June 20, 2018

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Opinion

Public art ramps up the Cool factor

Erin DeBooy / The Brandon Sun Files</p><p>Vanessa Goldgrub (left) and Justin Benjamin install Kaleido(scape) in Brandon.</p>

Erin DeBooy / The Brandon Sun Files

Vanessa Goldgrub (left) and Justin Benjamin install Kaleido(scape) in Brandon.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 22/7/2017 (333 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Whenever I’m asked to don the artist’s beret and whip up a masterpiece for charity or some public exhibition, I know exactly what to do.

I pause, take a deep breath, contemplate my innermost feelings and then, with no regard for personal safety, run around like a maniac looking for someone else to do the work for me.

That’s precisely what I did when I was invited to contribute a piece to be incorporated into the Weave, a massive net-like art installation suspended between two huge elm trees at Upper Fort Garry Park at Main Street and Broadway.

The Weave is one of seven funky components — six in Winnipeg and one in Brandon — that comprise the fifth annual Cool Gardens competition, a public exhibition of cutting-edge garden/art installations meant to celebrate our public spaces.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 22/7/2017 (333 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Whenever I’m asked to don the artist’s beret and whip up a masterpiece for charity or some public exhibition, I know exactly what to do.

I pause, take a deep breath, contemplate my innermost feelings and then, with no regard for personal safety, run around like a maniac looking for someone else to do the work for me.

That’s precisely what I did when I was invited to contribute a piece to be incorporated into the Weave, a massive net-like art installation suspended between two huge elm trees at Upper Fort Garry Park at Main Street and Broadway.

The Weave is one of seven funky components — six in Winnipeg and one in Brandon — that comprise the fifth annual Cool Gardens competition, a public exhibition of cutting-edge garden/art installations meant to celebrate our public spaces.

"Cool Gardens offers temporary art and architecture installations in downtown Winnipeg and Brandon, all centred around the idea of gardens and cooling, and all done to raise awareness about design and the city, and to contribute to the vitality of our downtown," explained Winnipeg architect David Penner, curator of the annual project, which runs until late September.

"It’s the summertime version of the skating-trail-warming-huts program."

I’m sure all of the installations are awe-inspiring, but I am passionate about the Weave, because its creators, landscape architects Danielle Loeb and Rachelle Kirouac of HTFC Planning & Design, were the only ones who invited me to lend a hand, artistically speaking.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>Tim Smith of Calgary-based Marc Boutin Architectural Collaborative at The Forks, with Bend.</p>

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Tim Smith of Calgary-based Marc Boutin Architectural Collaborative at The Forks, with Bend.

If you have not yet seen the Weave, you need to drop whatever you are doing — unless it is a baby or a hot cup of coffee — and head down to Upper Fort Garry Park to look adoringly at this electric-blue masterpiece.

For the record, Danielle and Rachelle’s masterpiece, selected from about 40 entries for the historic site, was created using more than 2,100 metres of blue sailing rope.

The net-like creation features three components, the sexiest of which is what is probably the largest (bad word) hammock in the free world, a free-swinging feature that has become wildly popular with downtown denizens and tourists.

"It (the hammock) lets adults be kids again," Danielle chirped when I popped into HTFC’s funky Exchange District headquarters. "One of the best stories was the first day we set up the Weave and this random guy came up and said, ‘Oh, this is only my fourth day in Canada,’ and we shouted, ‘GET IN IT! GET IN IT!’ and he was so excited. Our first hammock user was a newcomer to Canada."

Along with the hammock, there’s a smaller net, called the Fort, that visitors can lounge against or crawl under. While swaying in the hammock, you can stare straight up into the elm branches, from which is suspended the Canopy, created using woven-rope segments whipped up by about 20 famous local artists, such as myself.

"The most important part of the project was to get community involvement," Rachelle said of us volunteer artists.

"We thought it made the project richer and created nice conversations about it.

"We wanted to see how different people would take the same materials and do different things."

SUPPLIED</p><p>Landscape architects Rachelle Kirouac (left) and Danielle Loeb of HTFC Planning & Design enjoy the giant hammock portion of their installation, the Weave.</p>

SUPPLIED

Landscape architects Rachelle Kirouac (left) and Danielle Loeb of HTFC Planning & Design enjoy the giant hammock portion of their installation, the Weave.

