Artwork slithers into Vancouver

Sculpture of tentacle emerging from sewer turning some heads in Uptown Village

By Amy Fischer, Columbian City Government Reporter

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A giant steel tentacle bristling with saucer-sized suckers is slithering from the sewer in Uptown Village at Main and West 23rd streets.

Does it belong to an enormous octopus? A sea monster? Is it the tail of a dragon?

The imagination reels with possibilities.

The sculpture, created by Seattle metal artist Matthew Dockrey, is Vancouver’s newest piece of public art. Called “The Visitor,” the 5-foot-tall appendage cradling a genuine city manhole cover was installed Saturday. It will be dedicated at a celebration at noon Friday by the Uptown Village Association, Arts of Clark County, Vancouver’s Downtown Association and the city.

Karen Madsen, chairwoman of the nonprofit Arts of Clark County, said the artwork selection committee had sought a piece that was whimsical and interactive and that would endure over time. The sculpture, which Dockrey specifically created for the site in front of the old Mission Theatre, fits within the Steampunk art movement, she said.

“I think it’s going to be one of those pieces … suddenly it’s going to be everywhere, and people are going to come to Uptown to get their picture taken. I think it’s wonderfully fun,” she said Tuesday. “Once it starts to get that patina of the neighborhood, once it begins to be part of Uptown street life, I think everyone’s going to love it.”

The city of Vancouver provided a $12,000 grant to cover the $9,500 piece, and the engineering and installation costs. This is the fourth piece of public art that the city has paid for through its Public Art Fund in the past five years, and the first in Uptown Village, according to a city press release.

After choosing a spot for a sculpture, Arts of Clark County put out a request for artists’ proposals in early 2015 and received 13 responses. Dockrey, who has created sculptures for the Burning Man festival in Nevada, the National Maritime Museum in London and the Maritime Pier in Gig Harbor, wrote in his prospectus that his goal is to delight and surprise, “catch people’s eye and make them wonder.” He draws inspiration from the history of technology and likes to explore the beauty of mechanical design, he said.

On Tuesday, Dockrey’s tentacle turned the heads of drivers passing on Main Street. Pedestrians strolling the block lined with an eclectic mix of restaurants and shops stopped to take a closer look.

Reviews were mixed. Some felt it didn’t match the neighborhood’s vibe.

“I’m not crazy about it,” one woman said.

Vancouver resident Jerry Fulkerson, 58, said it took him awhile to figure out what he was looking at.

“I thought it looked like something you’d see down there at the (former Red Lion Hotel Vancouver at the) Quay, where the boats park,” he said, calling it “interesting.”

Others appreciated the humor and weirdness of a random tentacle emerging from a manhole.

“It’s cool. It’s different. It’s something to talk about, right?” said Kevin Clancy, 43, of Vancouver. “I think it’s a start of hopefully things to come in downtown Vancouver, maybe bring in some of that culture from Portland.”

Billy Segraves, a locksmith at Harry’s Locksmith directly across the street from the sculpture, thought the tentacle was “fantastic.”

“I like that it’s out of place, kind of out of the ordinary. It’s like a non sequitur,” he said.

Salem, Ore., resident Donald Larson, 68, a retired urban planner, was delighted to see public art in Uptown Village, calling it a “wonderful community endeavor” that provides a sense of community and space.

“Creativity is its own reward,” he said. “I would encourage a lot more of this.”

Madsen of Arts of Clark County said she believes successful art always tends to generate a stronger reaction. If it’s a piece everyone loves, it eventually becomes wallpaper, she said.

“The thing about something that at first is kind of jarring,” she said, “the fact it can elicit a whole variety of responses, to me, is really success.”