Everything You Wanted to Know About That Pink Digital Light Installation in the West End

It's called 'Pink Apocolypse,' and it's an excellent alternative to watching the sunset.

If you’ve strolled Davie Village any evening in the past month, you may have found yourself awash in a pink glow. No, it’s not just alcohol-flush from a few too many drinks at the PumpJack: you’re being illuminated by the neighbourhood’s newest public artwork.

Photo by Jonathan Evans

Pink Apocolypse, a digital artwork from acclaimed, Vancouver-based artist Neil Campbell, invigorates the facade of 1661 Davie Street (the Zephyr building) and brings a bright new look to the West End. Commissioned by West Bank and Crombie REIT (because we live in a world where developers are now responsible for the majority of public art, for better or for worse), the installation is programmed to display a random sequence of pink or blue each day. The colourful, rhythmic display is intended to celebrate the character of the surrounding ‘hood and create a visual experience that evolves based on the time of day or season.

Photo by Jonathan Evans

The architects designed the building with video panels, and Campbell swooped in with a concept for animation. Now that the display is a fixture of the neighbourhood, it seemed high time to learn a little more about what the work is all about—so we reached out asking Campbell to, ahem, illuminate us.

What were you expressing with this piece?

The tempo and the colours of the sunset over the English Bay was what I put forward as the idea.  One of the guidelines for the work was to fashion something that was animated but not too bright. And I looked for the tempo, perhaps to be like the tempo of what you observe as you walk along the beach. I think people go to the shore and go to watch the sunset because of the slowness of the tempo.

In the music industry, of course, the tempo keeps being increased. There are a lot of fast-tempo works in the LED light works arena. If you look at Shanghai, you’ve got zipping diagonals, chevrons, and graphic explosions that you would see in the Midwest. I decided to forego that graphicness and speed, and go for something that can work at a slower tempo and provide an ambient harmonic.

Why the title Pink Apocalypse? Why the colour pink at all?

We were always out in the street casting, and I think it became a nickname. The pink is a gorgeous colour. At the same time, as you drive down the street and you see a house painted pink, it challenges the normative aesthetic. Maybe it’s the status of pink that reflects some aspects of the character of the West End.

I was looking for the work, not simply to be polite. It’s a colour from the sunset. You get the fabulous pagan orange skies at sunset at times. That’s a wide standard reference for the nature aesthetic, if you will.

Photo by Jonathan Evans

Have you done other large-scale or public works like this before?

At the Vancouver Art Gallery, I animated the façade on Georgia Street with a work called Base/machine in 2005-2006. It strobed from the inside all the windows facing Georgia Street in a blue cast. It was rapid; it was harmonic. In the public works I have done, rhythm or harmonics have been central. The interruptions with the smooth harmonic engage the viewer in a very particular way; they’re caught with an interruption in their expectation.

I intend the works to appeal to the sensory aspect of viewing to engage the viewer in rhythm and the orchestration of that rhythm, and at the same time to be ambient. So, neither Blue Wave or Pink Apocalypse is something that you would watch for an extended period of time. It becomes an ambient work and establishes a tempo and a colour environment for the people in the street.

The other public work I have done is at the Exchange Tower on Pender Street downtown [titled Waft]. I did the floor, and it goes out onto the street, then into the building. It, too, is a wave motion and engages the viewer in a physical encounter; it takes them for a bit of a ride. It’s very optical. As you walk across it dramatically, it’s not a one-point perspective.

The West End is one of the most animated urban environments, certainly in Vancouver, maybe in Canada. The street traffic is unique. And it’s helped people consider themselves in the street; that doesn’t happen anywhere else in town.

Photo by Jonathan Evans

What challenges do you face creating art at such a scale?

Every situation is different; it’s difficult to generalize. But most of the work is conceived in the studio. In general, I like an aspect of my work to be sensational in one way or another. It can be sensational in different ways, but sensational in terms of it impacting the viewer—that it will be felt.

Dealing with these constraints, you find a way down the middle and try to work with what capacity to best present while avoiding aspects of the program that might impinge upon the residents.

For the project on Davie Street, the first lighting system failed. It was very challenging [working with the second lighting system]. The only way you could learn what it could do was by writing numerous programs and standing on the street across from the panels to view what the files actually did. What you see on your computer screen in colour and motion is not what you see on the panels, and there is no way of previewing the colour or motion. It’s very trial and error-based. The digital team was doing their best to figure out how to produce an intended result.

How do you hope the public interacts with your work?  

Brian Eno produced music that established a rhythmic or harmonic environment [Music for Airports stood as a counterpoint for this project]. You are not necessarily paying attention to it, but you are being influenced by it or responding to it, but not in focus. And so you have a different ambition.

I wouldn’t want, on those panels, to have something that people would want to stop and look at. I wanted it to be less constraining or interruptive than that. You would switch over to walking through the rhythmic environment that it establishes.

How did it feel for you to see this piece in action for the first time?

You don’t get that opportunity to see it for the first time because you have packaged it together throughout an endless series of trials. There’s no one moment where you see it up and running. It’s a very gradual process. And so you lose that perspective that you gain from removal in time. You’re too close to it to enjoy that perspective, even though it will be fresh to the people on the street.

Pink Apolocolyse lights up at sunset and dims at 11 p.m.