ISABELLE HAYEUR : FIRE WITH FIRE
Site-specific video installation at W2 Community Media Arts
112 West Hastings Street, Vancouver
Commissioned by The Vancouver 2010 Cultural Olympiad.
The Downtown Eastside is the oldest neighbourhood in Vancouver; it is also the most run-down. This historic area is infamous for being plagued by social problems due to poverty. Before falling prey to serious urban decay, it has known brighter days, and was even the city’s business hub until the 1980s. Derelict for over twenty years, in more recent ones, it has started to be sought after again. The Downtown Eastside is undergoing a major mutation —witness the newly renovated buildings and the constructions sites that now dot the area.
The coming of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games is accelerating the Downtown Eastside’s transformation by heightening real estate speculation and gentrification; new condo towers and big box stores are appearing. The revamping of the neighbourhood seems more responsive to the expectations of people who are better-off. Tensions between real estate developers and members of the community are palpable, with fears of a form of implicit "social cleansing".
It is striking that the history of the Downtown Eastside began in destruction and disappearance. In 1886, soon after the city was incorporated, the Great Vancouver Fire swept down on the neighbourhood and razed almost all of it to the ground. The video installation Fire with Fire recalls this troubled period of Vancouver’s history. It also alludes to the neighbourhood’s present conditions by reminding us that many lives have been consumed there, worn down by years of homelessness, drug use, street prostitution, and violence.