Vancouver Art Gallery – Offsite
When I think of terracotta, I think of strength: tiles of stability, roofs of protection, statues of preservation, and warriors of the afterlife. It can hold its own against the elements and withstand almost any form of manipulation, but it is weak in the face of gravity.
Like terracotta, we humans can attest to possessing a similar paradox. During stressful bouts, even the strongest can shatter.
Babak Golkar’s current installation at Offsite investigates this relationship between composure and vulnerability. Situated in Vancouver’s business district, Golkar invites the public to release their emotions into five terracotta vessels that have been designed to contain a scream. Surrounded by high-rise office towers and high-end business centres that house high-levels of stress, I could not imagine a more appropriate location for this installation.
With all of the pressures of senior year weighing me down, I could not wait to let it all go, yet when I arrived at the tranquil scene, I experienced quite a bit of hesitation. Each vessel was propped up on a stack of sandbags that were surrounded by a thin layer of water, creating a peaceful setting I did not want to disrupt. Although cars were whizzing by and snippets of overheard conversations polluted the air, everything just felt too quiet!
After having timidly stood at the edge of the site staring at the vessels for some time, I worked up the courage to let my lungs have their way. I stuck my head in and...AHHHHHhhhhhhhhhhh!???
It was awkward. I was expecting the roar of a lion, but instead I released the peep of a mouse. Why was this so difficult?
To put things into perspective, if you were to look up the antonym for “rebel”, my name would yield the first result. I was that kid in kinder-garden who was awarded the gold stars for never speaking out of turn and whispering in the library, and although I have certainly relaxed over the years, my goody-two-shoes character hasn’t shed completely. That being said, even when given permission to yell to my heart’s content, I was rather tentative.
Having been taught to use my “inside voice” through all of my childhood, I (un)learned a valuable lesson in social etiquette through Golkar’s piece: being fragile takes a fair bit of strength. By pushing the public to find comfort in the uncomfortable, Golkar has created a transparent form of therapy that leaves participants with an enlightened sense of self.
With my head emerged in the terracotta mouth, I stood in silence and allowed the external sounds to echo in the chamber. My breathing was amplified by the shape of the vessel, creating an ambient arrangement of inhales, exhales, and muffled city sounds. It was an overwhelming feeling of being entirely surrounded by yourself that cannot exactly be described, only experienced.
One of the things that really stood out to me about Golkar’s piece was the use of sound. I was really interested in how the sounds of the surrounding city became fused with the quiet thoughts inside my head while my face was buried in the vessel. The meditative quality of this experience served as inspiration for my exploratory piece. The following clip is comprised of a series of sounds collected from my bedroom, a place where I do a lot of my thinking.
During stressful times I often retreat into silence, creating a heightened sensitivity to noise. Sometimes even the tiniest rustle seems amplified, which can be REALLY distracting when I am trying to focus on something. But on the other hand, by allowing myself to be completely aware of surrounding sounds, I am able to mute my thoughts and in turn, let go of whatever is on my mind.