Cedric Bomford’s Mountain Embassy is a commentary on an embassy’s role as an authority

Mysterious box on Burnaby campus speaks to the power dynamics within ambassadorial relations

Mountain Embassy is SFU Gallery’s current exhibit, showing off-site on University High Street. Image courtesy of Blaine Campbell / SFU Galleries.

By: Kim Regala, Peak Associate

Tucked away near SFU’s upper bus loop and camouflaged by bushes that span the walkway stands a large, mysterious, box-like structure. From afar, it vaguely resembles another familiar SFU building, the W.A.C. Bennett Library, inheriting its architectural design and the vines that surround it. Up close, however, it is not a building at all. Instead, it is a rendered image of the library, but displayed only through a vinyl canvas that wraps around the structure.

This is Cedric Bomford’s Mountain Embassy, the fourth in his series of works that use photography and installation to elucidate on themes of authority. In this piece, Bomford draws from the brutalist architecture of SFU’s campus to create a virtualized representation of a national embassy’s parasitic role within foreign countries.

While the visual appeal of the installation is intriguing on its own, what I find most interesting is Bomford’s process in making the piece. To have created what we see now, the artist utilized a method known as photogrammetry, an artistic and scientific approach to recording physical objects and environments in an attempt to replicate them into virtual reality. This software is similar to that of Google Earth and 3D scanning, but on a much grander scale.

Drawing inspiration from the W.A.C. Bennett Library as a space that is symbolic of information and knowledge, he used this process of scanning over the building to condense it into this mysterious box that we can conceive to be Mountain Embassy. The effect is striking, casting a lifelike image of the building onto this smaller canvas. However, a closer examination of the rendered image reveals the various distortions and pixelated glitches from meshing these two worlds together — the virtual and the real.

Aesthetically, these strange formations are viscerally luring. At the same time, it brings forth ideas regarding what could happen when virtual reality tries to merge with the real world. An additional layer is added onto this theme of virtual space when considering how the installation rests on a condo sales centre — a space that represents a kind of imagined future similar to virtual reality.

Using photography and installation as his primary mediums of art, Bomford has set out to create a large dialogue regarding the power dynamics of authority figures through ambassadorial relations. Casually speaking, we may think of an embassy as a building that holds offices for a group of officials that represent their nation in a foreign country. Through his work, he has deconstructed this definition, seeing the embassy — and, in particular, its physical presence — as instead symbolic of the kind of parasitic nature that this distant authority imposes upon a country. Mountain Embassy, as it is seated on top of a mountain, creates this towering effect due to its high geographical location.

Adding on to this towering effect is how the structure itself appears to be floating above the ground, an architectural style that has grown popular in modern design. In this way, ideas of surveillance become emphasized, alluding to this authoritative nature of the embassy as holding some level of power over the foreign country that it has “preyed upon.”

Bomford’s piece brings forth a crucial conversation that touches on the underlying notions of the physical presence of an embassy within a foreign country. While the piece itself aims to speak specifically on ambassadorial relations, it does hint at the kind of colonialist attitude that is inherent in the way we have come to welcome these systems throughout the world. By opening up the dialogue of what these structures entail, Bomford allows us to consider how the embassy itself may be an extension of this notion of colonialism.

Cedric Bomford’s Mountain Embassy is on display at 8955 University High Street on the Burnaby campus until December 7. More information on the exhibit can be found at SFU Gallery, located in the Academic Quadrangle.