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Searchlight artist calls own project "obscene"

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, the artist behind the prominent searchlight art installation that is currently illuminating the Vancouver skyline, has called his own project "obscene" given the projected cuts to provincial arts funding.

"As I do this project and I learn more about the dire situation of the arts in B.C., I'm outraged by the complete lack of vision that has been expressed for after the Olympics," said Lozano-Hemmer.

Lozano-Hemmer's installation, on display from Feb. 4 to Feb. 28, was commissioned by the 2010 Cultural Olympiad and the City of Vancouver.

The B.C. Liberals are expected to slash core provincial arts funding by more than 88 per cent over two years, to $2.25 million in 2010-'11 from $19.5 million in 2008-'09.

"It's unbelievable," said Lozano-Hemmer of the cuts. "This is important not just economically, because culture brings in a net worth, but also in terms of quality of life."

Yesterday Stop BC Arts Cuts posted footage of Lozano-Hemmer in which the artist makes several critical statements.

Such comments from contracted artists are infrequent, likely due to a contentious clause in their VANOC contract: "The artist shall at all times refrain from making any negative or derogatory remarks respecting VANOC, the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the Olympic movement generally, Bell and/or other sponsors associated with VANOC."

But the artist's public comments are no slip-up.

Lindsay Brown, a representative with Stop BC Arts Cuts, said Lozano-Hemmer was enthusiastic about putting the footage online. "He definitely meant to make these statements," she said.

"I don't know why Rafael decided to speak out, except that I guess he may have felt that his international stature gives him the security to do so," said Brown, who explained that Lozano-Hemmer made the comments without prompting.

And the artist didn't mince words: "It's very romantic, I know, but I hope the Olympics will reactivate the dull minds that are running this province into giving money to the arts," he said.

The footage of Lozano-Hemmer was shot after his speech at the CODE: Dialogue conference at Emily Carr University, during which he addressed several public arts students.

Lozano-Hemmer's reference to 9-11 in the video is in response to a criticism that his project is "an environmental 9-11" because it uses so much energy, a point he contests in the full transcript, available here.

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