There is at least one fun outdoor thing to do in Edmonton even though summer is over
review and photos by Annie Wildemann
My mom is a big fan of clichés.
She likes to joke that in Edmonton there are only two seasons – summer and cold. And she’s not wrong. It seems that only yesterday I was donning my bikini and drinking margaritas at Alberta Beach.
Now, it’s snowing. No bikini.
That being said, just because things have gotten a hell of a lot colder, I don’t think that it means you can’t have fun outside!
“We should test your theory,” Kurt says.
“What do you mean?”
“We should go look at some public art downtown!”
There are over 200 pieces of public art in Edmonton. The City of Edmonton site says that most of the art has been collected through donations, gifts and the ‘Percent for Art Program’ in Edmonton, which allocates 1 percent of the annual construction budget to public art.
We decided to go and see first the ‘Vaulted Willow’ sculpture in Borden Park. It was snowing the day we went, so we had to trudge through a sea of fluff to view it. It was also very cold. I cursed myself for not wearing a second pair of pants or bringing mittens.
Amidst the dreadful weather, the sculpture was a beacon of light. The ‘Vaulted Willow’ towered over us like King Kong towering over New York City. The pastel colours on its body and arms reminded me of summertime. The big, organic and somewhat loopy shape reminded me of a warm hug. When we finally reached the monolithic art piece, I noticed that it was not only meant to be experienced on the outside but on the inside as well; there were many openings on the sculpture beckoning us to come inside.
The interior was covered with tiny holes. I had thought this was a strange artistic choice at first, but, when I looked up and was finally able to take the whole piece in, I quickly understood this decision. It looked like a beautiful sky full of stars.
In an attempt to keep warm, Kurt and I moved around inside the art piece, experiencing it from different angles. This was relatively easy to do because there were lots of perfectly human-sized corners inside the sculpture for viewers to explore. Once we had exhausted the list of possible angles, Kurt and I decided to hop into the car and warm up before the next leg of our tour.
The next piece we checked out was the optical illusion piece ‘Still Life’ at the Grant MacEwan LRT station downtown. I had seen this piece while riding the LRT, but, this was the first time I was able to get up close and personal with it. I was really excited!
Inspired by the fruit bowls that were painted by great still life artists of the 19th and 20th centuries like Pablo Picasso and Claude Monet, ‘Still Life’ provides viewers with a modern spin on the art movement. ‘Still Life’ can be viewed two different ways – first, through the red frame at the front of the piece and second, by walking through and interacting with the different types of free-standing fruit scattered behind it. This piece is an optical illusion, because when you look at it the first way the piece appears to be entirely 2-dimensional. That being said, when you walk behind the red frame, you quickly realize that the fruit is not connected like previously thought – in fact, the different fruits are spaced quite far apart!
I really enjoyed that the fruit was spaced apart because it enabled people (like me!) to walk through it and become a part of the ‘still life’ themselves. I was dying to take an instagram picture.
“Can you take a picture of me?” I asked Kurt, posing enthusiastically behind the giant fruit bowl. “What pose do you like better?”
“You’re ridiculous,” he said laughing at my dramatic facial expressions.
After a little bit of fighting (mostly on Kurt’s part because he thought I was acting silly), Kurt acquiesced and took a picture – and it was great! Just as the ‘Vaulted Willow’ was made to be explored inside, this little interactive spot was made for the ‘gram.
The third stop on our trip was ‘Essential Tree’ which is located on 104th street and 104th avenue (right across from the Mercer Warehouse). Initially, I mentioned to Kurt that I thought that this piece of art looked kind of like a soccer ball.
“Yes Annie, that makes a lot of sense since Edmonton is well known for its vibrant soccer community…. NOT!” he laughed. I laughed too, because he was right that this was a ridiculous thought.
“I think it might be a pebble or something,” Kurt pondered, “The quirky shape of this sculpture is really natural and organic looking.”
Fortunately, it only took a quick search on the City of Edmonton website to learn the truth. Neither of us was right. ‘Essential Tree’ was actually created in order to represent the abstract trees typically used by architects in their design models and to explore the natural beauty of the Edmonton area. Additionally, the sculpture is placed in a planter to enable it to interact with the real Ash trees that are present in the area.
Kurt thought that the artist’s choice to put this sculpture downtown was ironic because this area is currently flooded in construction which is basically the antithesis to ‘natural beauty’. But hey – at least they’re trying!
We went to see ‘Lunch Break’ in Churchill square next. The walk from Roger’s Place to Churchill was quite cold, so we stopped at Tim Horton’s on the way over. I ordered a chai tea and Kurt ordered a double double with a blueberry bagel. Carrying the warm drinks in our hands, we finally felt human again as we approached our destination.
The life-sized, hyper-realistic construction worker statue that is called ‘Lunch Break’ lounges on a bench overlooking Churchill square. His lunch box, afternoon coffee and thermos sit beside him. He wears white overalls and a pair of work boots. His right arm wraps around the top of the bench in a gesture that basically says, “you should come join me!”
Slaves to his friendly gesture, Kurt and I couldn’t help but plop down beside him. As we sat – me drinking my chai and Kurt munching on his bagel – I felt like the construction worker was an old friend. Part of me kept expecting him to start talking about his work day.
After ten minutes or so, Kurt and I decided to let our pal go back to his job, since we figured his lunch break was probably over (just kidding) and we headed back to Kurt’s car again.
The final stop on our trip was ‘Carbon Copy’ at Oliver Square, which is located outside of Goodlife Fitness adjacent to the parking lot. It can be hard to spot as the piece is literally a car, and it is often around other cars; however, it is well worth it if you can find it!
This is because even though ‘Carbon Copy’ it is less interactive than pieces like the ‘Vaulted Willow’ and ‘Lunch Break’, less insta-worthy than pieces like ‘Still Life’ and has less cultural significance than ‘Essential Tree’, Kurt and I both agreed that this piece was our favourite of the tour because it was so unexpected.
‘Carbon Copy’ is made from a baby blue vintage 1988 Plymouth Caravelle. And was designed to explore the intersection between consumer car culture, everyday public spaces and the ‘glitch’ aesthetic. Because the car is positioned vertically in the parking lot instead of horizontally like all the other cars, it definitely looks like you are experiencing a glitch in the matrix when you look at it!
But, the piece isn’t just interesting because of the artistry that went into it. The piece is also fascinating because it shows the relationship between the Edmonton environment and public art which is something that we didn’t see a ton of in the other pieces.
Kurt noticed that at some parts the bottom of the blue car was rusting and that on other parts of the car, the seams were cracking as a result of the rough, Edmonton climate. Additionally, on the left side of the car someone had stolen the window which showed us that people can be a factor in the environment for public art too. Yet, resilient as a sailor lost at sea, ‘Carbon Copy’ stands tall and still.
Not nearly as resilient as the art piece, Kurt and I decided that it was time to head home and burrow underneath some blankets to warm up.
“That was such a fun adventure!” I said to Kurt.
He smiled back at me, “Yeah it was!”
I am happy to say that my theory turned out to be true. There is at least one fun outdoor thing to do in Edmonton even though summer is over (just try to bundle up better than I did). I will definitely be going on another art tour in the future.
Next time, I would really like to check out the other ‘Still Life’ sculpture in Belgravia Art Park and then the Talus Balls!
City of Edmonton Public Art website