Tag Archives: public art

An Art Walk in Reykjavík

I have just returned from a trip of a lifetime, a 16-day transatlantic cruise, the highlight of which was a few days in Iceland. The Arctic nation has been on my bucket list for a long time and I eagerly awaited trips to the Blue Lagoon and Gullfoss Falls.

Gullfoss Falls

These natural wonders didn’t disappoint but what I was most surprised and impressed by was Reykjavík’s modern and contemporary art, much of which is displayed along the city’s scenic shore walk.

Scenic View from the Reykjavík Cruiseport

Not all of these gems are immediately apparent; a tour guide pointed out that the structure I had mistaken for a small silo in the idyllic landscape across from my balcony was actually the Imagine Peace Tower, which was dedicated by Yoko Ono in memory of John Lennon on October 9, 2007. The structure is lit each year on this date, the late singer’s birthday, and brightens the winter sky until the end of December.

Imagine Peace Tower; Photograph: Imagine Peace Tower

The chance to see a sight like this is just one of the many reasons that I am already dreaming of returning to this amazing place!

Screw by Sigurjón Ólafsson

After spending the previous day on a tour bus, I wanted nothing more than to stretch my legs and the hour-long walk into town along the waterfront provided an excellent opportunity to do so. But it also offered an excellent introduction to the art of Iceland. Not 10 minutes from the ship, I stumbled upon the Sigurjón Ólafsson Museum which houses much of the renowned Icelandic sculptor’s work in his former studio. While the artist was famous for his figural pieces, the abstract examples scattered throughout the grounds provide a striking contrast to the surrounding landscape.

Íslandsvardan by Johann Eyefells

Iceland’s landscape dominates the work of many native artists, including Johann Eyefells, who has lived in Florida since the 1950’s but whose work focuses on the effects of nature on materials; many of his sculptures evoke the lava formations found throughout the island.

Sólfarið (The Sun Voyager) by Jón Gunnar Árnason; Photograph: Sig Holm via Panoramio

Another common theme in Icelandic art is that of history; the Viking sagas are still an important part of the nation’s culture and were frequently mentioned during my short stay to the island. The Sun Voyager, the most famous sculpture on the shore walk, draws from this history while representing the ideas of hope, progress, and freedom.

Page from an Icelandic Medieval Manuscript; Photograph: The Reykjavík Grapevine Listings

The themes of landscape and history are the focus of several exhibitions at The Culture House in downtown Reykjavík. Medieval Manuscripts: Eddas and Sagas displays important 12th century Icelandic texts and traces the impact of their stories and legends to the present day.

Mountain by Sigurð Guðmundsson; Photograph: UMM Iceland

Millennium currently focuses on modern and contemporary Icelandic art though, as the name suggests, the goal is eventually to include art and artifacts that represent the last millennium of the nation’s history. Several of the works currently on display explore concepts of Icelandic identity through historical and geographical frameworks. My favourite of these was Sigurð Guðmundsson’s Mountain, a photograph documenting one of the artist’s Fluxus-inspired “situations” in which he buried himself among boots, bread, and books as well as natural materials found on the island.

Installation Outside The Hafnarhús, Reykjavík Art Museums

However, a short walk down the street from The Culture House reveals that not all Icelandic art is centered on the past or the natural environment. Walk in one direction and one comes across the Hafnarhús, one of three buildings that make up the Reykjavík Art Museums; Hafnarhús is dedicated to contemporary exhibitions and houses the permanent collection of Icelandic-born graphic artist Erró. And the installation above the door? An artist manifesto modeled on the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Reykjavík Street Art

Walk in the other direction and one finds oneself in a hip area dominated by little galleries and rather derelict buildings completely covered in graffiti art.

Graffiti Park in Reykjavík

One small section had been turned into a park/playground/skateboarding area, with artists busy at work at new creations while I watched. One of the more innovative paintings here incorporated a skate ramp into the tongue of a wolf.

Graffiti Skate Ramp

My short time in Iceland proved that everything I had heard about the overwhelming beauty of the countryside is true but my even shorter time in Reykjavík made me realize that there is a lot more to explore in this cultural hot spot.

All images by Tracey Eckersley, except where indicated.


Posted in Culture, Design, Travel | Tagged , ,

Design and the Olympics 2: Olympic Architecture


Image via Art Design Cafe

This year’s Olympics have been quite eventful and a pleasure to watch, both in terms of the games themselves, the stories surrounding the games, as well as the landscape in which the games are taking place. Much like other summer games, London has sprouted a slew of new structures, specially designed for the events.

Olympic Stadium by Populous Architects (International)

Image via Wikimedia Commons

The Olympic stadium, which acts as the cradle for the track and field events and acts as the main event space is also usually the main architectural feature for the games. This year’s stadium in London was designed by Populous, an international architectural firm that was previously known as HOK sport.

