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Mark Soo by Jens Hoffman
Over the last couple of years, Vancouver-based artist Mark Soo has begun to create works that offer new perspectives
on, and reconsiderations of, specific sites or explicit moments in social and cultural history. Soo’s enormously convincing
multipart installation Monochrome Sunset (English Bay – Oppenheimer Park), exhibited in 2006 at ARTSPEAK in
Vancouver, exemplifies his approach perfectly. Linking two very similar yet distinct sites in the city – English Bay, a location
known for its breathtaking views and magnificent sunsets, and Oppenheimer Park, with a notorious site for open drug use
– in a large photo-sculpture and light installation, Soo made a ‘portrait’ of Vancouver that is as beautiful and disturbing as
the city itself. For Monochrome Sunset, Soo photographed a sunset at English Bay at the exact colour temperature of the
orange streetlights that are used by the city’s authorities to prevent drug use in Oppenheimer Park. The resulting large-
scale freestanding photograph was placed in the centre of the gallery space and backlit by replicas of the anti-drug-use
streetlights which, due to their unique monochromatic characteristics, reverse the spectacular effects of the sunset image,
drowning the space in an almost hallucinogenic orange light.
Soo’s multilayered work initially emerges from an investigation into the gallery’s location in Vancouver’s Downtown
Eastside, close to Oppenheimer Park. It considers the social fabric of the community around it and points towards the
social differences between those coming to the neighbourhood to visit the gallery and those coming to the area to buy
and consume illegal drugs. While simultaneously examining the construction of representation (specifically that of
Vancouver), the theory of colour and the characteristics of light (and their possible effects on perception), connections
between artistic production and drug use (narcotics as way of expanding our minds and creating a heightened sensual
experience of the world), Soo forms a critical portrait of a city that is (officially) presented as a site of endless natural
beauty. Moreover, with Monochrome Sunset (English Bay – Oppenheimer Park), Soo is perhaps trying to reexamine and
reconfigure a number of tropes that have, within the context of contemporary art, come to be identified with Vancouver,
on their way to becoming conventions in their own right: large-scale (conceptual) photography with clear and minimal Monochrome Sunset (English Bay –
forms that challenges common forms of representation and perception while frequently exploring the field of social and
Oppenheimer Park), 2006 (installation
views, ARTSPEAK, Vancouver).
cultural history and the relationship between nature and culture. Photo: Scott Massey. Courtesy the artist
FUTURE~1.INDD 90 11/2/08 12:16:56
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