The public art project for the Wellington Street West corridor required visually significant elements to provide an identity and a distinctive character, referencing the history, community or social commentary of the adjacent neighbourhood and roadway.
Artists were asked to explore and define linear connections between the proposed artwork locations, and to incorporate art elements into the general urban character along the street.
The Urban Corridor as a Moving Landscape and a Social Critique
This design proposal invokes the many possible interpretations of "nature" along the Wellington Street Corridor, without resorting to a trivial recollection of its history. As this corridor is a primary link between Ottawa's urban core and Ottawa West (the area of Ottawa already most vocal on matters of progressive environmentalism), this project, a proposal for a series of sculptural, luminous "street signs," calls into question the preconceived meanings usually held by the general public regarding one of Ottawa's paradoxical preoccupations: Ottawa as a city (somehow) connected to "nature."
We consistently name our urban streets, parks, neighbourhoods, and buildings nostalgically after the natural environment, as if to wish away their evident urban character. But, just as language can effortlessly absorb seeming paradoxes, natural and urban orders can (must) also coexist. The intention to unravel the fiction that the two are mutually exclusive (and that "nature" is somehow more morally virtuous than "urban") is not one of cynicism, but rather responsible optimism: progressive attitudes towards urban growth (as characterized by the rehabilitation of this urban corridor) create more healthy, more vital, and more intellectually stimulating urban neighbourhoods. These neighbourhoods in turn develop into better places to live and work, and, as they become more dense and walkable, they ultimately minimize our impact upon and expansion into the natural environment.
This proposed system of street signage aims to create a strong visual link that contributes to the unification of the physically and materially disparate urban characters of the Wellington Street corridor. The signage is designed to invoke very different realizations and perceptions from its observers depending upon the time of day/night it is seen and the direction from which it is approached, thus enriching the experience it provides as observers encounter it repeatedly.
This signage art proposal would be comprised of numerous translucent, illuminated glass panels embossed with oppositional definitions of terms relating to our seldom-questioned understanding of "nature." For example, at the intersection of Wellington and Parkdale or Island Park, pedestrians and motorists would be presented with a large glass street sign bearing the word "Park." As one travels on from that intersection towards the urban core, she or he would be presented with one definition, or rather a question: "land set apart to be kept in its natural state for the public benefit?" Meanwhile, on the other side of the street from the first definition, as one travels west along Wellington (away from the urban core and towards Ottawa's more supposed natural outskirts), another definition/question would read "A place where motor vehicles may be left?"
This signage could also be adapted to reference local neighbourhood landmarks. At the intersection of Holland and Wellington is Canada's most significant example of an environmentally sustainable condominium, The Currents, by Windmill Developments. A definition of "current" would here be considered: "A large portion of air or water moving in a certain direction?" versus the definition/question on the other side of the street: "The course of time of events; a tendency; a trend?"
"Plant" (located at Rosemount): "A member of the vegetal kingdom distinguished from an animal by the absence of locomotion?" versus "The machinery used in carrying on any industrial process?"
"Bay" (located at Bayswater or Bayview): "A body of water forming an indentation in a shoreline?" versus "The situation of being opposed, so as to be powerless to act fully?"
"Breeze" (located at Breezehill): "A wind or current of air?" versus "Cinders, dust, or ash from coal?"
"Wild" (located around the West Village Outfitters Store): "Living in a state of nature?" versus "Going beyond reasonable limits; fantastically unreasonable?"
"Chase" (located near a car dealership): "A tract of land reserved for breeding and hunting wild animals?" versus "To drive precipitantly?"
"Tree" (located near Hintonburg Park): "A plant having a self-supporting wood stem, and growing to a great height?" versus "A gallows?"
And, finally: "Nature" (located as an introduction or bookend at the ends of the signage campaign/Wellington Street Corridor): "The material world with its phenomena as contrasted with those of human civilization?" versus "The impulse in humans by which character is determined or controlled?"
French texts could easily be introduced as well: "Nature": "Itat de l'homme avant la civilization?" versus "Essence des jtres; nature divine, humaine?"
Like conventional street signs that are way-finding devices indicating how one should proceed or move ahead, the signage campaign proposed here is also ultimately a way-finding device for moving forward both socially and culturally. However, conventional street signs are definitive indicators; the signage campaign of this proposal begs questioning, self-reflection, and interpretation as pre-requisites for moving forward.