Exclusive sneak peek at Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas' latest work at McArthurGlen Designer Outlet Vancouver Airport

Amanda Siebert

The Georgia Straight


June 12, 2015

Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas in front of SEI at McArthurGlen Outlet Mall at the Vancouver International Airport, by Y Public Art
Photo: Amanda Siebert

You might not know his name, but if you’ve ever driven down Knight Street or passed by UBC’s Thunderbird Winter Sports Arena, you’ve definitely seen his work.

Contemporary artist Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas’ latest piece, SEI, won’t be unveiled until later this summer, but the Georgia Straight was invited to see the piece just as the finishing touches were being made.

Situated in the centre of the plaza at the soon-to-open McArthurGlen Designer Outlet Vancouver Airport just a stone’s throw away from YVR in Richmond, Yahgulanaas and his team at Y Public Art utilized eight and a half tons of stainless steel, copper, granite, and marble to create SEI, a 12-metre long, four-metre high sculpture that speaks to the idea of hybridity.

“While it speaks to issues of indigeneity, it is a piece that I think we need to see more as a contemporary piece of artwork without reference to its ethnicity, and in that, I think it begins to go into that place in between,” said Yahgulanaas at the site of the new piece on Tuesday (June 9).

“This work is really about hybridity. That’s the challenge, and it’s a challenge because we’re not used to looking at art that way.”

The surface, he writes in a description of the piece, is not just the end of the object, but also connected to its surroundings.

The copper underbelly of SEI provides a visual interruption to the rest of the piece’s bright steel: a “flesh tone” providing complexity, but also representing elements of individuality.

“Any piece of copper is not like any other piece of copper. It’s complex, like people. It’s a celebration of cultural diversity. Cooper is also a currency, not only in this modern era, but also a historical currency in this part of the world.”

Though he says that the piece does pay tribute to formative roots by use of ovoid shapes and cutouts, the acclaimed artist says that it also raises notions of the work of Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore, two 20th-century English sculptors known for their modern and semi-abstract work.

It makes sense, then, that the mind behind RED: A Haida Manga is so interested in bringing different worlds together through his latest piece of art. (In his book, RED, Yahgulanaas fuses the artistic stylings of both the North Pacific indigenous region with the Japanese comic book style of drawing developed in the late 19th century.)

But more than his focus on fushion, Yahgulanaas wants viewers to develop their own relationship to the work, without his idea of what the art represents in their minds.

“That magic of artwork happens between the observer and the object. That’s where the power of it is, and the artist doesn’t have authority in that space.

“I create the opportunity for someone to have a conversation or a consideration and they take it from there. I want people to pause and consider who they are and what they’re doing here, but in terms of what that means and what they’re taking away from it, it’s entirely up to them. And if they do that, then that’s a good thing.”

SEI won't be open to public viewing until the opening of the McArthurGlen Designer Outlet Vancouver Airport, which is scheduled for early summer.

Follow Amanda Siebert on Twitter @amanda_siebert.