By Jennie Orton
CALGARY — Remember Project Mayhem? The fictional brainchild of Fight Club’s Tyler Durden that entailed well orchestrated acts of destruction in public places as a means of opening the eyes of a commercialized society? Well imagine that but optimistic, creative, sans destruction and arrogance and you have Atlas Sighed, a multi-medium art happening that will take over public areas of all kinds in Calgary for the next four months.
Curator Steven Cottingham hopes to remind the audience, in this case a largely unsuspecting public, that ideas like free public space, equality and creative freedom are worthy of our time and are to be embraced and examined; and his vision on how to do so will showcase some very innovative methods of expression.
“Most of the work in Atlas Sighed has this strong social justice component, work that really understands the responsibility of being in public: on billboards and very high traffic areas and makes the most of those locations.”
The pieces range from art inserted into everyday life like Alannah Clamp’s Let’s fall in love and split the rent, which will infiltrate various newspaper classified sections, to Dan Zimmerman’s app development project, LikeBlockr, which removes our one click rating system for social media content, and many others set to appear on bus ads and billboards, et al. By fusing modern mediums with vital commentary and placing it in unexpected and readily accessible places, Cottingham has created an event that will slide into the veins of the city and reach places most exhibits don’t.
“The work I selected is challenging but it’s not antagonistic, really,” he says. “Work that sort of disrupts the predominantly commercial landscape, and the way the public realm is mostly owned by developers and advertisers, I wanted to take that back and talk about things that need to be talked about in order to create an environment where equality is more attainable for everyone.”
Cottingham believes that Calgary is a unique forum for work of this kind due to its open and viable stage of development as a city: “Calgary really is in a strange place where the identity isn’t cemented and so it still has a lot of possibility and that is a reason to be hopeful. I feel individuals have a lot of power here because the art community and the cultural landscape are not saturated, so there’s room for everyone to contribute in meaningful ways.
“There will be a large portion of the population who will just run into them without knowing the context. Just seeing them as individual interruptions in the normality of the surrounding context.”
It is the hope that by stepping outside of conventional arenas, art can surprise people who are essentially an “inadvertent audience” and empower them to better use the space available to them.
“I hope that people will feel it is important to take back public spaces, to realize they aren’t the sole property of developers and advertisers and that you can do a lot of different things in public without having to ask permission or feeling like you have to be responsible to some greater power. Because it’s your space.”
Atlas Sighed runs from early December to March 31st. Keep your eyes open everywhere for it.AB, Alberta, art in public spaces, Atlas Sighed, Steven Cottingham, street art