From the street to the Walkway
Thu, Sep 8, 2016
Christine Mockett shares how setbacks in an installation work can create a new focus and new possibilities.
The “Walkway” project is an overhead ‘highway’ of fibre sculpture figures representing people from the community of all walks of life coming together in one place. The South West Community Health Centre (SWCHC) offered a permanent space for this installation on a 12’ long beam running through the centre of their two storey high sun filled waiting room at 30 Rosemount Avenue in Ottawa.
The “Walkway” project was intended to run over a few months, during which I would design, build and install 10 figurative sculptures about 20” high each, heading from the street side of the building into the centre. A Tontine Special Commission Award and the Corel Endowment Fund for the Arts Award provided the beginning, with funds for materials, planning, time to obtain permissions, and start building figures.
The figures are to be made out of second hand clothing, fabric hardener, acrylic paint, varnish and building materials including wood, concrete and metal. The clothing is wound around the building material armatures like lives wound around places. Clothing is used because it echoes the people-place connection as a personal portable form of architecture. The link between people and places continues in the environmental aspect of the materials.
The sculptures are based on the theme of people becoming part of places. They combine the human form and building designs from the community, with reference to history and local themes. Input was to be sought on the figure designs from individuals and organizations in the area, but how to do this was not explicitly laid out in the original plan.
The project has evolved in a number of ways since its conception, and I love where it is going. The timeline was the first thing to change, followed by the number of figures to be built, how the community would be involved and then came a sculpture redesign! As an artist, I am also changing as the project unfolds and develops.
The SWCHC, the host location, is enthusiastic about the project and so am I. Consultations with architects, engineers, building managers, an interior designer, the executive director and a board of directors enhance the project, but do not fit in the original timeline. The project is allowed the time and breathing room to expand and grow. A year later, with permission to install, confirmation of the safety of the added weight to the beam from the engineers, input from the architects and some hiccups in my own schedule in hand, work begins.
Walking the neighbourhood with a local resident and excellent photographer, Joan Anderson, we discover just how much community there is in the Hintonburg area. We pass public art installations, businesses, gardens and have spontaneous conversations with people we’ve never seen before on most corners. At a barber shop with 100 year old chairs and the atmosphere belonging, we are invited in to talk, reminisce and take inspirational photos. On other corners as we photograph architecture, character and characters we are asked about the news, if we are “casing the joint” and have we seen the oldest building on the street a few doors down? With every step we love this community more.
As the project unfolds I ask myself how to include the community in a meaningful way in the building of the sculptures. Funding from the Ontario Arts Council through an Arts Education Project grant answers this question and makes possible a major change to the project. I add teaching two fibre sculpture building workshops at the SWCHC to the plan, one each for their youth and adult programs. Participants can take the idea in their own direction and have one of their creations added to the installation.
Planning the workshops includes the requisite amount of scheduling, paperwork and phone calls. Beyond this it also includes building figures for my part of the installation. I sit in my studio thinking happily about the figures I’ve been building over the last 10 years, pillar style with a single base and consider the groups who I am hoping to entice into participating. They may have roots in the community that suits the pillar design, but they may also have a certain energy when they express themselves and how they feel about this place.
Time for change. The sculptures need options, including options for movement, expression and possibly a few top hats. The stainless steel wire, washers, bolts, paverpol and concrete come down from the overflowing shelf and join the pile of experimental materials. I build dynamic options with legs and movement in their form. As I work I’m thinking I’d better hurry up because September will be here soon and I can’t wait to see what the people in the workshops will have to say?
And there is one other more subtle change from the “Walkway” project. At the start I wondered what if nobody wants to participate. What if someone asks me, “Why would I want to do that?!” Now I hope someone asks me this question. They might be danger of not being able to shut me up again on the subject. I can’t imagine anyone who has been to Hintonburg not having something to say about it, and as to the joys of participating in art… well that IS a long story.