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UrbanScreen to be unplugged at Surrey rec centre after ‘Body as Border’ digital-art show

The decommissioning is due to expansion plans for Chuck Bailey Recreation Centre, operators say
Surrey’s UrbanScreen digital-art gallery showed “Phantasmagoria” in 2018, on the west wall of Chuck Bailey Recreation Centre. (file photo)

Surrey’s award-winning UrbanScreen will soon end a 12-year run at Chuck Bailey Recreation Centre, after one last exhibition of digital art on the west wall of the Whalley facility.

Once billed as “Canada’s largest art-dedicated outdoor screen,” UrbanScreen will be decommissioned at the end of “Body as Border: Traces and Flows of Connection,” an “immersive outdoor art project” shown in the after-dark hours from Feb. 12 to May 1.

UrbanScreen operators say the decommissioning is due to expansion plans for the rec centre, where the facility has been an outdoor exhibition site for Surrey Art Gallery since it opened for the Cultural Olympiad in 2010.

The digital projection system could move to another site in Surrey, if and when gallery operators secure grant funding.

A “closing celebration” is planned March 19, to talk about UrbanScreen’s legacy “as the site concludes programming at its present location,” according to an event post on


In 2020, a book called Art After Dark marked the 10th anniversary of UrbanScreen, the creation of which began in 2009 among artists involved in Surrey Art Gallery’s TechLab, which at the time was a decade-old hub for digital art.

• READ MORE: New ‘Art After Dark’ book showcases Surrey UrbanScreen’s first decade.

Since then, “many other institutions have been inspired by UrbanScreen’s programming model: non-commercial, site-specific, artist-led media visible to a mass audience,” Rhys Edwards, assistant curator, notes in the gallery’s guide to winter 2022 programs.

On a 30-metre-wide “screen” obscured by some doors and windows, UrbanScreen uses data projectors to illuminate the rec centre’s wall with imagery generated by computers and other technologies, which have included a virtual piano, SkyTrain and tidal level readers, gaming engines and unmanned aerial video copters.

In 2017, programmers of UrbanScreen received an award for outstanding achievement from the Canadian Museums Association (CMA), in the New Media category.

In the new Body as Border exhibition, artificial intelligence generates poetry and art created by artists and academic researchers at Simon Fraser University’s School of Interactive Art and Technology.

The audiovisual project involves the artists pr0phecy sun, Freya Zinovieff, Gabriela Aceves-Sepúlveda and Steve DiPaola.

“Through a randomized, generative digital process, the work draws from bacterial cultures, documentation of the Fraser River, and fragments of poetry to produce a series of composite audiovisual landscapes,” an event post explains. “The resulting images and sounds chart humanity’s impact upon the environment, as well as our own porous relationship with both artificial and natural entities.”

The digital art will be shown half an hour after sunset until midnight, at 13458 107A Ave., Surrey. A preview-night event Thursday (Feb. 10) will also feature short video and media-based artworks from current SFU students and faculty, starting at 6 p.m.

The most recent exhibition at UrbanScreen was called “I Spy a City,” a Flavourcel collective animation project that invited viewers “to play a larger-than-life game of ‘I Spy’ with sights from all around Surrey,” from September 2021 until Jan. 2 of this year.

Meantime, Surrey is busy planning a sports complex at Chuck Bailey Recreation Centre. The $40-million expansion project should see a building design this spring, following public engagement sessions late last year.

The so-called “City Centre Sports Complex” is the second most expensive capital project approved by Surrey city council in November 2020, behind the $90-million Newton Community Centre planned on King George Boulevard.

While no swimming pool will be included, project planners envision “a welcoming recreation, culture and sports hub that responds to the needs of all ages, abilities and backgrounds.”

• READ MORE: No pool for expanded Surrey rec centre as planners of $40M project seek design input.

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Tom Zillich

About the Author: Tom Zillich

I cover entertainment, sports and news stories for the Surrey Now-Leader, where I've worked for more than half of my 30-plus years in the newspaper business.
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