Keith Gerein: The story of how public art in Edmonton is considered inappropriate by the public

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Having lived in the city for so long, I remember commuters crossing the old Walterdale Bridge into Rossdale literally driving past the historic burial site.

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The 61-meter road just north of the bridge was beloved by motorists for its easy access to downtown, but was a longstanding complaint of indigenous groups and descendants of the city’s first white settlers. .

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In 2004, the city finally took its action, going through a painstaking process to relocate the road and build a proper memorial.

While this was hailed as an early victory on the reconciliation front, most participants were nonetheless aware of the larger questions regarding Rossdale’s future development, and the city’s overall relationship with indigenous peoples. It remained resolved.

Fast forward to 2018 when the new Walterdale Bridge opened to traffic, and it quickly became one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks.

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What most Edmontonians probably don’t know is that both ends of the bridge were designed to house public art. A pair of bronze statues of him called Buffalo and Buffalo Fur Trader by Vancouver-based artist Ken Lam.

According to the plan, the statues were to be placed on the other side of the river to look “watchfully” at each other.

However, since 2016, Lam’s work has been kept in storage due to debate over its validity. This week, the decision was finally made. The art will not be installed on the bridge or elsewhere on Edmonton public lands, and the city is currently seeking a buyer to recoup some of the $375,000 cost.

As with all public art, the narrative surrounding this work will undoubtedly generate a range of interpretations from critics and supporters. There is also the temptation to use villains to enhance the narrative. Whether it’s an artist, a dithering project manager, or an out-of-control expression limit.

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But for me, there are no real enemies here. Expect perhaps good intentions to fail. Rather, it is a question that shows how the demand for reconciliation has fundamentally changed, while also revealing the difficulty of trying to manage public reaction.

Ram is no newbie. He is an internationally renowned artist and Edmonton was thrilled to have him when he won a competition for a bridge project over a decade ago.

He also didn’t work in a vacuum. Discussions were held with several groups, including Wychhitwin, which was the city’s governing structure for indigenous peoples at the time. seems to have passed Lum believed the design had enough buy-in.

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Unfortunately, perhaps the most important voice, the local indigenous arts community only learned of the concept when it was deemed too late to make major revisions.

Through the lens of hindsight, it can be argued that such an oversight never happened.

But as Marchand admits, the talks that took place at the time were considered fairly standard. The Boarding School Discovery and Truth and Reconciliation Commission had not yet happened. As Gondola advocates recently discovered, these things have raised the bar for engagement and sensitivity significantly.

“When you try to tokenize inclusion, you go to people who are saying yes, but you don’t go to people who are saying no. I felt that they hadn’t consulted us,” Marchand said.

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Artist Ken Lam has created a bronze sculpture of a buffalo and buffalo fur traders intended to be installed next to Edmonton's new Walterdale Bridge. The city decided not to install art.Image courtesy, City of Edmonton
Artist Ken Lam has created a bronze sculpture of a buffalo and buffalo fur traders intended to be installed next to Edmonton’s new Walterdale Bridge. The city decided not to install art.Image courtesy, City of Edmonton jpg

Then there is the actual artwork.

Part of Lam’s purpose was to illuminate a tragic story about the destruction of traditional indigenous ways of life, but some feel that’s not what the art really projects.

“Visually, it seems to prioritize non-indigenous influences over indigenous peoples. It’s like a triumph of colonialism,” Marchand said.

Viewers who spend time on the statue may reach a more nuanced understanding, but it raised concerns that the message would be lost for the average passer-by.

Additionally, the sight of a fur trader sitting on buffalo pelts may be a trigger for some people, especially those suffering from trauma. As explained in Wednesday’s news release, the city’s policy these days is to “do no harm.”

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“It’s important to portray the truth, but it also has the potential to be a constant reminder to Indigenous people who visit the (Rossdale) cemetery of the destruction of their way of life,” said Jamie Miller, the city’s head of Indigenous Relations. Stated.

As for Ram, he told me he was “agonized” by the decision and upset with how the city had framed it.

“I dispute the tone … whether consciously or not, it appears that I wish to cause harm, and that Edmonton City officials, whatever their true relationship with the Indigenous people, It’s about being the definer and protector of doing no harm to other people,” he wrote in an emailed statement.

“Perhaps the city is not ready for a real dialogue about its colonial past and its ongoing colonial situation.”

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In this case, I think the city is right to be careless when dealing with famous platforms like the Walterdale Bridge, but Lamb has a valid point about gatekeeping.

I am certainly not an art philosopher. Yet that there is a danger that a minority of people will pre-determine how art will be interpreted by others, perhaps not giving due consideration to what is lost when that art disappears. I know enough about

Some of the best public art challenges the viewer to confront beliefs about their surroundings in controversial and sometimes painful ways. Care must be taken not to sacrifice too much of that ability to be provoked.

As this example shows, these are really strange and interesting times for public expression. On the road to reconciliation, building a new road seems to drive those accustomed to the old way crazy.

Edmonton downtown skyline and the new Walterdale Bridge.
Edmonton downtown skyline and the new Walterdale Bridge. Photo by File Photo

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Keith Gerein: The story of how public art in Edmonton is considered inappropriate by the public

Source link Keith Gerein: The story of how public art in Edmonton is considered inappropriate by the public

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