Image via Dezeen

Image from Dezeen

The stadium features a convertible design that will allow the now 80,000-seat stadium to downsize to a 25,000-seat arena that will be used for different types of events aside from sports. The demountable design, the first of its kind for an Olympic stadium, is a response to the problem of long-term use for an Olympic arena and its integration with the needs of the community.

Aquatic Center by Zaha Hadid Architects

Image via Zaha Hadid Architects

The aquatic center is perhaps my favorite architectural feature of this year’s games. Zaha Hadid’s futuristic and fluid aesthetic was a fitting match for the water sports. The design’s dynamic lines give the hard concrete construction an organic feel. The combined effect of the architecture and program is thus a literal immersion of water, and every event associated with it.

Image by Zaha Hadid Architects

Image by Zaha Hadid Architects

Much like the stadium, the aquatics center also features a demountable design, that will allow the design to adapt to the needs of the community once the Olympic games are over. After the games, seating as well as game-specific areas such as the athletes’ waiting areas, and judging and score control.

Velodrome by Hopkins Architects (UK)

Image via Milimet Design

Host to both the Olympic and paralympic cycling events, the Velodrome is one of the Olympic venues that remain in essence the same after the games. The design of the Velodrome was conceived by Hopkins Architects, a firm from the UK.

Image via East London Advertiser

Image via Hopkins Architects

The Velodrome’s design was conceived to be “lightweight and efficient,” to reflect the same characteristics of the cycles used in the events that will take place inside it. The outside geometry also serves as a reflection of inside track’s. Much like the other big venues, it was designed with a sense of sustainability as well.

ArcelorMittal Orbit by Anish Kapoor

Image via Art Log

As part of the attractions of the Olympic park, award-winning artist Anish Kapoor was commissioned by London’s local government to design a new public art work, that will also add to the legacy of the games. The 115-meter high sculpture Kapoor realized is now thought to be the tallest sculpture in the UK. The sculpture resembles a space-age roller coaster, made from tubular steel formed into lattices that also serve as structural support. Views into voids and the spaces formed by the structural steel present Kapoor’s unique sense of perception and aesthetic that gained him a Turner Prize.

Image via Arch Daily courtesy ArcelorMittal

Image from Arch Daily by Gautier Deblonde

Kapoor designed the piece in collaboration with structural engineer Cecil Balmund of Arup. London’s Mayor Boris Johnson envisioned the sculpture to help keep the spirit of the games alive long after they are over.

Throughout the architecture of this year’s games, sustainability and the “legacy” of the Olympic village was certainly a theme. It represents a growing trend in contemporary architecture that also considers the needs of the community and environment when conceptualizing, designing, and building these new icons. It will definitely be exciting to see what the future will bring to these structures of sportsmanship.

Enjoy the rest of the games everyone!

The Importance of Art and Accessibility To Public Spaces

Transforming parking into a park - by BanksyBanksy’s Park. image courtesy The Daily Duff

Inspired design is what makes some cities, communities and public spaces great.  The inclusion of art and the commitment to accessibility make people feel welcome, encourage engagement and a sense of pride in these spaces.  And this in turn leads to a sense of responsibility and ownership by the community at large to keep these spaces great.  Sadly I don’t see enough of this.  But when I do, whoa, day made.

Things as simple as benches, some greenery and sloping sidewalks at curbs (with drainage close by please!) increase the walkability and enjoyment of a street for a community’s full citizenry.

Playground Fence by Tejo RemyImage above and below courtesy of Cube Me

Here’s a wonderful example I came across during an internet wander.  Fences typically define an in group from an out group.  But this one manages to separate space while also bringing folks on both sides of the fence together through the ingenious inclusion (and spacing) of seating.  The Playground Fence by Tejo Remy also has become part of the playground space itself, encouraging the climbing and congregating of kids.  Designs like these just make me smile: it’s so smartly functional and interesting to behold, art in its own rite.

Tejo Remy's Playground Fence

The Pasture

Here in Toronto, deep in the heart of the Financial District, nestled among modernist sky-scrappers, lives this little pasture of life-sized bronze cow sculptures.  ”The Pasture” is a permanent art installation by Joe Fafad that first appeared in 1985.  We took our son to visit the cows while we were downtown last weekend and they were a hit.  (A bigger hit than the umpteen child-centered activities and parks we visited that same weekend even.)  Elements like this – an unexpected bit of  whimsy and beauty – cut into your day making it brighter; and it’s always interesting to see how people young and old interact with this sort of art.

The Pasture at TD Waterhouse

But often it’s not official urban planners or comissioned art projects that make a space great. Communities engage all the time with the leadership help of activist members.  But I’m more interested in urban artists whose installations stop you in your tracks, bring you in to the story of your neighbourhood and connect strangers, sometimes in the most poignant ways.  That’s what Candy Chang is doing with her work, such as the much heralded Before I Die project.

