Put the Talus Dome In Its Place

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.

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  • anonymoussush

    I think it is important to mention that this is one percent project. Meaning one percent of the budget for the bridge expansion was to go towards a piece of public art. Largely giving people the answer to the all too frequently asked question, why there? I also feel if the city were to allow commissioned art from projects be put in alternative locations that aren’t where the original project was it would undermine the exact movement that the one percent policy is for. The idea is to make art accessible for all and garner more appreciation for what it does for the community. When we over filter where we think it should go we unintentionally put more of those barriers to access. And if at that point we want to see more public art in specific places we should rally as a community for that; which this article shows there is a desire for. So maybe instead of wanting the Talus Dome moved, the real want is for more art in those significant spaces like illustrated in your image.

    You have to remember that at some point in time a group of people did sit in a meeting and discuss what this project should be and how it should be integrated in the surrounding area with the bridge, and that was how this was born. I agree with you that art should not be placed haphazardly, but I do not think that these are as haphazard as we think. You talked about it not being around anywhere significant but it is within a very small distance from the river, which is one of the elements you marked as making a city significant. It also is close to a home of trails that can connect you to all edges of the city through river valley paths. The Talus Dome sits in a very prized gem of the Edmonton Green Belt that has its own set of very appealing prideful and place making qualities. Ask anyone the top 5 things they love about this city, and I can almost guarantee our river valley is in that list. When art is made there is always a story behind it. What inspired it, how it came to be, what it means to the artist, the process of making it, and what it means to the viewer all give aspects to a pieces story. Maybe what we are lacking is the education? (education is the wrong word for this, but I also don’t feel like interpretation signage is the right one either) about all these things that make it what it is. Lot’s of Edmontonians seemed to know right away that they hated it, but did they know about the rest of its story?

    On a place making note though, when you talk about imagine saying to your visiting friend “hey… lets go walk along the highway, I want to show you some art.” ….how Edmonton is that? Quirky, a little bit harsh sounding, but kind of lovable. I would say with that hasn’t it (the piece/art) done exactly what it was supposed to do?

    • Zosia Czarnecka

      Thanks for your insightful comment! I agree that there is a need for both integrating art with industrial projects while also commissioning art for public, central, pedestrian locations. However, I would argue that there are also different types of art that are suited for each of these locations respectively. For example, a sculpture standing off to the side of a highway should be (in my opinion) a visual piece whereas the Talus Dome is significantly more a piece of art that can be interacted with. And if we want to interact with it, it should be in a more central location. It’s true that it’s close to the river and a great set of trails… but if you’re going to go enjoy the river valley, I would argue that you will probably want to enjoy it more in depth, away from the busy and dirty roads. In that sense, the location near the Whitemud doesn’t do the Dome justice.

      And if we consider the integration of the Dome with the bridge expansion project, then it should be fully visible from the bridge. In reality, when you’re driving, you only see the top edge of it (which I know, was to avoid distracting drivers) and when you’re walking, that segment of trails isn’t the nicest. All in all, not every piece of art is suited for every location (the point of this piece) and while you could put a great piece of art next to the Whitemud, the Talus Dome deserves a better location.

      As for your place making note … true. It does sound very Edmonton. But I would rather see Edmonton grow and transform into a city where you can go for a walk and see art in a nice, quiet, pedestrian-friendly area… and not just off the side of a highway. But I’ll agree that in the end, this just means we need more art. I would just hope that the priority would be put on placing it in more accessible locations.