Material of Cities

Our interest in art-making branches from a fascination with people – their actions, objects, impulses, and understandings. The brief history of civilization has rendered us a diverse and complex organism, both gobbling up the world around us, and transforming it, molding it to our own forms and feelings. In doing this, we leave eddies of objects in our wake. Even just the byproducts of our contemporary cities are monolithic in scale.

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Pallets at the Calgary Dump, being prepared for mulching

The scale of our garbage, our infrastructure, and our manufactured spaces are inconceivable to think about. As artists, we’re fascinated! How do these materials pinpoint the zeitgeist of our times, while implicating us in a global conversation about culture, consumerism, waste, and efficiency? What role do the objects play into our daily lives, in shaping future archaeologies? How do we feel when confronted with this imagery? When materials are separated from their intended function, how can they change our understanding of ourselves, of our responsibilities, of our impact?

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Glass recycling at the Calgary recycling facility

At the core of our practice is an interest in the public, and the monumental power we wield as a collective, for beauty and destruction.

Many of our works begin at the moment when a material + concept touch, when they create sparks, when the combination of an object and an idea catalyze a new connotation by their proximity.

CLOUD at Nuit Blanche Calgary, Calgary, Canada - photo by Doug Wong

CLOUD (image above) was constructed from burnt-out incandescent light bulbs, sourced from the surrounding community and the Edmonton dump. When incandescent bulbs burn out, unlike fluorescent or high-pressure sodium bulbs, there is nowhere to take them for recycling. Instead, these bulbs are thrown in the trash.

We tapped into this infinite waste resource for pragmatic reasons (free materials!) but we were eventually seduced by the visible histories of objects. Burnt out light bulbs have been used and touched by people, weather, and circumstance, and they carry marks of their experience with them. Each object is unique, and once combined, there is a greater and more complex commentary that forms through their combination.

see-sea-saw, compound image

Similarly, we built sea/see/saw (images above) from 14,000 used eyeglass lenses for the façade of Pera Museum in Istanbul. Lenses were sourced through the Calgary Lion’s Eyeglass Recycling Centre. Because we draw frequently from second-hand, mass-produced objects, these materials arrive at our studio dirtied by history (both literally and metaphorically).

Herein lies the heart of public art. In our mind, the best public art acknowledges the true diversity of contexts, environments, spaces, and social interactions, and allows itself to participate in the broader and more holistic ecosystem of a community. In order to do that, the work must acknowledge its context – be that a museum, a public square, or a retail space – and work to be relevant within that placement.

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Sea gulls flocking around the Calgary Dump

When thinking about relevant materials for the Delta Garden, we were interested in developing work that acknowledges the objects of our city. Especially objects that speak to the critical point where our city touches nature.

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Materials being separated at the Calgary Recycling Facility

Because Calgary Public Art has pre-existing relationships with many departments at the City of Calgary, when we asked if we could be connected with Waste & Recycling, we had no idea how enthusiastically they would work to show us as many City byproducts as possible. And so began our Material Research Field Trips!

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A stuffed tiger watching over the methane vents at the Calgary Dump
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