Art, garbage and food for thought


This morning (or yesterday if you read the date), I heard an interesting conversation on CBC Radio with Anna Maria Tremonti. The conversation was about public art and trying to make public art that people don’t hate.

That whole concept is rather curious in itself – art that no one hates.

I for one would think that anything that fits into that category is probably somewhat impossible to do.

If it comes close to being that safe, it probably is not challenging, is insipid, banal and devoid of any personality. Why would we want art like that?

The interview referenced above had interesting commentary from Councillor Drew Farrell relating to the Family of Man sculpture created by Mario Armengal which was made for the British Pavilion at Expo ’67 in Montreal and is now located in Calgary, on the grounds formerly occupied by the Calgary Board of Education. It was relevant to the discussion as she also talked about the Blue Ring (Travelling Light) sculpture too and the controversies surrounding both pieces.

* * *

This whole concept of public art, is an area that I find increasingly more and more fascinating. There is a lot of interesting dialogue currently occurring around this whole topic. In fact, I would suggest that some of the more interesting dialogues at this time relating to the visual arts are happening in this sphere of public art – however it is defined.

With that in mind, one of the pieces that was discussed in the radio program was a work by a young Saskatoon-based artist Keeley Haftner.

Briefly, she installed a series of two shrink-wrapped bales of recyclable materials as part of a publically-funded, public art project. These bales were in turn “vandalized” (although I would say that is a bit of a strong description) by a Saskatoon resident and in turn were removed. This ,as expected resulted in a fair bit of controversy and coverage in the media. The commentary in this article is interesting, similar to reactions when Calgary installed the Blue Ring, except it did not take place during the middle of an election campaign, like it did in Calgary.

It created a dialogue however. Dialogue as it relates to art is almost always good. It is an important thing to undertake and engage in.

This whole concept of installing waste as an artwork in the public realm is a very interesting one.

Just the process of having a public body pay for, install and then remove a publically-situated artwork – all within its own jurisdiction in a matter of a somewhat short period of time, is in itself, rather fascinating. This whole process took seven months as explained here.

Personally I find the work rather intriguing. From the images I have seen I quite like the formal elements of the bales, as an artwork. How it would stand up over time is the great unknown. It is quite possible that factors such as degradation of materials, because of humidity, light, and wind, may potentially have meant that it was never intended to be a permanent installation.

If t was never meant to be completely permanent, this then makes part of the discussion – moot.

Regardless, I am glad that whoever sat on the selection committee and chose this work exercised a fair bit of bravery and courage in doing so.  I think it is an important discussion to have and the use of public art is a viable and legitimate way to introduce this discussion.

* * *

There are a lot of questions and discussion which should take place around the whole concept and issues relating to how we determine our relationship with garbage, recycling and a culture of visible and sometimes conspicuous consumption. This discussion has a lot of relevance to modern life and especially to those that live in an urban environment where we encounter and interact with refuse daily, no matter what our role in society may be.

There is a most interesting Q and A with the artist relating specifically to this work which can be read here. It is well worth the read.

The artist also has created a blog whereby she gives some background to this work. From what I understand, this blog and the artwork were meant to be supportive of each other. In that blog she not only talks about the work, but also the people whose livelihoods come from processing this same material she used to create the sculpture.  You can read it here.

All this and the links provided should give some food for thought.


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