here - 75 Years of Collecting - Vancouver Art Gallery

here - 75 Years of Collecting - Vancouver Art Gallery

February 2 to September 16, 2012 Kota Ezawa

Offsite is the Vancouver Art Gallery’s

outdoor public art space featuring

a program of rotating projects.

Located downtown at the foot of the

Shangri-La skyscraper development,

Offsite serves as a hub for local and

international contemporary artists

to explore issues related to the

surrounding urban context. As artists

consider the site-specific potential

of art within the public realm,

projects may inspire, bemuse and

stimulate broad audiences, and

will respond to the changing social

and cultural conditions of our

contemporary world.

Offsite is organized by the Vancouver Art Gallery

and funded by the City of Vancouver through

the Public Art Program. The Gallery recognizes

Ian Gillespie, President, Westbank; Ben Yeung,

President, Peterson Investment Group; and the

residents at Shangri-La for their support of this space.

CURATOR: Kathleen Ritter, Associate Curator,

Vancouver Art Gallery


and Gary Smith, Boelling Smith Design

LIGHTING: Elia Kirby, Great Northern Way

Scene Shop

Bute St

Robson St

Alberni St


Melville St

Thurlow St

W Georgia St

Burrard St

W Pender St

Dunsmuir St

LOCATED on West Georgia Street

Hornby St

between Thurlow and Bute Streets,


The Vancouver Art Gallery is a not-for-profit

organization supported by its members, individual

donors, corporate funders, foundations, the City

of Vancouver, the Province of British Columbia

through the British Columbia Arts Council, and

the Canada Council for the Arts.

Offsite is generously supported by our Visionary

Partner: Michael O’Brian Family Foundation

750 Hornby Street Vancouver BC V6Z 2H7 Canada

Tel 604 662 4700

Hand Vote

The show of hands in a public space is

the oldest and most direct form of

democracy — the self-management of the

commons — how do we organize what we

share, so we can go on sharing it? 1

If two things define global politics in 2011,

they are the Arab Spring uprisings through-

out the Middle East and the Occupy

movement in North America and Europe.

Although the two movements have fundamental

differences, they share similar impe-

tuses: a sense of injustice, a demand for

political and societal reform, a desire for

more equitable distribution of wealth and

resources, and a renewed conviction that

collective action can indeed effect change.

In Vancouver, the Occupy protests took

place on the grounds of the Vancouver Art

Gallery for over six weeks in the fall of

2011, leaving an indelible impression on the

city. Several months later, a new public artwork

by San Francisco- and Berlin-based

artist Kota Ezawa was raised a few blocks

away at Offsite, the Gallery’s location for

temporary, site-specific public artworks.

While these two events were not directly

related, there are interesting connections

between them.

Ezawa’s Hand Vote is a large-scale wooden

tableau depicting a group of figures with

their hands raised in unison. The group is

unidentifiable — they could be citizens in

a town hall meeting or students in a university

classroom, members of parliament

or a religious group — we don’t know for

certain. Yet the simple gesture of raising

one’s hand signifies an icon of democracy:

the vote.

Stacked in layers as if in a pop-up book,

the figures are cut out of flat panels of

plywood. The tableau towers above the

sidewalk, at a height of over 6 metres,

assuming a monumental scale. The sculpture

is sited in the centre of the Offsite

LEFT: Hand Vote, 2012 (detail)

space, framed by two walls and surrounded

by a shallow pool of water, casting reflections

of the figures. The strong grain of

the Douglas Fir wood stands in for the

skin tones of the faces and hands while

the other details are painted with brightly

coloured enamel. The flat, wooden construction

of the piece is evocative of a

stage set or façade — one imagines that a

performance or film shoot is about to take

place. While the front of the work has a

bright, glossy finish, the back of the construction

exposes the rough supporting

structure, suggesting perhaps that the

status of democracy is fragile and in need

of constant reinforcement.

The starting point for Hand Vote was a

found image — a generic, stock photograph

of people voting. Ezawa meticulously recreated

the image through a digital drawing

process, stripping down the photograph

to only essential shapes, lines and colours.

