REVIEW: Bright Lights, Hopeless Return: Marianne Nicolson's Oh How I Long For Home 

Kayla Elderton | November 2, 2016

Marianne Nicolson, Oh, How I Long For Home, 2016, installation view at Teck Gallery. Photo: Blaine Campbell.

The familiar glow of neon lights fills the Teck Gallery at 515 West Hastings Street, but this time, the lights glow for no commercial brand.  A complicated relationship between the city and neon lights bloomed in the 1940’s and 50’s, when an abundance of street signs started to populate the streets of Vancouver. A decade later a law was passed to eliminate the bright lights [1].  Since then, there has been a slow reintroduction of neon signage as an homage to the glow that once was familiar to our streets.  Artist Marianne Nicolson confronts this neon history as a representation of falsehood; a reflection of a promise and hope for Indigenous people that never surpassed artificial light.  

Nicolson’s installation, Oh, How I Long For Home, consists of two parallel black walls facing one another: one containing a long row of framed black and white photographs, the other, colour photos and neon signage.  The four photos on the west wall are of recognizable neon signs from Hastings Street and situated under a red neon text.  On the east wall hangs twelve street photographs of people from Nicolson’s community during Vancouver’s neon heyday, framing the hope and excitement that came with its colourful arrival in the city.  The two walls are separated by a broad window and the physical distance is a spatialized reminder of the colonization that took place which changed feelings of hope and excitement to confusion and disappointment.

Marianne Nicolson, Oh, How I Long For Home, 2016, installation view at Teck Gallery. Photo: Blaine Campbell.

The unrelenting glow of neon in the space urges us not to forget colonization and its active legacy.  The Kwak’wala words in neon read “Wa'lasan xwalsa kan ne'nakwe”, which loosely translates to “Oh, how I long for home” and refer to a return, just as the sun returns [2].  Although the sun’s return is a comforting occurrence for most, Nicolson’s return is unfulfilled.  The title highlights the inability to return home for many Indigenous people in terms of land and culture.  The exhibition itself is held on unceded land, an actively colonized and further institutionalized territory.  Nicolson is not talking about return as a decolonization, but rather a return of power to those that once called this land home.  As such, Nicolson’s display of archival photographs is a conversation about our ongoing state of occupation and not a mere historical snapshot.

That Oh, How I Long For Home was made for a public space, which is occupied by students studying, is a challenge to complacency.  The space of the Teck Gallery is open, unlike most traditional galleries, and students may not even consider their interaction with the art therein, but Nicolson’s work is glowing for our attention and intimate consideration.  Thus the invitation is to not only coexist spatially, but also to recognize historical patterns, seek restoration and engage critically with our shared future on this land.

Works Cited

[1] John, Mackie. "Bright Lights, Old City: Remembering Vancouver's Neon Glory." The Vancouver Sun, 13 Nov. 2009. Web. 05 Oct. 2016.

[2] O’Brian, Melanie. “Marianne Nicolson, Oh, How I Long For Home.” Web. 05 Oct. 2016.    

For more information on Marianne Nicolson: Oh How I Long For Home click here.

<<  Previous BlogBack to 2016 | Next Blog >>