Creating a spectacle

From billboards to tents, Art in Public Places Kingston includes six installations located around town

Greenroom is a living room set partially made of hollow fibreglass.
Greenroom is a living room set partially made of hollow fibreglass.
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I’ve walked past Bagot and Queen St. dozens of times in my four years at Queen’s, but when I saw a radically green living room set up, I had to do a double take.

For me the encounter wasn’t accidental.

Earlier in the day I’d climbed aboard a school bus packed with artists and art lovers for the opening tour of a six piece curated art project titled Art in Public Places Kingston.

The public exhibits are part of a show put on by xcurated Cultural Collective, created to stimulate discussion about art by situating it in public places. The theme, appropriately titled ‘Spectacle’, presented a dual question to audiences — is public art a spectacle in itself or does it only depict the spectacle already inherent in society?

We first stopped by Catherine Toews’ billboard piece on Taylor Kidd Blvd. which showed three fashion magazine inspired images of women looking vulnerable and exposed.

We then arrived at Lemoine Point Conservation Area to view what appeared to be a simple red tent in the middle of a field. As we headed down the trail, we were told that the tent was actually Robert Hengeveld’s Into the Wild.

No longer just a piece of camping gear, the interior had been spread with camouflage nylon and small pieces hung down like drying meat at a butcher’s shop.

The hung nylon alluded to an unsettling reality. Surrounded by the otherwise tranquil and natural lake, it was as if something dark was hiding in the shadows of the installation.

As the bus veered back downtown, Michael Davidge’s Pretty Vacancy appeared from the bus window — a neon-lit sign which was a literal representation of the Sex Pistol’s 1977 hit “Pretty Vacant” melding with the stylistic design of a motel’s vacancy sign. The mundane and lazy manifestation of a curious phrase makes this one stop that can be avoided.

Luckily, those without a car can view the best and most outlandish pieces of the collection within walking distance from campus. Inside a pit that will eventually be filled with condos lies Greenroom, a living room set partially cast out of hollow fibreglass.

Millie Chen and Warren Quigley’s piece was created to be a socially conscious satire on the corporate greening trend. The brown walls of the pit provided a contrasting landscape for the hues of green the work utilizes. It’s proven its purpose by already making passersby stop and stare at the brilliantly thought-out juxtaposition between interior and exterior.

Steven Laurie’s Donut Machine inside the Cataraqui Centre is also included in the collection but was not part of the tour.

The final stop of the tour took us to the tree in front of the Pump House Steam Museum to see Shayne Dark’s Free Form in Blue, a vibrant stack of cedar split rails covered in deep blue paint and nestled amongst the tree’s branches.

Dark’s installation was the most simplistic of the project, but also the most overt example of the theme of spectacles — enabling viewers to stop and question what public art means.

Art in Public Places Kingston runs until June 8.

A roundtable discussing the importance of public art will be held on June 7 at 7 p.m. in Market Square.

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