Challenging conventional wisdom

SunridgeMallBirds (1024x683)

It is usually a good thing when one figures that conventional wisdom must be true – and then in an unexpected moment this conventional wisdom is proven wrong.  It reminds us to always question one’s assumptions and that the search for knowledge should never end.

Today was one of those days.

The conventional wisdom.  Barbara Kwasny and Elaine Peake published a book in 1992 entitled A Second Look at Calgary’s Public Art.  In this book which contains 165 pieces of public art, there is little mention of any public art east of Centre Street north of the Bow River, or east of the Elbow River between the Bow and continues south along Macleod Trail from where they both meet near the Stampede Grounds.

There are three exceptions listed (which qualify as the term “little mention” as indicated above) – two of the three barely count if you know the area. They are:

  • two large sculptures and a small sculpture located at Deerfoot Mall,
  • The large Dinny the Dinosaur located on the zoo grounds, and;
  • a large installation dating from 1988 by Rick Silas entitled Out West located in Inglewood that has subsequently been removed from the location and it is believed was subsequently destroyed.

First a caveat.  Kwasny and Peake’s book focused on three-dimensional sculptural work, usually of a traditional material (i.e. bronze, wood or stone).   In the book, there was no mention of murals or two-dimensional work even if situated in a public place.  There were also gaps in terms of what they included and what they did not include.  In their defense, there will always be gaps no matter how thorough one tries to be in this type of endeavor.

I am also aware that the City as part of their 1% for public art program on large capital projects has subsequently situated new public art in this area during the past five to ten years.  As a result certain things have been added to the public art inventory since the book was published.

My big surprise.  I had a meeting to attend in the northeast earlier today.  I stopped in briefly to Sunridge Mall to pick up something I required for the meeting on the way.

I look up and what do I see?

A flock of geese (or maybe just birds that remind me of geese) suspended from the roof.

My mind immediately traveled to Eaton Centre, Toronto and the three-dimensional photographic flock of geese which occupy the Atrium.  They were created by the very influential Canadian artist, Michael Snow entitled Flight Stop, 1979 and are a major tourist attraction in their own right.  As I gazed upon the birds flying inside Sunridge Mall I could see the wind in the mall moving them slightly which was obviously the artist’s intent.

Now I was curious about who made these flying birds as there was no signage visible.  I made my way to the administration office to find out more.  I met with two lovely women – the receptionist and another woman called in from one of the offices nearby.

The outcome of our conversation.  There have been a number of management and ownership changes over the years since the mall was built in 1984 (for comparison Eaton Centre was built in 1978/79).  The receptionist was able to tell us that she remembers them from when she first worked at the mall.  She could place that time, to when she was pregnant approximately 20 years ago.  As a result, the two women came to a decision that they most likely have been there since the mall opened.  Based on that conversation, I would also tend to agree with them.  Although I still know nothing more about these birds than I did yesterday.

The mystery still remains.  Who created these works?  What are they called?  When were they made?  How did they end up there?

My request for help.  My hope is that some architect, builder, artist, contractor or person with information to share will help me figure out the answer to these questions above.  If you know, please send me a message.  I would very much like to talk to you.