For the past four months, the Place Publique and the Darling Foundry have acted as a laboratory, encouraging students to take on creative risks and challenges. Students presented various scenarios:factory walls wrapped in glass, acting as a display case to our industrial history; plastic-quilted houses standing in the street, echoing our provincial heritage; aquariums filled with seaweed and found objects, questioning time and our fight to control nature. This 60-foot strip of pavement has been conceptually transformed over and over through the 30 unique and imaginative proposals put forward by participants.
Frédérique Thibault presenting her final public art proposal to the Darling Foundry jury. Frédérique is one of the three students shortlisted to have their proposal realized this summer on the Place Publique.
Perhaps to some, these ideas are too big, too risky, holding a utopian vision of what this space could one day be. But then again, our job as artists, designers, architects and planners is to dream up ideal spaces, to put forward concepts and forms that people are too afraid to imagine, let alone describe to others. We are courageous, visionary and potentially a little weird. This semester at the Darling Foundry has been about allowing that side of ourselves, as creators, to emerge. To permit ourselves to be open and free, to learn how to make those utopian ideas possible… it is about pushing ourselves further to learn from different modes of thinking, to encourage ideas and build networks that provide support for these practices. You want to create a pool of 15 eels and speak to them through microphones? Why not? I’ll call Parks Canada about the eels. You’d like to create an entire bar/terrace out of movable scaffolding? We’ll show you how to make it happen.
Image from Antoine Caron’s public art proposal simulating his proposed work in the Place Publique. Caron’s work proposed aquarium’s filled with found objects from the foundry and seaweed.
By promoting cross disciplinary, non-traditional classrooms, students learn from each other how to tackle large spaces, social issues and execution strategies. An artist can understand how to activate life in an entire town square, a planner can learn how to leave room for others to re-appropriate the space they’ve assembled through art.
Image from Laura Azzalini’s proposal merging public art and design. Azzalini’s work focused on the reuse of materials such as plastic water bottles and scaffolding to create an urban hanging garden.
Throughout my time working with these students at the Darling Foundry I have learned a number of things, the most important being that we can’t let ourselves put big ideas down because we don’t immediately see how they might be possible. As undergraduate students, we often shy away from complicated projects. They are expensive, complex, and overall too large to store in a classroom. So how then, will we ever learn to make ambitious work if we are shooting those ideas down from the get-go? As we grow older we become safer, more practical and refined in our creative practice. Maybe it is for this reason so few artists dabble in the practice of public art. Programs like the project in the Place Publique are vital to encourage young creatives to understand how to realize works that can at times feel like nothing more than a far-fetched dream.