Trans Am Totem has been removed from Vancouver’s False Creek

Trans Am Totem, a high-profile public art installation in Vancouver’s northeast False Creek, has been disassembled and removed, in part because of its unfortunate popularity with pigeons and other birds.

The installation, which consisted of five ruined cars stacked on an old-growth cedar tree, was temporarily installed in 2015 as part of the Vancouver Biennale at the intersection of Quebec Street and Pacific Boulevard. 

It was created by artists Marcus Bowcott and Helene Aspinall for the two-year public art exhibition, and later made permanent with a $250,000 donation from billionaire Chip Wilson.

Eric Fredericksen, head of public art for the City of Vancouver, says the sculpture was always going to be moved from its False Creek location due to the area being redeveloped, but concedes that birds were also a significant problem.

“Over the life that it’s had here on Quebec, it’s had a lot of birds living within it and befouling the interiors,” he said.

Bowcott said the birds were so persistent they broke through the netting he had installed and destroyed a solar light battery.

“The last time we went, there were starlings up there. They created a different ambience,” he said.

“There’s lots of bird poo. […] I had to wear a vapour mask and I still felt a little dizzy after getting out of there.”

A worker wearing a mask takes steps to remove the cars atop Trans Am Totem. (Doug Kerr)

City still deciding new location

Fredericksen says the city has not yet settled on a permanent site for the installation.

“I think it’s interesting to have it in a situation where you can see it from multiple viewpoints, including multiple modes of transportation,” he said.

The sculpture had been prominently displayed near the SkyTrain tracks and the Georgia Viaduct near Science World.

Trans Am Totem’s original location sat prominently near the SkyTrain tracks near Science World. (Doug Kerr)

Bowcott says his piece is relevant to cyclists, pedestrians, and tourists, and he would prefer a location where it is visible from mass transit.

“The city had proposed Knight Street and Southeast Marine Drive, and I think that would be awful down there,” he said.

Bowcott says he heard the suggestion that the sculpture would eventually sit on Great Northern Way instead, and was in favour of eventually moving it there.

Fredericksen says the city now fully owns the piece, so the location is ultimately up to them, but they have been in consultation with Bowcott about potential sites. 

After removing the cars atop the sculpture, city workers dismantled the old-growth cedar trunk that formed the sculpture’s base. (Janella Hamilton)

The area surrounding the sculpture’s original site will see significant revitalization in the coming years as the Georgia Viaduct is demolished to make way for bike access routes and green space.

The location is also set to feature Indigenous art and tributes to Hogan’s Alley and nearby Chinatown as part of the large-scale redevelopment. The city says Trans Am Totem would not have had the chance to stay.

Any new location for the sculpture will have to take into account curious birds looking for a spot to roost, Fredericksen says.

“You want to have some barriers, obviously,” he said. “But you want to have barriers that don’t themselves have the potential to trap birds or anything like that.”

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