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Constructed destinations : art and representations of history at the Vancouver International Airport Rorke, Rosalind Alix

Abstract

Since its opening in 1931, the Vancouver International Airport has been a site where significant representations of the city, its geography and its population have been made. Instead of being utilitarian structures the airport terminals have been purposefully designed and decorated with art chosen specifically to communicate Vancouver's distinct qualities and culture to travelers. As culture is never static and changes continuously, the representations have also shifted over time. By considering the specific history of Vancouver's airport in conjunction with the wider history of Canadian and international airport development, patterns (such as the continuous use of symbols from native cultures to represent aspects of the colonizer's culture) and tensions (such as Vancouver's relative position as a major Canadian urban centre and the growth of visible immigrant populations) which accompany the representation of locality at the airport become apparent. Henri Lefevbre's understanding of space as an active social product, David Harvey's assessment of the impact of globalization upon the local and Siegfried Kracauer's interpretation of architecture as illustrative of broad social trends underpin my analysis. The adoption,of an historical and theoretical framework within this thesis is directed at developing an interpretation of the current art program at the Vancouver International Airport which can move beyond the point where debate regarding "authenticity" and the agency of the native artists or their communities constricts the discussion. Through an examination of airport design, both theoretical and actual, the genesis of and reactions to art programs executed at the airport since the 1960s, as well as aspects of the city's social history, I illustrate that the current art program is representative of more than a superficial thematic strategy. Instead, it points to a complex and ongoing struggle to define and represent Vancouver both to its residents and the rest of the world.

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