Interview with Artist Noel Harding

“Hot Topics” blog posts come from the desk of Sam Mogelonsky, our Communications & Social Media Coordinator.

Sam sat down with Noel Harding, the commission winner, to discuss his project “Reverb.” Noel received the TORONTO 2015 Public Sculpture Commission at the GM Centre: a site-specific sculpture commission in collaboration with the City of Oshawa, in celebration of the City’s participation in the TORONTO 2015 Pan Am/Parapan Am Games.

The sculpture will be installed in the spring of 2015, adjacent to the General Motors Centre (GM Centre), the venue of the boxing and weightlifting events at next year’s TORONTO 2015 Pan Am/Parapan Am Games. Join us for the unveiling ceremony on June 1st at 7:30pm.

The GM Centre, Oshawa

The GM Centre

The RMG: How did you become an artist?

Noel Harding: I always admired artists but never thought I would become one. It was almost by default. I left high school at 18 (achieved grade 10) subsequently working for my father’s engineering firm until I decided I had to do something with my life. I went to trade school, became an architectural draftsman, then an architectural construction technologist. I was employed as a construction estimator for which I was readily fired for lack of interest.

I landed at university as a mature student studying philosophy and working in the university video studio part-time. My involvement with video expanded from running cables, to camera operator, to tv studio director and educational script writing. Without really thinking of myself as an artist, though jealous of such, I decided to create something in video and submit it to the university’s competition for art works. To my surprise, I won first prize and my resulting video works started to travel to many different countries.

In that time, video was a brand new medium – so many things had never been done before and it was a great realm to work in. However, I never like making the same thing twice. After a while, that little screen, that shape, it was just boring. I didn’t look at it like storytelling because I treated it as a visual and time full medium. From there, I moved onto installation and projection works, where you walk inside of film and I treated the projection as a sculptural surface. In doing so, I could play with time and the interaction of people.

Those works began in the 70s. Then I began working with more diverse materials: kinetics, pumps and air compressors. By this time, I was involved in galleries in New York, LA, Toronto, Vancouver, Japan, Holland, Germany and England.

Working Model, Noel Harding

Working Model, Noel Harding

RMG: What was your inspiration for your public sculpture at the GM Centre?

NH: When you approach a competition, you approach it with a pragmatic consideration, you read and see what is being requested. You are responding to a desire on behalf of the funder or organization. Which is your starting point, in a way it dictates the way you think.

I like to look at how the location’s identity is operating, where its physicality sits, where its actions of energy are, how it is populated. There is an effort to extracting the site and looking at its needs. The GM Centre is an auditorium, a place where people gather regarding numerous events of community interests. As such, the work required itself to cooperate with the public use and enhance the location. We are not taking about meaning at this point, other than how you frame your movement forward with a set of ideas.

Working Model, Noel Harding

Working Model, Noel Harding

RMG: What was your process for creating the concept of the sculpture? Can you explain the idea if the “blurbs” and how they relate to the final piece?

NH: If you look at the detailing in the work, you’ll see a number of what we call “blurbs”, like the speech bubbles one sees text in a comic book. Those are references to the audiences inside but also, to the community of Oshawa. They are not filled in, but abstract enough to allow diversity of opinions and views and, you might say, the intensity of an array of feeling – a reference to the emotions of audience.

It’s hard to say how you get an idea, you wait to see something – you’re playing. The blurb kind of kept coming after me. You try diverse elements; you model them up on paper, put them on a table and you start to either like it or dislike it. In most instances, it just doesn’t carry and you throw it away. Something evolves until a click occurs.

RMG: Please tell us more about your choice of materials for this project.

NH: I’ve been using stainless steel for my last few works. Its permanence makes it ideal for outside installations. Its ability to appear and disappear, because it is reflective, is really a great advantage. I cut a blurb out of a flat piece of paper and curved it up. Then something was starting… and then you start to see the shapes you can read in a sculpture.

There’s another element, I think of my work as making a personality rather than making a thing. What I mean by personality, is a thickness of character or meaning. As complex as a personality can be to build: humour, seriousness, interactive engagement.

Working Model, Noel Harding

Working Model, Noel Harding

RMG: Lights will animate the sculpture at night. Can you please explain how?

NH: I was on the site and I noticed that there was a hockey game going on inside but you couldn’t tell what was going on outside. It was quite a moment of inspiration. You go to the site to inspect it and realize it’s all dark at night, even though there are 1,000 people inside. How is this possible?

