Harmony Arts Festival celebrates 25 years
Artist Marie Khouri with her sculpture ‘You and I’.
Photograph by: Gerry Kahrmann , Vancouver Sun
Harmony Arts Festival
July 31 to Aug. 9 | West Vancouver
When Marie Khouri installed her first public art piece for the 2010 Olympics, she wasn’t sure what to expect.
But she worried that the piece — a pristine white bench called Banc (the French word for “bench”) — would be a target for graffiti artists.
Instead, it became a favourite spot for high-flying skateboarders.
“At the beginning, I was upset,” the Vancouver-based artist said. “It was my first time doing a public art installation. But I came to understand that, when you do a public art piece, it’s not yours — you’re giving it to the people who are going to walk by, to the city. It’s important that they appropriate.”
Khouri’s latest public art piece is titled You and I, and it, too, is interactive. Like Banc, it invites people to sit, if not use as a launching pad for their skateboards.
Situated on the waterfront in West Vancouver, You and I is the second commissioned piece by the West Vancouver Museum, in conjunction with host and sponsor, the Harmony Arts Festival.
The first was last year’s Vermilion Sands, a modernist, geometric but lush green canopy that was created by architect Matthew Soules. The canopy, suspended over the walkway between the Park Royal Beachside Patio and the Waterfront Lounge, greeted visitors to the festival.
Art has become an increasingly important component to the annual 10-day event. Now in its 25th year, the Harmony Arts Festival regularly draws over 100,000 people to West Vancouver for its mix of music, food, culture and local art and artisans.
“It has a festival environment, which I think is a great place to provide the unexpected to people,” West Vancouver Museum curator Darrin Morrison said. “We try to introduce new artists and new ideas to the festival. We were introduced to Marie Khouri about two months, and started talking about doing a project.”
Khouri’s piece for the festival is a sequel of sorts to an earlier work, Let’s Just Sit and Talk. For both projects, Khouri began with a phrase in Arabic and translated the words into a 10-inch model. She and her team then sculpted larger, almost human-size versions of the letters. The results are abstract, but practical, since people can sit in the shapes.
“What I’ve tried to do is express within my forms and my sculpture an alphabet that can only be read from a bird’s-eye view,” Khouri said. “When you walk through the pieces, you only see form, they look more like bone structures.”
The titular phrase, You and I, was Khouri’s idea. “We were going to use some text from Let’s Sit and Talk, but I felt it was important that this installation have its own identity.”
Khouri was born in Egypt and raised in Lebanon until civil war forced her to relocate to Europe. After moving to Paris, where she lived for more than 25 years, she came to Vancouver nine years ago.
“I find Vancouver is a very cosmopolitan city,” she said. “You have an Asian population, an Iranian population, an Arab population, lots of Europeans. For the purpose of the Harmony Festival, to say something like ‘You and I’ is about including everyone.”