Out of journalistic fairness, I will say some of the other "artists" invited to take part were Mayor Brian Bowman, Virgin Radio personality Ace Burpee (who incorporated a stuffed beaver toy into his design) and students from two city schools, Brock Corydon and Minnetonka.

What the organizers did was send each of us a package containing a plastic dowel, 16 pieces of three-metre blue sailing rope and an instruction sheet on how to make a series of complicated knots — such as the Kalizmo, the Shazam or the Ziggy — that would transform the ropes into a stunning decorative piece to be woven into the Weave.

I don’t wish to brag, but I looked at the elaborate instruction sheet for a few tense moments, then bravely shouted: "HONEY, I NEED SOME HELP HERE!!!"

Which is when my wife, She Who Must Not Be Named, trundled into the den, scanned the instructions, rolled her eyes to convey the concept that I was pathetic, and said: "Relax, dear, I’ll take care of it."

For those of you who are not students of art history, that is the same process employed by Michelangelo when he was commissioned to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, although I would dare to say that macramé is a lot more challenging than spending several years upside-down on a scaffold.

"You were more of a consultant on this project," is what my spouse sniffed, which is a subtle way of saying that while she did all the actual weaving, I was the one who came up with the genius idea to attach four squeaky dog toys (plastic bones sporting the word "Woof!") and two stuffed puppy toys to our design.

You will be impressed to hear the canopy portion of the Weave is the only Cool Gardens display avant-garde enough to include squeaky dog toys, which impressed Danielle and Rachelle to no end.

"It scared the heck out of us, because we kept sitting on the squeaky toys," Rachelle confessed. "But we loved it and thought it was so unique."

SUPPLIED</p><p>Arbourists set up the Weave art installation amid stately elm trees in Upper Fort Garry Park.</p>

SUPPLIED

Arbourists set up the Weave art installation amid stately elm trees in Upper Fort Garry Park.

Chimed in Danielle: "I’m curious to see if the toys will survive the summer or if the squirrels will try to grab them."

Getting the net-like canopy into the upper reaches of the two elms in the park was accomplished thanks only to some help from Southwood Tree Service, which sent a few volunteer arbourists to perform the feat. "They literally threw a cord over the branches, harnessed themselves in and climbed the trees and we fed them the rope," Rachelle recalled.

So my wife and I are pretty proud that "our" handiwork has been included in the centrepiece of the Cool Gardens exhibition, a work that, according to its architect creators, is intended to weave Winnipeg’s various communities together in the historic birthplace of the city’s urban fabric.

"Upper Fort Garry is very significant to the early urban fabric of Winnipeg," Rachelle said. "I was a tour guide for the Exchange District BIZ and I really fell in love with the history of our city and Upper Fort Garry is one of our community gems."

There have been a few issues with vandalism (Please STOP turning the hammock upside down, and do NOT snitch the bungee cords), but the Weave’s creators say the installation has proven a huge hit with visitors looking to chill out on warm days downtown.

"People are getting excited and giddy," Rachelle said with obvious delight. "Most people say ‘OHMYGAWD! That’s the biggest hammock I’ve ever seen.’ There’s a lot of shock and awe. You can tell it’s getting used because the ground around the hammock is all worn.

"We know it’s getting used, but there’s more to this than just the hammock. The hammock is fun, but the whole piece is about celebrating togetherness. Bringing people together and celebrating it."

So before summer ends, kids, head down to Upper Fort Garry and check out this impressive artwork strung between two towering elms, one of which is on municipal property while the other is on provincial property, by the way.

And as you stand there, staring up into the branches, pondering the nature of art and existence, keep a wary eye out for squirrels, and throw nuts at them if they try to make off with our squeaky dog toys.

Because I’m pretty sure that’s what Michelangelo would have done.

doug.speirs@freepress.mb.ca

Doug Speirs

Doug Speirs
Columnist

Doug Speirs’ humour column, In the Doug House, has appeared on Page 2 of the Winnipeg Free Press at least three times a week since 2006. No one is exactly sure why.

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