When I was training as an artist, I had my heart set on being a sculptor. My first professor was very encouraging. He taught me how to weld and work with steel. I didn’t have much money back then, but he allowed me to make pieces out of the scraps we had in the sculpture studio. I really enjoyed making small pieces of metal art. I was often in the sculpture building early in the morning hammering and shaping steel like a prairie anachronism.
Come second year, I had a different sculpture professor, Gordon Reeve. I didn’t like him one bit. He wasn’t shy in showing his favoritism to a couple of the female students. He tends to be quite cliquey with the thesis students as well. Suddenly, it was like high school all over again. Only the professor was one of the asshole kids, and I have to prove my worth to him. Instead of challenging me, I was uninspired. The only thing I learned from him is that when showing your works during a review, make sure to have good lighting and environment. Get ready to amp up the bullshit. If the only thing a student learns is how to sell works instead of how to make good art, then the 120 hr program was a waste. Maybe it was me, maybe it was him. I say it was him.
Fast forward a few years later and I learned that he was commissioned by the city to create a sculpture in Assiniboine Park. This was a park near my old high school. I used to go there all the time. I would eat lunch there, take a walk, visit the zoo, or enjoy the Leo Mol sculpture garden (Leo Mol was a Ukranian-Canadian sculptor, superior to Gordon Reeves.). Reeves already had several public sculptures in the city. This one however, was the worst. Named ‘Agassiz Ice,’ it’s a set of aluminum sculptures modeled after a glacier in Nunavut. In the grandest of imagination, they would be imposing structures conveying the relentless force of time and nature. Instead, the city got a set of humble figures which look like aluminum sheets the size of a couple of minivans.
I was upset about it. Not only was I hearing about Gordon Reeve again, but I was terribly unimpressed at how the city spends its money on public art. The piece looks like any mediocre government-mandated corporate art in front of buildings here in Seoul. They could’ve used that money to fund other art programs instead. Heck, they could’ve used that money to fund better artwork. It’s illegal, but I had half a mind to have taggers paint a price tag on it, making the piece mine, much in the same vein as Marcel Duchamp. But I also wanted to send a message to viewers as to how much the city was spending on mediocrity. I mean, Google it yourself. Doesn’t that sculpture look like any sculpture one would find prior to entering a golf course? Anyway, I was convinced by artist friends that it was a bad idea. And since they’re the ones who have to put up with it and I just simply have to not read any news about Winnipeg for a while, I decided not to commit any act of vandalism.
But why am I writing about Gordon Reeve and Agassiz Ice? I just thought about them because recently, I had to explain one of the cultural ‘attractions’ in my hometown, the Canada Museum for Human Rights, a $350 million project sitting in the heart of downtown Winnipeg. It is a museum designed to educate visitors about the sufferings in the world. If the news and the Internet is not enough for you, then drive over to downtown Winnipeg and learn about all of the atrocities in the world! Ironically, from its creation, it was rife with controversy. Not only was it built in Indian sacred ground, the inclusion of what was to be exhibited has turned into a suffering Olympics among the city’s different cultural groups. Not to mention, it doesn’t even include the current Israel/Palestinian conflict. That’s our cultural attraction, folks. A museum built to either infuriate or depress visitors.
So yeah, that’s what bugs me about my hometown sometimes. We spend so much money on things that don’t make anyone happy. So much money on grand visions that end up either being incredibly mediocre or simply a headache. It’s not cultural, but for less than what they spent, they could’ve built the largest indoor water park in the Western Provinces. That would’ve at least brought in some tourists into the city. I mean, seriously? Outside of school field trips, who will drive to Winnipeg to get depressed?