakw artist Marianne Nicolson in the new A-B Connector. It’s two blue glass totem poles etched with petroglyphs with a water feature around its base.

Yahgulanaas’ sculpture is a distilled abstraction of Haida manga. He said during the design phase, he kept trying to expand on the idea of nestling objects within one another. He compared it to putting boxes in boxes and holes in holes.

He said that seeing the work of Barbara Hepworth, an English artist and sculptor, in a museum in Palm Springs had a big impact on him. He took numerous photographs of her work and focussed on how she created a mass and pierced it.

“It was amazing,” he said about looking at her work.

“It was the way she had pierced the holes through the mass of the sculpture. It was almost like what I expect the conversations were going on among the Surrealists when they were looking at Northwest Coast art and other indigenous artworks. It seemed to me she was trying to figure out how an avoid nestled inside another similar shape.

“It was really comfortable to see someone who was trying to figure out the same ideas of piercing a mass. How do you make spaces open up within large forms?”

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

The ovoid-like shapes are both actual doorways and also metaphorical ones, he said.

“They allow us to look through something to see something, to go somewhere else through an object that is otherwise static,” he said.

SEI animates the space between the work and the viewer – an area of interest that’s growing in importance for Yahgulanaas.

“It’s like a note that you put in a bottle and throw in the water,” he said.

“You release it. You’ve done your bit and let it go. The magic is: who picks it up? What do they see in it? How does it affect their life?”

Yahgulanaas apprenticed on a totem pole with artist Robert Davidson. While at the Vancouver School of Art in the late 1970s, he discovered he wasn’t able to fit in with the administrative structure of the school. So he returned to Haida Gwaii and got involved in the Haida fight for control of logging on their traditional lands. While he was part of the political battle, he kept drawing comics, a narrative form he loved since childhood. Early in the millennium, he moved to Vancouver.

SEI is Yahgulanaas’ seventh large public art work in B.C. His first was Take Off made from recycled Volvo car parts outside the Thunderbird Winter Sports Centre at the University of B.C. which was commissioned as part of the aboriginal art program for the 2010 Winter Olympics. Other works include Abundance Fenced, a metal fence at Knight and East 33rd in Kensington Park inspired by the record-setting 2010 Fraser River salmon run, and Rivers, a 10-metre-tall sculpture at the confluence of the North and South Thompson River in Kamloops.

SEI is a project of Y Public art, a public art company founded by Yahgulanaas and designer and business manager Barry Gilson.

The sculpture is located at the McArthurGlen Designer Outlet Vancouver Airport on Templeton Station Canada Line station at YVR.

I’m on Twitter @KevinCGriffin

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