Proposed public art installation sparks debate in Victoria

$250,000 sculpture complements an interactive sound element of First Nations drumming and singing

A new public art installation proposed for Victoria has sparked debate over the merit and interpretation of city-funded artwork.

B.C. artist Luke Ramsey defended the inspiration and design of the sculpture that incorporates a series of colourful surfboard-type arches mimicking the silhouette of an orca at city council last week.

The $250,000 sculpture complements an interactive sound element of First Nations drumming and singing created by the city’s Indigenous artist-in-residence Lindsay Delaronde.

The art will be installed near the city’s downtown waterfront, and Councillor Ben Isitt questioned the simplicity of the sculpture and its ability to reflect the Indigenous history of the land.

“Just when I look at the art, it … doesn’t feel like there’s a recognition of the local Indigenous context,” Isitt said. “Our artist in residence has done great work on a number of projects and I’m not convinced this meets the mark, but I’m open to being convinced.”

Other councillors advocated adding a plaque to explain the meaning behind the artwork.

“Just to look at it, I couldn’t relate to it as well as when the artist in residence described it and once it was described it brought on a different meaning,” said Charlayne Thornton-Joe.

Ramsey said the sculpture is not intended to be an Indigenous artwork but a creation of his own reflecting the natural environment surrounding the bustling coastal city and the vessels, such as paddle boards, people use to connect with the water.

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“For me it’s about exploring simplicity in art and trying to convey something that has a meaning and a definition to it,” he said. ”To me this is paying reverence to nature and showing this creature that is coming up in an area that is full of a lot of transportation and activity. This is not necessarily a site that you go to but it goes with you it moves with the activity around it.”

The art installation is part of a larger landscaping project for the waterfront sparked by the construction of a new bridge that is slated to be completed in March.

While the elements of the artwork were debated, Councillor Marianne Alto said it’s not up to the city to determine or define what is Indigenous art.

“I want to caution us to remember that the context in which we’re speaking here is around art,” she said. “We need to be cautious about relying on our own interpretation of what reflects Indigenous art and Indigenous history and Indigenous currency.”

She said the fact that Delaronde and other Indigenous people on the city’s public arts committee weighed in on the project ensured diverse perspectives were considered.

“I want us to make sure we are not imposing our own expectations and interpretations on what is Indigenous by assuming that this is not sufficient or that we need to add another layer,” she said.

The design was ultimately approved by council and that element of the landscaping project is expected to be completed in 2018.

The Canadian Press

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