Location: Citadel Theatre (interior, just inside south-facing entrance at stairwell)
Balbir Singh Katt was one of ten artists invited to Edmonton to create artwork for the Commonwealth Sculpture Symposium, as part of the 1978 Commonwealth Games. The Games were not only a sporting event but also an opportunity to develop a cultural interchange program among the diverse countries and cultures of the Commonwealth nations. While many smaller countries were unable to compete in the athletic events, they were included in cultural activities such as the Sculpture Symposium. The Symposium’s objectives were to create a cultural context for the games as well as provide a permanent memento in the form of sculpture, enhancing the city’s environment and raising public awareness of sculpture.
The Symposium took place from July 1 to August 15, 1978. The artists worked in the public eye at two work sites at the University of Alberta constructing six wooden sculptures at the Main Quadrangle (“Quad”), and welding four metal sculptures at the Fine Arts Building. Due to difficulties sourcing suitable local wood, much of the wood was donated by BC lumber companies as well as the Vancouver Parks Board. Logs were carefully selected and cut according to artist specifications. Hundreds of people witnessed the evolution of these sculptures on a daily basis. Local art students were employed as artists’ assistants, and sculptors. Staff met at lunchtime picnics to share ideas, report on progress, and sometimes play Frisbee.
The Commonwealth Sculpture Symposium fore-stage promised the sculptors a rare opportunity of coming together from vastly separate parts of the world to exchange ideas. The background music was a pindrop silence of friendship. The hatchets, chainsaws, drills and torches struck amazingly perfect to the ever watchful eye of the movie camera. The North American touch being the wonder of transmuting the exchange of ideas, in remarkable elegance of speed into an exchange of models, where, to naive Edmontonians, the more savage was proclaimed a greater Messiah, with the extravagance of an historic opulance. Everyone was happy and applauding.
I agree with a fellow Canadian participant, who insisted that I, by choice, created conditions identical to those back home of an elaborate frenzied arrangement of work. Mine may be the only product, perhaps scared of strange climate, that will incidentally not even have to encounter a redeeming fall of snow. I would have titled it, for that matter, a “scaresnow”. But when I overheard the epilogue that people who applaud thrice are no fools, I could not be scared away – especially when mine will be installed in the lobby of a theatre. Hence untitled.
(Commonwealth Sculpture Symposium – Conference Publication)
Biography: Balbir Singh Katt was born in 1939 in Rawalpindi, India (present-day Pakistan). He graduated from Vishwabharati University (Santiniketan) and the Royal College of Art (London, UK). In 1999, Katt left his home for a walk and never returned. At the time, he was Professor of Sculpture, and the Faculty of Fine Arts Dean at Banaras Hindu University in Varanasi, India. Much mystery circulates around his disappearance, as he vanished at a time when he was actively opposing corruption within the university.
Photo Credit: Ester Malzahn