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On the screen, a flock of birds soars through the sky, black-tipped wings spread wide, and then the picture changes.
Now, shapes materialize from the digital shadows, dredged from a time — or rather, times — unknown: farmhouses on the prairie. Men on rotary phones. Women in stiff dresses, standing in a row.
For a brief moment, the juxtaposition of images forms its own composition, a pastiche of Manitoban and Canadian history once caught by photojournalists' lenses, and now layered in unexpected ways. It's a composition that will be seen just once and then, its creator pledges, never in quite the same arrangement again.
That is the quirk that defines An Eye Opened by the Wind and Sun, the newly-unveiled multimedia installation that greets visitors to the lobby of True North Square's main tower in downtown Winnipeg.
Drawing from a digital vault of 14,000 photographs taken from the Winnipeg Free Press and Globe and Mail archives, it offers an ever-shifting presentation.
Designed by Venezuelan-Colombian artist and computer engineer David Medina, the artwork features a video wall of seven 65-inch vertical displays. The compositions that flash across the screens are determined by a computer algorithm, unplanned by human hands and thus, no matter how long an observer watches, unpredictable.
Its unveiling marks one of the final public touches on True North Square, along with the new food hall set to open Friday. In a ceremony Thursday evening, True North executive chairman Mark Chipman pointed to business partner David Thomson as the driving force behind the installation.
"We wanted to do something different in this lobby," Chipman said. "What I don’t know about art is a lot, and what my good friend David knows about art is literally unparallelled on this planet. I’m not that smart, but I was smart enough to say, ‘Maybe we should give David a call and get his thoughts on how to bring this lobby to life.’"
Thomson, meanwhile, had met Medina when his company enlisted the latter's help to manage a website archive. A conversation with a friend, he said, inspired him to look at Medina as a potential artist for the Winnipeg installation.
Back then, Thomson said, he had "no idea that something of this uniqueness would unfold."
What makes the piece so original is not only the archives of local and regional photojournalism; it is also how the computer algorithm which manages them connects with weather and place. Historical records of wind speed help determine how quickly images flash by; the brightness of the screens shifts with the changing sun.
In that way, An Eye Opened by the Wind and Sun is a dynamic installation, in conversation with the land around it, the history of that land, and its distinctive climate. After all, the Bogota-based Medina said with a laugh, it was "the weather, of course" that most struck him when he first arrived in Winnipeg to research.
For Thomson — whose family owned the Free Press between 1980 and 2001, and who currently owns the Globe and Mail — generating these compositions from the archives of two of Canada's legacy newspapers marked a deep respect for the history that unfolded, and continues to unfold, around them.
"The human condition, the essence of who we are, comes through so clearly in photography," Thomson said. "I thought of the Free Press, the Globe and Mail and the culmination of those two archives as being the beginning, touching the lives of our ancestors, of our families today, and of those worlds beyond that lie in the future."
Melissa Martin reports and opines for the Winnipeg Free Press.
Updated on Thursday, December 12, 2019 at 7:32 PM CST: Adds video
December 13, 2019 at 12:07 PM: corrects typo in cutline