Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Creating passion: bold design stirs continuing debates

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If the goal of any artist is to start a conversation or an argument, then Sasa Radulovic and Johanna Hurme really are a pair of rock stars.

The principals at Winnipeg's 5468796 Architecture wanted to make a bold artistic statement when they designed the Cube, the three-year-old stage in Old Market Square, which has been praised for its audacity but also derided as an abject failure.

On the plus side, the Cube is beautiful when it's illuminated at night. On the downside, the Winnipeg film-production industry hates the thing for ruining the neoclassical views available to cameras on the west side of the historic Exchange District.

On the plus side, the Cube is perfect for events such as the Manitoba Electronic Music Exhibition. On the downside, it has a functionally useless curtain that has so far proven too heavy to be raised without threatening to split apart and threaten workers below it.

Over the coming weeks, consultants are supposed to come up with a solution to the Cube's curtain-raising woes. In the meantime, the stage has been shuttered and sits empty.

And Winnipeg can sit back and ponder the recent renaissance of public art, which is beloved by many, hated by some and always good for debate. Here's a sample of what's been built in recent years:

Marbles (2012)

ARTIST: Winnipeg's Erica Swendrowski.

INSTALLATION: Twenty round fibreglass sculptures, coated with automotive paint, placed on the median of a downtown stretch of Portage Avenue, as well as in Window Park in front of the Air Canada Building.

PRICE TAG: $60,000, funded by the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ and the Winnipeg Arts Council.

ARTISTIC VISION: Most people have played with marbles at some point in their life, so brightly coloured balls will make them happy, Swendrowski said in July. Surely, there must be more to it.

OTHER INTERPRETATIONS: You could say Winnipeg has lost its marbles, or there are many spheres of influence in this town. Or maybe somebody just really loves Kinsmen Jackpot Bingo.

Emptyful (2012)

ARTIST: Vancouver architect Bill Pechet.

Installation: A 22,000-kilogram stainless-steel sculpture/fountain/fog machine on the west side of Millennium Library Park, alongside Donald Street, illuminated by four bands of LED lights.

PRICE TAG: $575,000, funded by the Winnipeg Arts Council and Ottawa.

ARTISTIC VISION: This is classic glass half-full or half-empty metaphor. "The bottle is meant to be a symbolic container of emptiness. There's a hole in the bottom of it," Pechet said in June. "I had grown up seeing pictures of Winnipeg but I had not really been here. When I got here, I was overwhelmed by the sense of space and the sky... if one doesn't look deep enough, you might perceive it as empty but there's tons of creative energy within that space."

IT'S NOT A BEAKER! When the sculpture was first described as being shaped like a beaker, lab techs rushed to correct the record. They say the fountain is shaped like an Erlenmeyer flask, also known as a conical flask. This is of little importance to anyone but lab techs, but you don't want to piss these people off. They analyze your medical tests.

Sentinel of Truth (2012)

ARTIST: Winnipeg graphic designer and printmaker Darren Stebeleski.

INSTALLATION: A 50-metre-long wall of weathering steel, on the south side of Millennium Library Park. Eighteen rectangles cut out of the wall contain stainless-steel plates etched with passages from books, with some relating to themes of censorship, totalitarianism and activism and others by once-banned artists such as James Joyce and Oscar Wilde.

PRICE TAG: $90,000

ARTISTIC VISION: "As a society our ideas and our truths are ever fragile, open to corruption and attack through censorship," Stebeleski says on the Winnipeg Arts Council website. "The existence of a free and open library guarantees their safety and their dissemination."


The Cube (2010)

ARCHITECTS: Sasa Radulovic and Johanna Hurme of Winnipeg's 5468796 Architecture.

INSTALLATION: An ultra-modern concrete stage in Old Market Square, covered by a skin comprised of 20,000 pieces of aluminum threaded together with cables. The structure can be illuminated at night, eventually by interactive programming.

PRICE TAG: $1.2 million, funded by the City of Winnipeg, Ottawa, CentreVenture and the Winnipeg Foundation.

