Tue. May 17th, 2022

The towering sculpture will not be reinstalled on the well-known perch near Science World

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Trans Am Totem, the iconic and towering public artwork with five smashed cars stacked on a cedar stump, has been dismantled and is unlikely to return to the northeastern False Creek home.


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The city of Vancouver says the piece has sustained significant damage from non-artificial birds and needs major restoration.

“You see a lot of birds come together and you can just see how much damage they do in the form of feces that take the paint off,” said Vancouver Biennale director Valerie Smaller. “They have turned the sculpture into a birdhouse.”

On Saturday, a city work crew lifted and removed the five car bodies – a Trans Am, BMW, Honda, Volkswagen Cabriolet and a Mercedes – and then returned on Sunday to pull away the massive stump, which was anchored in the ground with a 10-meter steel bar.

Once repaired, however, the sculpture will not be reinstalled on the well-known perch near Science World.

A work crew dismantles Trans Am Totem in False Creek on Saturday.  The public artwork is being restored and then moved to a location yet to be determined.
A work crew dismantles Trans Am Totem in False Creek on Saturday. The public artwork is being restored and then moved to a location yet to be determined. Photo of Photo of roaming-the-planet courtesy of the Vancouver Biennale

The city has never considered the False Creek site as a permanent site for the 10-foot-high stretch due to the expected redevelopment of the area, which will happen when the Georgia Viaduct is eventually demolished.


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“We are currently identifying a long-term location to install the artwork once the restoration is complete, and aim to get it back in public by the summer of 2022,” the city said on social media.

The artwork, created by artists Marcus Bowcott and Helene Aspinall, was first temporarily installed on Pacific Blvd. and Quebec St. in 2015 for the Vancouver Biennale.

Trans Am Totem became a permanent landmark in Vancouver in 2019 thanks to a $ 250,000 donation from Vancouver billionaires Chip and Shannon Wilson.

Along with paying the artists, the Wilson donation covered the maintenance of the artwork for 10 years and the future cost of moving the 11,320-kilogram sculpture, which is now part of the city’s public art collection.


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Bowcott says that Trans Am Totem is a site-specific piece, and the artwork itself refers to False Creek’s industrial past as well as its ancient and natural history.

“As a youngster, to go to art school, I worked on tugboats, and I remember that I had tied beam in False Creek. Before Expo, there were mills down there, ”he said. “That place used to be a swamp, and there were old forests right there with cedar-sized trees.”

Artists Helene Aspinall and Marcus Bowcott.
Artists Helene Aspinall and Marcus Bowcott. Photo by Malcolm Parry /Vancouver Sun.

Less says the city will be hard pressed to find a better location for Trans Am Totem because the artwork, which is a commentary on both tedious consumerism and the ravages of ancient forests, was also perfectly located at the mouth of the city center.

“This is the perfect place and it will be hard to repeat it given the amount of people who can currently see it from their homes or while driving or from SkyTrain,” she said.


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Aspinall hopes she and Bowcott will be able to help choose the new location.

“It will be a different piece with a different background … and we will remain curious to see what the city does,” Aspinall said. “But we’re really happy that the sculpture is getting the right maintenance and being renovated – so it’s exciting.”

Moving the sculpture to the Marine Gateway area that the city is considering would be a mistake, Bowcott says.

“It would be a disastrous location because the area is centered around cars. Although I think the piece is relevant to motorists, it is actually more relevant to cyclists, pedestrians and transit drivers because it presents the car in such an absurd context, ”said Bowcott.


With files by John Mackie

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