Those utilizing the Edmonton Transit System, frequenting the Grandin station, have likely noticed the large mural of Bishop Vital Grandin flanking the underground cavern wall. The mural, executed by artist Sylvie Nadeau, may conjure up a variety of interpretations from person to person depending upon the viewer’s age, education on the Catholic Church, and frequency of visits to the station. Some viewers may ponder why such a mossback looking geezer would be immortalized in such a prestigious place, while others may be well informed on the life of Bishop Grandin and appreciate the city permitting remembrance of such a fellow within this public of an arena.
Following extensive research on the Bishop featured, it became apparent that Vital accomplished and implemented great achievements within his lifetime, primarily when viewed in the eyes of the Catholic Church (Grandia 2002). Vital was ordained a priest in 1854 and immediately after began to dedicate himself entirely to the “conversion of the Indian peoples” within the new world, whilst aiding prairie settlers when required (Administration 2009). At the age of 42, Vital was appointed Bishop of St. Albert (Alberta), continuing on with the goal of converting indigenous peoples to Christianity (Administration 2009). Coined the “Indian Bishop”, Grandin often faced opposition from the Hudson Bay Company traders concerning the affection and compassion he became known to show the First Nations people (Administration 2009). Bishop Vital Grandin’s recorded attitudes towards the people he was striving to convert to Christianity illustrate why First Nations People are subjects of depiction within Sylvie Nadeau’s mural. However great the Bishops accomplishments were, when considered among many historical figures that proved the capacity to promote memorable positive change, whether Bishop Vital Grandin was the most appropriate choice of train station artwork might be up for debate depending on how each viewer interprets the work.
Although public art displayed in Edmonton is determined by the Edmonton Arts Council, a non profit organization promoting the public display of art within the city, with the intent of accurately representing Edmonton as a whole, a couple queries may arise within many citizens concerning the Grandin Station artwork (Edmonton Arts Council nd.). In a Country that has in recent years begun publicly apologizing for the oppression and conversion of First Nations Peoples throughout its history, some viewers may find the painting of Bishop Grandin to be vastly inappropriate, even considering how gentle the Bishop may have been during his quest for conversion.
A second theory illustrating why the painting may not necessarily represent Edmonton to the extent that another work may have can be seen within the numbers presented by Statistics Canada. The majority of Albertans are not Catholic (Statistics Canada 2005). In fact, only 36.5% of Albertans claim to have any affiliation with the Catholic Church in any way, shape, or form (Statistics Canada 2005). With this knowledge in hand, the painting’s meaning may be analyzed in a different light to represent more than a Bishop successful in the conversion of First Nations Peoples. While the mural’s denotative, literal, meaning is that of a Catholic Bishop standing in the foreground of blissful children and aboriginal people...the connotative, social/cultural interpretation, changes with the eye of the beholder (Cartwright 2009). Some may see the painting as a positive, inspirational piece of art immortalizing the tenacity of a great role model, while others may view the work as not so subtle propaganda from the Catholic Church. Just like the connotative meaning applied to the painting, the choice to gaze upon the work and allow one’s self to enter into the power relationship, let alone critically analyze the subject matter, is likely to change with each individual entering the station.
If you have gone for coffee in HUB you may have seen the mural titled “Trade and Commerce: The History of Edmonton” painted by TagKim above the doors of the north exit located in Hub Mall in the University of Alberta. It’s even more likely that you did not notice the large billboard style painting because you still have not drank that coffee. The ideal advertised by this billboard mural is progress achieved strictly through capitalism. The mural celebrates the progress of Edmonton from a small fur trading settlement on the banks of the North Saskatchewan River, to an industrious business society connected through Telus to the entire globe depicted by phone calls all the way to New York and the rest of the globe. The center focus of this mural is a determined business executive jumping through huge piles of cash and phone cards presumably on his way to seal the next deal. He is an icon referring to what the artist suggests is necessary for progress.
This mural is a representation of the university and its ideals. Interpretation of this mural however will vary between the potential 37 000 individuals who may pass by it every day (Alberta 2010). This assumes people notice the mural and care to think about it during their busy days.
The 2000+ business students going to the business building daily, likely enjoy this mural as it supports the dominant capitalist ideology they have come to study in their university degrees (Alberta, Students at a glance 2010). These viewers can actively picture themselves as the hero icon jumping through their own piles of cash carrying a blackberry in hand and society on their back to a better future.
The approximate 6000 arts students who look at the mural might question if money is really the good to which society strives (Arts 2010). Society does not seem include culture, religion or family in its checklist of ideals. University students especially in the faculty of arts generally are not concerned with making money and may better appreciate a mural depicting the triumph of knowledge as power. They might smile that they are not in the faculty of business because they cannot see themselves as one of the shapeless black figures or the greasy unsmiling business people.
A engineering student likely will not see this mural very much as they are segregated on the other side of campus. However, they rarely might see that behind many of the pictures the feats of engineering really hold our society together. i.e the fort, oil derrick, plane, train, and communications technology all requiring the expertise of different engineers. Ultimately, the businessman will steal the credit and the cash for this expertise.
Society accepts that business makes the world go round. This mural perpetuates this value. We are complacent with the dominant ideologies it advertises, no one has yet defaced this mural and most everyone could think of something good to do with all the cash and phone cards.
A mural is analogous to a billboard. It is essentially an advertisement selling an ideal instead of a product. Various institutions advertise their ideals in the public sphere. These billboards are interpreted differently by those who randomly pass them. Placing murals strategically can cater to and please those who identify with the ideology the work subtly advertises. However society is constantly renegotiating its values, the murals imagery is static but interpretations are dynamic and diverse. Not recognizing and respecting the long term impacts of social comments generated by the images, instead commissioning them to fulfill personal, political or marketing agendas is a damn shame and basically government funded graffiti.
John Taggart, Trevor Dyck, Carley Richardson, Claire Howard, Christine Burt
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