Michael de Courcy, Greetings from the Urban Wilderness, 1976, offset print photographs. Gift of the artist, 2022; Michael de Courcy, Urban Wilderness Revisited: Nine Selected Views, 1987, offset printed photographs. Gift of the artist, 2022
Over the past 40 years, Michael de Courcy has worked with photography, printmaking, publishing, public art, installations, and web-based media projects. The focus of his work has consistently been on place, social identity, and everyday life. As interaction with the public has always been a prime motivation, he has worked to discover new means (often beyond the conventional gallery setting) to position his work within his community in a relevant way.
Picturing the city has been a consistent theme of many Vancouver-based artistic practices, especially in photography, since the late 1960s. Thinking through the photographic media and its dissemination, de Courcy considers such issues as the colonization of Indigenous land, as well as the mythology of Vancouver as a “young” city. Urban Wilderness and Urban Wilderness Revisited are examples of this work that demonstrate an ongoing dialogue with and critique of the settler city.
Urban Wilderness can be considered both an event and exhibition; it consisted of three self-guided walking tour events in 1975 in downtown Vancouver that focused the participant’s attention on the urban landscape and its ephemeral elements rather than architecture, for example. The walk events were in the West End, False Creek and Victory Square neighbourhoods. All three started at Artist’s Gallery at 555 Hamilton – where Kathryn Walter’s work is now installed. In addition to arrows, de Courcy painted other marks on sidewalks and pavement such as a pair of feet to indicate the spot where viewers should stand to get a particular view of the mountains. Urban Wilderness included photographs sealed in plastic on poles. In addition to the outdoor exhibition, de Courcy made a 20-minute travelogue called Greetings from the Urban Wilderness (http://bit.ly/1JMd691). It records de Courcy and two visitors travelling around the city ad focuses on transitory urban experiences such as the steam rising from the clunky planters that were once on West Georgia. The foldout postcards record aspects of the artist’s view of the city and presumably include the images that were sealed in plastic cases and mounted on city poles as part of the walking events.
Urban Wilderness Revisited: Nine Selected Views are photocollages that reveal surreal views of the city of Vancouver, juxtaposing urban and natural landscapes.
Michael de Courcy (1944) studied at the École des Beaux Arts in Montréal and the Vancouver School of Art (now Emily Carr University of Art + Design). He has exhibited both nationally and internationally and is represented in many public and private collections, including those of the Vancouver Art Gallery and the National Gallery of Canada. He has lectured and given workshops at cultural institutions including the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the University of British Columbia, and Emily Carr University of Art + Design. In the late 1960s, during his formative years as an artist, de Courcy was a core member of the Vancouver artists collective known as the Intermedia Society. Intermedia was an association of Vancouver artists who worked in a variety of media and collaborated on staged events to support a community that explored new models and formats. This experimental work included expanded film, correspondence art (where the postcard figured) and other innovations. Although Intermedia ceased to exist by 1972, its influence is felt widely in Canada and beyond.