Do you ever blog, write, paint or photograph something that you saw but know it will disappear forever? That your act of solidifying its image, is to brand it alive in your memory and heart for years to come?
I’ve been feeling this way lately.
Several weeks ago, a major flood in Calgary destroyed several hundred homes and
evacuated 100,000 residents. This disaster, only accentuates for me, not only possible, but known future losses of both possessions and loved ones.
Before Disaster Hits
Before the flood, I saw three artists painstakingly working as a team, on their new outdoor art murals in Calgary’s East Village by the River Walk bike-pedestrian path. The collection of murals is entitled: “The Field Manual. A compendium of local confluence”. These murals are executed by Daniel J. Kirk, Ivan Ostapenko and Kai Cabunoc-Boettcher.
These arresting and vibrant murals adorn bridge abutments, storage sheds and exterior of public washrooms.
Every day I biked by and photographed their dynamic evolution. I chatted up with one of the artists who like his colleagues, were enjoying attention and curiosity of the public.
More importantly, the artistic trio, were engaged in discussion with anyone about their art imagery, as they took breaks from painting.
Some of the images are on digital photographic film of the original artwork, laid onto the concrete. Then the artists painted more colour and images across the mural.
What bewilders an art-lover, layperson like myself, is that these art installations, will only be gracing the area for 2 years. Why vapourize these images? Why stop the informal dialogue and learning on depiction of local history, cultural legacies and events?
Shortly after I read the art piece’s short life, then the flood hit the city on June 20-21, 2013. East Village was one of neighbourhoods submerged under several metres of river water from the banks of the Bow and Elbow Rivers –near the confluence, a source of artistic inspiration for the imagery.
At least the lower part the art murals, would have had some the flood waters lapping around them. These murals are over 6 metres high or more.
I was in another city after I evacuated from my neighbourhood. Upon my return to Calgary, I had to see how the murals fared in the disaster. So I biked over to the site.
These murals were scrubbed bright, clean and more details had been layered in. I wasn’t sure when the sculpture of 2 hands forming a string cat’s cradle, were installed. However the playful fingers were fitting for a damaging, life-changing flood that would now be woven into Calgarian narrative history for decades to come.
If it weren’t for gouged riverbanks where the mighty rivers scoured through, the uprooted tree stumps, damaged bridges, water soaked buildings and mud smudged pavements, just by looking at these murals, you wouldn’t have known there had been massive flood devastation thrown upon the city.
Even now, thousands of residents are still trying to scramble around, to recover and rebuild.
Earlier in another blog post, I lamented on lack of large scale public art that articulated Calgary’s cultural history and legacies. But this collection of mural art in East Village, expresses a grand historical sweep of aboriginal legacies, city as former law enforcement outpost for the Northwest Mounted Police (now RCMP), cowboys, miners, Chinese railroad workers and as a national railroad shipping stop for Western Canada.
Prairie and other stereotypical western Canadian icons are there, but playfully intertwined and merging in motion and semi-dream memories.
Even, as you look closely at the bottom of the large cyclist, or amongst images of growth, urban development, there is the river snaking through geological time and space.
What I like this art is it stimulates local memory, curiosity, learning and vibrant possibilities for same icons locals know, but in a different visual context. The Field Manual, this art compendium, is free for contemplation and not stuck in a gallery room. But only for the next 24 months.
Some Interesting Reading:
Calgary Municipal Land Corporation. The Field Manual: A compendium of local confluence. East Village curated art program expands with new installation on River Walk. May 13, 2013. More about the history of East Village.
City of Calgary. Infographic highlighting flood and municipality’s response.
Chong, Jean. Injecting Life and Identity: Outdoor Public Art in the Prairies. In Cycle Write Blog, Apr. 13, 2013.
Francey, D. Timeline: How the Great Flood of 2013 Evolved. In Calgary Herald, Jun. 24, 2013.
Note: A great deal of Calgary news coverage by local newspapers and tv is available on the Internet. Globe and Mail article provides some sample social media of video clips and photos. First photo in National Post article, is of East Village where all the bike-pedestrian paths, some mural art and some buildings were submerged.
Over 100,000 Calgarians were evacuated during the flood. Approx. 200 residents now need to find temporary housing since their homes are uninhabitable. Calgary has a population of 1.3 million people.
Yes, I was one of the evacuees.
Postscript: Above outdoor mural art was removed (as planned) in Sept. 2016.