Art For Everyone : Public Art Installations

Read about the whole point of "Looking Around London" at this link here.

Get started with my pictures and thoughts on the London Tree Trunk Tour here.

The Tree Trunk Tour is going to be on Hamilton Road, and I'm blogging its creation here.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

A Little Shade for You and Me, Under this Iron Tree

Public art means, by its definition, art on free display. Something which is available to anyone interested enough to learn it exits. Publicly funded art is, by its definition, about who paid for it. If you pay taxes, and your government is funding an artistic effort in your city or country, you own a little piece of that project. If publicly funded art is owned by all the citizens, part of its creation should consider that all of those people are entitled to share in it.
In London, Canada, there is hardly a shortage of public art in the downtown core, but it has, in the past, been a mix of old and new, of  the well presented, and of the falling apart. The city government grabbed a lot of attention with its Trees of the Carolinian Forest installation, created in stages from 2007 to 2009. The question that this entry asks is: Did this effort create an accessible, consistent image of art in London?
These are your trees, Mr. Taxpayer

So, there we are, the corner of King and Talbot St. in the downtown core. The trees are very much attention grabbers in the frame, and I haven't used any photoshop tweak in the above photo to highlight them. How does the street here compare to any other in Ontario?

This is downtown Kitchener, which incorporates a lot of genius level architectural features, but does not have the instant identification that the London corner has.

The other notable feature about every tree in the Carolinian forest installation, is that you can walk right up and touch them.
No fences, no signs, no barriers. Located on public sidewalks and walkways, with a couple of exceptions. If you want your picture taken with one, go ahead, lean right on it. You want to get underneath it an take it in from every angle?

Not trespassing.
Sure, go ahead! Check them out. They are spread around as well, so if I were a tourist and wanted to have  picture of all the downtown buildings, and many of the landmarks, such as the John Labatt Centre and One London Place, I could be standing with a tree in all of them.

It is an easy way to bring the trees into the experience of the downtown. Or I could try to get a good angle on this:
And get run over by a bus in the process. That picture (linked from elsewhere) shows the sculpture "People & The City". It is located in the island dividing the north and southbound lanes of Wellington St. It is one of the busiest intersections in the downtown. If you would like to get close enough to look at it or touch it, you have to jaywalk across 2 lanes of traffic and straddle the end of the monument. It fails the accessibility test on every level.

Or I could go to Toronto and get my picture taken with this. Hard to miss, it also makes my list of  'hard to understand'.
√Čloges de Fontenelle
There are some who would argue that the concept of steel trees that represent the native forest are too obvious a choice to be important art in the city. I would argue that the above work, is a little to far out in its meaning to have a connection with the general public. Accessibility has a mental component to it too. With the focus on public ownership of an artwork, the enjoyment and understanding of the average person is where the focus should lie, not with the art lover, per se.

So the question was, does the Carolinian Forest installation create and accessible and consistent artistic image for the London downtown?

In regards to accessibility, I would give a definite yes. The trees are all recognisable at a distance, and represent something familiar in an artistic way. They are also part of the land and traffic flow in a very sensible way. They provide sightseers something to include in, and to pose with in photographs. They are (whether you like it of not) uniquely 'London' by their very presence.

Do they create a feeling of being a whole project as you travel through the core of the city? No, not really. There isn't any reason to find the next tree, or group of trees. Some corners have seven or eight trees visible. Just two blocks away, there may be none in sight. There is no indication of how many trees there are in total, or any explanation as to why they were located where they are. Without a sense of the whole, the individual parts become isolated, and lose much or their impact.

So I, personally, am split on how much their presence means in the downtown. They are available to everyone, but what kind of attachment is anyone supposed to form with them?

Next time I post about the Trees of the Carolinian Forest, I'll have a few thoughts on what an installation's durability might have to do with its success as public art.

This site is all about public art, but more important than reading about it, is finding it and seeing it. Which is why I have begun to compile a gallery of all of these trees in London, and put these metal trees on a map as I go. I've also got a map for the Tree Trunk Tour and pages for the artists involved in all of these projects.

1 comment:

  1. Hi there - I just found your blog and find it to be really interesting. There are currently 38 metal trees. As everyone knows it is extremely difficult to grow natural trees in urban settings. In London it is particularly difficult because of the series of underground services and the steam heat pipes that run under the roads and sidewalks. To add insult to injury the high level of traffic including large transit buses and delivery trucks quickly compacts what soil does exist and starves the tree roots of oxygen. New methods of planing real trees are now in place for downtown - the newly planted trees on King and Talbot streets are planted with special soil and a system that allows tree roots to spread. Every Metal Tree of the Carolinian Forest is installed where a real tree cannot be planted within the boundary of the business association. Love them or hate them they stimulate a lot of talk about the value of public art. Every time the issue of the metal trees is raised they are a catalyst for discussions regarding the value of a strong, diverse Downtown and that is always something worth talking about.