Talking Poles

The Talking Poles public art installation, located on both sides of 68th Avenue at the Serpentine Greenway in Newton, Surrey B.C. Canada, commemorates a community dialogue project that transpired over the spring of 2009. The exterior of the two poles is emblazoned with symbolic imagery and words, denoting “peace” and “love” respectively, in languages used throughout the Newton community: Arabic, Chinese, Spanish, Hindi, Korean, Punjabi, French, and English. Also included are iconic First Nations symbols representing these terms, and their translations into binary code, in order to represent the role digital technology plays in contemporary human life.

Talking Poles: Love (2009). A collaboration between Lorna Boschman, Victoria Moulder,  T’Uy’Tanat-Cease Wyss and local community members who shared their voices and drumming. The background image was created by Akash Murgai and covers the Talking Pole: Love; the audio contains clips created in collaboration with community members; sound design by Take 5.

The language and imagery of the poles evokes the learnings and knowledge disseminated through the activities of an artist team consisting of Lorna Boschman, Victoria Moulder, and T’Uy’Tanat-Cease Wyss. These artists came together in late 2008 to propose a dialogue-based art program as a response to the City of Surrey’s designation as a Cultural Capital of Canada in 2009.

The practices of each artist are oriented specifically toward the relationship between the arts, community, and technology: Lorna Boschman, an interdisciplinary artist and researcher, has focused much of her research on how artists can use technology to better the health and well-being of communities; Victoria Moulder, an instructor at the Simon Fraser University Schools of Interactive Arts and Technology, studies the role of design, digital interfaces, and site-specific art in community engagement; and T’Uy’Tanat-Cease Wyss is a Skwxw’u7mesh media artist, activist, educator and ethnobotanist, whose practice focuses on the use of site-specific, culturally focused teaching through storytelling. Together, these artists conceived of the Talking Poles project as a means to galvanize a sense of community in the particular area of West Newton in which it is situated, by inviting local residents to express themselves via storytelling. This ethos lends itself to the name of the project, which refers to the talking stick, an item used in Indigenous speaking traditions in order to impart importance and respect upon whoever holds it.

Talking Poles: Peace (2009). A collaboration between Lorna Boschman, Victoria Moulder,  T’Uy’Tanat-Cease Wyss and local community members who shared their voices and drumming. The background image was created by Akash Murgai and covers the Talking Pole: Peace; the audio contains clips created in collaboration with community members; sound design by Take 5.

By working with people from the area, two themes were chosen – Love and Peace – these words are displayed in ten languages on the Poles. Pedestrians approaching the Pole trigger a sensor, activating prerecorded audio clips by local residents sending messages to future generations. Joining us was translator and artist TJ Grewal who helped us communicate with community members who provided audio recordings. Most of the audio pieces created for the Love and Peace themed Talking Poles were developed and recorded in this way.

To involve participants, we contacted a number of local community groups, schools and spiritual leaders; developed iconography with a university visual art class; worked with high school design students; and organized a World Drumming Day event at a First Nations housing co-op. To engage residents who walked along the Greenway, we designed a Talking Pole prototype and placed it on location. With printed brochures in hand, we stood in front of the prototype inviting people to sit at a table and to talk with us.

We collaborated with youth attending Tamanawis Secondary School. They told us what inspires them and wrote poetry for the project.

We met with Acharya S. P. Dwivedi who sang two poems on the themes of love and peace.

June Clearsky invited our collaborators to join her on 21 March World Drumming Day. June shares messages of love and peace.

Kwantlen Polytechnic University Fine Art instructor Sibeal Foyle and her second-year students developed design proposals that helped to inform our final design.

Thanks to Sandra Dent who was our liaison with the City of Surrey.

Bobbi Kozinuk who assembled the electronics, Mike Vandermeer and Cheryl Hamilton from i.e. creative who fabricated the poles, and Akash Murgai who created the vinyl design and opening invitation.
Public artwork commissioned by the City of Surrey as part of Cultural Capital of Canada designation