Don Li-Leger and Cora Li-Leger look over some of the hundreds of volumes of outdated encyclopedias and other books they have collected for the Encyclopedia House project.

Surrey art project gets mired in red tape

City requires working drawings and inspections for Don Li-Leger's Encyclopedia House

South Surrey artists Don and Cora Li-Leger may have just been declared Surrey Civic Treasures for their meaningful contributions to the art scene, but their latest art installation project is getting tied up in the city’s red tape.

For over a month, Don Li-Leger, who dreamed up the concept, has been collecting old encyclopedia sets – and other bound books of no commercial value – for what he is calling ‘Encyclopedia House’.

His plan is to use the heavy books – “really they’re just like bricks,” he says – to build a modest, but imaginatively crafted, eight-by-12-foot temporary structure.

He intended to have the art piece built in time to be part of the Newton Pop Up Art Walk, including the opening of the Z-inc collective art show Window Dressing – Cabinets of Curiosity on Sept. 12.

Rather than be a practical shelter, he said, the piece is intended to comment on issues of housing and homelessness and the irony of useless blocks of  ‘knowledge’ –  and provoke dialogue on society’s pressing need to meet genuine needs by recycling unused and discarded materials.

But Li-Leger said city staff seem to be missing the point of the installation, for which there is not yet a sanctioned location. At press time Tuesday, he was scheduled to meet with city staff to discuss a number of issues before the piece can be approved.

“They want to see engineer’s working drawings and they want to know about building inspections and fire inspections,” he said. “They say I must dot all the ‘i’s and cross all the ‘t’s.”

Li-Leger said while he might be able to provide a rough drawing of his idea, creating a working drawing would run counter to the improvisational spontaneity he is aiming at.

“It’s not going to be weather-proof; we’re not putting a washroom in,” he said. “It’s just about getting the dialogue happening.

“This is really a riff on the ‘zero-yen house’ that a Japanese architect created for homeless people – and we have a homeless problem. At the same time, we have all these books of knowledge that are completely outmoded – people don’t want to buy them or sell them and they’ll charge you for recycling them.”

“So many people are excited about this project,” said Cora Li-Leger, noting that it coincides with current Sources Community Resource Centre homelessness awareness initiatives including the Coldest Night of the Year Walk and Homelessness Partnering Strategy.

“I think my real problem is that I called it Encyclopedia House,” said Don Li-Leger, noting that his desire to locate the piece in Newton’s ‘Grove’ area – a frequent scene of artistic interventions organized with the Friends of the Grove group – has also meant greater scrutiny.

Until he finds out about the fate of the project, Don Li-Leger is still seeking donations of books which can be dropped off at the blue box behind Rotary Field House in South Surrey.

 

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