If I could bring the energy of what’s going on inside, outside to the sculpture, then I’ve got a very interesting way of bringing the audience into the work. The lighting then became responsive to the activities that go on inside the centre. When there is a concert, a hockey game, or other activities, the microphone picks up that sound and influences or programs the lighting outside. As a conical shape, you might say there’s an inside and an outside to the work, that shape holds light within it and reflects where the blurbs are, giving it a kind of life.

RMG: The shape of the sculpture is very inviting – what was your thought process behind it?

NH: The shape evolved as a direct result of the GM Centre being an arena. The shape mimics an arena podium. You could also suggest that it appears as a stage, or a goalie’s net or a hockey mask. It is the best response to a work when people describe different images as they are then bringing their definitions to it. It’s what is fascinating about a work in that it can be interpreted differently depending on the viewer. I like each work to link to its location. This location was rich in providing stimulus to present an idea.

The work faces the GM Centre entrance, it operates in an interesting way for the audience because normally you’d stand inside the work as a performer looking outward, but the way the mirrored surfaces of the blurbs works is if you’re outside you see yourself as the performer inside. It creates a strong interactive dynamic. I can see people wanting to play in front to see the light and their image moving.

RMG: We are very excited about this project; can you let us know what else you are working on to make it a reality?

NH: We have just completed stamped structural drawing and detailed shop drawing which in a way take longer than the actual physical creation of the work. We have ordered the shipments of steel and are within days of being able to prefabricate the components. Stainless steel has some great advantages but it is an extraordinarily labour intensive process to gain a nice even mirrored or polished finish. It is terribly consuming and requires an enormous skill base. You really have to respect the process and the people you work with.

We will be doing some pre-testing of the sound equipment before it is installed. We are beginning light programming now. As well, we are working on all the pre-production planning for the site work, which will be longer than usual, in part, because it has to be broken down into numerous components, which then need to be polished on site. We will be onsite for a month actually placing the work.

Working Model, Noel Harding

Working Model, Noel Harding

RMG: What do you enjoy most about working in the public realm?

NH: What I love about the public realm, it’s that it’s obvious. It’s such a beautifully free space to work in, you’re not arbitrated by curation in the same way.

 

Noel Harding produced video art in the 70’s, video projection and installation in the 80’s, kinetic installations and sculpture as theatre in the 90’s. His work for the last 20 years is in public art where landscape and environment are paramount. His work is an engagement in public urban realities: planning, envisioning, and mapping.  He has exhibited and lectured internationally and his work is included in collections at the Vancouver Art Gallery, the National Gallery of Canada, the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the City of Amsterdam and the Hara Museum, Tokyo. 

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An interview with outgoing CEO Gaby Peacock

“Hot Topics” blog posts come from the desk of Sam Mogelonsky, our Communications & Social Media Coordinator.

As our CEO Gaby Peacock departs from the RMG, Sam spoke with her about her great accomplishments over the last five years. We all thank Gaby for her enthusiasm and innovations at the RMG and wish her all the best for the future!

Gaby at RMG Fridays February 2015

Gaby at RMG Fridays February 2015

The RMG: Looking back on five years at the RMG, what would you say has been the biggest change to the gallery from then until now?

Gaby Peacock: Working to change perceptions about the gallery and our greater role in the community has been a real priority for me from the beginning. We have tried very hard to insure that our internal staff culture, and public persona are accessible, inviting and inclusive. We have also somewhat redefined the role of museum as it relates to the needs of our community. No one size fits all. It has required us to listen to what people want and think about our work in terms of audience-driven programming. I also felt like we could do more in terms of unconventional partnerships and supporting other not-for-profits.. We have tried to repositioned the RMG as a leader and collaborator within the region.

RMG: What do you feel will be your lasting contribution to the RMG community?

Gaby: It is so important to be responsive to the changing needs of your audience. For now, RMG Fridays has a tremendous following, and I am proud to have been a part of its creation. It has made a huge impact on our ability to welcome new people to the gallery each month, and rerally connected us with the growing population of Millenials in Durham.

Perhaps more tangible (and lasting) contributions will be the public sculpture projects we initiated. I loved working with Doug Coupland to realize “Group Portrait 1957”, and the Meadmore in front of City Hall is very near and dear to my heart. Noel Harding’s commission for the GM Centre will not be installed before I leave-but I will be back to see it unveiled!

