Michael Binkley won an invited call competition in the fall of 2017 to create a pair of welcome sculptures for the entrance to the Chinatown branch of Vancity Savings Credit Union in Vancouver, BC, Canada. The artworks had to satisfy a rigorous list of First Nations and Chinese cultural references while using locally sourced materials.
“Perspective/Perception” are a pair of companion sculptures that are metaphors for how we perceive humanity in one another. They are carved assymetrically from grey granite, quarried on Hardy Island, BC.
Approaching the sculptures from any direction, one can see spheres that seemingly float on waves of water, each perched on a cube. The spheres have carved negative spaces that form curvilinear, abstract surfaces, echoing the waves. But as one nears the pair and stands in front of sculptures, the abstract forms reveal their true selves. One discovers the Indigenous Circle of Life on the left and the Taoist Yin Yang symbol on the right. It is through this closer inspection one gains the full perspective of the artworks’ identity and its cultural symbols honouring the history of the Chinatown community.
The circle and the square’s cross-cultural significance is celebrated in the sculptures. The spheres are the same dimensions as the cubes upon which they rest. Their profiles are identical circles and squares. The quadrants of the Circle of Life are delineated by doubled “S” curves that define the halves of the Yin Yang.
There are several surface textures used in each sculpture. Smooth honed and bush hammered areas allow for shadows to be cast, while highly polished areas reveal shiny, reflective, contrasting surfaces. Paying homage to the neighbourhood’s history and identity, the characters of the five Chinese elements Metal, Water, Wood, Fire and Earth are etched into the Circle of Life sculpture. In its companion, five Coast Salish spirit animals of Thunderbird, Eagle, Salmon, Bear and Orca created by Musquem artist Shane Point are etched in the Yin Yang sculpture. On the front of each cube base is a low relief emulating preserved circular wooden screens motifs designed by the late Joe Wai – the architect for the original Vancity Chinatown branch. All of these symbols are meant to be discovered as the viewer walks the artworks. The more the viewer ‘sees’ the sculptures up close, the more truths are revealed.
How we see the sculptures is a metaphor for human relations. If we look at each other with a closer perspective, without prejudice, preconception and partiality, we perceive the other’s true self.