REFLECTION: Superimpositions: "Mountain Embassy" as Marker


To walk on land.

To occupy or set up camp; to stake a claim; to survey or develop or redevelop.

These human acts of mark-making overwrite what was there before, bringing with them new rules, materials and economies. Palimpsestic in their effect, they complicate the encoding of a site with each additional layer of information, alteration or concealment. Not solely additive, superimpositions may also instigate the displacement of ecosystems or communities, interrupting place-based networks or severing ecological ties. They might create new access or bring new restrictions, change the permissions, open a vista or obscure a view.

Crucially, place is what ties these layers together: the site at the confluence of actions of occupation and mark-making. When site ties together the instigator and the effect of change, there is a kind of place-based accountability, a need to live with the consequences.

But what does it mean when remote systems of power and capital bring change or control from afar? It signals the alienation of subject from agent, the dissociation between control and consequences, or a circumvention of place-based accountability. Multi-level political jurisdiction, the explosion of technocratic power and surveillance technology, a new ubiquity of social media: there are examples of remote power nested into every scale of the contemporary human condition. These range from the modest municipal bylaws that tell us where we can or cannot linger in parks,1 to the mysterious multinational corporations that track our movements, spending habits and personal networks.

Cedric Bomford, Mountain Embassy, installation view at SFU Gallery, 2019. Photo: Blaine Campbell.

I am a white settler-woman living on unceded xʷməθkwəy̓əm, Skwxwú7mesh and səl̓ilw̓ətaʔɬ territories. Through my daily actions, I am complicit in the occupation and mark-making that limit access and sustain colonial systems of remote power and displacement. The journey to Burnaby Mountain to visit Cedric Bomford's Mountain Embassy takes me on roads that traverse cities, encircle mountains and bisect forests; through concrete terrains of parkades and plazas; across scholastic borders within a stately and intimidating educational academy; and into the warmly lit, polished surfaces of a contemporary exhibition space.Not everyone gets to access these so-called public places.

I am led just off campus and through the new generic streets, where pristine, freshly imported soil and greenhouse-raised saplings flank the tidy street lined with showrooms of residential development. I am in UniverCity, a major attempt on the part of the university to collaborate with private developers to build 4500 residential units on leasehold lands, three decades in the making.3 And here stands Mountain Embassy, a polite but radical member in the lineup of almost-identical buildings; a mute wolf in the midst of a corporate group photo.

Dressed in an unsettling vinyl wrap that looks solid and fortress-like, but shivers uneasily in the wind, the familiar proportions of the showroom building read discordantly against the façade's brutalist architectural language of Arthur Erickson and Geoffrey Massey's iconic Simon Fraser University. New layers of visual trickery reveal themselves upon approach: I can see how the wavering surface is printed with composite images generated by photogrammetry software. This technology is often used to create 360° virtual tour images in the real-estate development industry, and handles the regularity of flat, orthogonal surfaces well but falters into confusion over reflective surfaces or vegetation. The broken and blurry moments in the image are so at-odds with the precision and predictability of everything else in that environment that they are like Pierre Menard copies that mean something entirely new.4 A keyed entrance to the building's interior brings me into another bizarre occupation of a false front: the developer's condominium showroom, staged to take visitors to a future living space many floors above ground looking down at the landscape I had just traversed. Standing inside, I look out through two screens: one at scenic images of the anticipated view, printed and backlit by LED through the condominium's 'windows', the other through the back of Bomford's trembling screen. From the inside of this privileged place of access, this monument atop a mountain, this silently threatening signal of the arrival of new capital and people and social order, these Potemkin façades felt so thin.

Cedric Bomford, Mountain Embassy, installation view at SFU Gallery, 2019. Photo: Blaine Campbell.

Are these marks of power and development elements of what Hayden King and Shiri Pasternak call the "infrastructure of theft" – "forms of land use [that] fence off access points to traplines and waterways, impede access to sacred and ceremonial sites, erode sensitive areas, and fragment the land base, prohibiting the establishment of viable and sustainable economies"?5 The site of Burnaby Mountain, vitally important to the xʷməθkwəy̓əm, Skwxwú7mesh, səl̓ilw̓ətaʔɬ, and kʷikʷəƛ̓əm peoples that intersect on this terrain, registers all the elements of "extraction, industrial development and conservation regimes" that Land Back discusses, including the Burnaby Mountain Conservation Area, Kinder Morgan's Burnaby Terminal & Tank Farm, the route of the Trans Mountain pipeline, BC Hydro's System Control Tower, UniverCity, and the 170 hectare campus of SFU. Can these superimpositions be interpreted as marks of dissociation from responsibility to the land; as containers for remote control? What is an embassy, really? A diplomatic mission, a reification of distant power.

As I descend the mountain, I think about what Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg scholar Leanne Betasamosake Simpson calls "the hard work of being present".6 In the making of marks – our superimpositions that add to, abstract and conceal – how can we show up, be present and take responsibility for the scripts we write and rewrite on the land? Mountain Embassy prompts consideration of both the flimsiness and the threat of these impositions, these seemingly innocuous things7 that arrive as proxies for power that is not of this place. Both the work itself and my journey to see it are active agents in the making of marks, and I feel compelled to tread lightly, move slowly and peel back some of the layers of where I am right now. 

Cedric Bomford, Mountain Embassy, installation view at SFU Gallery, 2019. Photo: Blaine Campbell.

Laura Kozak is a design researcher, organizer and mom to two. A core interest in collaborative design of the urban environment informs her research and teaching practice. Recent projects and publications include Sticks, Loops, Land with Charlotte Falk and Jean Chisholm (2019), Infinite Mappings, with Rebecca Bayer (Access, 2015) and Open Source City, in Now Urbanism: The Future City if Here (Routledge, 2014). Kozak is the president of 221A Artist Run Centre Society and teaches at Emily Carr University. She holds a BFA from Emily Carr University and an MASArch from the University of British Columbia. 

For more information about Cedric Bomford's Mountain Embassyclick here

[1] City of Burnaby Bylaw No. 7331.

[2] During Mountain Embassy, SFU Gallery hosted an information hub related to Bomford's project which included a reading room, images of related works and archival materials from earlier Embassy works.

[3] "About Us: History," UniverCity: Better Living on Burnaby Mountain, Accessed Nov 2019,,

[4] Borge's fictional character Pierre Menard re-authors Don Quixote, and it is through this process of replication we are to understand the context for his authorship as changing the meaning of the original text. In duplicating images of architectural constructions using photogrammetry technology and placing these images in this new configuration, Cedric Bomford changes their meaning. See Jorge Luis Borges. "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote," in Everything and Nothing, trans. Donald A. Yates, James E. Irby, John M. Fein, and Eliot Weinberger (New York: New Directions Books, 1999).

[5] Hayden King and Shiri Pasternak, "The Spectrum of Consent," Land Back (Toronto: Yellowhead Institute, 2019) 15 – 22.

[6] In "Constellations of Coresistence", Simpson discusses the labour of building durational, face-to-face relationships versus those that are built quickly over the internet. I am thinking about this phrase in relationship to land, the speed of change, and the labour of inhabiting the consequences of change versus controlling from afar. See Leanne Betasamosake Simpson "Constellations of Coresistance" As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Free Through Radical Resistance (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2017), 211 – 232 and "Land as pedagogy: Nishnaabeg Intelligence and Rebellious Transformation,"Decolonization Indigeneity, Education & Society, 3:3, (2014) 1 – 25.

[7] Discussion with Melanie O'Brian, Curator, SFU Galleries, October, 2019.