A Manifesto for Public Art in Northern Climates.

Life in the North changes drastically with the season. Our winters are dark and cold, snow blankets the landscape and deadens every sound. In summer the heat grows intense, the sunlight prolonged.

The northern climate exerts pressures on the identities, habits and attitudes of the people that live there. These pressures also effect outdoor public art due to its permanent, perennial existence in the landscape. If these pressures are not considered, a piece of public art will not be successful season to season: what makes sense in the ideal context of summer can transform into a rarely seen, snow-covered monolith hidden in the darkness of winter.

Those of us who live in northern climates deserve public art that speaks directly to us, that speaks directly to our specific situation, that is made for us. Artists creating work for northern climates—no matter where they are from, and no matter where they are working—must consider specific factors when developing pieces that will work with our landscape, with our climate, that will reflect our lives.

What must be considered when creating public art for northern climates?

The pressures inherent to northern climates—the temperature, the light and the snow—affect the placement, materials, design and context of public art, but they are often ill-considered. Art is an international pursuit, and lucrative public requests for proposals by northern locations shouldn’t be restricted to northern artists. All artists creating work for these locations, however, must consider these factors. You can’t graft an Oakland statue onto an Oslo winter.

By considering the form and location of outdoor pieces, public art in northern climates will better reflect its intended audience: people who embrace every season, rather than just one or two.

We will consider the temperatute

Winter is cold. The cold makes people stay at home, or stay in their cars, sometimes far from where public art is located. Interactions with public art in northern climes may be fleeting, and may occur from behind the window of a moving car.

Temperature extremes can affect not just the experience of the work, but the work itself: materials expand in the heat and contract in the cold. Northern locales are typically home to extreme climates—from 30 ºC in summer to -30 ºC in winter—and these large temperature swings affect the structural integrity of a public artwork. Public art for our climate must be able to withstand the temperature.

We will consider the dark

Winter is dark, and in summer it can stay bright nearly 24 hours a day. The experience of a piece of public art changes drastically with the light and with the increased or decreased access to the work the light provides. The middle of a city park may be a lovely place to view public art in the sunlight but after dark, much less so.

Similarly, without electric light in the winter, intricacy in public art will go unnoticed. Pieces of significant intricacy will be rendered useless six or more months of the year—no one can see them. How, then, should public art be made when it is dark more of the day than not?

We will consider the snow

Snow is all around us, it covers the landscape, our cars and our buildings. We need to brush it, shovel it and get it out of the way. If our lawn is obscured by snow for half the year, that’s no problem. If our art disappears that long, then what is the point of it?

Public art in northern climates must consider how to deal with snow. By being adaptive to it? By overpowering it? By using it?

Kobot Occasional Paper Series

Kobot is an Edmonton-based web design firm, but we don’t just sit around and think about the web all day—we think about all kinds of things. We started producing what we came to call “Occasional Papers” to share our ideas about the things we think about and talk about in our small office, no matter the topic. We want to engage with ideas that go beyond the Internet, because we’re not only interested in a better-looking, more-effective web, we’re interested in a better-looking, more-effective world.

All of Kobot’s Occasional Papers exist in limited-edition hard copy, on newsprint. To get a hard copy, try emailing info@kobot.ca.

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