The role or perceived purpose of public art is always evolving. Public art can be a form of communication, a means by which people initiate dialogue, a reflection of a community, or simply a statement. Public art is, however, becoming increasingly integrated with communities and can serve to perpetuate key messages and encourage residents to become more responsible, involved members of their communities.
There are innumerable examples of public art serving multiple purposes. Fortunately, another is in the works right here in Calgary. Sans façon, a Glasgow-based art collaborative, has been appointed to lead an interdisciplinary team for the Visual Language Project as a cornerstone of the City of Calgary’s Utilities and Environment Protection Department (UEP) Public Art Plan.
Sans façon is an ongoing collaboration, through art practice, between French architect Charles Blanc and British artist Tristan Surtees.
“We undertake diverse projects, both temporary and permanent, predominantly exploring the complex relationship between people and place. We like to see the role of the artist and art as a catalyst in a process of raising questions and inviting one to look and think differently about a place, hoping to create an opportunity rather than an inanimate object.”
The UEP focuses on leading the community in the pursuit of environmental excellence and sustainability. The UEP Visual Language Project is an integrated project that involves the development of a visual language that will be applied as facilities and infrastructure are updated or built, as new communications materials are developed, and as other related public art projects are commissioned. The proposed, site-specific public art work, to be included in the project, will need to demonstrate an application of the Visual Language that Sans façon is developing. However, the site-specific work is only one part of this integrated project that will require input from the architectural and artistic expertise of the Sans façon collaborative as well as the inter-disciplinary team they are leading.
According to Sans façon, “the aspiration of this project is to encourage citizens to think of their relationship to water resources in an expanded manner and develop an awareness of the natural and man-made watersheds.” Ultimately, the visual strategy that Sans façon develops will help to change the relationship between Calgarians and their watershed into a sustainable one.
This combination of a visual language with site-specific public art will engage Calgarians with their watershed and promote understanding of the overall water system. The public art project will be part of an integrated whole that will extend to education programs and other initiatives to foster stewardship of our water systems through understanding our daily impact on it. In other words, this project will be public art in the service of understanding, education, environment, and sustainability.
There is no doubt that Sans façon have a myriad of talents, as evidenced by the array of work displayed on their website; talents they will also be applying as head artists for the Laycock Park/Nose Creek Restoration Capital Project in Calgary. This project will commission a wetland compensation and stream restoration site with a sustainable habitat to enhance the health of the Nose Creek watershed within Laycock Park. As for the artistic side of things, Sans Façon will be charged with integrating both temporary and permanent public art into the restoration of Laycock Park. The public art will need to be integrated in such a way as to provide Calgarians with a better understanding of the current condition of Nose Creek, the Creek’s history, the impact of urbanization, and the opportunities for restoration and stewardship of Nose Creek and its watershed.