It all started with a visit to the Seaforth Armory, at the South end of the Burrard Bridge in Vancouver. While pouring over the original Armory’s architectural blueprints from the 1930’s, I was drawn in by the poetic images and objects from the Great World Wars. Through letters and photographs packed densely in boxes, lives of dozens of people emerged: from their days at the front to the mundane, like a son thanking his mother for a sweater. I realized, then, that the story I needed to tell was more than our city’s historical architectural presence but rather the boys that contributed to the birth of our nation.
At the Armory, the tension between opulent chandeliers and furniture juxtapose the imagery of bombs, explosions, and men preparing for war. Although times were dark, there is always a gleam of light and hope throughout. The smoke, a common backdrop back then, transports itself to the panels through fumage. The candle becomes the paintbrush and the fog, instead of masking, brings forward a range of new meanings, and invites us to wonder: What do we see behind the smoke? How do we feel underneath it? What memories does it evoke?
Songs of the Smoke is more than an organized presentation of artworks: it is a collective memory. As songs are stories told over and over, the show is intended to allow people to revisit, reinterpret, and give new meaning to wartime. It is a form of resignifying and, ultimately, healing.