Plaza spotlight was one of many works around Calgary from duo Sans façon

A spotlight was set with anticipation for a performer to step on centre stage.

Slowly, one person broke the beam of light — melting away the shadows and inhibition. The show began.

But there was an oddity about this performance: the stage was the ice rink at Olympic Plaza and the performers were Calgarians enjoying a winter night’s skate.

This mid-January display was the result of an international initiative, “Limelight,” from the artist group Sans façon. The internationally recognized artistic collaboration of British artist Tristan Surtees and French architect Charles Blanc.

“The spotlight is about creating a setting for performance for the public,” Surtees said of the installation.

“We are always trying to reach the grand audience, we have done a lot of work here in Calgary,” said Surtees. The duo has come to better understand the people of the city, which better informs their other work in the city, said Surtees.

In Calgary, this spotlight — which shone for three nights during mid-January — was shining a light on the artistic duo’s growing influence in our city.

Greater perspective

“Limelight” — from much greater intentions and motivations — came to Calgary as an artistic initiative, as work from the duo Sans façon continues within the city.

Sans façon is four months into an 18-month artist residency as the lead artists in the Watershed+ program.

Watershed+ was created as a City of Calgary public art initiative to gain awareness for our water resources, especially rivers, through artistic outreach and openness.

As a part of Watershed+, Sans façon is working with the City of Calgary’s Utilities and Environmental Protection department to find projects from across Calgary that could create better awareness of our city’s resources through artistic influence.

The art duo has worked with the department for the past four years.

The program intends to make the artists a part of the design team, working with both city engineers and city art staff members. The ice rink at Olympic Plaza was the stage for the international initiative, “Limelight,” from the artist group Sans façon.
Photo by: Kammryn Dancy

Heather Aitken from the Calgary Public Art Program spoke of her excitement for the Watershed+ program. “As far as I know, this is an incredibly rare program, and doesn’t exist in many places in the world if at all,” she said.

Aitken said Sans façon’s placement is intended to facilitate an ongoing exchange between the artists and engineers.

In their time with the City’s Utilities Department, Sans façon was integral in the renovation of Laycock Park, where they worked designing and coordinating the renovation of the park.

Currently, Sans façon is working to redesign and renovate Beaumont Park. They also collaborate with the Ralph Klein Park administration and other Watershed+ programs in which they coordinate with the city to achieve awareness.

Sylvia Trosch of the city’s water resources department works with the Watershed+ project. “Art is important to tap into the emotional side of things,” she said. “We should see really fascinating things with Sans façon being involved.”

Engaging artists

Sans façon are not alone in representing the artistic side of Watershed+; while they do have the title of lead artist, they are engaging a greater community.

“We often put out calls to the art community for submissions, we want to find those individuals who can bring something great to the program,” Surtees said.

Trosch said, “They keep a roster of artists who can be especially supportive of the program, especially in the future when they are not involved with the program.”

The Watershed+ program will be an ongoing program. Sans façon is leading it through its beginning stages and is setting the foundation for future public art and awareness.

Trosch said “We hope that they can create an impact which can carry on after they have completed their work with Watershed.”

kdancy@cjournal.ca