An Artwalk to Remember

Aside from the breathtaking mountain views, and the occasional flourishes of nature, beauty and Simon Fraser are two words that people generally don’t put side by side. Most people have probably heard an SFU prison joke — with the brutalist, concrete design of the Burnaby campus —  and certainly, it can be gloomy in the winter months. And it seems almost everyday someone complains about the school’s commuter culture — SFU is not known for its culture or art.

That’s why Artwalk may just be one of the university’s best kept secrets.

What is Artwalk? Well, it is a public art initiative located in UniverCity which began in 2006 by the SFU Community Trust, starting with the piece Concrete Tree Imprint.  The art initiative is composed of eight pieces that are so subtle and integrated into the buildings and area it resides in, that most people have probably walked by without even realizing that they were witnessing art pieces.

“The artist is trying to integrate art into the community as opposed to being in your face,” said Angela Nielsen, Director of Communications for the SFU Community Trust.

Jesse Galicz, the manager of development for UniverCity and the program manager for the Public Art program adds that there is a recent trend in public art towards integrating art into the environment so that it feels like it is natural to the community.

Public art is important for a budding community, because it creates social sustainability, and a sense of community culture. When there is art and culture in a community such as UniverCity, it creates a community spirit — this was the intent of Artwalk. When nurturing the public art installation, Galicz and Nielsen said they wanted to be “builder[s] of community, not just buildings.”  Their belief is that public art should not just be aesthetically pleasing, but it should also “give people something to care about, [ . . . and] foster [a] sense of community.”

Artwalk is so embedded into its community that many of its residents don’t even realize that they are a part of this walking art display.

EcoSoMo by Matthew Soules


This piece is the most recent addition to Artwalk and was unveiled June 16, 2015. The art project consists of thirteen pieces, essentially smaller sculptural clusters comprised of concrete. Matthew Soules, the leader of the project, is an artist and architect from West Vancouver. EcoSoMo may seem like a strange title, but that’s because it’s really an abbreviation for Ecological Social Modules. The series of sculptures are spread out on the path from University High Street to Tower and Crescent. On their own, the sculptures may at first glance look like individual puzzle pieces, but when given a closer look the pieces work together and symbolize the exchange between people, the environment and reflect the passage of time. Fun fact: each concrete sculpture has information about Burnaby Mountain engraved on it in the Roman alphabet, braille and pictographic lettering. Furthermore, these pieces have a practical use — some have places to sit while waiting for friends, and one piece functions as a place to leave trinkets or share objects. Now it has become an unofficial lost and found for the residents of UniverCity.

Nest with Chrome Eggs by Bruce Voyce


The title of this piece gives the mystery away — it’s a nest with chrome eggs. The Nest is unique in that it was commissioned by the city of Burnaby. In fact, this piece was installed before the public art initiative at SFU began. This goes to show that the community that Artwalk belongs to encompasses a much larger community and local history beyond the boundaries of the UniverCity community. Bruce Voyce, the artist of the Nest, is also famous for being the artist that did the Guardian Eagles piece on Marine Way in Burnaby. The piece is supposed to be a celebration of life as seen with the eggs who are in a prebirth stage. It gives off a sense of possibility of life and presents beauty in something familiar — eggs in a nest — a sight we may have walked by on our way to school or work and not really given too much thought about. The piece consists of a metal bird’s nest that is placed into an already existing tree stump, and highlights the importance of embedding public art into the natural environment.


Near As Far As Near by Devon Knowles


Devon Knowles is the recipient of a Mayor’s art award and this piece was one of the works she was judged on. Near as Far as Near consists of a series of banners that appear slightly different in colour depending on the direction the viewer is coming from. The banners  feature different perspectives of SFU and use a colour contrast to show that difference. The colours of these banners not only change as one moves up or down High Street but also with the seasons. The banners are green in the cold of winter and bright blue and purple in the heat of summer. The green of the winter banners juxtaposes with the gloomy winter landscape, while the purple and blue banners are a reminder of the cool-toned winter weather during the summer months.

Nightswimming by Brent Comers


The title gives off an image like no other. Named after a childhood memory the artist had, Nightswimming is conveniently situated in front of the University Childcare Center and functions as a bench for people to wait for their children. But it isn’t just any ordinary wooden bench, as the wood taken for its artistic use was repurposed. Additionally, a staircase design is hewn into the heavy wood to facilitate its use by children who may not have legs long enough to comfortably sit otherwise.  Just the simple idea of taking wood in itself and reimagining it into something that can be used for practical purposes and be visually appealing has an air of childlike creativity and imagination to it. To a child it may not even be a bench, but a tightrope and they are the tightrope walker suspended high above the ground. In this way, this piece of art serves to foster the imagination of the children in the community.

Rootwad Cellar Climber by Warren Brubacher


This piece is a massive repurposed driftwood stump which the artist has smoothed out to show where the roots pushed through the rock and hard soil. In essence, the history of the massive stump is revealed in the marks it carries from its life as a living tree before the logging of the Squamish rainforest.


Concrete Tree Imprint by Amelia Epp and Kevin Sandgren


Concrete Tree Imprint was installed in 2006 and gets the honorary title of being the first piece of public art that was initiated by the SFU Community Trust. The piece was created by then-SFU undergraduates, Amelia Epp and Kevin Sandgren, who studied Fine Arts and Humanities respectively. The tree at the centre of this piece was felled for the development of UniverCity, and the students created a cement mold of it to preserve it as artwork.  Slowly, forest developed around it, and it will eventually be overwhelmed by nature. It symbolizes the birth and growth of UniverCity along with the natural cycles of Burnaby Mountain.

Yellow Fence by Erica Stocking


This piece is found incorporated into the UniverCity complex itself.  Each of the gates are slightly different, starting out fairly simply at one end of the complex, but as you progress down the lane, the design of the gates becomes more abstract. Out of the entire lane of gates, only one is painted bright yellow. This piece is deeply embedded in the UniverCity complex, as the gates have actual use for the residents. Additionally, the name Yellow Fence shares its name with the company that provides fencing for construction sites, creating a link to the construction of UniverCity itself. While UniverCity was being built, the artist went for a stroll on one of Simon Fraser’s characteristically foggy days, and was guided by the length of yellow fence which surrounded the construction area, giving her the inspiration for Yellow Fence.


Woven Huts by Alastair Heseltine


Made from repurposed cedar branches cast off by logging corporations, this interactive piece of art is striking.  Alastair Heseltine has taken these scraps and woven them — a type of construction known as wattling — in order to create striking huts reaching up to eight feet in height.  These huts are accessible and have enough space to accommodate several individuals.  Furthermore, these huts are reinforced by a metal foundation, so these structures can support the weight of people on top of them, swinging from them as well as withstand the weather.  Truly, this piece is an exploration of the potential of ancient cedar.

Future Installation: Cosmic Chandelier


The Artwalk initiative is one that is far from done. “The public art project will continue with the ongoing development of Univercity, [. . .] what I hope to see is a maturation of the public art program itself and the art it facilitates on Burnaby Mountain,” said Galicz. Here’s one piece that’s coming soon: Cosmic Chandelier.

This piece is an exciting new entry into the already lively public art display. It will use lighting and steel structures to build a chandelier in an open space of the plaza. Interesting enough, the piece will actually mimic the Orion constellation. It is looking at a summer 2016 installation. So look out for it and who knows, maybe you’ll be allowed to swing from it!