By eliminating details, the work refers

less to a specific group of individuals

and more to a general sign of a collective

body united by a common purpose.

Importantly, Ezawa maintained the basic

structure and framing of the source image,

cropping the hands and faces of the figures

as in the original, underscoring the

relationship of his process to photography.

This is typical of the artist’s previous work.

Often using well-known images from the

history of photography, film and popular

media, Ezawa’s pared-down renderings

speak to the iconic status of photography —

despite the simplified, almost cartoon-like

quality of the cut-outs, the source image

is still recognizable. In this way, Ezawa’s

work is a potent comment on the role of

photography in shaping our perception of

reality, the spectacular nature of the media,

and the limits of memory.

In the past year, events such as the Arab

Spring and the Occupy movement restored

a sense of political purpose to the act of

gathering in public space. Consequently

images of crowds, especially those in

protest, have circulated widely around the

ABOVE: Consensus, Occupy Vancouver, October 15, 2011. Photo: Stephen Collis

globe via social media platforms and

news outlets: people gathering in public

squares, people raising their hands in the

air, people bearing handmade signs with

declarations. The demand for change

is being made visible quite simply by

gathering en masse in the public realm,

and broadcast to the world through the

signifying image of the crowd.

In particular, the simple act of raising one’s

hand — a gesture intimately and symbolically

tied to the idea of democracy — has

taken on new significance in light of these

events. In a discussion about the relationship

between art and politics in the

context of the Occupy movement, poet

and critic Stephen Collis writes:

The use of hand signals has been one

of the distinctive aspects of the Occupy

movement — especially the consensusexpressing

“sparkle fingers.” (There are

countless photographs of occupiers with

their hands in their air.) At this moment in

time, hands publically raised in the process

of direct democratic decision making

has new, more revolutionary meaning.

It’s an icon of this historical moment. 2

While Ezawa’s concept for Hand Vote was

not a direct response to world events 3 ,

its timing at Offsite was. The decision to

mount the work on the heels of these

events was an acknowledgement that the

demand for political reform has become

an urgent issue both abroad and at home—

and that art, especially public art, has a

role to play in this discourse. If, as Collis

suggests, raising one’s hand in public is

particularly iconic today, then Ezawa’s

portrait of democracy can be seen as a

monument to the recent history of people

gathering together to effect change.

Kathleen Ritter,

Associate Curator

1 Stephen Collis, “A Show of Hands: Art and

Revolution in Public Space,” Occupy Vancouver

Voice, February 10, 2012, accessed April 5, 2012,

2 Ibid.

3 A previous, much smaller (51 x 61 x 38 cm),

iteration of Hand Vote was produced for the exhibition

OURS: Democracy in the Age of Branding

at the Vera List Center for Art and Politics at

The New School, New York, October 16, 2008 to

February 1, 2009.


the Artist

Kota Ezawa’s artworks take the diverse

forms of digital animations, slide

projections, lightboxes, paper cut-outs,

intaglio etchings, ink drawings and wood

sculptures. Ezawa has exhibited his work

in solo exhibitions at Wexner Center

for the Arts, Columbus, OH; St. Louis

Art Museum; Charles H. Scott Gallery,

Vancouver; Artpace, San Antonio; and

the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford.

He has participated in group exhibitions

at the Vancouver Art Gallery; Museum

of Modern Art, New York; Metropolitan

Museum of Art, New York; San Francisco

Museum of Modern Art; The Andy Warhol

Museum, Pittsburgh; Art Institute of

Chicago; Musée d’Art Moderne de la

Ville de Paris; as well as the 5th Seoul

International Biennale of Media Art and

the 2004 Shanghai Biennale. Ezawa lives

in San Francisco and Berlin.


Kota Ezawa

Hand Vote, 2012

(front and inside images)

wood, paint

6.053 x 9.144 x 3.201 metres

site-specific installation at

Vancouver Art Gallery Offsite

PHOTOGRAPHY: Rachel Topham,

Vancouver Art Gallery

ISBN: 978-1-895442-94-6

Copyright © 2012 Vancouver Art Gallery,

the artist and the author

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