Site-specific process-based installation with recuperated glass bottles, at Centre A, Vancouver, Approx. 2000 sq. ft.

Overflow was a flexible, changing installation of glass bottles that responded to the architecture, socio-geographic location and history of Centre A's Downtown Eastside space. It developed during the months before the opening, with the gallery participating in one of the more visible unofficial economies of the neighbourhood — the recuperation and redemption of bottles from across the city, through an arrangement with the neighbouring bottle depot, United We Can. The installation itself was a flexible mass of bottles arranged on the concrete floor and around the brick pillars and office furnishings of the vast space, lit primarily by the natural light from the wall of windows overlooking Hastings Street. With their labels removed, the bottles appeared both as abstract tokens for human presence and as a sparkling, seemingly liquid volume. All configurations retained a tension between the now-pristine bottles and the fact that they represented not only a humble yet economically valuable raw material that is a precious local resource and a subject of street-level expertise, but also alcoholism — one of the neighbourhood's scourges. It is possible that the attractiveness and apparent value of the materials, displayed in all their uselessness in the somewhat refined gallery space, made visible some of the neighbourhood's underlying interests, economic incongruities and incommensurate social facts, including the gallery's uneasy position as a possible contributor to the gentrification of the neighbourhood.

[Background: Centre A is located in Vancouver's Downtown East Side, an area marked by poverty and mental illness, substance abuse and drug traffic, increasing redevelopment and gentrification, tourism and entertainment consumption, and socio-political frictions arising from the economic disparity and divergent interests of the various local users and stakeholders — including poor residents, the transient population, homeowners, business people, real-estate developers, consumers, tourists, cultural groups, and social-service organizations — and those in the underground economies, such as drug dealers and users. One of the most visible trades in this neighbourhood is the large number of poor citizens making a living by gathering and returning bottles for refunds. Centre A occupies a historic building that architecturally retains evidence of its former use as a streetcar terminus. It is positioned to become one of an increasing number of cultural, heritage and social organizations whose below-market-cost locations are a result of concessions granted to developers by the City of Vancouver in exchange for housing such groups — a process widely understood to be the soft edge of gentrification, even though the process is not controlled by the groups in question.]

Produced in collaboration with United We Can. Special thanks to Ken Lyotier and Hank Bull for helping to develop the project.

Solo Exhibitions: Overflow, Jan-Feb 2007.
Catalogues & Books: Clint Burnham, Germaine Koh: Overflow, 2007. PDF
Reviews, Articles & Essays: Samir Gandesha, essay, 2009. PDF
Reviews, Articles & Essays: Robin Laurence, Georgia Straight, 8 Feb 2007. Read on Web
Reviews, Articles & Essays: Cécile Lepage, l’Express du Pacifique, 5 Feb 2007. PDF
Reviews, Articles & Essays: Alexandra Gill, The Globe and Mail, 20 Jan 2007. PDF

Germaine Koh, Overflow, 2007, site-specific process-based installation with recuperated glass bottles, at Centre A, Vancouver. Photo: Germaine Koh.