The State of Refuge in Vancouver
Anne Lesley Selcer
It is the beginning, it is the home.1 It is the most literal materialization of limit, the enclosure of presence. As one takes to the city it is: at one’s back, a shell, an expression or manifestation.
It looks like this: four windows, one door, a tree, a sun in the corner. Or like this: yellow light cast onto the sidewalk, glasses clinking, heavy curtains pulled off to one side. This house is the final picture of the dream of replication, a small new world, landed. It has been bought by a man and a woman, its governance curves neatly into the convex of bigger governances. It resonates, is beautiful. It is consistent with the community centre, the school, the law. These equivalences knock together with a velvet surety.
Then, there is the rented house. This house assigns titles: occupant, landlord. It holds a staticy freedom; there are drinking glasses to be bought, houseplants. This house is tremulous. Here, futures do not have hallways or rooms. It has a gravity (a cement foundation, hinges that creak predictably) not possessed by its occupant. This house is mediated, nascent. On the gridded, tree-lined residential street, this house is slightly skewed.
Next, the rented apartment: serial, social, occasionally empty, fluxing, forgiven, divested, urbane. One of many. Eyes are upon us. We fall in, like days, like weeks, like months, like years, like curios in stacked boxes. We have no choice. We make due. We build walls, throw dinner parties. We are the populace, running noisily parallel to the social. Our money ebbs rather than grows, and this ebbing seems like the very movement of life itself.
And then there is the rented room. A two burner cookstove, one window, a bathroom down the hall. This subject, this most visible and most invisible subject, sits alone by his window. All down the street they knock together in rows of twos and fours. Behind them are the temporary homes of a caste going nowhere—a caste as staked in the sidewalk, the corner store, as the gentry is staked in the land. These window casings are the sturdiest in the city.
There is the hotel room, and all the things that money makes possible: the businessman flossing, unburdening himself, the sound of the TV news, the dissolution of place into service, the small suitcase of personal effects, the giddy, unregulated self, trespass against the family, limits concurrent with the limits of the body and the boundary of the city outside, the heroic survey from the balcony, quick and rootless niceties, disposable bottles, large, clean mirrors, a persistently dispersing social, the cleanliness of money.
At the Lobby Gallery in November of 2005, Erica Stocking exhibited Single Room Occupancy. She built a mid-level luxury hotel room in an empty space behind the gallery wall. The Lobby Gallery serves a dual function as the actual lobby of the Dominion Hotel, a boutique hotel on Abbott just north of Cordova and west of Carrall. It is tucked into Gastown—the historical district which designates itself from the surrounding Downtown Eastside with brick sidewalks, wrought iron guard posts, and marked street lighting.
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About the Author
Anne Lesley Selcer is a writer based out of the Bay Area.