“Every second, ninety cubic metres of water rushes by us in the river.” Paul Fesko launched Celebration of the Bow River 2010 with this lively fact. Fesko heads The City of Calgary’s Strategic Services, Utilities & Environmental Protection (UEP). As a result of his vision, Celebration punctuated the Calgary summer with six contemporary art projects. This collaboration between UEP and the Public Art Program proved powerful; it merged ecology, artistry and community to bring the river into public focus. On that particular June day the Bow tumbled past as artist Peter von Tiesenhausen orchestrated an eager crowd’s involvement. The spirit of exploration and plurality that defined Celebration was heartily engaged.
The projects were chosen from a pool of proposals submitted in response to an international call to artists. Linked by their common connection to the river, they spanned artistic and geographic boundaries. Performance art, interventions with nature, mobile photographic portraits and a narrative-based collection told the river’s story from creative and diverse perspectives. These works portrayed the Bow as both specific watershed and metaphorical presence, providing abundant opportunities for viewers to make emotional connections.
It was this end that came to mind for Fesko when The City introduced its Public Art Policy in 2003. The document presented an opportunity to communicate UEP departmental values in a way that would make them personally meaningful for Calgarians. UEP Public Art Plan followed soon after, marking the start of an ongoing partnership between the UEP and the Public Art Program. The plan not only embedded water awareness within the public presentation of art, it redefined public art in Calgary by including artworks of a non-permanent nature. The immediacy and excitement of timesensitive works became central to Celebration. Tom Tittemore, chair of the Public Art Board, was in favour: “The memory of the spheres floating in Prince’s Island lagoon [during Sources] is part of people’s experience of that place,” and it will perpetually influence their relationship to the space.
The presentation of temporary public art may be new for The City, but it is well-supported in Calgary’s contemporary community. A willing partner was found in TRUCK Gallery, a local artist run centre that holds its summer residency program in a 1975 recreational vehicle. Contemporary Art Mobile Public Exhibition Rig (CAMPER) is a studio on wheels dedicated to the development of new artworks, new ways of working and engaging the public. TRUCK director Renato Vitic saw Celebration as “proactive and engaging . . . and that is what CAMPER is all about. It was a natural fit. Three of Celebration’s projects — The Museum of Bow, The Observatory and Letter Performance — were co-presented by TRUCK. The artists used the R.V. variously as a studio, gallery, workshop space and mode of transporting supplies. The creative process gained transparency as artists parked and worked in various public and riverside locations.
Reflecting on two and a half years of development, public art co-ordinator Heather Aitken observed that Celebration“became so much more than [the project team] could ever have imagined . . . ” as the artists shaped their visions to include the community and the landscape of the Bow. The artists generously invited us to witness that process. The incredible commitment, risk-taking and insight this writer and photographer encountered as a result are documented in the following pages. We hope you enjoy our response to the challenge of capturing an ephemeral program in lasting form.
Text by Linda Hawke
Excerpt from Celebration of the Bow River 2010 catalogue, a project of The City of Calgary
Laurent Louyer “Creatmosphere” / Peter von Tiesenhausen “Passages” / Lewis & Taggart “The Museum Of Bow”
Derek Besant “I Am The River” / José Luis Torres “The Observatory” / Cécile Belmont “Letter Performance”