Sometimes I Stop to Smell the Roses

by Jason Smythe

Push FestivalPhoto by Tim Matheson

I hate clichés, and the one about “stopping to smell the roses” is particularly annoying. But behind every annoying cliché is a kernel of truth, and it wasn’t until I experienced the Sometimes I Think I Can See You exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery that I realized this, for the exhibit (which is happening at multiple venues across the city) proves that there is brilliance and art all around us—we just need to take the time to have a look around every now and then.

Push Festival, "Sometimes I Think I Can See You"Photo by Liesbeth Bernaerts

The Art Gallery’s lobby is drab at the best of times, and on the day this intrepid reporter decided to pay it a visit it was resplendent in its drabness—making this the perfect setting for the exhibit.  The exhibit consists of two writers dressed in everyday clothing and sitting nonchalantly across the lobby from one another (both armed with nothing but a laptop and a cup of coffee), and two electronic display boards situated across from them. At first this reporter was confused: surely there must be more to this? Did he really take the Canada Line all the way from the hard streets of Richmond to stare at two normal looking people sipping coffee? But then a sudden flash appeared on one of the screens, and text began to race across it, and slowly but surely a story began to unfold: One about a young man wearing a blue Vancouver 2010 toque and a Ninja Turtle backpack, and how he acquired the turtle shell in an epic Moby Dick-style battle with a giant tortoise.  I paused for a second, and then remembered that I was wearing a blue Vancouver 2010 toque, and that I was in fact wearing a Ninja Turtle backpack! This story was about me! (Author’s note: I have never killed a turtle for its shell, or had any Moby Dick-esque feuds/battles with any animal.) A story of love, loss and the inherent difficulties of the stepfather-stepson dynamic was being created right in front of me in the drabbest of lobbies, yet few people noticed. Most people walked right past the two writers and the screens, obviously in a rush to see the Ian Wallace exhibit or to buy quality goods from the gift shop. Others seemed to not even be cognizant of the fact they were in an art gallery, their faces glued to their smartphones as they breezed through the building on their way to Robson Square. At best, 20 percent of the people actually noticed the exhibit.

Push Festival, "Sometimes I Think I Can See You"Photo by Tim Matheson

After 20-odd minutes or so of reading the stories the writers crafted about the other people in drab central, I decided to venture onwards to the Ian Wallace exhibit. But I entered that exhibit a changed man—for I had not only been allowed to witness the creativity in our midst for free, but I also learned that clichés are not totally useless. I doubt this exhibit is really all that focused on showing the usefulness of clichés, but the organizers definitely want to remind you to look up from your smartphone every now and then (or flip-phone, if you’re taking this vintage craze way too seriously) and take a second to observe the beauty that is often all around us. Modern life is difficult enough as it is—why not alleviate some of that stress by stopping to smell the figurative roses?

All images courtesy of PuSh International Performing Arts Festival

Sometimes I Think I Can See You was created by Argentinean artist Mariano Pensotti, and presented by the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival, Contemporary Art Gallery, PTC and Vancouver Art Gallery. Pensotti is known internationally as one of the foremost directors in contemporary theatre. His work El Pasado es un animal grotesco was presented on a revolving stage in the Fei and Milton Wong Experimental Theatre at PuSh 2012, and his work La Mareapresented outdoors in the streets of Gastown at PuSh 2011.

This performance is free and on view until February 3, 2013. Consult the PUSH festival guide for details:

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