Friday, 6 June 2014

OBJECT OF THE WEEK: "TIME: AND A CLOCK" - PUBLIC ART ON QUEEN STREET EAST

BY KATHERINE HANNEMANN

One bright spring day not too long ago, a visitor to my east-end neighbourhood and I were strolling the streets, soaking up the sun and the sights of Riverside. As we walked over the Don River via the Queen Street East bridge, my companion gazed up at the inscription lining the top of the bridge, which reads, “This river I step in is not the river I stand in” in large metal letters along the width of the street. She asked me if I knew anything about the history or the meaning of the words. From crossing this bridge nearly every day, I’ve seen the inscription many times and have thought vaguely about its meaning as I’ve gone past. But I couldn’t speak to the history of the bridge or provide an adequate interpretation of the phrase’s significance. “Gee, I’m not sure what that’s all about” was my unimpressive response to my friend’s inquiry. Later, though, I felt a nagging responsibility as a neighbourhood resident to know more about the public art in my proverbial backyard, and so it launched further Riverside strolls and internet research on Toronto’s bridge art.
 
Queen Street East Bridge
Queen Street East Bridge. Source: Iceland Penny

I discovered that the inscription is part of a larger permanent public art installation called “Time: And a clock” by Eldon Garnet. Along with the addition to the bridge (which was originally built in 1911), in 1995 Garnet installed this and two more pieces farther east on Queen that intend to provoke ruminations on time. At the intersection of Queen and Broadview, phrases of metal line the concrete street corners, reading “Distance = Velocity x Time,” “Too Soon Free from Time,” “Better Late than Never,” and “Time is Money: Money is Time.” Even farther east, in front of Jimmie Simpson Park, steel banners are part of the same installation, displaying the words “Coursing,” “Disappearing,” “Trembling,” “Returning.”

The corner of Queen and Broadview
The corner of Queen and Broadview. Source: Plepuc.org

According to the artist, “Time: And a Clock” is “really about the flowing of time, the perpetual change of life and experiences.” Garnet additionally explains that you can’t experience the artwork in one moment; it is a process over a period of time to visit each site to get the whole picture of the installation. (Watch a short video here on Garnet explaining more on the three sites.) Time, like the mighty Don River that flows beneath the bridge, is constantly in motion, never standing still.

In my opinion, this approach to public art -- fragmented and spread throughout a neighbourhood yet comprising a whole -- is one way in which permanent public art brilliantly differs from temporary public art, which I discussed in my last Musings post. (Yes, I realize this is my second consecutive post on public art. I think it might just be that I'm excited to be outside again.) Though more subtly blended into the fabric of a neighbourhood, an artist can rely on the fact that residents and visitors may pass by countless times before reflecting on or uncovering the various meanings of the art, and indeed use this to develop the “timely” themes of the art. Streetcar riders may gaze at the inscription on the bridge as they pass below it, or walkers waiting at the corner may read the words on the ground as they wait for the Broadview light to change. Each time, they may think of something different, or notice a word they have never seen before.

Part of "Time: And a Clock" at Jimmie Simpson Park
Part of "Time: And a Clock" at Jimmie Simpson Park. Source: Plepuc 

The experience of noticing, examining, wondering about, and researching “Time: And a Clock” also has provoked me to reflect on how people have interacted with public art over time, especially in more recent years. While I have learned quite a bit in a short time on various blogs and short interviews on the internet, this is not the approach I would have taken in 1995 if I wanted to know more about “Time: And a Clock.” (Back then I think I would have been opening my first Netscape browser, and I somehow doubt there was a significant amount of information on public art installations to search for on Ask Jeeves.) In some ways, I wish I would have thought more about “Time: And a Clock” on my own, before Googling it to get its backstory. What would I have come up with on my own accord, before hearing directly from the artist what his intention was? Would I ever have put the three pieces together, given that there is not much visible explanation of the art on Queen Street?

Placard about "Time: And a Clock.
Placard about "Time: And a Clock." Source: Toronto Grand Prix Tourist

Recognizing “Time: And a Clock” (without always consciously thinking about it) also has caused me to think about what makes public art iconic and part of a neighbourhood’s or a city’s landscape. (Although “Time: And a Clock” is a minor example of this, its image has become a symbol of sorts for Riverside.) I thought of more well-known examples, such as the Cloud Gate in Chicago or one of my hometown favourites, the Spoonbridge in Minneapolis. Did their public prominence make these sculptures instantly part of the skyline of these cities, or did it take time? Does anyone try to come up with the meaning of the Cloud Gate or Spoonbridge anymore, or do they just make people think, “Chicago,” or “Minneapolis”?
 
Millenium Park in Chicago
Millenium Park in Chicago. Source: Chicago Uncommon Pictures

Writing this post and thinking about “Time: And a Clock” makes me realize how many fascinating elements of my neighbourhood and city are right before my eyes, yet I walk by them everyday without even thinking twice about them. I’m trying to make more of an effort to get my head out of the clouds and make some connections about the little things I see and how they contribute to the fabric of the neighbourhood. I encourage you to do the same. What are the intriguing, crazy, funny, historical pieces of your neighbourhood that you’ve noticed recently (but have been there all along)?

1 comment:

  1. Katherine, this post comes very timely as, with the coming of spring/summer in TO, we are all wondering more around and about. To start with a short story, when I lived in Paris, I was teaching a course about Communication and Space and I asked my students to chose any street in Paris, walk slowly and observe any types of interventions to the street (including art, commemorative plaque, street signs, etc) - all my students surprised me with the discoveries they have made about streets on which they walked every day. Since I read your post, I started to look for such signs and Toronto is rich in information about historic sites, events, communities and people. What I like about this is the discrete nature of these interventions - many plaques are not very obvious which is not a sign of bad plaque design, I think, but a challenge for pedestrians (I cannot use the word walker anymore since watching The Walking Dead :) to discover their city.

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