Gaby at RMG Fridays February 2015

Gaby at RMG Fridays February 2015 with Dr. Tim McTiernan, UOIT, Leo Groarke, Trent University, Don Lovisa, Durham College, Mayor John Henry and Dr. Colin Carrie, MP Oshawa.

RMG: You have also contributed to the community at large. Please tell us why these initiatives have been important to you?

Gaby: Being a part of the Culture Counts team for Oshawa’s first culture and heritage plan was incredibly rewarding. It was a real exercise in grassroots democracy. People came together and collectively made something really significant happen. It is one thing to get a plan funded and approved, but another to see that it has legs to get things done. I think a lot of people felt that they have seen other plans come and go, without much progress. There is a real desire from City staff and Council to make things happen and see the plan executed. That is half the battle. It was also really important to me that I was part of project that would create a tangible roadmap in alignment with the work we were doing at the RMG. It is all about creating a critical mass of cultural initiatives. Gradually, perceptions begin to shift.

coupland

Senior Curator Linda Jansma, artist Douglas Coupland and CEO Gaby Peacock in front of “Group Portrait 1957”

RMG: What will you miss most about the RMG?

Gaby: I am going to miss the incredible team of people I work with everyday. Staff, and volunteers that are committed to providing visitors with amazing interactions and experiences around art and art-making. I will also miss my community colleagues who are so invested in helping Oshawa promote its rich cultural assets and change negative stereotypes.

The RMG & Akimbo Chat About Public Art

Via Akimbo.com

AKIMBO is co-hosting a TweetChat with The Robert McLaughlin Gallery about PUBLIC ART

Image

RMG Photo by Michael Cullen

Wednesday, November 28, 1pm EST 

A TweetChat is an online discussion broadcast via Twitter.

On Wednesday, November 28 at 1pm EST, Akimbo’s Social Media Director James Fowler and The Robert McLaughlin Gallery’s Manager of Communications & Social Media Jacquie Severs will be in online discussion with people from coast to coast and … YOU. Get online and have your say about public art in Canada. What is your favourite piece of public art in your city? What it its role? Who should pay for it? Do we have enough? What challenges are there in allocating space for public art? What considerations are made in selection? Should there be a public art curator for a city? All this and more will be up for discussion.

Here are the details:    

What:  #AkimboChat is a monthly twitter-based discussion around various arts related interests.
When:  Wednesday, November 28th, 1:00-2:00pm EST and then the last Wednesday of every month.
Where: On Twitter – Follow @Akimboart for more information.
Who: Anyone can participate! Artists, arts workers, galleries, museums, curators, cultural institutions and anyone who appreciates the arts are all welcome to participate and have their say.
Why: It’s a great way to connect and share ideas with other arts professionals and art lovers, internationally and in real-time.
How: Starting at 1pm we will be asking a series of questions around the month’s topic for participants to answer, debate and discuss. We will ask a question every 10 minutes to give time for everyone to respond. Be sure to include the hashtag #AkimboChat so we can capture all the responses.

Here’s an example of how the conversation might go: 

@Akimboart Q1 What are your favourite art galleries?#AkimboChat

@CoolArtist A1 I love @SuperGallery because they feature emerging artists #AkimboChat

@PhotoBug33 A1 @PhotoGallery @PhotoSpace and @SnapShotGallery #AkimboChat

@Akimboart Q2 Where do you find out about art events in your area? #AkimboChat

@AndyWarhol A2 oh-wow that’s a good question… I’m not sure. #AkimboChat

@ArtLover A2 Why through Akimbo of course! #AkimboChat

An easy way to follow along with the conversation is to login to the discussion via www.tweetchat.com You will be asked to login to your twitter account and then what hashtag (#) you would like to follow (in this case it will be #AkimboChat). Tweetchat.com will then offer a feed like a chat room for you to follow along and will auto-insert the #akimobchat hashtag for you. If the conversation is moving too quickly, you can scroll back and it will pause the feed for you to catch up.

Our topic for November 28: Public Art

Please help spread the word by using the sharing buttons above and by tweeting about it using the hashtag #Akimbochat If you have any questions about how to participate, please email us at  connect@akimbo.ca 

We look forward to tweetchatting with you on Wednesday, November 28th at 1pm EST!