Reflections on a Quarter-Mile Long Public Artwork in Edmonton, Canada
Resonant Progression is a public art commission that was advertised internationally by the City of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada and completed in September 2017. Three conceptually linked installation sites were engaged using more than 80,000 pounds of natural stones and welded steel. The concept was made in model form and presented to a jury of respected leaders in the city, along with a simple clear description of how these three sites could draw the audience along to be poetically reminded both of where they were in nature and of the distance in between. Terwillegar Park and the Oleskiw lands on the other side of the grand North Saskatchewan River were being linked by a new bridge, and this sculpture was funded because of a City policy to generate one percent of the budget for public building projects for use on public art.
The story of the young city of Edmonton is a very interesting one, and the concept involved an important inspiration in reference to the role that Dr. Terwillegar and Dr. Oleskiw had in the bridging of a path and calling for Ukrainian, Polish, and European people to follow to come and live in Edmonton more than 100 years ago. There could have been portraiture, or narratives about their lives, but the sculptures were presented with the simple but more universally accessible idea that what is needed in our era is places to contemplate our relationship to nature—and that these sculptures could be clearly places to view from as much as look at. Each one has an analog sound component where the ambient natural sounds of being there are magnified and mingle with other sounds that one can hear, even the sounds from across the river and afar. We may wait for our friends to come from the other side of a great ocean or just across the park, but we might actually become carried away from our contemporary lives for a while by listening and looking out at the nature that is there around us. Both the near and far sounds mingle just as memory and immediate perceptions mingle, and they do so without technology, need for repair, or even instruction on how to use it. People discover the new consciousness, and I think I am most proud of that fact.
Human-made steel components physically hold up natural stones weighing as much as 19,000 pounds. The implication was intended to have us think about our relationship and responsibility to the beauty of nature untouched and pure around us. As the artist, I was very much aware that these lands, named after wonderful white European settlers, were long cared for and loved by First Nations people who, we all know, have and had a deep respect for their relationship to nature. I thought that this simple idea could very much reflect values that I think we all need to recall and that we all need to contemplate for our sanity and enjoyment every day.
I made these sculptures from a solo studio. These pieces were not fabricated at a factory, and the stones were notched upside down and loaded upside down for what we hoped would be a single rotation before they were to be moved to the site. Everything that we have in life was dedicated to the completion of this project. To invest like this is not unlike anyone who commits to a cause, so Dr. Terwillegar and Dr. Oleskiw and the elders of our First Nations community all taught pathways to allow people to embrace the distance between this Northern city and the great distance to the more metropolitan places in the world. But we best never forget what a paradise the nature available in this region really is.
There could have been portraiture, or narratives about their lives, but the sculptures were presented with the simple but more universally accessible idea that what is needed in our era is places to contemplate our relationship to nature and that these sculptures could be clearly places to view from as much as look at.
Over the three years it took to complete this project, I was sometimes able times to hire young artist assistants such as Carson Tarnasky and Kasie Campbell and T.J MacLauchlan, and Hideki Yamakawa. Most of the time, working on this project could be described best as one mid-career sculptor working away cutting granite notches and welding steel, and then calling his wife to run the gigantic forklift while he gave hand signals to her from the ground. Many hours of labor went towards this project. And it was an honor to serve a community I respect and love so much. It was done very much in the spirit of studio artists I know, who give far more than anyone expected for the sake of trying to give greater value than anyone was expecting. We did research on what kinds of forms would collect analog sound, and we arrived at solutions that use parabolic steel forms and conical forms over distances that are wonderfully surprising. This river was long the only transportation highway for goods and culture, and all manner of trade up and down the river over several thousand miles of hand paddling and portages. This is still a fairly remote region of the world.
It is notable that I feel it was a great gift to be able to work on this project. Humbly I acknowledge that the City of Edmonton, including the staff of many departments, really got behind this project. The City of Edmonton staff, The Edmonton Arts Council, The Public Art Committee, and many local businesses worked with me and my wife Linda to resounding success and community pride. Hundreds of people had energy folded into the fabric of this sculpture. I would be pleased if this commission could be described as something that carries the nature of our land representing thoughtful hard-working people of all kinds.