Written by: Christopher Turner

For better or worse, the past year has changed us. As we begin to take major steps toward resuming our normal lives post-COVID-19 (with safety still in mind, of course), it’s important to recognize all of the lessons we’ve learned about health, family, work, resilience, community, and humanity.

It’s safe to say that through the past year and a half, our realities have been altered as we’ve watched the world undergo dramatic shifts during restrictive lockdowns and reduced mobility. However, in contrast to the tragic scenes we saw on our TV screens and experienced in our personal lives, we’ve also had the opportunity to experience personal growth and, hopefully, have seen the best of humanity. A new community spirit has emerged that demonstrated that human beings collectively care for one another. Plus, many of us learned to embrace new ways of social engagement and how to reimagine the joy of art and communication.

With that in mind, this summer Bombay Sapphire will be presenting a new series of installations with innovative Canadian creatives as part of the ongoing Bombay Sapphire Art Project. The series of installations aim to bring together diverse audiences and offer an opportunity to reconnect us socially and safely using sculpture, AR, and multimedia techniques.

Each of the projects incorporates parts of Bombay Sapphire to elevate the experience and remind us that creativity can take us anywhere. The projects in the Bombay Sapphire Art Project, which will be shown in Toronto and Vancouver, are inspired by what the past year has taught us about our creativity, personal growth, and imagination. In fact, both projects embrace the timely and necessary practices of self-care, introspection, meditation, and wonder, in an effort to intentionally inspire diverse audiences to discover artistry, challenge their senses, and stir creativity within themselves. After all, creativity is such an essential part of being human.

The first installation, entitled “Sunday in the Strand of 4C,” is crafted by William Ukoh and Raquel Da Silva, and will be on display at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre starting July 25 for 10 days. Developed during the confinement of COVID-19, this installation is a reflection on the meditative nature of “self-care Sundays,” born from personal observations, past and present.

On the opposite side of the country, Ben Z Cooper has created a physical installation called “Effervescent Dream,” which will be on display at Vancouver’s Yaletown Station starting August 10 for two weeks. The overhead installation pulls our focus up from linear tasks and handheld screens, and invites viewers to see the sky as if from beneath a hazy, otherworldly field.

Both installations are curated by award-winning curator Ashley McKenzie-Barnes, and promise to examine feelings of nostalgia and connectivity to nature and community through the adaptation of sculpture, AR, and multimedia landscapes that incorporate unique elements of the Bombay Sapphire experience.

We caught up with the artists and curator ahead of their installations.

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RAQUEL DA SILVA AND WILLIAM UKOH, TORONTO

How would you describe your work?

Raquel Da Silva (RD): It typically consists of taking different moments and ideas and translating them into two- and three-dimensional forms or spaces. Because of that open-endedness, the work usually develops as paintings or sculptural furniture/set design. I like to explore different mediums in order to find the one that best expresses that idea.

William Ukoh (WU): It’s a surreal world that blurs the lines between art, fashion, and portraiture, captured through the lens of my experiences and culture.

Tell us about your installation for the Bombay Sapphire Art Project.

RD: The installation is based off of Will’s digital video piece "Sunday in The Strand of [4C]." He approached me about helping him bring the piece into a three-dimensional setting, so we worked together to come up with a set design and elements that would work best in bringing that vision to life.

WU: The installation aims to extend the world in the piece into a three-dimensional space. Simultaneously, it speaks to the last year+, with an emphasis on escapism.

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What was your inspiration for the piece?

WU: The piece is inspired by the meditative nature of self-care Sundays. It was born from personal observations, past and present, from the salon trips with my mum as a kid to observing my sisters take care of their hair on Sundays. Deciding to grow my hair meant I eventually took on similar practices for myself. As a result, I felt compelled to communicate how meditative the process could be.

RD: We really wanted to evoke a sense of serenity and create a meditative experience, so the design of the set and structure was built off that idea. Creating a quiet space, even within a busy city, that can reflect that idea of stillness and self-care.

What elements in your art project are inspired by Bombay Sapphire and how did you use them?

