You could say that it looks like the Art Gallery of Alberta’s bigger brother. It looks like the alien mothership landed right on top of Edmonton’s downtown. It looks like the Ice District has a stainless steel martini shaker that melted north of 104 Avenue.
It’s Rogers Place, the long-awaited and much ballyhooed new arena home of the Edmonton Oilers and a massive addition to the city centre core. If you haven’t already attended a home game or a concert or simply just gone through to finally get that good long look at the thing, then here’s one more reason to convince you to do so.
There’s some incredible public art that has been installed in and around the shiny silver colosseum and much of it is as eye-catching as it is meaningful and thought provoking.
You can give St. Albert artist Alan Henderson a lot of credit for that. His piece, Figures in Motion, is an incredible feat of creation in that it is both a three-dimensional multi-piece sculpture and two-dimensional painting, set over more than 80 square metres, all installed on the side of a wall way above the viewers’ eyeline. It seems practically impossible, yet there it is.
The three main figures, a figure skater and two hockey players, are set amongst a scattering of sketch-like slashes to represent skate marks on the ice. They remain static in their place yet are seemingly and inexplicably involved in very active movements akin to their sport of choice. They’re also void of any light contours, making it tricky to focus on any fine details.
It’s a complicated, wondrous work. Henderson offered some tips on how to view Figures in Motion appropriately and effectively.
“All this information is all up there on the wall but if you’re down on the floor, you can’t quite make it out. The only way to see this is to see what’s not there. You have to look at the wall to see the shapes. You have to move around it.”
In other words, you can’t look directly at it in order to see it. Shift your gaze side to side. You really have to be there in person to fully appreciate this technical and artistic marvel.
“I’m very glad that the Edmonton Arts Council and the people at the rink were willing to take this chance with me. You make something that’s difficult for the viewer and the idea is that, in the end, it’s rewarding. It’s worthwhile to make something that, on the face of it, is just an abstract thing and then with a little bit of work you can pick things out.”
It’s located inside the entrance of the downtown community arena in the northwest corner of the complex.
Figures in Motion has a larger and more colourful sibling in the 14-metre circular floor tile mosaic by celebrated 81-year-old Dene Suline/Saulteaux artist Alex Janvier. Tsa Tsa Ke K’e means Iron Foot Place, a piece that pays tribute to the land area where Edmonton is found. It is meant to illustrate the significance of the area as a meeting place throughout history. “All roads lead to the area, Edmonton, as it is a central destiny for all who came before, and who came after,” reads the artist’s statement on the Edmonton Arts Council’s website.
It’s classic Janvier at his grandest, with his curvilinear design, vibrant colours and infinitely interconnected shapes and geometries. If you’re not impressed by all that, just think of the one million individual tiles that it’s made of.
Tsa Tsa Ke K’e can be found in the floor of the Winter Garden.
Then there’s Skater’s Arch by Saskatchewan-artist Douglas Bentham. The massive sculpture stands outside dominating the corner of the Northeast Plaza. It’s essentially a large, circular object comprised of numerous open-ended arcs. It’s as evocative of skate marks on the surface of a rink as it is of the Rogers logo itself.
Essential Tree is yet to be installed. Designed by Berlin artist collective realities:united, the installation is a large representation of the abstract trees used by architects in their design models. It will basically look like a column with a geodesic boulder sitting on top of it. The 14-metre object will eventually look less out of place on the Northwest Plaza when the recently planted ash trees grow to a comparable size.
And if that wasn’t enough, Grant MacEwan University-trained artists Lacey Jane Wilburn and Layla Folkmann (of the artist team known as Hot Sluts and Poutine) are still putting the finishing touches on a series of five massive mural portraits that will face Rogers Place from 105 Avenue and 102 Street. The 10-metre high Pillars of the Community project is meant to represent the people of the community who use and work at Boyle Street Community Services, a longstanding fixture in the downtown and now one of the new arena’s neighbours.