Engaging Communities in Conversations: Keg de Souza’s Installation in Vancouver’s China Town

During my visit to artist Keg de Souza’s Appetite for Construction,  I overheard various conversations surrounding her site-specific project. Some of the themes touched upon in these discussions were; the utility of artist spaces and the ways in which people interact with the local community at large and with public spaces.

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In the middle of the room was a large map, without street names or landmarks, visitors were invited to identify locations and add personal stories and knowledge about the neighbourhood and food culture in Vancouver’s Chinatown and Downtown Eastside.

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I was impressed by the ideas that Keg shared with visitors in the space. She often expressed her desire as an artist to explore the creation of spaces that give people the opportunity to discuss the realities they actively inhabit, and to visualize and think about this reality in new ways.

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I also enjoyed hearing the thoughts of visitors as they examined and interacted with the work in progress. In my own conversation with a visitor, we reflected on how themes of class, gentrification, waste, politics of space and community engagement are present in Keg’s work.

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One visitor pointed out the relationship between our perceived notions of “old” and “new” culture. He remarked that in many ways it seemed that the “old” and more traditional notions of culture in Chinatown were being represented in items that still have utility, such as dried animals that could be used for food, while “new” culture was represented in discarded items such as coffee cups. This comment highlighted the theme of human waste and our current relationship to food consumption as a society that throws many containers away.

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I left feeling grateful to have witnessed the positive responses of community members to the project that Keg has created. One man remarked at how necessary these spaces are, and how important it is to support the efforts of artists creating them.

– Michele Davey

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