Tom Burrows Exhibition Contributes to Dialogue Surrounding Vancouver Housing

by Shaina Dickson

Opening reception of "Tom Burrows", January 8, 2015. Photo by Michael R. Barrick, Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery Tom Burrows

Opening reception of “Tom Burrows”, January 8, 2015.
Photo by Michael R. Barrick, Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery

Tom Burrows, a Vancouver/Hornby Island-based artist, presents a wide breadth of his work at the Morris and Helen Belkin Gallery at the University of British Columbia, spanning from the 1960s to the present. Burrows has made crucial contributions to the development of Vancouver’s art scene, as both an artist and educator. The exhibition, curated by Scott Watson, leads the viewer through the timeline of Burrows’ work, showing the progressive momentum of his practice. It begins with his documentation of squatting and travelling, and wraps up with his polymer resin panels.

Burrows resided within a community of squatters between 1969 and 1971 in North Vancouver, in an intertidal zone where it was difficult to draw the legal border between land and ocean. But in pursuit of progress, and despite economic stress, civic authorities of North Vancouver torched this self-sufficient community in 1971. This led Burrows to continue exploring communities of squatters and slums over a period of seven months, in which he travelled around the world documenting his experiences and writing his essays Dialogue on the Squatters’ Movement and Composite Dialogue on Third World Housing. This series of documents is titled Skwat Doc.

Opening reception of "Tom Burrows", January 8, 2015. Photo by Michael R. Barrick, Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery Tom Burrows January 9 - April 12, 2015 http://belkin.ubc.ca/?id=437

Opening reception of “Tom Burrows”, January 8, 2015.
Photo by Michael R. Barrick, Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery

In 1990, Burrows begins to work almost exclusively with polymer resin panels. The diversity of his art practice during this era is made apparent in the exhibition. While the panels are set flat against the wall, Burrows reaches a beautiful level of richness with layered and mixed pigments, giving each piece perceived depth. He uses additional materials within the resin, including copper, thread, sand, pasta, aluminum foil and charcoal, giving experimental, textural elements. The depth and maturity of the resin works are a stark contrast to his aged, typewriter-written documentation of Skwat Doc.

An additional photographic component of the exhibition is shown at the Walter C. Koerner Library, titled No Sleep (2006). This photographic series documents the daily visitors of a particular sidewalk bench. Some people sit, some lounge, and some lie down. But it wasn’t long before that bench was replaced with a new one, intentionally segmented with metal rods to prevent the homeless from sleeping on it.

Opening reception of "Tom Burrows", January 8, 2015. Photo by Michael R. Barrick, Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery

Opening reception of “Tom Burrows”, January 8, 2015.
Photo by Michael R. Barrick, Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery

The uniqueness of this exhibition revolves around the way in which it shows the evolution and development of Tom Burrows as an artist and individual. But particularly, the dialogue surrounding Skwat Doc, the Maplewood Mudflats and No Sleep is pressing and relevant, considering the state of Vancouver living and housing costs. The gentrification of Vancouver, particularly the Downtown Eastside, is a process that is being heavily opposed by many. But the argument is always heated, as one person’s gentrification is another person’s rejuvenation. Throughout this process, housing costs rise, income level of residents rise, along with the costs of all goods and services, therefore displacing and forcing the pre-gentrification residents out of the area. The residents’ livelihoods depend on the affordability of this neighborhood, which post-renewal will no longer cater to the needs of low-income people. The cost of living is becoming increasingly restricted for many, as Vancouver is in an ongoing process of urban renewal, making this exhibition and the surrounding dialogue crucial at this point in time.

The Tom Burrows exhibition runs until April 12th at the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery.

The Tom Burrows exhibition runs until April 12th at the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery.

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