Public art installation tackles harbour fence

Andrew Robinson
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Artist says phrase adorning controversial St. John’s structure open to interpretation

Sean Martindale was one of the presenting artists for Eastern Edge Gallery’s annual Art Marathon Festival in St. John’s. The festival concluded on Sunday. Martindale’s public art installation adorned the security fence at St. John’s harbour.
— Photos by Andrew Robinson/The Telegram

One of the presenting artists for the annual Art Marathon Festival in St. John’s applied his skills to a structure whose existence has been a point of contention for some residents of the city.

Toronto-based artist Sean Martindale used snow fence and black paint to drape a large banner over the St. John’s Port Authority’s (SJPA) harbour fence. Its message, spread across the equivalent of six parking spaces, reads, “What Lies Between Us.”

Martindale, who is originally from Vancouver Island, said he mulled over a number of options for the phrase he would display on the fence.

“Some were a little bit cheesier puns using ‘fence’ or different words that relate to the fence,” said Martindale, an interdisciplinary artist whose work often makes use of public spaces. “Some were a bit more directly critical, but I wanted to do something that was a little bit more open to interpretation rather than ram something down one’s throat.”

Since arriving in St. John’s earlier this month to participate in the Eastern Edge Gallery’s annual festival, Martindale has been speaking with people about the fence. He also researched the fence prior to his arrival.

“The majority of people either seem to be confused by it or really don’t want it here,” he said. “I have talked to a couple of people that said they liked it, although I couldn’t get them to go into greater detail.”

While Martindale does see that the phrase he ultimately settled on can be taken on one level to be critical of the fence, he feels it does not tell people what to think.

“It can be read more as a poetic phrase that’s not necessarily speaking about the controversy about the fence,” he said.

Some critics have complained the $1-million fence unnecessarily limits public access to the harbourfront area. Questions have also been raised about the City of

St. John’s decision to help fund its construction to the tune of $425,000.

SJPA has said the fence is necessary in order to maintain its International Ship and Port Facility Certification and to accommodate foreign-flagged vessels and cruise ships destined for St. John’s harbour. While the port authority could have used a chain-link fence, it decided to construct the iron fence to make it more attractive to the public.

The finished fence will cover approximately 50 per cent of Harbour Drive.

Since setting up his art installation on Saturday across from the Eastern Edge Gallery, Martindale has received some feedback from random people passing by his work.

“They saw that I was looking at the fence, so they started talking to me about it, and again, really people seem disappointed that they can’t access the harbour anymore and that the view has been reduced.”

Martindale, who obtained permission from SJPA to display his work on the fence, said the materials used to construct it are durable and that it is up to the port authority and the public to decide how long his work will be displayed.

“I’ll be happy to take it down if I’m told that I have to, but otherwise, I would like to see it stay up for a little while,” he said.

The Art Marathon Festival concluded Sunday.

Organizations: Eastern Edge Gallery, Port Authority

Geographic location: Toronto, Vancouver Island, Port Facility Certification

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Recent comments

  • John
    August 19, 2013 - 16:56

    Beautiful piece. Keep it up! Ms Reality: I'm sure this art was funded with much less money than it's costing the taxpayer to put up this monstrosity of a fence! Excellent job by the artist and gallery. This is exactly what art is supposed to do. As to your sentiment "If you don't like it... DON'T LOOK AT IT", you could say the same thing about this artwork, so why does it make you so angry? But, the difference with the fence is that it's going to be there all the time. Nobody is giving us an option. The planned fence will permanently scar St John's Harbour front and will be there whenever you look to the water (or, heaven forbid, try to access it!)

  • ms reality
    August 19, 2013 - 14:39

    I am so disappointed with this display. It makes me sick to see such talented artists take advantage of a 24 hour art festival. I hope the City of St. Johns did not fund such an embarrassment. If they did, I hope it is the last financial support Eastern Art receives. The fence is being constructed. The deal is done. If you don't like it... DONT LOOK AT IT.

    • Jim
      August 19, 2013 - 16:59

      Who's taking advantage here? I'm pretty sure the artist was invited here to do this project.

  • Jim
    August 19, 2013 - 12:02

    Nice work!

  • Jim
    August 19, 2013 - 12:00

    Nice work!

  • Jim
    August 19, 2013 - 11:51

    Nice work!