Each bench on Elbow Island Park was created by an artist duo reflecting a different type of relationship: daughter/father team Laura & Michael Hosaluk, friend duo Jeremy Pavka & Sean Procyk, and collaborative partners Susan Clarahan & Joel Staples. These artists were selected for their multidisciplinary skills, merging artistic sensibilities with backgrounds in carpentry, drafting, architecture, construction, or playground design, depending on the duo. They were invited to design and build their ideal place to sit together by the river on Ebow Island.
Be sure to read more about the artists’ concepts, in their own words, here.
Laura & Michael Hosaluk are Saskatoon-based artists with backgrounds in sculpture, installation, and woodworking. Their bench, titled Bridging Whirlds, is the first seating for visitors on Elbow Island Park, a short distance from the stairs leading down onto the island.
Visible from the historic Mission Bridge (1915), Bridging Whirlds was literally constructed from a retired bridge truss, scavenged from Saskatoon’s first traffic bridge (built around the same time as Mission Bridge and decommissioned a few years ago). The truss was sandblasted to remove rust and lead-based paint, and then powder-coated for longevity.
The top of the bench appears, at first glance, to be a thick wooden board. Upon closer inspection, however, you’ll realize that it is actually a concrete casting of a thick wooden board. The artists cast the wood in fine detail, right down to the wood grains, and coloured concrete to match the original material.
Laura & Michael Hosaluk delivering their bench to site. Images by Mike Tan Photo
Laura & Michael transported their bench to Elbow Island in Autumn 2019, right before the installation was delayed a full year by weather and strict environmental regulations. Bridging Whirls sat onsite, its concrete protected by a plywood cover, foliage growing up through the truss, until work resumed in 2020, concrete footings were poured, and the bench’s final resting place was ready to receive it in November.
You can sit on Bridging Worlds and watch both the river and the city go by; ducks, traffic, pedestrians, beaver, and deer wander past indiscriminately. In this way, the artwork spans the interspace between “city + nature, land + river, public + private, camouflaged + forgotten.”
Beautiful, sturdy, and inviting, this 9 ft bench holds potential for many people to sit together, or several people to sit far apart (ideal for social distancing). Ultimately, Bridging Whirlds uses a literal bridge truss to build metaphorical infrastructure spanning the gap between human beings and the natural world.
Jeremy Pavka, half of the team behind “Late Lunch,” at work on his vegetable farm in Calgary. Photos by Caitlind Brown.
The second bench is by Jeremy Pavka & Sean Procyk, friends and collaborators living in Calgary and Hamilton, respectively. The artists worked together long-distance to design, build, and install Late Lunch. Modelled after everyday wheelbarrows, these playful seats were laboriously re-designed and re-constructed from scratch, using wood, metal, and other materials.
The concept for Late Lunch evolved from a joke that stimulated a memory shared by both artists. In order to reach their site on Elbow Island Park, you must hike for about a kilometer off Mission Bridge, crossing the ephemeral side channel using the rock ford. This location is inaccessible by heavy machinery, meaning that all bench materials needed to be light enough to either carry to site, or push in a wheelbarrow.
Jeremy Pavka, building “Late Lunch.” Photos by Caitlind Brown.
This conversation triggered a memory Sean & Jeremy share of doing yardwork with their corresponding grandfathers. When they needed a rest, they would flip up their wheelbarrows and use them as seats. While specific to their own familial relationships, we’ve realized that this wheelbarrow-seat memory is shared by many.
Install day. Images by Mike Tan Photo
Indeed, when we were installing the artwork on the island, every landscaper walking past shared their own experience doing the same. One man said, “wheelbarrows are our benches, our tools, and our tables… we use them for everything!” Late Lunch speaks to the gradient where labour meets leisure, and the objects caught in the space between.
Installing Jeremy & Sean’s “bench.” Images by Mike Tan Photo
While the bold, monochromatic colours of the wheelbarrows reference playgrounds and enlarged toys, they are actually colour-matched to Sean’s old blue van and Jeremy’s favourite green CLAAS farm equipment. Clever, light-hearted, and surprisingly comfortable, in the landscape of Elbow Island Park, Late Lunch is an invitation to consider the active relationship between people and landscapes.
The final bench, located on the furthest tip of Elbow Island, is called Sun Chairs and was designed and built by collaborators Susan Clarahan & Joel Staples. With backgrounds in architecture, carpentry, and art, Susan & Joel considered elemental aspects of the island when imagining their bench, and then constructed their ideal place to sit together and watch the river and sky flow by.
The Sun Chairs emulate retro, vinyl yard furniture – the kind you might pack for a day at the beach, or unfold on a lazy Summer afternoon. The artists worked with an aluminum fabricator to build a robust frame, and then carefully milled and fit their own wooden slats.
Studio visit with Susan & Joel in Canmore. Images by Mike Tan Photo.
Skillfully designed to appear light and airy, while actually being hefty and robust, the Sun Chairs offer visitors a place to rest, reflect, and meditate on the surrounding environment. Located at the furthest point on the Elbow Island footpath, they are both a destination and a halfway point: from this location, there is nowhere to go but back to the stairs, or into the river.
Installing “Sun Chairs” with Joel on Elbow Island Park. Images by Mike Tan Photo.
While the Sun Chairs appear to be sitting loose on the tip of the island, they are mounted on buried concrete bases, embedded deep into the ground. The illusion is so convincing that even the engineering team inspecting the final artwork was fooled. A solid substructure is particularly important because the tip of Elbow Island is especially vulnerable to rising water. The City of Calgary Parks team has planted hundreds of willow stakes to help stabilize the bank and restore riparian habitat, but the bench was purposefully placed higher on the island to accomodate seasonal fluctuations in the rise and fall of the river.
The artists imagine these chairs being used by rafters and birdwatchers, dog-walkers and joggers, sun-worshippers and neighbours of all demographics. As the milk paint fades and the chairs are embraced by growing foliage, the Sun Chairs will offer a consistent place to sit and watch the sun spin by, inviting you to see nature on the time-scale of trees, or water, or the sky.
Each of the bench artists brings something different to The Wandering Island – not merely a different design, but a different relationship with the landscape, river, and each other. As the island prepares to re-open to foot traffic this coming week, we are excited to share their work with Calgarians and to make space for new relationships to form.
At this special moment, we want to share our gratitude to our documentarians – and artists in their own rights – Ramin Eshraghi-Yazdi and Mike Tan. Stay tuned for Ramin’s next round mini-docs, coming in the new year.