Art in the Embassy

 

The Canada House in London rests in a palatial building at the corner of Trafalgar Square. The building itself, built in the 19th Century by the same architect who designed the British Museum, is one that emits a strong sense of power and presence befitting of what King George V described as a “mighty nation” at its 1925 opening. The grandness of the Neo-Classical-style building beautifully represents Canada on its own, but there are carefully selected elements within the House which speak even more so to the values the nation wishes to represent to its international visitors and governmental neighbors, while simultaneously supporting traditional Canadian craftsmen and artists alike.

Works of art cover virtually all the surfaces within Canada House, each highly unique and representative of the cultural melting pot that it is. To my knowledge, it’s pretty atypical of an international embassy to have such a large collection of artworks and art objects on its premises, but the significance that these pieces play in crafting the nation’s image seems worthwhile.

Artist Omer Arbel designed a lighting installation for the main stairwell consisting of 57 handmade amorphous glass bulbs, tangled within a mess of wires that branch out in all directions, maybe representing abstracted balls of snow? I’m honestly not sure on that one, but regardless, it’s a crazy, engaging installation that leads guests up through the building’s center.

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“57.157”, Omer Arbel
Image courtesy of Gwenael Lewis

Within four meeting and reception rooms of the Canada House are custom-made rugs commissioned after Canadian artworks, representative of the national landscape and terrain. The pieces speak directly to a specific region, such as Nova Scotia, Vancouver, or British Columbia. In the Macdonald Room, a massive 38′ by 26′ piece was commissioned by Creative Matters after Sean William Randall’s 2011 “Foothill”. It’s a surprisingly contemporary display of decorative design in a governmental setting, and to me serves as a demonstration of the Canadian government’s willingness to embrace the arts as an expression of the national identities of its nation’s creative craftsmen. It’s a demonstration of the fondness and appreciation that Canadian officials have for their country, and for those able to capture its unique beauty.

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Rug designed after Randall’s “Foothill”, the Macdonald Room
Image courtesy of Creative Matters

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“Foothill”, Sean William Randall, 2011

Canada House doesn’t just support the arts in its redesign, but also embraces the direction of art toward the future and its inherent nature to provoke curiosity. It’s a home for the display of contemporary works that are often abstract, conceptual, and challenging. When I think of the art displayed in other governmental settings such as senate houses or capital buildings, these aren’t the worlds I associate. More traditional displays of art are often easy to understand in their literal depictions of place and time. They shy away from leaving room for interpretation on the viewer’s part. By embracing a contemporary collection, Canadian officials show the rest of the world a spirit of innovation and bravery in welcoming what other’s are too unsure of.

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