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This article was published 4/6/2012 (3641 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The most expensive public art project in Winnipeg's history asks an age-old question about whether a bottle is half-empty or half-full.
Vancouver architect Bill Pechet is putting the finishing touches on emptyful, a 22,000-kilogram, stainless-steel fountain that looms over Donald Street from its perch in the newly renovated plaza on the south side of downtown's Millennium Library.
When it's fully functional later this month, the $575,000 artwork will be illuminated by four bands of LED lights and will use both water and fog to make a statement about the abundance of space on the Canadian Prairies.
"The bottle is meant to be a symbolic container of emptiness. There's a hole in the bottom of it," the Edmonton-born, Vancouver-based Pechet said Monday in an interview.
His Vancouver studio won a competition to create the public artwork as part of Winnipeg's role as Canada's cultural capital in 2010. Ottawa contributed $200,000, with the Winnipeg Arts Council covering the rest of the tab.
"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," Pechet said. "If one doesn't look deep enough, you might perceive it as empty but there's tons of creative energy within that space."
The design competition called for a large artwork along the Donald Street side of the Millennium Library property, Pechet explained.
"They wanted to create a strong edge to the plaza on the west side, because there are two (parkade) car ramps on Donald Street. They wanted to have a strong physical and environmental presence," he said.
Pechet has created 12 different colour schemes to illuminate emptyful, whose stainless-steel frame has been blasted by glass beads to soften the edges and catch more light.
During the summer, when the fog and water elements will be operational, the fountain will be illuminated in blue, green and purples hues. During the winter, when the water elements won't be operational, the artwork will be lit up with reds, oranges and yellows.
If all goes well, testing of the lights will begin tonight, Pechet said.
The artwork is the most prominent feature in a Millennium Library plaza makeover that also includes a new wooden boardwalk and pools that simulate freshwater marshes. Though the plaza makeover is almost complete, city officials declined requests for interviews about the long-delayed reconstruction.
"The goal is to have it completed sometime this summer and an official opening will be held," spokeswoman Michelle Bailey said in a statement.
Pedestrians may access the plaza from both Smith Street and Donald Street. "They've made it a lot more accessible," said Tricia Wasney, public-art manager for the Winnipeg Arts Council.
At $575,000, emptyful is the most ambitious piece of public art commissioned by the Winnipeg Arts Council since it assumed responsibility for the city's outdoor artworks in 2004.
"It's a very interesting, very complex project, because of the different components," Wasney said. "It's based on the idea of a container. There's a lot going on."
On Monday, passersby suggested the new artwork also resembles a harp, a bow or the Lululemon clothing logo. Public art tends to inspire debate, Wasney agreed.
Prior to emptyful, the most expensive public artwork financed by the city was Catherine Widgery's River Arch, which was placed on the Norwood Bridge in 1999, before WAC was responsible for the program. Other private and public entities have paid for more expensive public artworks.
For example, The Cube, the futuristic stage designed by 5468796 Architecture, cost $1.2 million to erect at Old Market Square in 2010.
On permanent display
SIGNIFICANT public artworks commissioned in recent years by the City of Winnipeg:
emptyful (2012): Sculpture/fountain at the south side of the Millennium Library. Artist: Vancouver's Bill Pechet. Cost: $575,000, with Ottawa contributing $200,000.
River Arch (1999): Sculpture on the Norwood Bridge. Artist: Montreal's Catherine Widgery. Cost: $365,000.
City.Block.Stop. (2010): Bus shelter at the north side of the University of Winnipeg, along Ellice Avenue. Artist: Winnipeg's David Perrett. Cost: $150,000.
Agassiz Ice (2008): Sculpture on north side of Assiniboine River near Portage Avenue pedestrian entrance to Assiniboine Park. Artist: Winnipeg's Gordon Reeve. Cost: $75,000.