Folke Köbberling & Martin Kaltwasser The Games are open 2010 ongoing Project for Southeast False Creek Other Sights’ for Artists Projects, Vancouver (CA) 600 x 1500 x 900 cm During the summer of 2010 the artist team Köbberling & Kaltwasser worked with materials recycled from the 2010 Olympic & Paralympic Winter Games Athletes’ Village to create a situation of exchange and cooperation.
The Games are Open took the form of a larger-than-life bulldozer - with shovel down, it faced the expanse of interim lands awaiting future development along Vancouver’s South East False Creek. Artist team Folke Köbberling and Martin Kaltwasser began the sculpture’s construction three months after the 2010 Winter Olympic competitors vacated the neighbouring Athletes Village. Marketed as Canada’s “greenest” housing development, the Village was transitioning from sporting dormitory to home. Piles of carpeting and stacks of paneling accumulated outside the empty buildings as evidence of the measures taken to protect the investments of condominium owners from the vagaries of the temporary lodgers. Kitchens, considered to be the most valuable of rooms with their stainless steel appliances, quartz countertops and Grohe faucets, were sheathed in wheat board, a new “environmentally friendly” material composed of 94% wheat and 6% neutral binder. Installed in January, removed in March, and liberated by Other Sights in June, 1,000 of these panels were used as the primary material in Köbberling and Kaltwasser’s ambitious, 9-week construction. Typically employed as a substrate for interior finishings, the wheat board took on a structural role in the depiction of a machine usually associated with fast and drastic change. Having researched the affects of soil microbes, inclement weather and the passing of time on the wheat board, the artists embraced its vulnerability by adding soil to some of the structure’s cavities in anticipation of eventual spills and collapse. Implicit to the artists’ intent was the conjecture the decomposing artwork would become compost, with the potentiality of providing fodder for new growth. Without predetermining the project’s outcome, they hoped it would be taken over by seedlings germinated either by the wind or planted by local gardeners – perhaps the bounty would be offered for transplanting throughout the future westward creeping development.
The artwork occupied City-owned land and the artists understood The Games are Open’s future would inevitably be determined by capital and municipal neoliberal strategies. At times, the project was co-opted by urban planners as an example of sustainability - the wheat board bulldozer’s generative action was seen to further the Mayor’s goal to become the greenest city in the world by 2020. When graffiti appeared, the Graffiti Management Program quickly assumed the role of a conscientious steward and removed it. Some local residents declared the sculpture to be in their backyard and could be overheard explaining to visitors how the work’s organic chaos offered relief from the groomed and overly planned and designed environment of the Village. Others chose to complain to the City’s hotline about this derelict eyesore that threatened to reduce the value of their property by virtue of its very existence. The piece was included on public art walking tours and urban planning symposia, and gradually occupied a place within the City’s public art collection as a temporary work of undetermined duration.
In the Spring of 2013, the City approached Other Sights with an offer to bring resources to further the artwork’s greening. Cautious, but open, the offer was accepted and a thick layer of rich compost was added to all surfaces that fell within the front-end loader’s reach. The quality of the soil and exposure to southern light did not go unnoticed by a local gardener and within one week, the soil around the sculpture’s perimeter was raked and seeds were planted for what became a lush and varied vegetable garden. Artichokes, radishes, carrots, zucchini, heirloom tomatoes, kale, scarlet runner beans, sunflowers, lettuce and endive, were tended with care and expertise. The audience for the decomposing artwork expanded beyond the visual arts community and those interested in urban planning and sustainability issues, to include urban farming and gardening enthusiasts. Following the public’s gaze, the City responded by erecting a second fence around the artwork/garden. Voicing concern about falling parts and exposed screws, they effectively corralled the efforts of the rogue gardener. By October, the City offered another load of soil with the proposal to fill some of the voids in the structure maintaining there were signs of ‘nesting’ and drug activity. With soil and backhoe arriving one day in advance of the agreed upon date, the sculpture and garden were buried in a heavy-handed action that brought the project’s narrative to an abrupt and aggressive end.
Over the three years of the project’s existence, the artwork’s form shifted from sculpture, to garden, to dirt pile, each transformation driven by the agendas of assumed owners. Presented within the context of land speculation that is embedded within Vancouver’s history of building up and tearing down, the sculpture’s iconic representation of a macho-machine devolved from within - as the structure weakened, the artwork’s social value increased. The Games are Open was subject to economic, biological and social forces. Its vulnerability invited re-invention, not through the grand gesture of building a monument, but through the modest act of planting a seed. Barbara Cole