The Winnipeg Arts Council invited artist-led teams to submit a proposal for the creation of a feature lighting art installation around the duck pond in Kildonan Park in Winnipeg, MB.
As the practice lead for public space and land art, I participate in design competitions across Canada and around the world for Nadi. For this project, I worked alongside Takashi Iwasaki, a prolific Winnipeg artist, and Ashley Jull, an interior designer and former employee at the firm.
While I didn’t know Takashi personally before this project, I was familiar with his work. So, when the Winnipeg Arts Council put out the call for artist-led teams to design a lighting installation around the Kildonan Park duck pond for winter skating, I saw it as an excellent opportunity for us to unite creatively. I thought his unique, colourful style combined with our passion for land art and knowledge of the custom fabrication process would create an art piece that is bold, playful and fun.
The Winnipeg Arts Council used a competitive selection process to determine which artist would create the lighting art installation around the Kildonan Park duck pond. They shortlisted our team, along with two others, to develop and submit a concept for the art piece, including design drawings, renderings, budgetary pricing, and a list of qualified installers. We had approximately two months to compile the information together and formally present it to the council for their final selection.
I often find the best way to start the creative process is to meet and casually discuss the project. Takashi, Ashley and I spent an afternoon together talking about the essence of Kildonan Park such as the cultural role it plays within the community, the performances held at Rainbow Stage, the era of architectural and landscape design to the quirky witches hut hidden in the forest. As a team, we aimed to create an art piece inspired by Kildonan Park, rather than plug an arbitrary art piece into the park.
Takashi’s artistic style is bright and colourful. At the start of the project, I asked him what his hope is for people when they see his art? His response was simple: to make people feel happy. Colour and light have often been associated with people’s emotional well-being. Given that we expected park goers to experience our installation primarily during Winnipeg’s dark winter months, it seemed intuitive that we use colour to create an immersive lighting experience around the frozen pond. We wanted to inject colour back into the park’s white winter canvas, creating a vibrant and animated environment for people to skate and feel ‘happy’ within. During our creative discussions, we felt enchanted by photos featuring the bokeh effect—an aesthetic quality where a camera lens blurs points of colour and light to produce a polychromatic image that is pleasing to the eye. These images inspired our thinking and design process, allowing us to launch into defining the quality of light for our installation and influencing the sculptural form.
We wanted our art installation to complement the Peguis Pavilion—a classic modernist building built in the 60s by Morley Blankstein, which overlooks the duck pond. Park goers and skaters use the pavilion as a restaurant and shelter during the winter months; therefore, the design harmony between the pavilion and the pond is essential to the aesthetic of that area in the park.
Furthermore, as the pond provides a scenic view for the pavilion occupants to look upon, and the pavilion offers a much-needed shelter in the winter, we wanted to emphasize the relationship by viewing the pond as an outdoor room. Thus began our discussion about how we would illuminate this outdoor room and successfully merge interior, landscape and art together through sculpture and colourful light. We gravitated towards the idea of a 1960s modernist Arco floor lamp (a design which is suggested to be inspired by the standard street light), to conceptualize the form of our lighting sculptures. Anchored to the edges of the pond, we designed three lighting sculptures with long arms that extend over the pond, casting light onto the water and ice surface. The lighting sculptures are strategically placed around the pond to provide skaters with various intensities of changing colours. We used bright and saturated colours to glow directly underneath, dissipating into a soft, colourful glow as you move further away.
After presenting Bokeh to a panel of judges that included Winnipeg Arts Council representatives, Kildonan Park representatives and other notable artists, the council informed us our concept won, and they wanted to move forward in constructing it.
As the budget was small and our idea was big—we didn’t want to compromise on quality or vision. I wore all the hats in this project: artist, designer, project coordinator, negotiator, project manager, etc. I find that in these types of project you must be able to adapt and shift roles seamlessly and expect to work closely with different consultants to ensure success.
We worked with Prairie Poles, a local custom fabricator to detail and construct the three unique light sculptures that are 7.3 meters (24’) tall and extend outward at 4.5 meters (15’ 3”). We custom welded steel for the main body of each light fixture with a powder-coated finish and sandblasted 11 acrylic globes (some covered with a spun aluminum cap), containing a total of 15 high-performance RGB LED colour-changing lights. The lights are oriented to shine onto the pond surface to ensure an immersive and Bokeh inspired experience for the skaters.
As our fixtures are quite large and oddly shaped and the pond resides in a sheltered area without easy access, the installation process proved to be the most significant challenge we encountered during the project. We also experienced some unexpected soil conditions that called for a more extensive underground infrastructure to be implemented. We found there were very few companies in the area that were capable of doing the work and getting their machines into the installation site. Therefore, we had to wait until the pond froze over for our contractors to complete the job. It took a three-week deep freeze in Winnipeg for the ice to become stable enough for people to feel comfortable using the surface to support the heavy machinery and cranes needed to install the piles and fixtures. We designed each light sculpture to arrive onsite in a series of pieces so a team of three people could assemble them onsite-using cranes.
Even though we have yet to turn on the lights, I believe Bokeh is a success. There’s nothing major that I would have done differently in the design process of the project. However, if I’m to work on another project similar to Bokeh, I would be less naïve about the amount of time and effort a public art project requires!
Shockingly enough, not much changed from the original idea to what was built. We did slightly alter some of the light sculptures for ease of fabrication and went forward with custom colours for each fixture instead of the gold that was originally proposed.
I found working with Takashi an absolute delight as well. What started as a ‘blind’ partnership on the project (as we had never worked with each other or knew of one another beforehand), turned into a wonderful collaboration between artists. We respected each other's knowledge and passions for design and the arts, enhancing each other’s ideas and visions.
Stayed tuned for Bokeh this winter. And don't forget your skates!