When former Edmonton poet laureate Pierrette Requier set out to write a poem about the city that would adorn the walls of the City Centre Mall, at first she had nothing.
But then again, that’s how most of her commissioned poems start out.
“I asked myself: ‘What is Edmonton?’ And I waited,” said Requier.
To her question the word "assemblage" — meaning a collection of things or people — came.
“It felt as if this place had been put together in different stages," said Requier. "There’s a bit of this and a bit of that, and people coming in constantly.”
Titled This City Edmonton/Notre ville/pêhonân, the poem, which is part of a mural now on display at the City Centre Mall, pays homage to the city's people, architecture, art and green spaces. It celebrates our "run-on sentence of festivals," "git'er done" entrepreneurialism and contrasting seasons.
The word assemblage informs not only the content of the poem, or the fact that it’s multilingual — written in English with French and Cree echoes — but also the physical appearance of the mural.
From a visual arts standpoint, an assemblage is a three-dimensional collage that pulls together disparate, unrelated elements. The 24-metre mixed media mural, created by local artists AJA Louden and Clay Lowe, is composed of more than 30 wood panels, spray paint, acrylic paint, fabric, ink and paper.
The word is also revealing of the unique creative process undertaken by the three collaborating artists.
In February, members of the community were invited to participate in a workshop to help inspire the artists. Following a live poetry reading in Cree, French and English, participants were asked to jot down words that resonated with them, and to associate the words with a collection of curated images. Community members also shared drawings and personal stories. These contributions were incorporated into the final product.
The bison that appears throughout the work was inspired by elder Gary Moostoos. "He shared a story with us about why the buffalo has a wide face," said Louden. "He said the Creator gave (the bison) a wide face so he could power through long winter storms; it's able to persevere. Clay and I were really inspired by that."
The mural isn’t an interpretation of the poem, but rather a visual representation of it.
“We established early on in the process that the poem was going to drive everything. As opposed to doing our individual personal interpretations of Pierrette's poem, we worked with Pierrette and we worked with the community," said Lowe.
Although primarily painted with aerosol paints, the mix of street art, typography and traditional sign painting adds a visual depth to the piece. It also allows the words to be the primary focus of the imagery and taps into Louden's street art style and Lowe's background in typography and design.
The mural was created as part of a Make Something Edmonton initiative that brought together artists and local property owners and managers, like Oxford Properties Group, which manages City Centre Mall, to beautify blank walls around the city.
"It promotes collaboration and community and is truly a celebration of Edmonton and all of our citizens."
The push began with the installation of words of encouragement on the north-facing wall of Melcor’s 100 St. Place building downtown last summer. Since then, the Rust Magic mural festival has taken the lead on beautifying the city's blank walls: Last year, the festival saw 14 murals painted on exterior walls around the city, and this year's festival, which just wrapped up, added another 20.
Like the other murals, This City Edmonton/Notre ville/pêhonân transforms an ordinary space — in this case a pedway — into an experience.
"The mural is designed so that every impression it makes on a passerby will be unique. It really speaks to our customers. It is trilingual and promotes collaboration and community and is truly a celebration of Edmonton and all of our citizens," said Oxford Properties Group and Edmonton City Centre.
The mural will be unveiled during a small event on Aug. 1, during which Requier will perform her poem, accompanied by Naomi McIlwraith on Cree vocals and Ken Brown on guitar.
Five local artists were also involved in the creation of the mural: Lana Whiskeyjack, Matthew Auger Cardinal, Wade Stamp, Micky Pop and Daena Crosby.