Winnipeg Arts Council

Light Through

"Light Through is an artwork that consists of sixteen 350 cm tall stainless steel structures that cover the four bridge piers.  These structures contain photographs depicting the history of the bridge and its surroundings. To perforate the stainless steel panels, I had developed software to translate the photographic images into patterns of holes. When light shines through these holes, the photographs are distinctly revealed, and picture the lively public interaction with the bridge since 1959.

I have long been fascinated with Winnipeg native Marshall McLuhan’s idea in Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man [1964]. McLuhan said: ‘The content of a medium is always another medium.’ For me, it is not a great stretch to include this bridge, because McLuhan’s notion of media included all technological extensions of humankind. He not only opined that the content of a medium is always another medium but, at first, a new medium will have the same content as the older prior medium. For instance numerous early moveable-type print books were handwriting style manuals, just as early hand-written manuscripts were actually lists of oratory topics.

Here I started with photo-based images of the previous bridge. The procedure for gathering and sorting out the photographs is quite simple: search various archives for photographic representations that include images of the original 1959 bridge. Incidentally the richest trove of archival photos turned out to be in a City of Winnipeg Engineering Department binder of photographs taken during the construction of the 1959 bridge. During my archival search I became increasingly aware that our present would unavoidably become the past. I decided that a compelling exercise would be to mirror archival images with new present-day documentary photographs. This part of the project was a collaborative effort with Winnipeg artist William Eakin.

I have used a perforated half-tone dot system as a method of rendering the photo-based images. Developing this method echoes McLuhan’s characterization of media as either Hot or Cool. For instance, ‘hot’ would be highly resolved full colour, continuous tone, pronounced detail, etc. ‘Cool’ by the same logic, would require greater participatory effort on the part of the viewer.  A black and white photograph with low resolution will evoke a greater degree of active input and engagement by the viewers as they bring meaning to the image.

The Light Through depictions also result from searching through various archives for images that are both iconic and graphic. An iconic image for example would be something like the image of the ‘Diver’ with the marked contrast of its figure-against-ground composition; it is also jarring and seemingly out-of-place (I associate this kind of gear with sponge fishing in the tropics.). Images that stand out in such a way work best with the low-resolution nature of the perforation process. Because the potential effect of an image dictates my choice of image, the induced meaning is happenstance rather than imposed by me at the outset. This ’found object’ approach replaces intention with discovery. This is what matters to me in McLuhan’s insight about ‘medium cool’: the meaning of the work emerges out of the ways in which a given viewer engages with it.

The actual significance of the artwork, however, derives from the importance of the bridge itself. Winnipeg, as a river city, not only thrives because of its bridges but also derives an important part of its identity from the variety of its bridges. Think of the storied Arlington Bridge, the striking design of Esplanade Riel Bridge and now this graceful addition to the main arterial expressway and bridge that is the Disraeli. The artwork simply celebrates something that is itself significant and it does so at an important moment in its life, by looking back to the bridge’s origins and forward into the future.”

- Bernie Miller, Artist

Download the information sheet about Light Through ( pdf)

Bernie Miller

Bernie Miller was born in Toronto. He graduated from the Ontario College of Art in 1974. In Toronto he is represented by Paul Petro Contemporary Art and was a director at YYZ Artist’s Outlet for 16 years. Bernie’s work has been exhibited in the USA, France, Italy, Sweden, Austria, Poland and Germany. Bernie has been commissioned to create major public artworks in Toronto, Vancouver and Edmonton. In 2006 Bernie and Melony Ward co-edited Crime and Ornament: The Arts and Popular Culture in the Shadow of Adolf Loos. Bernie lives in Winnipeg and serves on the board of Plug In Institute of Contemporary Art.

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