A tour of public art at the Millennium Library in Winnipeg, Manitoba
Libraries are great places for readers like myself. I also enjoy visiting art galleries. Discovering art at a library is a special treat. Thanks to Winnipeg Art Council’s Public Art Program, the Millennium Library in Winnipeg, Manitoba has some interesting pieces on public display. I had opportunity to learn more about these pieces of art when I took one of the Winnipeg Arts Council’s free public tours.
The Millennium Library is the main branch of the Winnipeg Library. Located downtown, it was opened in 1977 as the Centennial Library. A redevelopment program started in 2003 and completed in 2005, at which time it was renamed the Millennium Library. The library now has 150,000 square feet of space located over four floors, a reading terrace positioned alongside a grand staircase and in front of a four-storey-high solar glass window, and glass-walled elevators in the centre of the building. The Millennium Library Park at the back of the building was renovated in 2012. This urban green space contains a fountain, sitting areas (in the summer), and public art.
Untitled is a mixed media on wood installation featured on a large two-storey wall in the Library’s main lobby. It was created by Cliff Eyland specifically for the Millennium Library when it was renovated. It is composed of small paintings which become a pixilated abstract at a distance, representative of digitized computer information. The small paintings are 3 by 5 inches, the size of traditional library cards used before the entire process of library check-out became computerized. There were initially 1,000 small paintings in the work, but the artist keeps adding more. Eyland describes the piece as “scattered cataloging, a kind of random cataloging.”
The content of the individual paintings varies – abstracts, landscapes, people, animals, and representations of books on shelves.
Cliff Eyland has been making artworks the size of traditional library cards since 1981. Some have been shown in libraries and art galleries. He has also inserted thousands of original drawings in library books in Canada, the United States, and Europe. How cool would it be to check out a library book and find one of these drawings inside?
Nicholas Wade’s The Illumination rests adjacent to a wall of windows looking onto Millennium Library Park. The powder-coated steel sculpture stands 12 feet high and was also commissioned during the library renovation. The work speculates on our culture’s preoccupation with language, origins of form in typography, and the influences of form on architecture. It features the letter T H E interlocked in an “architectural embrace.”
“The” is the most common work in the English language. One of the tour guides mentioned discussions which have occurred around the positioning of that word in library catalogues. When a book title begins with the word “The” (e.g. The Book Title), should it be catalogued with “The” at the beginning (The Book Title) or at the end (Book Title, The)? She then went on to say whenever she sees this sculpture she is reminded of the start of an old joke, “What is black and white and red all over?”In addition to the more serious contemplation inspired by The Illumination, there is also a playful feel to the sculpture.
Waterfall #2 by Theresa Himmer on a Millennium Library exterior wall is made of plywood, plastic, and outdoor sequins which look like shimmering water. Theresa Himmer is a Reykjavik-based Danish artist. Waterfall #2 was originally commissioned as a temporary installation for the núna (now) festival in Winnipeg in 2015. Núna (now) has been bringing Icelandic and Icelandic-background artists to Manitoba since 2007 as a way of maintaining the cultural bridge between the two places. Manitoba is home to the largest Icelandic population outside of Iceland.
The title of the work refers to an earlier artwork, Waterfall #1, which was temporarily installed in Reykjavik in 2006. That work investigated the relationship between natural and artificial landscapes. It was dismantled in 2014. Waterfall #2 is a mirrored version. Transplanted to Manitoba, the content of the work shifts to allude to the history of migration and longing within wider narratives of place, identity, and memory.
Given that Iceland has a literary heritage dating back to the 12th century, that with a 99% literacy rate it may be the most literate country in the world, and that Iceland publishes more books per capita than any other country, it seems more than fitting that this artwork resides on a library wall.
Sentinel of Truth
Sentinel of Truth by Darren Stebleleski was created specifically for the Millennium Library Park in 2012 and was inspired by the library itself. It represents libraries as sentinels, protectors of truth and ideas. The wall of weathering steel is covered with bits of text inscribed into stainless steel, excerpts from fiction, poetry, and non-fiction, represented in different fonts and sizes. One needs to get close to the wall to read any of the specific words. Over time, the weathering steel acquires a natural orange patina.
As a society our ideas and our truths are ever fragile, open to corruption and attack through censorship. The existence of a free and open library guarantees their safety and their dissemination.
emptyful by Vancouver artist Bill Pechet is my personal favourite Winnipeg public art piece. It was commissioned for the Millennium Library Park in 2012. The structure is over 10 metres high and is based on the shape of a container. On its website, the Winnipeg Arts Council describes the medium for this piece of art as “stainless steel, water, lights, fog, and weather.” It is inspired by the idea that Winnipeg and the prairies which surround it are full of emptiness, a boundless space where various phenomena, such as weather, light, seasons, and human endeavour, come and go. It is about the complex relationship between full and empty.
Bill Pechet’s father’s family settled in Winnipeg from eastern Europe. His father spoke both lovingly and critically about Winnipeg, something Bill has noticed with everyone he’s met in the city. When Bill visited the city himself, he sensed “an old soul of a city, where even, within its apparent areas of vacancy, a fully robust culture was humming away. . . a place where people are thinking deeply about their city, through art and culture.”
The container is lit from the inside at night with colours which change seasonally. The winter setting is for fire colours – oranges, yellows, reds. Cooler colours are seen in summer – greens, blues, aquas. In the summer, the structure is also a fountain, creating a welcome mist for passerbys on hot days.
emptyful has become one of the iconic symbols of Winnipeg and a popular spot for taking selfies.
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