North Vancouver Artist Draws Inspiration from Seaspan’s Vancouver Drydock

August 11, 2023

Inspired by the everyday shapes and colours of Lower Lonsdale, local artist Allison Chow recently led an interactive art workshop titled ‘The Poetry Machine’ in the heart of the Shipyards District. Her artwork features found objects that play a part in creating a space for expression and learning in her workshops. We recently sat down with Allison to learn more about her work and how she incorporated ship repair materials from Seaspan into her art.

Where did the idea to approach Seaspan come from?

After being here in Lower Lonsdale almost every day for my artist residency, the area has revealed itself a little differently to me. The entire area is shaped by deep shipbuilding roots, from the heritage homes that are nearby, to the wash hut and pipe shop buildings. That was an interesting point of connection for me because the work that is being done here today, it’s a continuation of Canadian history, and that was one of the reasons why I approached Seaspan in the first place.

I was also interested in learning about how Seaspan specifically has continued to evolve in this space. The patterns in my print artworks center conversations and things I saw or felt in each environment, Vancouver Drydock being one of them. The drawings all have coordinates so people can take the artwork, which was printed into a zine, and go make their own impressions of these places. So, what I’m hoping to achieve here is to provide people the chance to reimagine, learn, and expand their knowledge of their community. In the case of the Shipyards District, Vancouver Drydock is a central piece.

How did you incorporate Vancouver Drydock into your workshop?

I recently had the opportunity to visit the drydock and learn more about it. It was an amazing source of materials that reflect the shipyards. With permission, I found artifacts that come mostly from the ship, the winch, lug nuts, shackles, flanges, rope and valves to incorporate into my project. Together, these small pieces of metal can lift heavy things, and are essential to the process of ship repair and shipbuilding. For me there’s a metaphor in that for how the way art and the reflections it can facilitate also help us shift huge ideas and cross lines of differences that otherwise feel like an impossible weight.

For my workshop, these artifacts ground art in everyday life. I want to make art that is accessible for anyone who is curious, so it is important for me to create spaces with familiar points of entry where people may dig up the stories inside themselves at shared paths as well as learn something new about the community.

What’s your biggest inspiration in your artwork?

My work is often inspired by the ways we navigate belonging and connect with the world around us. Art helps me create a container for a lot of complicated feelings. My perspective shapes my art, but as a community-based artist, the community’s reaction to it also plays a big part in shifting and shaping my practice. Living here in Vancouver is unique because there’s people from all different backgrounds. I’m originally from Hong Kong and I moved here when I was young. I’m in an interesting position toggling between the culture with my family at home and the culture at school or work. Sometimes without meaning to be, there are many spaces in our community that are inaccessible or unfriendly for a wide range of people. Being able to survive isn’t the same as flourishing. I think there are a lot of missed opportunities for community members to share stories, innovations, and strengths because of misunderstandings.

That’s why I think art and play are places for incredible and much needed expansion – to imagine and reinvent some of the ways we connect with ourselves, other people, and the community in ways that we haven’t before. It’s about finding a new perspective or a deeper approach; that has to be one of the biggest motivations and inspirations to create art.

Do you have any advice for someone who is just getting into appreciating art?

Doing art of any kind, music, theatre, dance, painting, poetry is a powerful way of becoming and nurturing something that is inside of you. I know art can seem intimidating at first, but at its core, it’s a conversation – an artist puts out something they think is important to share and you get to decide what you think of it with a part of yourself that can be equality generative. Taking these bits and pieces of everyday life, these lug nuts and valves as a base material is a great way to explore when you’re just getting started with art. At the end of the day, art makes space for creativity and imagination amid the busyness of life.