Outdoor art tours from Belkin Gallery free for students and visitors

Halfway between Buchanan and the clock tower, an old black carriage stands sheltered within glass panes. The 19th century artifact not only lies curiously as an anachronism amongst the bustling campus landscape, but also, upon closer look, houses a camera obscura projecting into the carriage interior.

This installation is the Millennial Time Machine, a piece of outdoor art by local artist Rodney Graham in 2003, and one of the popular stops on the outdoor art tours offered by the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery.

“When the Belkin gallery opened in 1995, part of the goal was also to reinvigorate the outdoor art program,” said Naomi Sawada, manager of public programs and promotion at the Belkin Art Gallery.

Since its opening, the Belkin has been providing tours of outdoor art on campus. The highly individualized tours can be booked free of charge by interested groups or individuals, and range from 1 hour “mini-tours” to a 3-hour-long comprehensive sighting of all 28 pieces. Self-guided tours are also possible through the program guide and map available on the gallery’s website.

“The idea for these tours is, whoever you are, if you come to UBC, whether it’s during the day, whether it’s during a weekend or during an evening when it’s sunny,” said Sawada. “People could be able to access these works and see them without having to go into a building.”

While outdoor art has been established on campus since the 1950s, interest in the program gradually declined through the decades. This changed upon the turn of the century, according to Sawada.

“People started talking about what life would be like in the year 2000,” Sawada said. Great interest was placed in imagining a new millennium, which spurred the commission of the Millennial Time Machine and renewed life in UBC’s outdoor art program.

“We’ve had people from all over the world come and take the tour,” said Sawada.

Viewers are guided through a chronology of pieces -- from a historic bust of Norman Mackenzie, the third president of UBC, to free form sculptures affectionately referred to as “plop art” to Edgar Heap of Bird’s thought provoking Native Hosts, a series of 12 signs scattered across campus that challenge viewers to think twice about the land we walk on. The outdoor art tour gives viewers a chance to learn more about the myriad of artwork surrounding them on campus -- including items that might not be apparent upon first glance to be carefully placed installations.

“What counts as outdoor art is sort of a funny thing, and outdoor art is different from public art in some ways,” said Chris Gaudet, one of the programs and exhibitions assistants running the tours.

“[Outdoor art] enters into the spaces that people are using. It’s intervening in the space that people are walking around,” said Gaudet. “And that’s a two way street.”

On one hand, the art can directly influence viewers’ experiences of the setting. Conversely, the public and natural phenomena can also influence the appearance and message of the work through defacement and age.

“Outdoor art is really susceptible to chance,” said Gaudet.

Before booking a tour, one suggestion both Gaudet and Sawada echo is to bring a friend along.

“Just like anything else, [art] becomes meaningful when you actually talk about it with somebody or to somebody,” said Sawada. “You begin to think differently about it and your ideas about what you’re looking at and your experiences will change over time. And that, for me, is the most interesting thing about artwork.”