Esther Shalev-Gerz — The Shadow


Installation, sculpture

Esther Shalev-Gerz
The Shadow

Past: September 16, 2018 → September 16, 2020

Esther Shalev-Gerz’s The Shadow is an enormous work, a silhouette, a to-scale image of the shadow of a giant fir tree laid out in black and grey pavers on University Commons Plaza at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC, which is located on the traditional, ancestral and unceded territory of the Musqueam people. It is a paradoxical artwork in more than one sense. While “monumental” in scale, it lacks a monumental presence as it is literally embedded in the paving stones. It is walked on, not gazed up at. Probably for the most part, people are unaware of its overall shape; rather they are “inside” the piece, seeing a partial pattern. In spite of being almost one hundred metres long, it does not call much attention to itself. The Shadow is neither an object, nor a picture of one. Instead, it represents the shadow cast by an object. Because a shadow is a “drawing” made by light (or the blocking of light), Shalev-Gerz advances the idea that it is a “photograph” and treats the plaza pavers as “pixels.” It calls attention to the ground as it involves the body of the viewer. It is simple but also elusive, as it is hard to grasp the entire image unless seen from above.

In an elegiac way, The Shadow evokes the forest that no longer stands on the campus. We are, after all, as Shalev-Gerz notes, still surrounded by trees. But these mighty creatures have largely been felled with no thought to what might happen after they are gone. They are the basis of a resource-extraction industry, which has accompanied the colonial appropriation of the land. The giant firs are not extinct, but fully grown firs are rare when they were once ubiquitous. British Columbia (could you dream up a more colonial name?) is no longer known as “the Brazil of the North.” But the damage to the old forests has been extensive and furthermore largely a matter of political indifference.

The Shadow is not cast by a living tree. Is it cast by the memory of a tree that once stood in this plaza? Or by the historical forces that removed that tree? The Shadow asks us to think about where we are in relation to something like a Douglas fir, or the memory of one. As a result, we begin to encounter an economy which the tree can’t escape. That is unless we do.

The Shadow was commissioned with support from the Burrard Arts Foundation, Rick Erickson and Donna Partridge, Brigitte and Henning Freybe, Phil Lind, the Morris and Helen Belkin Foundation, the Rennie Foundation and UBC’s Matching Fund for Outdoor Art through Infrastructure Impact Charges.

Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery at University of British Columbia

University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada Independant
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The artist