East Village: A Billion Dollar Work Of Art?

It seems every time I flaneur East Village, I find a new artwork - or two.  And, sometimes I find them in the oddest – underpasses, stainless steel public washrooms, retaining walls and construction hoarding. 

What is hoarding art, you ask? It is the plywood boards put up around construction sites so you can’t see in. 

One of several paintings on the hoarding around the new Central Library construction site.

One of several paintings on the hoarding around the new Central Library construction site.

On a recent warm slushy day, I found myself in East Village and decided to check out the progress on the new Central Library – a work of art in itself. Usually I view the site from a distance, but wanting to get a better look at the unique façade tiles, so I wandered to the temporary sidewalk next to the hoarding.  The hoarding was in fact an interesting (to me) temporary art exhibition.   

I loved the narrative of the images created by the juxtaposition of the man-made and nature, past and present and birth and nurturing.  It seemed so appropriate and clever for East Village, given its brand as “Calgary’s oldest new community” and the amazing rebirth of the community.

Another of the hoarding artworks.

Another of the hoarding artworks.

Unknown Artists

Once home, I quickly went online for more information the hoarding exhibition. Apparently, it was installed in September 2016 and is the work of Kai and Ricole Cabodyna. The artists’ statement read “a collage of images illustrating the local flora and fauna, and humanity's place within it all. The work is an exploration and remembrance of culture's intimate relations with nature's rhythms.”

In addition, I discovered this is the second hoarding show at the new library construction site. The previous artwork was done by illustrator Serena Maylon, who created watercolours that depicted the historical timeline of East Village from the untouched grasslands of the early 19th century to library completion in 2018.

While I applaud the idea, sadly I doubt many people see the hoarding art exhibitions, as most walk along the sidewalk on the other side of the street.  

Lesson learned - It pays to walk on the sidewalk less travelled.
One more hoarding painting by Kai and Ricole Cabodyna.

One more hoarding painting by Kai and Ricole Cabodyna.

Temporary Street Art

Since day one, of East Village’s urban renewal by CMLC (Calgary Municipal Land Corporation), public art has been an integral part of transforming the area into a fun, pedestrian-friendly environment.

The inaugural street art project, in 2010, was by Calgary artist Derek Besant, entitled, “I am the river.” Consisting of 13 larger-than-life portrait photos of Calgarians floating underwater at six sites along the newly opened Riverwalk. The artist’s intent was to celebrate everyday Calgarians’ connection to their rivers.  The installation was bit of shock for many as floating heads and naked upper body portraits had a haunting ambiguity – were they dead, alive or just a dream?

Today, you will find a series of paintings along Riverwalk by Curtis Van Charles Sorensen entitled “Window to the Wild.” It consists of flowers, leaves and animals (beaver, fox, coyote and heron) indigenous to Southern Alberta and the Bow River. Though too decorative for my tastes, I am sure there are some who love it.

Every few years, the street art along the Riverwalk changes creating a slightly different sense of place. 

Derek Besants, "I am the river" utilizes the facade of the public washrooms for his art.

Derek Besants, "I am the river" utilizes the facade of the public washrooms for his art.

The second rotation of curated temporary public art -  The Field Manual: a compendium of local influence -  by Calgary art collective Light & Soul brings exactly that to RiverWalk’s storage sheds, bridge abutments and bathrooms.

The second rotation of curated temporary public art -  The Field Manual: a compendium of local influence -  by Calgary art collective Light & Soul brings exactly that to RiverWalk’s storage sheds, bridge abutments and bathrooms.

Permanent Public Art

Calgary artist Ron Moppett’s colourful, 110-foot mural, “SAMEWAYBETTER/READER” (I don’t get the title either) incorporates 956,321 tiny glass tiles manufactured in Munich, Germany.  The mosaic mural tells the story of Calgary’s evolution as a city in seven panels using different styles from black and white etching to playful Matisse-like cutouts.  It is easy for pedestrians to miss it as it is tucked away on the 4th St SE retaining wall at the 5th Ave SE flyover. 

Promenade

London, England’s Julian Opie’s computerized LED-animated art showcasing faceless cartoon figures of everyday figures walking in circles around what looks like a mini rectangular downtown Calgary office tower. It located on a hill above the 4th St SE sidewalk next to the 5th Street flyover, making it more visible to drivers than pedestrians. 

And yes, the artist’s message is “it represents urban cities where people endlessly pass by oblivious to each other.”

