I am not from Burlington, but I heard about this project through a friend of a friend of the artist – Alex Pentek (information about Alex: http://nationalsculpturefactory.com/?page_id=1416). This article summarizes the project quite nicely and has some pictures.
Looking at the artists’ body of work, you can see that he works with similar projects internationally. One of my favorites is the Dandelion sculpture. As someone who was torn between fine arts and urban planning going into university, I find this project really interesting because I can see here where the two worlds meet.
I like the part in the article where it says that the artist was seriously challenged with his commision due to lack of inspiration. He says, “the infrastructure was fully functional, but something had to go in here to lift it up.” Looks like he was trying to work with the physical and functional aspects of the site in order to create room for emotional attachement and meaning.
You can collect from the article that his colorful and horticultural approach was not random – rather, he drew from the existing history of the city.
If you continue reading other articles about this project however, you will find that the concensus of the residents of the city is that they don’t like the project! Their main complaint is that they are not impressed with bringing in an international artist, and also that they think the orchids are completely random – even weird-looking! I’m wondering if the existing meaning that was incorporated into this project would have been less ‘random-seeming’ if the artist was local, since they might have known better? And in that case, I’m wondering where that inspiration would have been drawn from. How truly evident is the horticultural history of Burlington?
Knowing nothing about Burlington, but being from a comparable city (Oshawa), I appreciate the look of the orchids because they add contrast to what is already there, they soften the harsh greys of the highway, and they add a point of interest to the bland and mundane highway sense-of-place. But maybe this is too unexpected for people – maybe it’s because we have an idea of what a highway should be like in our heads, and adding any public art or design to it would be ‘weird’…