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Artist Lani Maestro’s No Pain Like This Body included among world’s top public art works

public art No Pain Like This Body
Lani Maestro, No Pain Like This Body, 2022, site specific installation at Vancouver Art Gallery Offsite, Photo: Kyla Bailey

An international art and design fabrication company has named a Vancouver Art Gallery Offsite installation as one of 12 standout public art projects of 2023. Lani Maestro’s No Pain Like This Body was on display at the West Georgia Street site from November 18, 2022 to April 9, 2023.

According to the Vancouver Art Gallery website, the sculpture is “a direct response to Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside neighbourhood”.

The Filipino-Canadian artist’s dyptich consists of two statements in ruby-red neon. One says “No Pain Like This Body.” The second says “No Body Like This Pain.”

“No Pain Like This Body—these are the words that first came to my head when I walked down Hastings Street in Vancouver,” Maestro stated on the Vancouver Art Gallery website. “It has not gone away. It repeats itself. How can one ignore the particularity of that place? As much as I just want to think about making work without thinking of the people who inhabited that neighbourhood, thee words seem to sum up the energy that I absorbed there.”

Urban Art Projects released the list of top international public art projects.

“This year’s selection—with thanks to our esteemed contributors—is incredibly sensitive, beautiful, and of the ‘now.’ Themes center on revealing truths; truths about places, histories, cultural erasure, sexual and racial inequality, and war,” Urban Arts Projects curatorial director Natasha Smith said in an article in Artsy. “However, all is not lost. Light is also a theme that shines through as a call to undertake restorative discourses that enable shared learnings.”

public art
Lani Maestro, No Pain Like This Body, 2022, site specific installation at Vancouver Art Gallery Offsite, Photo: Kyla Bailey

Five experts selected public art projects

Urban Art Projects states on its website that it has worked with a Griffith University research team to develop Public Art 360. The company calls it “the most comprehensive and holistic research tool to quantitatively and qualitatively evaluate the impact and value of public art”.

A panel of five experts selected the projects. It included Visual Arts Commission CEO Dina Amin, independent Toronto curator Tairone Bastien, Manifesta founding director Hedwig Fijen, Storm King Art Centre artistic director and chief curator Nora Lawrence, and Māori Art at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki senior curator Nathan Pōhio.

No Pain Like This Body was the only installation from Canada to make the list.

Bastien described it as the “most incisive public artwork I experienced this year”. The assistant professor at Ontario College of Art and Design University noted that the “twin phrases gave me pause, piercing the night like a violence that felt out of place with the artwork’s surroundings”.

“The two brief lines poignantly address human suffering,” Bastien continued, “which is a terrifying condition that sharply contrasts with the work’s sterile and muted environment—a business district of characterless hotels, office towers, and high-end boutiques. This is some of the costliest real estate in one of the most expensive cities in the world and is, no doubt, under constant surveillance and policing.”

Lani Maestro. public art
Lani Maestro created No Pain Like This Body after walking along East Hastings Street in Vancouver. Facebook photo.

Maestro immigrated to Canada as a young adult

The first version of No Pain Like This Body appeared in a 2010 exhibition at Centre A: Vancouver International Centre for Contemporary Asian Art.

It was also exhibited at the Plug In Institute of Contemporary Art in Winnipeg in 2010 and 2011. In addition, No Pain Like This Body was displayed in the Philippine Pavilion at the 57th Venice Biennale in 2017, as well as in Manila’s Museum of Contemporary Art and Design in 2019.

Maestro, a contemporary artist, divides her time between Canada, the Philippines, and France. She’s a former Concordia University and NSCAD University professor.

Maestro’s biography states that her work often addresses “displacement, belonging, and the human condition”. This reflects her own experiences as an immigrant to Canada at the age of 25 “and her sensitivity to the nuances of language and space”.

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Charlie Smith

Charlie Smith

Pancouver editor Charlie Smith has worked as a Vancouver journalist in print, radio, and television for more than three decades.

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We would like to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional and unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. With this acknowledgement, we thank the Indigenous peoples who still live on and care for this land.