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Urban Planning

Please Advise! Should Vancouver Squash the Giant Spider?

Public art is perilous, says Dr. Steve. Especially if a penis is involved.

Steve Burgess 28 Mar

Steve Burgess writes about politics and culture for The Tyee. Read his previous articles.

[Editor’s note: Steve Burgess is an accredited spin doctor with a PhD in Centrifugal Rhetoric from the University of SASE, situated on the lovely campus of PO Box 7650, Cayman Islands. In this space he dispenses PR advice to politicians, the rich and famous, the troubled and well-heeled, the wealthy and gullible.]

Dear Dr. Steve,

Artist Junko Playtime has created a giant metallic spider out of discarded materials below the bridge between North Grandview Highway and Broadway in East Vancouver. The city wants to take it down. The artist is marshalling support to keep the spider where it is.

What is your opinion?



Dear Arachnophile,

The most important thing is that the spider must stay where it is. Not because of the importance of art but for the importance of keeping it out of Dr. Steve's apartment. Dr. Steve and spiders are not pals. Dr. Steve once smushed a spider with a copy of Charlotte's Web and didn't even blink at the irony.

According to the artist's Instagram page, we’re talking about an eight-foot spider here. That's not so special — Dr. Steve happens to know that every spider has eight feet. In this case however, he is referring to the diameter of the arachnid. So it's big. Dr. Steve is pretty sure he has found larger ones in his bathroom though.

There is of course the artistic angle to consider. When analyzing this aspect, we must ask a fundamental question: Does the giant spider have a penis? That is the key issue. This was demonstrated once again recently in Tallahassee, Florida, when the principal of the Tallahassee Classical School was fired for failing to notify parents that she would be showing their sixth graders a picture of Michelangelo's David.

Let's be honest, Michelangelo's Willy is more like it. This perverted waste of marble has been corrupting our youth for centuries. Years ago a Tyee staffer (who shall remain nameless due to shame) attended the Loyola Campus of Concordia University in Montreal where there was a copy of David that had been removed from a Montreal mall food court after decent folk complained. The statue was later toppled and destroyed, perhaps by anonymous guardians of morality.

More penis problems arose in Penticton in 2005 when sculptor Michael Hermesh created Frank the Baggage Handler, a naked man holding a suitcase that was installed near a traffic circle. Again, there were complaints and vandalism, with someone breaking off Frank's junk. Remarkably, Frank's expression remained unchanged.

In 2014, not far from the current location of the metal spider, an unsanctioned, bright red statue of Satan complete with a prominent phallus was erected on Clark Drive. It lasted only a few days. (If yours lasts for several days, see your doctor.) The problem was either the penis or the lack of a permit. Both are considered offensive by City Hall.

So again, the key question: Does the underpass spider possess male genitalia? The problem is, no one has ever seen a spider penis, because who's going to check? Besides, after you scrape the spider off the copy of War and Peace that landed on it, anatomical details can be difficult to discern.

Public art tends to get a rough ride in Vancouver, and elsewhere in North America too. Consider the peripatetic career of the Device to Root Out Evil, a sculpture of an upside-down church that got rejected from various attempts to display it in the artist's own country. Created by American Dennis Oppenheim and intended, appropriately, for Church Street in New York, it was considered inappropriate and subsequently purchased by Stanford University. The offended university board vetoed the sale and Oppenheim’s inverted church ended up in Vancouver near Coal Harbour in 2005. More complaints. The statue ended up never being displayed outside of Canada.*

There is some public art in Vancouver. But it is generally either funded by developers, the city or private enterprise. Ocean Concrete’s colourfully painted silos on Granville Island, created by Brazilian street artists, are a notable example. But then, those silos are wearing pants.

Dr. Steve thought perhaps Vancouver had turned a corner on guerrilla art with the Dude Chilling Park sign, an unauthorized creation that was not only allowed to stay after a public outcry but even inspired an official renaming of its location. Vancouver looked like it might finally be ready to join the likes of Berlin where surprising public art hides around every corner, or even Seattle, home of the Fremont Bridge troll.

Alas, if the city proceeds with its plan to remove the giant underpass spider it will represent a step backward in our cultural evolution. It is of course possible that the municipal workers sent to remove the spider will instead be attacked and consumed. That would be a tragedy. But it would certainly be an important public lesson and confirmation of Dr. Steve's strict policy against eight-legged houseguests. If the price of vigilance is a few SkyTrain passengers plucked screaming from their seats, Dr. Steve accepts that.

In the meantime, transit users riding that particular route might be well advised to carry a copy of David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest. You'll want to be ready with something sizeable.

* Story updated on April 27 at 8:52 a.m. to clarify that the Dennis Oppenheim sculpture displayed in Canada was distinct from other similar versions of the sculpture displayed elsewhere.  [Tyee]

Read more: Art, Urban Planning

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