Talking Heads: Interview with Vikky Alexander

This win­ter, The Cin­e­math­eque is host­ing Traces That Resem­ble Us, a screen­ing series and art exhi­bi­tion that explores art and cin­ema in Van­cou­ver. SAD Mag’s Helen Wong caught up with acclaimed Cana­dian artist Vikky Alexan­der to dis­cuss archi­tec­ture, pho­tog­ra­phy, and “revenge.”

White and Gold Grey­hounds (Istan­bul Show­room Series) by Vikky Alexan­der, 2013

White and Gold Grey­hounds (Istan­bul Show­room Series) by Vikky Alexan­der, 2013

SAD Mag: Why did you choose the film Play­time for Traces That Resem­ble Us?

VA: My inter­est in Play­time comes from its satir­i­cal per­spec­tive on archi­tec­ture. I like to think that is a film about architecture’s “revenge”. In the first part, the uni­for­mity and per­ceived inhu­man­ity of Inter­na­tional Style archi­tec­ture is iden­ti­fied in the com­plete con­fu­sion it causes for the pro­tag­o­nist, who can­not find or con­nect with the bureau­crat he’s look­ing for because of the office building’s unkind inter­ven­tion. At an Inter­na­tional Trade Fair, a group of Amer­i­can tourists are only allowed to peep at the his­toric city of Paris through reflec­tion in por­tions of glass-curtain walls, which the mon­u­ments seem to lit­er­ally slip off. When Hulot goes to meet a friend for an evening, he is con­founded by the entrance to the apart­ment. He can see his friend and fam­ily from the street through the floor-to-ceiling win­dow, but can­not fig­ure out how to access them, and when he leaves, he can­not exit the main door. Finally, on the open­ing night of a chic restau­rant, the room, fur­ni­ture, food and cos­tumes lit­er­ally self-destruct in front of us. The more ruinous the inte­rior, the more fun for all.

SM: How does your piece cur­rently on dis­play at Monte Clark Gallery use aspects of the film? What is the impor­tance of reflection?

VA: My piece at the Monte Clark Gallery is a pho­to­graph of a shop win­dow that I took in Istan­bul a cou­ple of years ago. The shop was one of many on a street that spe­cial­ized in dec­o­ra­tive fur­ni­ture and objects for the home. I really liked how the shop win­dow was like a pris­tine stage set that was untouch­able because of the pane of glass in front of it. And yet the reflec­tions on the win­dow lit­er­ally super­im­posed the life of the street into the vir­tual ‘home.’

SM: Do you often ref­er­ence archi­tec­ture in your works?

VA: I often ref­er­ence archi­tec­ture in my pho­to­graphic, col­lage, and sculp­tural works. I am par­tic­u­larly attracted to utopian projects and have doc­u­mented places like the West Edmon­ton Mall (Alberta), Dis­ney­land (Cal­i­for­nia), Las Vegas (Nevada), Vaux le Vicomte (France) and the Palm House in Kew Gar­dens (Lon­don). I see these projects as fan­tas­tic, fas­ci­nat­ing, and flawed.

SM: What do you think of the term “envi­ron­men­tal deter­min­ism”? Do you think that our thoughts and behav­iours are influ­enced by the built environment?

VA: The film I chose, Play­time, makes a mock­ery of envi­ron­men­tal deter­min­ism, I think. It seems to prove that regard­less of archi­tec­tural and envi­ron­men­tal restric­tions, human nature will tri­umph, and the film demon­strates that with humor.

SM: Most of your works reflect on the notion of utopia, how do you aim to sit­u­ate the viewer within this space?

VA: I think all of us, either on a small (domes­tic) or large scale, con­struct and design our own utopias, and yet they are flawed because it’s human nature to want some­thing better…better sofa, bet­ter house. And the minute you get that bet­ter sofa, guess what, you want the one that’s even bet­ter than that one.

SM: How do you work to achieve a self-reflexive nature through the recon­tex­tu­al­iza­tion and recon­struc­tion of appro­pri­ated images?

VA: In my early work (1980’s), I appro­pri­ated images from the edi­to­r­ial sec­tions of Euro­pean fash­ion mag­a­zines, cropped and enlarged them and reframed them. All text was elim­i­nated.  When I reframed them, I added a large black over­mat, which func­tioned as a sort of black mir­ror when glass (for the frame) was placed on top. In this way the reflec­tion of the every­day viewer was super­im­posed on top of the utopian fash­ion mod­els. These works are sim­i­lar to my more recent pho­tographs of show­rooms in Paris, Istan­bul, and Tokyo. Quite often the passerby on the street is super­im­posed on the lux­ury objects in the shop windows.

SM: Van­cou­ver has a dis­tinct his­tory of art and film, how do you see this reit­er­ated in con­tem­po­rary art?

VA: I’ve always seen Van­cou­ver as hav­ing a very par­tic­u­lar pho­to­graphic his­tory and I’ve always felt that pho­tog­ra­phers have a close rela­tion­ship to the cin­ema, orig­i­nally because of they were both film medi­ums, I guess. But for some rea­son (maybe because Van­cou­ver is so “pho­to­genic”) I find it dif­fi­cult to pho­to­graph here. Maybe because we have so much soft light, due to the climate.

SM: What is your favourite build­ing and why?

VA: It’s dif­fi­cult to pick a favorite build­ing, as I have so many, but one really spec­tac­u­lar build­ing is the Bei­necke Rare Book and Man­u­script Library in New Haven Con­necti­cut designed by Gor­don Bun­schaft in 1963. It belongs to Yale Uni­ver­sity and the exte­rior walls are grid­ded mar­ble pan­els, so that when you are inside on a sunny day and the light shines through the veins in the pan­els the whole build­ing seems to be on fire. It’s amazing.

The Traces That Resem­ble Us art exhibit runs at Monte Clark Gallery until Jan­u­ary 30. Monte Clark Gallery is located at 105 – 525 Great North­ern Way, Van­cou­ver. More infor­ma­tion at

Talk­ing Heads is an inter­view col­umn devoted to con­tem­po­rary arts and cul­ture in Van­cou­ver. Look out for more of Helen Wong’s inter­views on