The Before I Die project by Candy ChangClose up of the Before I Die wall

Images via Candy Chang

Candy took an abandoned house in her New Orleans neighbourhood and turned it into an interactive wall for residents to reflect on their aspirations and give these voice in the public realm.  With her help, Before I Die walls are popping up all over the place from South Africa to Malaysia, and there’s one in the works for Toronto this summer.

I Wish This Was Project by Candy Chang

Image above and below via Candy Chang

Candy Chang is an artist after my own heart.  She cares a lot about neighbourhoods and her work strives to make public spaces resonate with its inhabitants. Her work is a combination of Street Art, urban planning, social activism and philosophy. She’s also the great mind behind the I Wish This Was ______, a project inspired by vacant storefronts.  What a wonderful way to mobilize your neighbours and influence the kinds of businesses and services you want to see around you.

Sit and Talk, part of Candy Chang's I Wish This Was project

My family and I are lucky to live in a family-oriented neighbourhood that’s just undergone a major transformation that integrated wider sidewalks, meeting space, and bike lanes, while also giving public transit priority on the street.  The playgrounds around here are cared for by everyone, enhanced by  all kinds of hand-me-down toys, ride-ons and play structures.  It’s such a simple but welcoming touch.

What about you?  What in your public surroundings inspire you?


Posted in Culture, Design | Tagged , ,

Pumpkin Parade

Today I wanted to share a fun and unique event in our neighbourhood.  No doubt there are equally charming things that go on in neighbourhoods all over the place, but I love how this happened entirely organically, that it’s a community-led initiative, non-commercial and really fun.  Referred to as the Pumpkin Parade, on November 1 every year friends and neighbours walk their Jack-o-lanterns to the local park, line them up and take in the magic of them all alight.

Image 2 and 3 via BlogTO

Thousands of pumpkins line and circle back on this modest park in Toronto’s west end.  Legend has it – or the version I’ve heard is- that the Pumpkin Parade started a few years back, six or so, with one woman getting her neighbours on her block in on the action. She thought it was a shame these pumpkins are only really enjoyed for a night, thought they deserved a last hurrah.  From there it’s grown into a real event where neighbours catch up while kids dance around in their Halloween costumes.  And it’s certainly elevated the artistry and creativity folks bring to their carvings.  Neighbourly one-up-manship will do that.  Here are a few cool ones we saw last night.

And don’t fret: with the Pumpkin Parade this big, the city sends the compost trucks out to pick up all the pumpkins so that they’re all properly disposed of.  I think every neighbourhood should host one of these.  How awesome would that be?

There’s Something About Size

It matters.

Well, at least in the case of public art, which is what this post is about.

Colossal works of art can’t help but seize attention, because nothing says “look here!” than sheer humongous-ness. And once captured, our attention is held captive, pinned, as if by a pro-wrestler. They make bold statements that provoke deep primal responses and reflective thought.

Installation with 1600 chairs, by Doris Salcedo in Istanbul

There are 1600 wooden chairs in this installation piece by Doris Salcedo in Istanbul. Image courtesy of dornob.com.

Size makes viewers feel small. We like to think we have the run of the world, and we have the tendency to delude ourselves into a mistaken sense of power and control. The larger-than-us proportions of public art can swallow us up, and serve as a reminder that we are small. And so we are called to awe.

Sculpture by Mariko Mori

Mariko Mori's Wave UFO

Reflective sculpture by Anish Kapoor

"Cloud Gate" by Anish Kapoor. Image from hardballtimes.com

Concept study for a viewing tower for the London Olympics

Anish Kapoor’s "Orbit" viewing tower for the 2012 London Olympic Park (scale composite)

Also, size generally comes with not a small amount of strength, making these huge art pieces all tough and macho. They won’t dissolve in rain or snow. They won’t wither away when you touch them, nor will they blanch at UV radiation or camera flash. Eventually they will fade, disintegrate and be taken down, but that’s okay. They let us go ahead and ooh and aah, and lean on them and touch them. They are that approachable and accessible!

A sculpture and water installation

"Specific Gravity" by Reg Yuson, a sculpture and water feature. Image from http://manila-photos.blogspot.com

Spiky and huge art

Thomas Heatherwick’s ‘B of the Bang’ does inspire awe and a little bit of fear. Those spikes can be lethal! Image from citysquared.co.uk

"King Bladud's Pigs"

Work in progress for “King Bladud's Pigs”, an installation for an art event in 2008 by artist Al Greenhall.

A giant eyeball sculpture

What are you looking at? Tony Tasset’s three-story tall eye ball, dubbed “The Eye”. Image from urbanmilwaukee.com