A strange choice of location and statement given East Village is being designed as a friendly, people- oriented urban village aimed at becoming an urban meeting place for people of diverse ages and backgrounds.

Promenade artwork by Julian Opie, with Norman Foster's Bow Tower and Bill Milne's Calgary Tower in the background is easy to miss when walking along the sidewalk.

Promenade artwork by Julian Opie, with Norman Foster's Bow Tower and Bill Milne's Calgary Tower in the background is easy to miss when walking along the sidewalk.

Humour Me

The “Paper Plane” sculpture, just west of the Simmons building right on the Riverwalk by the “Light and Soul” artists’ collective – Kai Cabunoc-Boettcher, Daniel J. Kirk and Ivan Ostapenko.  The metaphor is obvious – the east-facing paper plane is still in the grasp of a human hand but ready to take flight, just like the development of East Village.  It is popular photo spot as it lines up nicely with the Calgary Tower in the background.

Art & Nature

The most recent public art piece is “Bloom” by Michel de Broin. It uses vintage streetlights to create what looks like a seven story industrial flower on the edge of the Bow River at the entrance to St. Patrick’s Island by day - and like a constellation by night.  It soon became a hit (and home) for a local pair of osprey. 

However, Roland Dechesne, a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada’s Calgary chapter had concerns about the negative impact the light would have on bats, insects, fish and other wildlife given it shines in all directions.  

When it comes to art, you can never make everyone happy.

Link: East Village Public Art Program http://www.evexperience.com/public-art-program/

King Bridge over the Bow River with Bloom artwork on the right.

King Bridge over the Bow River with Bloom artwork on the right.

Architecture as Art

Look beyond the obvious and you will discover many of East Village’s new buildings - National Music Centre, Central Library, George C. King Bridge and the Tool Shed - are artworks in their own right.

The heavy, ominous-looking, odd-shaped National Music Centre with its multi-faceted, reflective façade changes colour with changes in sunlight. Sometimes it can appear black; other times silver, brown or bronze. 

It makes a dramatic gateway to East Village on the southern edge of the community. 

Its sculptural shape reminds me a bit of a Henry Moore reclining nude?

National Music Centre, gateway to East Village.

National Music Centre, gateway to East Village.

Henry Moore, Reclining Nude.

Henry Moore, Reclining Nude.

The new Central Library, definitely a work of art, destined to become one of Calgary’s signature buildings and a postcard to the world. It will further enhance Calgary’s image as a design city internationally.  I love the funky, house-shaped, honey comb-like skin of the building. It will help put Calgary on the map for architectural tourism.

New Central Library with hoarding at street level. 

New Central Library with hoarding at street level. 

Bridges As Art

The George C. King Bridge (pedestrian/cycling) could also be consisted a work of art. From the beginning it was nicknamed the “Skipping Stone” bridge, with its first arch skipping over the main channel of Bow River from East Village’s Riverwalk to St. Patrick’s Island. The second skip is under the bridge with the third skip over a secondary river channel to Memorial Drive.  The design has a transparency that draws the eye to the majestic Bow River without competing with it. 

It has a bucolic beauty I admire and it the polar opposite of the bold Peace Bridge linking the Eau Claire Promenade to Memorial Drive a kilometre west.

King Bridge over the Bow River at night, with "Bloom" artwork in the background.

King Bridge over the Bow River at night, with "Bloom" artwork in the background.

Functional Art

And then there is the East Village “Tool Shed!” What you ask is the tool shed? It is the rusted metal structure on 6th Street SE at that is part of the lavish community garden, children’s playground along 6th Street SE. at 7th Ave. As the name implies, it is where the gardeners’ tools and other equipment for programming the space is stored. 

The sculpture looking shed is made of shipping containers with a lovely honeycomb archway in the middle creating a gateway to the garden/playground. 

The rusted metal gives this artwork an appropriate earthy look for a garden and playground. 

Last Word

For most of the 20th century Calgary, was seen as a frontier town lacking in local and international art, architecture and urban design. That is simply no longer true. East Village is Calgary’s multi-billion dollar artwork. 

It is the benchmark for new communities in Calgary, be they inner-city or on the outer edge.

Link: East Village Public Art Program

Even the benches in St. Patrick's Island Park are works of art.

This blog was originally published April 29th, 2017 by the Calgary Herald for its New Condo section.

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