One of Canada’s largest software companies recently selected a professor and artist from Brock University to create a public artwork reflecting themes of “loss” during the pandemic.
Donna Szoke, Associate Professor of Studio Art at Brock’s Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts (MIWSFPA) has been chosen by OpenText Corporation to create new artwork dedicated to their pandemic-affected employees and pay tribute to the lives lost to COVID-19.
The Waterloo-based company wanted to commission and support a Canadian artist and launched a national call for the project in 2021. Szoke was immediately drawn to the unconventional call for creating public art in a corporate context.
Through a creative and personal exploration of themes related to the pandemic and their impact on mental health, Szoke created his proposal and designs for The Tree of Breathing. Inspired by the concept of ‘box breathing’, used to calm anxiety, and Szoke’s desire to be in nature, the idea for a backlit sculpture in the shape of a tree was born.
The tree sculpture is made of stainless steel that was digitally cut and attached to the wall in the OpenText lobby that employees pass by every day. The work, which appears as a tree and its reflection, invites viewers to a meditative moment while immersing themselves in the work.
With a resemblance to lungs, the sculpture also connects with the respiratory nature of COVID-19. Lit from behind, the room glows with soft purple and blue lights that fade and brighten every six seconds. Timed colored lights subtly invite viewers to breathe with the tree.
“As a testament to the lives lost to COVID-19, it gives us a moment of introspection with nature, grounding us in our own breath and our own lived moment where life, loss, love, grief and resilience are inextricably linked,” Szoke said. in his artist statement.
Szoke worked with local fabricator Ramm Design to cut the steel for the sculpture, and Hamilton-based electrical engineer and artist Jim Ruxton to create the timed electronics illuminating the artwork in a highly collaborative process. With a technical degree in foundry, Szoke is familiar with the material steel, although the cutting techniques used are new to her.
Szoke’s works become teaching tools for his Studio Art classes. In the Visual Arts course VISA 3Q91 – Research Seminar, Szoke models the process of creating public works of art, from design inspiration to fabrication, including the techniques and tools she employs in the process.
The virtual opening for The Tree of Breathing took place in December, with the participation of 10,000 OpenText employees. The permanent installation includes a plate sharing the details of the room.
Szoke has also recently received a Canada Games grant as well as an Ontario Arts Council grant for new work, both coming in 2022-23.