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Human Structures McGill: The New Kids on the Block

by Tara Allen Flanagan

La Balade pour la Paix: An Open-air Museum was a public exhibit that extended along Sherbrooke street and McGill’s campus as a part of the city’s various birthday celebrations. McGill’s front lawns were host to a colorful array of sculptures and public art installations this past summer, although most of the artworks have now returned to their permanent collections. Two works remain, having won the title of true survivor in a battle of wits and being too heavy to move without a crane.

Nestled between the constant construction and the Burnside building, Human Structures Vancouver is one of the two works left on campus for students and the public to enjoy. Those who wanted a more in-depth story of the works could attend free biweekly tours offered by the McGill Visual Arts Collection and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts throughout the summer and fall, and for those who missed out an informational plaque is situated next to the sculpture. Full disclaimer: I was one of the tour guides who gave tours of these and other sculptures during the fall as an intern at the Visual Arts Collection. Unless, of course, you went on one of my tours and didn’t like it, in which case I gave no tours, that wasn’t me, you have the wrong girl, I have to go.

Disclaimer aside, my tour giving days left me with a head full of information but no one to speak at through a microphone about it. So now I’m going to write about one of them, instead.

The gang is all here.

Human Structures Vancouver is a massive installation piece by American sculptor Jonathan Borofsky and is comprised of sixty-four galvanized steel figures. Each of these figures is painted and bolted together to form a pyramid shape, with a few groups off to the side enjoying not being stepped on. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, this work was originally displayed in Vancouver. This sculpture is a part of a series of sculptures found in cities worldwide; all of the structures are made up of pixelated colorful humanoid figures.

This sculpture was created for the Vancouver Bienniale in 2016/2016 with the event’s theme of openness and crossroads as a focal point. Human Structures Vancouver was placed in Hinge Park, next to the Olympic Village, in order to celebrate the village’s revival as a thriving ecofriendly community. The pixelated figures evoke interconnectedness in the digital age, a welcome change from narratives of technology ruining modern relationships.

This sculpture is a bright and cheerful reminder of the possibilities of human interaction on a massive scale; one could also interpret it as two groups of four friends escaping from a pyramid scheme presentation. Either way, the sculpture brightens up the dreary grey snow and buildings of McGill in the springtime.

If you ever have a minute, walk between the figures and look up at the structure as you do so. It feels eerily calming and protective, as if you are a part of a community striving to create greater things. I find it can be hard to think of myself as something more than an insignificant student at McGill, who is just one out of thousands of students trudging in and out of the university year after year in search of a degree. Classes are stressful, and everyone seems like they have their life together except for me. Do my best efforts even come close to the last-minute work of others? When I leave this place, will I know more about myself than I do now, and will I be able to get a job in a field I like? Is the stress worth it?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, and neither do the pixelated figures towering above me. Standing between them and contemplating my existence isn’t going to solve my worries, but it’s fun and new and different and I feel a bit better about my life after doing it.

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