ART SEEN: Restoration underway on 130-metre public light work at West Pender Place

After going dark three years ago, light is returning to one of Vancouver’s biggest and most visible public art works.

Later this evening, on Tuesday, April 16, artist Tamar Frank is expected to turn on the power to partially start her LED installation at West Pender Place.

It’s not a full restoration. She’ll be turning the lights on in the 10-storey, 30-metre east tower. The 130-metre, 36-storey west tower won’t see the lights going on until next year.

“We’re working very hard on restoring it,” Frank said in an interview. “It’s been a long process.”

The main problem was with the seals on the eight-metre long horizontal LED lights on the south facing concrete exterior of the two towers at 1499 West Pender. They leaked. Water in the strips caused them to short out and darken which ruined the effect of the lights and the patterns Frank programmed into the work.

Initially, developer Reliance Properties asked Frank if she could come up with a new design. That turned out to be even more complicated than expected.

“I carefully suggested to replace all the lights and bring it back to where it was before,” she said.

LED lighting technology, Frank said, has improved significantly since the work was installed in 2011.

“The fixtures up there now are much better quality,” she said.

In this image from 2007, the low-rise 10-storey tower at 1499 West Pender (on the right) is where Tamar Frank’s LED public art work will be reactivated on the evening of Tuesday, April 16.

Frank based the work’s colours and light patterns on the local landscape. Patterns include a diagonal bisecting the horizontal lights from top to bottom. Another resembles a gentle cascade of water running down the side of the building. A complete cycle takes eight hours.

She’s brought the work back to where it was before it went dark – but with a few added features. She’s added more colour layers, including three shades of blue to give the work more depth. She’s added a shimmering effect inspired by sun light hitting the water.

If all goes well with the new lights on the east tower, restoration of the LED lights on the west tower will take place next spring.

West Pender Place was designed by architect Jim Hancock when he was with IBI Architects.

Frank’s public art on West Pender Place is among the art works featured in the Dutch artist’s new book Lightspace 20 years. Lightspace includes all of Frank’s work from 1997 to 2007.

She was in town to work on the light installation at West Pender Place and to hold a local book launch on Monday.

At 130 metres in height, the West Pender light work is Frank’s biggest public art work. It was her first commission in North America.

Frank’s interest with light started with explorations into the reflective quality of pigments.

“In essence now, I am still a painter,” she said.

“In the way I compose, it’s all about colour and composition and saturation. It is just that I’ve chosen light with my preferred medium to work with.”

Frank has a second LED light art installation in Vancouver. She designed the lighting at South Creek Landing, 2211 Cambie, on the west side of the street. The building is by Arno Matis Architecture.

Lightspace 20 Years is $85; a limited edition version is $680.

Dutch artist Tamar Frank is shown at 1499 West Pender building in July, 2011. (Ian Lindsay/ PNG)

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