In The Shadow, Esther Shalev-Gerz embeds a ghostly silhouette of a first-growth Douglas fir across the expanse of University Commons Plaza, which is situated on the traditional, ancestral and unceded territory of the Musqueam people. Pixelated through the use of differing shades of paving stones, The Shadow engages pedestrians through its varied texture and tone underfoot, yet does not reveal the entire form. As in the landscape, the totality of the tree can only be grasped from a distance: The Shadow requires a view from higher ground to be complete.
In the artist’s previous installations in public space, such as Monument Against Fascism (1986) and White Point/Meeting Point (2004), specific sites are explored through an investigation of the horizontal plane. Rather than extend forms into vertical space, The Shadow, like these earlier works, presents an absence as a hovering memory beneath our feet.
Each tree carries a unique testimony of its history and surroundings. As with most of what is now Vancouver, the old-growth forest on UBC’s Point Grey campus was logged heavily by settlers in the late 1800s. The Shadow reminds us of the scale of the trees that once existed on this site and speaks to the vast change that has taken place in a relatively short period of time.
Esther Shalev-Gerz is an internationally renowned artist. Born in Vilnius, Lithuania, she was raised in Jerusalem, Israel and has been residing in Paris since 1984, spending her summers on Cortes Island, BC. Her work investigates the construction of knowledge, history and cultural identities. She has exhibited internationally in, amongst other places, San Francisco, Paris, Berlin, Vancouver, Finland, Detroit, Geneva, Guangzhou and New York and created permanent projects in public spaces in Hamburg, Galilee, Stockholm, Knislinge, Geneva, Glasgow and now Vancouver.