On the side of a building, a washed-out, painted advertisement is barely visible. It’s a faded relic from the past, hidden in plain sight, until slowly the details of the ad deepen and re-form, bringing it back to life.
That’s what experiential artist Craig Winslow makes happen with Light Capsules, a project he’s bringing to Winnipeg for a one-night art installation on Saturday, July 29.
The faded signs are canvases for Winslow, who uses modern technology and archival photos to temporarily restore them to their former glory.
The result is a window into a piece of history that’s slowly fading away.
The event, called Painted in Light, is being organized with the help of Matt Cohen, a local creative director and the driving force behind a website dedicated to documenting the city’s fading painted advertisements, also known as ghost signs.
"This is going to be one of the most ambitious Light Capsules installations I’ve ever done," said Winslow from his home in Portland, Ore.
"I’m used to doing one, maybe two installations in a night, but this is going to be five in one night. They’re going to see their city come back to life as it was before."
The five signs Winslow plans to temporarily restore with large-scale projection mapping are within walking distance from one another in the Exchange District, which has one of the highest concentrations of ghost signs in North America.
All five signs will be illuminated at the same time and a crew of roughly 20 people will come together to pull off the event, which is free and runs from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m.
The Travelling Sign Painters, a Winnipeg-based group that still practices the dying art form of painted advertisements, will be on the Forth rooftop patio showcasing the techniques used on the original signs.
"I’ve heard Winnipeg has kept a lot of these old signs in pretty good shape," said Winslow. "In many places they’ve been destroyed or painted over, whereas smaller cities seem to have these goldmines and a lot of them are still around."
The project, which Winslow has been working on for more than a year, all started when he saw a fading painted advertisement on the side of an old building. Once the idea came to him, he couldn’t get it out of his head.
He was eventually able to pursue the project full-time when he landed a one-year dream job with the Adobe Creative Residency program.
Over the past year Winslow has taken Light Capsules across the United States and to London, U.K. This will be his first installation in Canada.
The event will be a unique opportunity for people to see the Exchange District as it was a hundred years ago, said Cohen, who’s been documenting the city’s ghost signs for a number of years.
"It’ll be really interesting," said Cohen. "You’ll see the layers of the sign peeled back over the years. People will be able to experience the Exchange (District) in an entirely new way."
Cohen has given a TED Talk about the city’s ghost signs, which he first became interested in when he was the president of the Advertising Association of Winnipeg.
"They tell a really specific story about Winnipeg," he continued. "They give a history of advertising and business in Winnipeg. They’re also temporal and fading and it gives people the chance to see what life was like 100 years ago. In a generation or two they won’t be able to."
Unless a restoration project is undertaken to restore the signs they’ll continue to fade away, eventually disappearing completely.
But, for at least one night, Winslow plans to resurrect them, offering the city a glimpse into its past.
Locations of the signs for the art installation are:
• 165 McDermot Ave. – sign one: James Porter and Company. Sign two: L. Galpern Candy Co.
• 281 McDermot Ave. – sign three: Stobart, Sons and Company / Christie Grant Company.
• 185 Bannatyne Ave. – sign four: Essex Packers. Sign five: Robinson & Webber.