Public art collaboration merges history, art, and community to inaugurate a new fire station in south west Edmonton
Public art walks a fine line between artistic vision and community interest. When the Edmonton Arts Council awarded Jeff Kulak (’07 BDes) and Mark Clintberg the commission to design a public art installation for the Heritage Valley Fire Station, they created a piece that beautifully balances these two interests without sacrificing the integrity of the finished artwork. The artists drew upon classical and contemporary artistic references while considering the role of fire suppression throughout time, drilling down to its essential element – water.
“The project reflects on the use of water in the history of fire suppression, which has frequently included the use of vessels like buckets to store and transport water to put out fires,” explains Clintberg. “Our project uses the historical genre of still life, which often includes vases, bowls, and other vessels, as elements that have similarly been used to store water.”
The finished piece entitled Water Vessels was a true collaboration at every stage of the process, and included not just the artists, but civic officials, arts council members, the general public, contractors and architects.
“Public art projects require a great deal of communication,” says Kulak. “Mark and I discussed approaches, created the drawings, managed the manufacturing and installed the pieces together.”
Kulak credits the U of A design program with helping him develop “a way of approaching multifaceted projects of this nature where there is a balance between creative intent and concrete design problems.”
Water Vessels is a collection of seven circular panels each representing a different vessel, positioned in front of a variable horizon line. The imagery is stylized and graphic – suggesting the form rather than replicating it. According to Clintberg, seven panels were chosen because odd numbers are more compositionally interesting, and the soft, translucent colours reinforce the idea of water. Each element of Water Vessels is meaningful, if not distinctly literal.
Installed on the exterior of the fire station, Water Vessels is publicly accessible and exposed to the elements, so Kulak and Clintberg created the finished piece using digital high pressure laminate, which is durable and UV/vandalism resistant. The process uses extreme heat and pressure to fuse the image with the laminate panel. “It beautifully reproduces high colour images,” says Clintberg.
Clintberg and Kulak both hail from Alberta, but met in Montréal through a mutual friend. Their collaboration on Water Vessels is an outgrowth of that friendship. “We have some aesthetic interests in common – like colour and an interest in drawing, so it was an opportunity for us to explore that cross over,” says Clintberg. According to both, it was a long term project that they’ve enjoyed seeing to fruition.
Water Vessels can be viewed at the Heritage Valley Fire Station, 11104 Ellerslie Road SW. Please note, the fire station is not yet open, so access may be (temporarily) limited.
Jeff Kulak’s website
Mark Clintberg’s website
Photos of artwork courtesy of Mark Clintberg, Jeff Kulak and the Edmonton Arts Council.