Saltwater City – Vancouver / 咸水埠温哥华 (Haam Sui Fow Wun Goh Wah)
Paul Wong, 2018
72″ x 10″ x 10″, neon, glass and steel
72″ x 10″, painted vintage wood
Saltwater City – Vancouver / 咸水埠温哥华 is a public art work that was temporarily exhibited in two versions at the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden during the year-long OCCUPYING CHINATOWN residency. The neon was exhibited in the Scholar’s Study. The painted vintage wood version was hung over the exterior south moon gate on Keefer Street. The neon is now permanently installed at the rear of 475 Main Street.
Saltwater City – Vancouver / 咸水埠温哥华 honours Chinatown’s history of language and culture, and literally translates to Salt-Water-City-Warm-Older Brother-Chinese. Haam Sui Fow (咸水埠) was the historic name Chinatown’s early settlers called Vancouver. Wun Goh Wah (温哥华) is the modern-day Chinese name for the city, a phonetic approximation of its English name “Van-cou-ver.” The works pays homage to the history of the city, and the lost history of Chinatown.
These temporary exhibitions were used to generate discussion about the artwork, and to generate interest in finding a permanent site for the neon within Chinatown. Wong produced 16 photoshopped renderings of different sites that included well-known historical buildings, facades in prominent locations, as well as buildings in less obvious places such as in alleyways and on side-streets.
The exhibition of these locations included an opportunity for the public to vote on their favourite sites. The permanent installation of the neon is in the rear of 475 Main Street, a private building owned by the Lee family, Prospero Group. The neon is situated in the north-south alley connecting Hastings and Pender Streets. This location was the original site of Vancouver’s City Hall from 1898 to 1929. The neon piece also overlooks a perpendicular alley that runs east-west towards Columbia Street, known throughout the 20th century as Market Alley. Market Alley was home to the famous Green Door and Red Door Restaurants, along with other thriving Chinatown businesses. This was the first site chosen by Wong, and amongst the favourite site of the voters.
The neon work was created with the generous support of The Audain Foundation. Wong gifted this work to the City of Vancouver Public Art Collection. Special thanks to Derek Lee, and The Prospero Group.