Warm feelings: A new Executive Director and an invitation to join the Maraya conversation.

By Naomi Horii Last Friday, on November 4, arts-interested communities of Vancouver welcomed Haema Sivanesan to the Centra A family as the new Executive Director. She is the second executive director since Centre A’s inauguration in 2000, and she is bringing 18 years of experience as a curator, writer, researcher and administrator in the visual arts. After toasting Haema with a glass of bubbly, and in keeping with the celebratory air of the evening, Centre A presented the Maraya website launch and exhibit opening. A project five years in the making, and still five years to grow into full realization, Maraya’s interactive website is the exciting new commissioned work by artists M. Simon Levin, Henry Tsang, and Glen Lowry. They invite you to explore the site, with its huge collection of images, and contribute to the conversations and developments of the site material. I was taken aback to learn about the depth of Maraya’s commitment to collaborative creation and community vision-building. As I took-in the installation of the Maraya exhibit, it became clear that the concept behind Maraya is nauseatingly huge. With so many moving images at different perspectives, I felt a bit dizzy by the end of the evening. Kirk Tougas, the project’s external cinematographer (in Glen Lowry’s words, Maraya’s secret weapon), asked me with a joking smile as I was leaving, “did you get the feeling that you wanted to barf at any point in the night?” We laughed about how the camera perspectives really throw you for a loop—in the best way possible. Since then, it has taken me a while to process my own responses, so I want to share with you some feedback from a couple of the people that night. These folks like to remain anonymous. I asked them “what strikes you about tonight—about the project, or about the evening in general?” “Alfred” said he found it interesting how the perspectives are all looking down. (You can read more about the down-looking perspective and approaches of Strand and Rodchenko on Glen Lowry’s blog.) Alfred pointed to the little boy who was present; and said, “in a way, we are reflecting the moving images as we look at him. Here this small boy is getting the closest to the pieces, touching the Halliburton cases, the screens, almost sitting on the edge of the hidden, high-top camera perch.” As we watched him, Alfred said, “perhaps this is what is effective about the perspective: one can imagine where you are, whether here or Dubai, it’s somewhere, high above, watching. We paused, and watched the boy, looking down, watching the people below pass by. Alfred said then, “To me, the artists are bringing up the observations and conversations of leisure-front condo development, but it kind of stops there. There are many conversations about development in Vancouver, but where do we go from here?” I thought: what a great question. I think the Maraya project aims to ask open questions and invites folks to engage and interact with the website to spark discussion. M.Simon Levin, when talking to the crowd with collaborators Tsang and Lowry, says, “Let’s free up the conversation!” Tsang explains that Maraya “is a bleeding of the margins—of class, people, places, ideas,” Lowry, began the microphone speak, by asking: “what kind of city do we want to live in? How do we find that city?” I talked with another person, “Optimus”, who said he noticed an amazing cross-section of people present this night. Optimus said, “I notice ‘high-art scene’ people and City representatives. I am observing the demographic here: it’s really a broad spectrum of people. A lot of rich-looking people, and a lot of familiar Centre A community people. It is a bit surprising to see such rich-looking people here! It’s interesting that if a gallery puts a certain message out, that message will reach certain people. I don’t think it’s a bad thing: I think it shows a range for the gallery.” Optimus went on and said “It’s nice to see Centre A focus on the Middle East, on Dubai; it feels like a geographical broadening for Centre A. Asia is a huge idea. As Vancouver’s demographic is broadening and changing, Centre A is reflecting that.” Optimus also commented on the how the evening is a beautiful mix of an exciting new large-scale project and the welcoming of a new ED. Not only does the Maraya project send out the warm- feeling: the invitation to collaborate, Optimus says, “I’m excited for the future of Centre A: the new director seems really warm and really experienced. I look forward to seeing how Centre A changes.”