Tracing Night

Last night I went to the opening of Tracing Night, a work by Ed Pien at the Vancouver Museum. Pien’s piece is a maze-like structure suspended from the ceiling in one of the museum’s galleries. It appeared to be constructed from paper, possibly coated with a light wax or some similar material. The surfaces of the hanging paper “walls” of the maze are imprinted with images of fanciful creatures that seem to incorporate characteristics of humans, animals and insects, while the installation also includes projected video and soundscape that support the overall feeling.

The museum’s information sheet suggests that the imagery was inspired by Chinese and Inuit mythology that confront uncertainty and fear, and there is a slight spookiness to the work that, as the museum says, recreates “the phenomenon of night and darkness”. The work is primarily lit from within and from above, so the visitor is not exposed to direct lighting, but it is still quite light, as the paper is illuminated and distributes light in the room as if it were an extremely large paper lantern.

Visitors are encouraged to wander through the maze, between the hanging sheets, where one can view the imagery on the walls, as well as peer into several small vortexes in which tiny characters can be viewed. These vortexes seemed to slightly evoke the erotic for me, though I am undecided as to whether that was to some extent intended by Pien, through the detail of the viewable characters, or if I was simply projecting my own latent memories of dark rooms with holes in the walls.

I was also entertained by the apparent natural animation of the maze walls. As I walked between the paper sheets, they seemed to part before me, expanding to allow just enough room to permit my physical form to pass through without brushing against them. I didn’t hang around to wait for someone considerably larger than I, to see if they would expand to their size too, but I assume so.

Though some smaller children might find the spookiness of the installation slightly frightening, I suspect that most would be fascinated by it, as children often are with things in museums that are somewhat interactive, as long as the parents prevent them from grabbing and pulling.

Tracing Night is well worth a visit and will be at the Vancouver Museum in Vanier Park February 4 through April 11. For more information about Ed Pien, see his website.

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