ARTISTIC VISION: "The architecture in the Exchange was state-of-the-art when it was built," Hurme said in 2010. "We're honouring that spirit."

OTHER INTERPRETATIONS: Resistance is futile. Resistance to modern art is futile. Certainly, efforts to raise the curtain on this thing have proven futile.

NICKNAMES: Some performers who've used the stage have called it the Cheese Grater. Last week, a technical director called it a death trap.

City.Block.Stop. (2010)

ARTIST: Winnipeg's David Perrett.

INSTALLATION: A limestone, sandstone and steel bus shelter, covered with moss, at the north side of the University of Winnipeg, along Ellice Avenue. A 7,000-kilogram Tyndall-stone cube sits nearby.

PRICE TAG: $150,000.

ARTISTIC VISION: "The shelter design was created borrowing elements from both nature and Winnipeg architecture," Perrett says on the WAC website. "With four open sides, the shelter gives an inviting atmosphere and takes advantage of the ample direct and indirect sunlight at the site."

AND IN PURELY PRAGMATIC TERMS: A bus shelter made of stone is way tougher to vandalize than a puny glass shelter. The Hulk would approve.

Agassiz Ice (2008)

ARTIST: Winnipeg's Gordon Reeve.

INSTALLATION: Three stainless-steel sculptures on north side of the Assiniboine River, near the Portage Avenue pedestrian entrance to Assiniboine Park, evoking icebergs. The smallest is intended to serve as seating.

PRICE TAG: $75,000.

Artistic vision: Reeve has said this piece could not exist outside the context of the riverside park, as the pathways surrounding the sculpture and the green space itself are integral to the artwork.

THE REAL AGASSIZ ICE: All of southern Manitoba was covered by a glacier until about 11,000 years ago. And there still is an Agassiz Ice Cap on Nunavut's Ellesmere Island, the most northerly land mass in Canada.

River Arch (1999)

ARTIST: Montreal's Catherine Widgery.

INSTALLATION: An stainless-steel arch on the Norwood Bridge, flanked by two concrete columns featuring pixelated bison and wheat sheafs that blow like flames.

PRICE TAG: $365,000.

ARTISTIC VISION: "River Arch reflects the dynamic, modern Winnipeg in harmony with its past traditions and the natural world that surrounds the city," Widgery writes on her website.

TRADITIONS MISSING FROM THE SCULPTURE: Louis Riel drinking a Slurpee, Burton Cummings watching a Bomber game and some guy in a parka trying to attach booster cables to his car battery.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 26, 2012 A8

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About Bartley Kives

Bartley Kives wants you to know his last name rhymes with Beavis, as in Beavis and Butthead. He aspires to match the wit, grace and intelligence of the 1990s cartoon series.

Bartley joined the Free Press in 1998 as a music critic. He spent the ensuing 7.5 years interviewing the likes of Neil Young and David Bowie and trying to stay out of trouble at the Winnipeg Folk Festival before deciding it was far more exciting to sit through zoning-variance appeals at city hall.

In 2006, Bartley followed Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz from the music business into civic politics. He spent seven years covering city hall from a windowless basement office.

He is now reporter-at-large for the Free Press and also writes an outdoor-recreation column called Offroad for the Outdoors page.

A canoeist, backpacker and food geek, Bartley is fond of conventional and wilderness travel. He is the author of A Daytripper’s Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada’s Undiscovered Province, the only comprehensive travel guidebook for Manitoba – and a Canadian bestseller, to boot. He is also co-author of Stuck In The Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg, a collaboration with photographer Bryan Scott and the winner of the 2014 Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award.

Bartley’s work has also appeared on CBC Radio and Citytv as well as in publications such as The Guardian, explore magazine and National Geographic Traveler. He sits on the board of PEN Canada, which promotes freedom of expression.

Born in Winnipeg, he has an arts degree from the University of Winnipeg and a master’s degree in journalism from Ottawa’s Carleton University. He is the proud owner of a blender.

On Twitter: @bkives


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