RD: We incorporated different elements inspired by Bombay Sapphire, such as the blue hue in the lighting and glass features, but we also really wanted to focus on incorporating different ingredients such as lemons, juniper berries, and cassia bark, and how those ingredients could work with the surrounding elements.

WU: The interior has LED lights installed, which come on at night. They give off a blue color similar to the Bombay blue. The blue gives the nighttime viewing a different experience while simultaneously maintaining the calm essence of the piece.

What do you want people to feel as they walk away from the piece?

RD: Still, refreshed, and grounded.

WU: A sense of calm.

BEN Z COOPER, VANCOUVER

How would you describe your work?

Ben Z Cooper (BC): Since a young age, my work has been driven by a curiosity around the intersection of art and creative uses of technology. Over the past 10 years, I’ve carved out a unique niche by blending art, technology, and public engagement to create large-scale, immersive installations for clients across North and South America. Most of my work is centered around curiosity, reflection, and play. In my work I look to drive interactions and inspire a childlike wonder through the work.

Tell us about your installation for the Bombay Sapphire Art Project.

BC: "Effervescent Dream" is designed to capture a moment: a sense of wonder, ease, and enjoyment. Through installation and use of digital media, the piece offers an opportunity to sink into an otherworldly space beneath a cloud of surfacing bubbles and surrounded by a rising sea of botanicals.

What was your inspiration for the piece?

BC: To me, the bubbles do much the same thing as lenses. When I was a child, my father had a handful of cameras and lenses, which I loved looking through and experimenting with. I could get lost for hours peering through these miniature portals at refracted light and color. I still surround myself with a hodgepodge collection of found crystals, old chandeliers, and lenses of all sizes. It’s quite simple really how beautiful the light is as it passes through these shapes.

What do you want people to feel as they walk away from the piece?

BC: My hope in mounting this work is to amplify captured and refracted light, sharing a few dazzling moments with viewers. The piece invites viewers to stay and linger, to enjoy the undulating colors and soothing suspended shapes. The augmented reality feature has been included as a way to customize the experience and add an additional layer of play and curiosity.

ASHLEY MCKENZIE-BARNES, CURATOR FOR TORONTO AND VANCOUVER INSTALLATIONS

What is the purpose of the Bombay Sapphire Art Project?

Ashley McKenzie-Barnes (AMB): It asks us to examine what the past year has taught us about our imagination, creativity, personal growth, and how we now consume art. During the pandemic and in the current stage of reopening we are forced to look at new ways to embrace social engagement and communication. And each installation intentionally inspires the audience to participate in practices of self-care, introspection, meditation, and wonder, while being a thought-starter for their own creative journeys.

How did you get involved?

AMB: I had attended a lot of the Bombay Sapphire Stir Creativity events in the past, both in Canada and overseas, and loved them. Then, coincidentally, I was approached by Bombay Sapphire to curate this year’s Art Projects. It seemed like a great opportunity to shape new creative expression. I was sought for my specific curatorial practice that aligned well with Bombay Sapphire’s mission to "Stir Creativity" in Canadian communities, in a way that inspires them through innovative art installations that help unlock their creative potential. It was also a great chance to bring forward projects from artists I’ve wanted to work with, like Ben, and art projects I wanted to help bring to life and support in the making of, like the "Sunday in The Strand of 4C" installation by William Ukoh with Raquel Da Silva.

What role did you play with the installation?

AMB: I’m the curator on both projects [Toronto and Vancouver], which means I proposed the artists and projects for the Bombay Sapphire Art Project and then work with the artists and agency partners to shape the full experience of the installation, while sharing the story and significance of each project and its connection to the brand, and considering the ways the projects will provoke creativity in its audiences.

“Sunday in The Strand of 4C,” by William Ukoh and Raquel Da Silva, will be on display at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre starting July 25. “Effervescent Dream,” by Ben Z Cooper, will be on display at Vancouver’s Yaletown Station starting August 10. For more information on Bombay’s other creative initiatives, visit bombaysapphire.com/stircreativity.

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