Meeting of the Rivers: Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas' sculpture in Kamloops

Kevin Griffin

The Vancouver Sun

Visual Arts - Art Seen

January 15, 2014

SEI at McArthurGlen Outlet Mall at the Vancouver International Airport, by Y Public Art
PHOTO: Kevin Griffin
Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas standing beneath Rivers at Brenco Industries in Delta.

A sculpture by artist Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas for Kamloops that recreates the moment before the North and South Thompson join and become the single Thompson River was put together and raised for the first time Wednesday at a metal fabricating plant in Delta.

Called Rivers, the soaring steel and aluminum sculpture is more than 10 metres tall. At the top, representing the two arms of the river, are stylized female swimmers in copper leaf.

In front and below, curving metal flows like the water in the rivers. The work’s dominant browns and blues represent the colours of the two rivers before they meet to become one and flow west to eventually join the Fraser River.

Fabricated by Brenco Industries, the sculpture will be erected in Riverside Park at spot where people can see the confluence of the two rivers. The official opening is planned for February.

“It is a sweet location,” Yahgulanaas said in an interview at Brenco.

“It’s about trying to find that moment just before the two rivers meet — that sense of anticipation.”

He described Riverside Park as one of those special places where people also meet and gather.

“It’s almost like the centre of a compass rose. I spent some time thinking about what is it like to be in a place that feels special. The geography says there is something unique. If we’re observing and watching, what is it that we’re seeing?”

A contemporary artist from Haida Gwaii, Yahgulanaas has created a work that will be situated in a spot that was a historically important meeting point for the Secwepemic First Nations. Kamloops derives its name from the Secwepemic word T’kemlups which means where the rivers meet.

Knowing that he’s creating a work for a site on traditional Secwepemic territory, Yahgulanaas said he’s consciously adapted traditional Haida ovoids and formlines in his sculpture to make them more universal.

Yahgulanaas has created other public art works in Vancouver: Take Off is a metal sculpture made with Volvo car parts at the Thunderbird Winter Sports Centre; Abundance Fenced is a metal fence at Knight and East 33rd in Kengsinton Park inspired by the record-setting 2010 Fraser River salmon run.

Built at a cost of $130,000, Rivers will be going into the centre of a traffic circle on Lorne Street which runs parallel to the park. Close by is Interior Savings Centre arena, the home of the Kamloops Blazers hockey team.

Barbara Berger, recreation, social development and culture manager for Kamloops, said for the first time in the city’s history, Kamloops created a jury of artists and curators to oversee the selection process which started in December, 2012. Yahgulanaas’ concept was the jury’s unanimous choice, she said.

“We’re looking at this as a template for how we do other public art projects,” she said. “We didn’t want it to be something that happens administratively off the corner of my desk. We wanted professional artists who are weighing the proposals and guiding us and helping us select work.”

Part of the process included Yahgulanaas building a maquette to scale. Berger said when she shared it around the office, it helped built support among senior administrative staff for the project.

“It made them excited about the project as well,” she said in an interview at Brenco Industries.

Kamloops puts aside $50,000 a year for public art.

Recent installations of other public art works in Kamloops, she said, has “created a positive buzz in the city. People are loving the conversation that it brings about. I can see a lot more public art coming in future.”

Known for fabricating metal for industry, Brenco Industries also has carved out a local reputation for making public art as well. Recent works include Supernatural Eye by Robert Davidson which is temporarily installed at the Surrey Arts Centre and Salmon Spindle Whorl by Jody Broomfield at Park Royal Shopping Centre.

Mike Lanteigne, senior project manager for Brenco, said Yahgulanaas’ sculpture is by far the tallest piece the metal processing and fabricating plant has ever made. It weighs just under 1,360 kgs (3,000 lbs.).

“We do a lot of custom art work,” he said.

“We do have the best collection of equipment in town. We can do just about anything that an artist can imagine.”

For regular Art Seen updates, follow me on Twitter @KevinCGriffin

SEI at McArthurGlen Outlet Mall at the Vancouver International Airport, by Y Public Art
PHOTO: Kevin Griffin
The artist posing for photos between the two ‘arms’ of Rivers.