Making history on the transitway

Public art to bridge divide between past and present

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This article was published 03/09/2019 (1192 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Next spring, people riding the BLUE line, the main artery of the Southwest Rapid Transitway, will be taking more than a trip through the suburbs. Transit riders will also be on a journey through local history with a tap of their Peggo card.

For Chancellor Station, a compoent of the second phase of rapid transit development east of Bishop Grandin Boulevard, Warren Carther has devised an art installation inspired by the wheel of the iconic Métis Red River Cart — an influential and early form of transportation on the prairies — titled (Un)Still Life with Spoked Wheels.

“It ties the history into what’s going on right now, and I love that interplay between what’s historical and what’s contemporary,” the internationally renowned glass artist said of the public art project. “It’s exciting. I really love this project and I can’t wait to finish it.”

Danielle Da Silva - Sou'wester Acclaimed glass artist Warren Carther is pictured in his Winnipeg studio with patterns and prototypes for his public art installation (Un)Still Life with Spoked Wheels. The layered glass and steel sculptures will be installed at Chancellor Station and at the transitway overpass at Bishop Grandin Boulevard as part of Phase Two of the Southwest Rapid Transitway, set to open next spring. Seven public artworks are being installed along the route, memorializing the cultural heritage of Fort Garry and the Pembina Trail for future commuters.

Carther is one of seven artists creating public art installations along the 7.6-kilometre bus corridor, all of which pay homage to Fort Garry’s past, the Pembina Trail, and the people and communities of the area historically.

Carther’s installation includes two steel and glass sculptures: one facing traffic on the median of Bishop Grandin Boulevard at the transit overpass, and the other at the transit station. Corten steel foundations, up to 25 feet tall, hold between three and five conic layered glass features — up to 48 inches in diameter and 13 centimetres thick. Embedded in the glass cylinders is dichroic film, a material that reflects light and changes colour based on viewing angle, and etched lines in a moire pattern to emulate the spokes and imply movement of a wheel.

At the centre of the wheel, the viewer can observe an infinity sign, the well-known symbol of the Métis. The inclusion of the symbol was serendipitous — Carther said it was only after he overlaid the spoke patterns that he noticed the sign in his creation.   

The intent for the station sculpture is to be an interactive piece for waiting commuters as they explore the optical effects of the dichroic glass and perception-bending patterns.

“I wanted it to be a unique look at the spoked wheel; something that will capture peoples’ imagination,” he said. “They’ll be able to get right up close and stick their face in it.”

Carther’s work has previously been featured overseas, including at the office of the High Commission of Canada in the United Kingdom in London; at the Canadian embassy in Tokyo, Japan; the Anchorage International Airport in Alaska; as well as closer to home at the Richardson International Airport, One Canada Place, and at the Reh-Fit Centre.

Supplied image A rendering of Warren Carther’s (Un)Still Life with Spoked Wheels public art piece which will be installed on the median of Bishop Grandin Boulevard at the transit overpass.

“I enjoy doing larger pieces here in Winnipeg and I don’t often get the chance to do that,” the River Heights local said. “Transportation structures seem to be something that I gravitate to — I’ve done five airports now — this is the first bus station that I’ve done.

“This just seemed like a natural for me.”

Fabrication of the sculptures is set to begin this week at his Point Douglas studio.

Fort Garry, its people and past, a muse for artists

Alexis Kinloch, public art project manager with the Winnipeg Arts Council, said a great deal of research into the cultural fabric of Fort Garry informed the call-to-artists and selected works. Artists were prompted to consider the area’s heritage and highlight the natural history and ecology, north-south trails and the fur trade, civic history, the Indigenous and Métis history in the region.

“We wanted to evoke and have the artists evoke some of the bedrock of that place, socially, culturally, in terms of nature,” Kinloch said. “It’s not easy, and it’s actually quite difficult to make something that resonates with so many kinds of people — we’re talking about not just all the people in the city, but all the people who will visit — and also to make something that is worth looking at over and over for years, and could create new resonances through this sort of continued engagement.”  

Danielle Da Silva - Sou'wester Warren Carther holds a prototype of the layered glass and dichroic film cylinder that is part of his installation on the Southwest Rapid Transitway.

At Beaumont Station, Ian August’s Rooster Town Kettle has been installed. The giant copper-toned kettle honours the former community of Rooster Town, a Métis community in the Grant Park neighbourhood that was razed in the 1950s to make way for commercial development. Down the line, the pillars for ROW ROW ROW by Public City Architecture and Urban Ink recall the seigneurial system used to settle and divide Fort Garry; Bill Burns’ Salt Fat Sugar & Your Water is Safe explores the connection between food, animals, farm life, spiritual tradition, and industrialism; at Plaza Station, not far from the former sugar beet factory, the internment of Japanese-Canadians during the Second World War will be memorialized by Kelty McKinnon and Cindy Mochizuki in their piece TENSAI; the cartography of the Red River region related to subsistence and Métis Scrip is featured in work by Tiffany Shaw-Collinge; and at Seel Station, Fort Richmond’s own Jeanette Johns delves into “collective movement” with her piece, Furrows in the Land.

Kinloch emphasized the need to highlight the heritage of the area through public art, especially as development continues and the landscape that formerly told the stories of the area changes.

“It’s important to remember why a place exists in the way it does and not gloss over that,” Kinloch said. “This is a part of what’s happened and if we skip it, if we choose not to engage with it, skip it, then we are complicit.”

Installations of public art continue along bus corridor

Johns, whose piece will be installed this week, is bringing the past forward in her work, emphasizing the lost agricultural landscape of the community, and the transportation modes that ushered in development.

Supplied photo Jeanette Johns’ sculpture Furrows in the Land, pictured here in progress, will be installed this week at Seel Station, part of the Southwest Rapid Transitway.

At the McGillivray overpass, long thin strips of weathering steel mounted at an angle will bookend the roadway, creating the effect of a cultivated farm field stretching to a point on the horizon.

By at least 1913, street cars carried passengers from central Winnipeg down Pembina to the agricultural college (now the University of Manitoba), Johns said, and it was that experience she chose to highlight.

“I thought it was really interesting that a new phase of transportation is going in 100 years after it was started by street car,” Johns said. “I imagined these people on a street car, going through the prairies, and what they could see out the window, and it would have just been fields.”

At the nearby station, a large Tyndall stone will be imprinted with a five-foot wide Red River cart wagon wheel, crafted by a Métis artisan from Regina, Sask.

“I’m thinking of it as a fossil,” she explained. “We’re very familiar with (Tyndall stone) in Manitoba and it has all these really neat fossils that we can see.

“What struck me about the Red River cart is that it doesn’t use any metal. It’s all wood and natural material, so when it decomposes, it decomposes a lot faster than other wagon wheels,” she said.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS The Rooster Town Kettle sculpture, installed at the Beaumont transitway station, is representative of Métis hospitality and the lost history of former settlement Rooster Town.

“I’m just thinking about the imprint of the wheel into stone and what kind of imprint it’s had on our history.”

Installation of the public art pieces began in August and is expected to be complete before the snow flies, Kinloch said. The art component of the transitway project will cost about $1.15 million, including engineering and construction, and will officially be launched in April 2020 when the transitway opens.

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