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WATERSHED+: Dynamic Environment Lab

Bow river image

In January 2016, five artists were immersed in The City’s  Utilities and Environmental Protection (UEP) Department, for a weeklong program, exploring the impacts of living in our continuously shifting, dynamic environment – a watershed that experiences both drought and flood. Artists, City subject matter experts and members from the arts community participated in discussions and presentations, travelled upstream and downstream and visited a number of key water infrastructure sites. An associate artist based in Calgary also participated in the weeklong program, shadowing the activities, forging connections with the artists and experts and sharing his deep understanding of place throughout the process. A public presentation and “Q & A” was hosted at the National Music Centre, offering the community an opportunity to learn more about the artists’ body of work and their personal highlights from their exposure to Calgary’s watershed and water management system.

This issues-based lab nurtured connections between artists, subject matter experts and the local arts community, encouraged critical thinking and supported a mutually beneficial exchange of perspective.

It offered artists the rare opportunity to explore the impacts of our continuously shifting environment firsthand, connect with experts, build relationships with the local arts community and develop a concept in response to their immersive experience. For the experts that manage and respond to the dynamic environment each day in their professional careers, the artists brought a unique lens and alternative way of thinking about the challenges and impacts of living in a continuously shifting landscape. 

The Artists and their concepts

Each artist was encouraged to explore, in response to the context of Calgary’s water management system and the city, renewing and strengthening emotional connections between Calgarians and their watershed.
Following the program week, each artist – chosen through an international open call - was given six weeks to submit a concept proposal based on their experiences and interactions gained during their time here. A seven-member jury selection panel has reviewed the concepts and invited each artist to move forward with further researching, exploring and the implementation of these. 
The unique approach of this lab allows for each artist to spend periods of time throughout the next two years immersed in our shifting landscape, researching the environment, connecting with subject matter experts, engaging with the local community and responding to the topic of dynamic environment through his or her creative practice.
Peter von Tiesenhausen is renowned for his environmental and site-specific works, paintings, sculptures, drawings, installations, events, videos and performances. Based in Alberta, his work often involves the community in which he is working and utilizes the materials to be found there. Through an artists residency, he will explore several areas of interest including: sound and video of interior, exterior and underground spaces, the tools and equipment used by The City to deliver services, bio-mimicry, bio-engineering and renewable energy sources, river bank stabilization and fish habitat projects.
Stokley Towles has spent more than a decade exploring the systems that keep Seattle alive and the people who run them – libraries, police, drinking water, solid waste, trail systems, sewers and stormwater, wastewater treatment and city bus drivers. He has evolved a methodology of taking up residency within a system, observing it closely, and interviewing the people who work there. He has performed at conventions, art spaces, bookstores and nightclubs in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle. He is interested in embedding himself within UEP and working with City staff to further explore Calgary as a place of extreme environments (drought and flood) and how The City manages these conditions. His work will take form as a series of performative presentations.
Tim Knowles works across a range of mediums, utilising drawing, photography, video, sculptural interventions and participatory events or actions. Based in the UK, his work often exists in multiple forms; as a happening or event, an exhibition, an online project, a publication and even as an idea spread by word-of-mouth. Much of his work involves collaborations with artists, scientists, other professionals and experts in their fields to develop and realise a project, exploring topics and techniques that are new to him. He will explore the movement of water through Calgary’s watershed – the landscape, river systems, drinking water, storm and wastewater systems.
Becky Shaw makes work that explores a place, encounter or object, using live processes, photography and text. Beginning with no outcome in mind, Shaw gradually develops what feels like the ‘right’ response and spends periods of time exploring and responding to places where people interact together, often where production, education or care happens. Based in the UK, her works sit within a tradition of process-based art and involve scrupulous attention to context. Her body of work will explore the relationship between youth and young adults in Calgary, their water system and their sense of past, present and future. Using contemporary music as a tool, she will explore their emotional attachment to the river and place, as well as the architecture of the water utilities infrastructure.
Steve Gurysh is an interdisciplinary artist who creates expansive narrative structures through a process linking scientific inquiry and popular culture, employing sculpture, time-based media and public platforms. Social and ecological systems play multiple roles in his work as raw material, contextual backdrop and subject. Gurysh is the co-founder and co-director of The Drift, in Pittsburgh, PA, which has created more than 20 temporary public artworks and events along the Allegheny River, and has curated and collaborated with over 80 artists, performers, and technologists exploring bodies of water as a context, site and material.  Through his residency phase, he is interested in researching and developing a project that explores 3D printing processes capable of producing objects out of silts and clays collected from Calgary’s watershed. His work will focus on the ways in which cultural and geological narratives become intertwined, a creation story of mud and people.
Lane Shordee creates work that has strong ties to urban ecology and recycling, utilizing techniques that combine a variety of materials in various installations. Harvesting the alleyways has become a central part of Shordee’s process, actively demonstrating the adage that “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” Shordee uses these cultural artifacts as a way to tell stories about the past while acknowledging our present concerns about the environment and society at large. Living and working in Calgary, Shordee has spent the last couple of years teaching community-based workshops, making interactive sets for touring theatre productions, building local public sculptures including Water Spiral  and is currently in the phase 1 of new collaborative project called Marquee for the Cerebral Palsy Association in Alberta. With a particular interest in water, Shordee participated in the week as an Associate Artist, shadowing the five artists, interacting with the experts and learning more about Calgary’s watershed.

UEP Public Art Plan and the Watershed+ Program

The groundbreaking UEP Public Art Plan fosters projects, events and experiences that challenge us to think differently about our environment, utilities, infrastructure and the impacts of our actions.
Within the UEP Public Art Plan, Watershed+ is an award-winning program that embeds artists and artistic practices within UEP department core activities and the Calgary watershed. By enhancing existing opportunities and developing new creative endeavors, the vision of WATERSHED+ is to build an emotional connection between people and their watershed. This Lab has grown from previous Watershed+ initiatives – forums, UEP staff laboratories, artist residencies, permanent and temporary projects.
Public Art Budget: $400,000
Commissioned By: Utilities and Environmental Protection Department
Projects to be completed: 2018