Art series brings attention to Vancouver’s rising sea levels

Local artist Laiwan sheds light on False Creek’s history to change the way we look at climate change

Laiwan’s depiction of Dragon Mother over Vancouver shows areas of the city that are vulnerable to flooding. (Submitted)

False Creek has long been an area that showcases some of Vancouver’s famous waterfront views. When admiring the city today, it’s hard to believe this creek’s waters once flowed through the downtown core, into what we now see as outstretched paved streets and infinite high-rises.

Local interdisciplinary artist, writer, and educator Laiwan, uses one of her latest art projects “How Water Remembers” to illustrate how Vancouver can mend its relationship with these waters, as rising sea levels are predicted to cause the city’s shoreline to recede back to where it once was.

This project is a part of Vancouver’s Sea2City Design Challenge, which aims to guide urban development as climate change begins to affect the future of our cityscape.

When creating this project, Laiwan received support from various collaborators like Angela Danyluk, a biologist and Urban Design and Sustainability planner with the City of Vancouver.

“In phase one, Angela had advised me on intertidal and mudflat inhabitants who would have lived around the False Creek shores, water that once came up to Chinatown, behind the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Classical Chinese Gardens, that once flowed under the Georgia Viaducts and are now the soccer fields at Andy Livingston park,” wrote Laiwan in an email to The Runner.

She hopes “How Water Remembers” will help reimagine a city where we can welcome the return of these waters and find ways to coexist with the biodiversity it will bring along with it.

“I’m interested in how we can make space for them, welcome them, walk the earth with a sensitivity to their lives and their homes,” Laiwan said in an interview with Massy Arts. “How can we live collaboratively with all the many other inhabitants of these lands? Without them, our lives become increasingly impoverished.” 

Laiwan has previously referenced the Georgia Viaduct’s history in her project, “Fountain: the source or origin of anything.”

She was inspired by an image from the CBC’s 1956 film Summer Afternoon, where she saw water flowing freely beneath the Georgia Viaduct for the first time. She turned this image into a photographic mural for “The Wall” at the CBC Plaza, along with an interactive web project that encouraged a communal archive of oral history and stories.

“The water and bridge that I had seen … had begun to haunt me,” wrote Laiwan. “That image found in 2013, that informed the project ‘Fountain’ in 2014, has since been nourishing and blessing my projects nine years later.”

Laiwan carries a diverse portfolio of work, incorporating many themes that connect us to local history and our relationship with biodiversity.

Her project “Maple Tree Spiral: the pedagogy of a tree in the city” takes a look into the lives of street trees and how something as beautiful as a maple tree can help inform us of who we are as people on these unceded territories. 

“How Water Remembers” is currently in its second phase, where Laiwan designed 20 “Guardian Creature Cards” to be made available at different shops in Chinatown in support of local businesses.

Each card features a biodiverse creature from our waters, accompanied by Chinese written ideograms. When all 20 cards have been collected, they make up a full deck that can be played as a divination game. 

Posters of the guardian creatures can also be found on 10 bus shelters across the city. By visiting each one, taking a selfie, and sending them to an email address posted on the art project’s webpage, participants can enter to win a contest for a Chinatown gift card before the deadline on March 20.