Tributaries is an 11’ x 20’ mosaic, made up of over 60,000 custom ¾” ceramic tiles by Winnipeg-based artist Simon Hughes. It references a network of waterways, the human brain, a suburban development, an earlier and now destroyed public artwork, and (most obviously) a maze.
The history of mazes as a visual element in tile mosaics goes back to Roman times. In Tributaries, Hughes uses the maze as a way to show the process of learning and acquiring information, which is what a library is fundamentally about, despite advances in technology and delivery systems for information. Scientists have long used mazes as a way of mapping the changes of the brain itself, with its neural pathways containing various nuggets of information and past learning.
The mosaic’s imagery also makes reference to the history of the surrounding area. The southeastern post-war suburbs of Winnipeg represented a break with the traditional planning of the city, and their streets take twists and turns rather than forming a grid, as in many older sections of the city. It is also an area bisected by a tributary, like so many neighbourhoods in this city.
The pattern and palette of the maze directly reference a tile mosaic executed by artist and U of M professor George Swinton in the 1960s for the Portage Avenue façade of the Sears store at Polo Park Shopping Centre. In Hughes's previous work, there are numerous references to the memory of small, local histories in the face of development, and here he reanimates Swinton’s work in the service of something new.
Periodically throughout the mosaic, certain sections depict more literal, stylized imagery – icebergs, a tipi encampment, a crocus flower, a great grey owl, an evergreen forest, a river, seagulls, an ice cave, a gemstone, and Canada geese.
The role of the library is always evolving and there are many interpretations of the nature of that role. Ironically, however, what the artist intended as a non-literal metaphor can also quite easily be read as a labyrinth network of bookshelves!
Tributaries was commissioned in conjunction with development of the new Windsor Park Library. Designed by David Penner and h5a architecture, it is the first new library to be built in Winnipeg in nearly ten years and opened to the public on March 15, 2018. The artwork was celebrated at a reception with the artist on April 17, 2018.
In the Media:
- CBC Manitoba, posted March 15, 2018: Bigger, brighter, more accessible: New Windsor Park Library opens doors
- Classic107.com, posted March 15, 2018: New library opens in Windsor Park
- Winnipeg Free Press, posted March 15, 2018: New chapter for Windsor Park Library