The Galleria Trees, a Calgary landmark on the west end of Stephen Avenue, will be, for the next two years, a lot more colourful.
Officially unveiled on June 5, the large-scale fabric public art piece entitled Novus Textura has taken over the site in an effort to reinvigorate community engagement and conversation about the downtown core.
“It’s been a passion for the Calgary Downtown Association to bring this piece of art in the public realm to, finally, today,” said Mark Garner, Executive Director for the Calgary Downtown Association (CDA).
“It’s a Calgary made story: It’s Calgary artists, it’s Calgary technicians, it’s Calgary technology to be able to bring Novus Textura, using the Galleria Trees by Bankers Hall, to fruition.”
The art project weaves three layers of sculptures and fabric together to form a work of art that covers multiple storeys and tens of metres of Stephen Avenue.
Sculptures at the base of the work represent spools of fabric, which are then connected to long fabric straps which flow across The Trees on both sides of the Bankers Hall Plus 15. Those are then connected to a hand-stitched and woven fabric mural that adorns the roof of the Plus 15 overhang above Stephen Avenue.
“We expect this to be a backdrop and actually bring back to consumer and community confidence that downtown is a place for everyone,” Garner said.
An apt sentiment, given that the Latin translation for the work is “a new texture.”
Garner said that the work comes at the perfect time to reinvest in the arts and culture of downtown Calgary.
“This will be first of many things. We’re going to see some greening of our alleys, more murals in alleys, and more activation space not just on Stephen Avenue but in alleys and other side streets,” he said.
“We tend to focus very strongly on Stephen Avenue, but I think we need to make downtown an activation point.”
The project was funded from $600,000 given to the CDA from the Government of Canada’s Canada Community Revitalization Fund (CCRF). That funding, said Garner, also went to support other CDA projects including new lighting for the Galleria Trees, and increased and improved lighting along Stephen Avenue.
Novus Textura will remain on Stephen Avenue for the next two years.
Years in the making
The piece was conceptualized by landscape architect Gordon Skilling, and woven by Alberta University of the Arts instructor and fibre artist Jolie Bird.
Bird said that the materials were selected to remain vibrant during two years of four-season weather. She said that there is a maintenance plan in place to repair or replace any strands that may become broken or damaged.
To create the work, more than eight miles of black thread were used to stitch the straps, and Bird created a custom loom in her studio to weave together the large fabric piece that underhangs the Plus 15.
“It started out with Gordon’s idea, and then we started researching, got involved with some engineers, and they would kind of guide us in directions to research materials,” said Bird.
She said that using fabric on a piece like Novus Textura was unusual, given that fabrics don’t last a long time out in the weather.
A pair of the world’s most famous large scale public art creators with fabric, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, typically saw their installations taken down within several months.
“You don’t usually see textile work outside because it can’t typically handle the elements. So in my own personal work, i’m really interested in tensions and setting up fragile work and just waiting for whatever outcome happens,” Bird said.
“So that was really interesting for me to be a part of such a large scale piece.”
Bird said that it took a team of nearly 20 people, including installers and engineers to complete the work.
“Now that it’s up, we’re thrilled and really happy with how it changes this corridor,” Bird said.
“I was lucky enough to be installing for five days on site at the end, so I got to talk with a lot of people that work down here and are passing by, and received lots of really positive feedback. So it’s been a really great experience.”
Creating community engagement and rethinking urban spaces
Skilling said that reusing the existing space on Stephen Avenue for the public art project was very important for him, from the beginning of when the project was conceived over two years ago.
“Looking at things and applying an art focus on things, you can change the function of things, you can change the perspective on things,” Skilling said.
“That was a really important idea with The Trees, to take them as an engineering function and turn it into an arts focus or an arts function, and to play off that metaphor a little bit.”
While the Trees were designed to be aesthetically pleasing, Garner said that the original function for their installation was not as public art, but rather as a way of controlling the flow of air and breaking up wind flow in the restricted corridor area around the Bankers Hall Plus 15
“So then to reimagine this architectural feature into an art installation is fantastic,” Garner said.
Skilling said that Novus Textura also moves an additional large scale art project into the public realm, changing the way that people engage with spaces, think about spaces, and ultimately what those spaces what mean to them personally.
“I think the ideas of landscape architecture, art, urbanism, architecture, engineering, they all kind of coalesce into projects like this,” Skilling said.
Patti Pon, Executive Director, Calgary Arts Development, said that Novus Textura was another one of the many important large public art pieces that have been added to the city’s inventory, either through the City of Calgary or through private funding.
“I think in this time where we live in a world where it’s all about separating us and isolating us and making us pick a side and take a stand and all those things, we need things like public art in our world—in the public realm—to help remind us that we’re actually connected,” she said.
“Public art is about us. It’s about people exploring the identity of the city.”
She said that for an area like the downtown core and Stephen Avenue, the addition of Novus Textura also serves an important function beyond the aestetic.
“Safety people, the experts tell us, the more you can generate an animate and encourage people to come and use the public realm and the public space, the greater the safety,” she said.
“It’s also a beautification piece. If our spaces are beautiful, people are less inclined to hurt them. If they feel like these pieces and the area around it is a place where you belong, they’re less inclined to to vandalize or destroy the space.”