by Zosia Czarnecka
If you’re hoping to earn your city a name on the map, there is a well-known, unwritten list of requirements. You need to have a river or some body of water, you need to be known for at least one athlete, you should have had a natural disaster pass through (in our case, a tornado), and you need record-breaking weather of some sort. You should also have at least one pretentious public figure, and most importantly, a landmark or piece of public art that can serve as the visual symbol of your urban success. Edmonton has valiantly managed to accomplish almost all of these… the only problem is that our visual icon is smack dab in the middle of nowhere.
It’s hard to assess art by looking at the piece itself. If Robert Indiana’s LOVE stood in the middle of a dinghy warehouse zone, it would never have made its name as one of New York City’s most recognized pieces of public art. If London’s Spider stood on the outskirts of the city, people would probably complain that the metal sculpture ruins the face of the city. If the Southgate shoes stood off to the side of the Henday, I guarantee most Edmontonians would complain about low quality art ruining our prairies. Art has to be assessed in context… and in the context of the Whitemud, the Talus Dome looks pretty miserable.
Imagine Chicago’s Cloud Gate (more fondly known as The Bean) standing off to the side of a freeway – if you’ve ever visited the Windy City, you’re guaranteed to have taken a photo with the Bean. In Paris, you’re obligated to get a photo with the Eiffel Tower; in Pisa, a photo “pushing” the Leaning Tower; and in London, the perfect pose in front of Big Ben. It’s these photos that help get a city on the map – it’s these photos that make a name for a city these days and attract young travellers, entrepreneurs, and creatives. Why move to a city that no one has heard of? Or worse yet… a city mocked by its own citizens?
Whether you love it or hate it, the Talus Dome has become a symbol for the City of Champions. The problem is that when you put a structure somewhere where people cannot easily interact with it, they don’t identify with it. Imagine having a friend visiting Edmonton and telling her, “hey… lets go walk along the highway, I want to show you some art.” Far from romantic. Instead, picture Marcus Coldeway’s vision – the Talus Dome downtown, near the Legislature grounds, perhaps on the plaza with the fountains where Edmontonians and tourists can interact with the art. Instead of driving by and scoffing at “that pile of silver balls,” having the Dome downtown would allow pedestrians of all ages to walk around the sculpture, take pictures of it, take photos of their reflection in the silver spheres, and add it as a stop on their stroll through the legislative grounds.
I’ve shared the illustration for this article with a few friends and they’ve all agreed that the Talus Dome suddenly looks different to them – that they notice it more. Because art shouldn’t be tossed haphazardly on the side of a road, fenced off, and labeled “off-limits.” The power of art lies in the ability to evoke emotions in the viewer. Regardless of whether or not you agree that the Dome is a work of art, the more people talk about our public accessories, the more Edmonton becomes known nationally and globally. As we push to expand our transit system and develop our downtown, we should also be pushing for more public art – but not just “public”… outdoor, visible, and accessible art. Art that kids can touch and adults can joke about, art that gets talked about on blogs and hashtagged on social media. Art that adds to Edmonton’s identity. Because as Andy Warhol once said, “don’t pay any attention to what they say about you, just measure it in inches.” Similarly, we shouldn’t care whether the rest of the world likes our Talus Dome – we should be proud that they associate Edmonton with art.
So let’s start the conversation – tell us what you think! I personally agree that we should move the Dome downtown and stop building fences between art and community.
Illustration courtesy of The Wanderer’s Visual Team.