Field Report from St.Catharines

street banners

Danielle and I have been in St.Catharines at Brock University working with an Ecopsychology class on a public art project (details to follow in coming week(s). We’re only here for a few days to help get the class started, but it’s been incredibly fun working with a bunch of strangers. We’ve explored the campus and the downtown and what I offer you here is a brief report on our findings.

Above is one of many, many banners on streetlight poles, highlighting a number of community members. It would seem that some iteration of this in Windsor would be a no-brainer—and I know it’s been brought up before in conversations, but new banners and some input on the Christmas-themed light sculptures that adorn our streetlight poles in the winter would be a welcomed change.

community board

The downtown itself is a funny mix—it feels on the verge of being vibrant, but during the summer most places close early or don’t open at all. This is truly a university town, where the students seem to almost entirely drive the economy. There’s a rather large number of vacant storefronts, but there’s a decent mix of shopping and restaurants and bars, with apartments above all of them, to make it seem kind of livable. This community board above in particular caught my eye, again likely a sign of a dead place without students, though remnants of a drunken night are on the other side where a downtown map is under shattered glass.

public art

This is public art in St.Catharines, or rather, what public art from the 1980s looks like on the campus of Brock University. The campus itself is sprawling and hugs the Bruce Trail, which winds itself around the escarpment and a wondrous forest. Though much the architecture is what you’d expect for a small university campus—late 1960s/1970s modernist architecture, with confusing layouts, awful interior paints and a sort of assholish sensibility. It’s a nice enough place, the amount of green space really helps you feel a bit better in general, but I suppose we’re also missing a key ingredient in understanding how the place works on a regular basis, that is, a student body. It was encouraging to find out though that not only does Brock have an 8-month bus pass built into its tuition, but that students think it’s the best $150 they could possibly spend.

Tree Museum: Public Art by Katie Holten


Kind of strangely, I read about this project in the New Yorker and momentarily confused it with Canada’s Tree Museum, but ultimately thought it was worth noting given a recent conversation we had with Edwin who came by our Office Hours last week about a potential audio-based community project.

The video above describing the Holten’s project is kind of brutal (especially the soundtrack), but it gives a good idea of the way it works—acting as a kind of series of stops on a museum tour, with a variety of trees being the markers in each neighbourhood.

100 trees give voice to 100 perspectives featured in the Grand Concourse’s TREE MUSEUM. Irish artist Katie Holten created this public art project to celebrate the communities and ecosystems along this 100 year-old boulevard. Visitors can listen in on local stories and the intimate lives of trees offered by current and former residents: from beekeepers to rappers, historians to gardeners, school kids to scientists.

You can call 718-408-2501to access the audio guide.

Lucy Howe’s Wilt

Wilt by Lucy Howe

As part of the Green Corridor‘s Open Corridor festival, Windsor’s Lucy Howe installed a series of wilted road signs, entitled Wilt. The signs themselves reiterate the bend, or wilt, in its respective sign pole and simultaneously comments on some of the many issues surrounding this stretch of road, and the kilometer or so to its north. The signs were originally installed as pictured above, but shortly after their installation, a City of Windsor truck came by to take them down.

Thankfully, the signs were recovered before being carted away and are now installed on the Northeast corner of Huron Church and College.

Howe’s work has an incredibly fun way of intervening with infrastructure and the everyday. All of the work is amazingly labour intensive, but so expertly pulled off that it can make you continually guess at its sincerity in the best way possible. If you’ve been to the AGW lately, you would have seen her work—a drooping chair and melting wall on the second floor as part of the Biennial.

Howe has another work in her archives that I’m hoping she’ll work on again, if the right place can be found. The work involves reshaping a chain link fence’s form and function, how could I not be in love?

Agnes Denes: Wheatfield — A Confrontation

Agnes Denes

From Green Museum:

One of the early pioneers of both the environmental art movement and Conceptual art, Agnes Denes brings her wide ranging interests in the physical and social sciences, mathematics, philosophy, linguistics, poetry and music to her delicate drawings, books and monumental artworks around the globe.

In 1982, she carried out what has become one of the best-known environmental art projects when she planted a two-acre field of wheat in a vacant lot in downtown Manhattan. Titled,Wheatfield — A Confrontation, the artwork yielded 1,000 lbs. of wheat in the middle of New York City to comment on “human values and misplaced priorities”. The harvested grain then traveled to 28 cities worldwide in “The International Art Show for the End of World Hunger” and was symbolically planted around the globe.

Imagine turning some the vast wasteland areas in the city (read any vacant big box store parking lot, Brighton Beach, EC Row Expressway) into a wheat field, or a meadow, or maybe more importantly, imagine having a year to make a project at this scale.

[via we make money not art]

Time and Tide Bell


I like public art that does something. I like thinking about architectural works as art and about the potential for viewing city layouts as art and so, I like art that exists as something more than art.

Marcus Vergette‘s Time and Tide Bell is an early-warning system of sorts for the rising tide that will inevitably be the outcome of climate change. The work involves a newly invented bell form, which allows multiple tones to be struck in one structure, so as the tide rises, the bell’s clapper is moved to strike the bell. As the tide rises, the bell will ring more often, but will also become further submerged.

Watching the video above is kind of strange—it shows the first strike of the bell in the water. As people clap and as the bell rings again, it’s strange to think that there is art like this to be made. This bell appears to be the first of other bells that can be installed in other communities, and in some capacity, created with consultation with that community about the inscription on and tone of the bell.

Of course, I’ve now begun to wonder what a public work that would demarcate something very distinct to now, or very distinct to the place we’re heading that could be installed in Windsor. If there was something you could leave for someone to see well into a post-apocalyptic future, what would it be? I think I’d want to say, “I’m sorry.”

Billie McLaughlin’s Untitled

Huron Church

Installed alongside Huron Church Road, this large sculpture was made by Billie McLaughlin for Rod Strickland’s Advanced Sculpture class. The project requirements involved sourcing all the material for the work from existing sources (a zero-footprint sculpture). The 9 ft tall wooden gas mask was made from 100% reused wood, salvaged from the garbage of our community.