Meet Anna Frlan, the Artist Responsible for the Latest Art Installation in Ottawa’s Original Downtown
January 5, 2024
Throughout the past decade or so, Ottawa has consistently found itself ranked amongst some of the best cities to live in Canada. There are many reasons for this, including its development into a knowledge economy, its conscientiousness with respect to environmental matters and more. One reason that often gets cited, however, is the fact that Ottawa is simply a beautiful city to be in.
Having said that, there’s more to Ottawa’s beauty than its parks and rivers. Year round, local artists work hard to captivate audiences with public art installations that seamlessly mesh cutting-edge contemporary aesthetics with both the natural and hand-built components of Ottawa’s rich and vibrant history.
One of these installations can be seen now at the bus shelters outside the Rideau Centre. These pieces, which are named “The Navigators (Bees, Birds and Butterflies)” are the product of an artistic vision by local artist Anna Frlan.
Turning Heads and Changing Minds
Over 170 municipal buildings and outdoor spaces throughout the Nation’s Capital are constantly hosting various works of art from the City of Ottawa Art Collection. One such space already exists here in Ottawa’s Original Downtown! Corridor 45|75 is located in the Rideau LRT Station and is one of three gallery spaces managed and programmed by the Public Art Program that displays a variety of artworks.
“Transit related projects,” Hannah Kingscote of the City of Ottawa’s Public Art Program explains, “inspire and create dialogue about the role of art in our city and enhance the transit experience across Ottawa.”
The Public Art Program’s aspirations for Rideau Street are not limited to the transit system, however. Over the past three years, the Program has been hard at work conceptualizing and executing its public art commission project for the Rideau Street and William Street renewal, which Hannah explains is a streetscaping strategy that “acknowledges the historic nature of the [Rideau Street and William Street] corridor, in addition to incorporating contemporary elements to ensure a timeless design.”
It was this mentality of merging the historical with the modern that influenced the Program’s decision to select Anna Frlan’s proposal. Her background in using metal and welding techniques provided the foundation for a piece that could both reflect and endure the environment in which it would be placed, celebrating the history of Rideau Street while also serving a vital functional purpose.
A Steely Resolve to Intrigue and Inspire
Anna’s introduction to steel came about while completing her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at the University of Ottawa. After discovering the welding shop in the university’s sculpture department, she began to learn the foundations of welding and plasma cutting. “I challenge myself with each new sculpture to expand my repertoire of techniques,” she recalls. “As an artist, my approach is to invent new ways of using the tools. My goal is to always transform the material.”
Today, she has refined those techniques into a process that encompasses all aspects of research, conceptualization, and resource procuration. “The process always starts with an image,” she says. “I trust that I can create the images in three-dimensional reality no matter how impossible the task may seem to be.
“I need to continuously make revisions during the process until the final form is achieved.”
Anna also procures her steel from Ottawa-based suppliers Loucon Metal Ltd., making all aspects of her work truly representative of the local community.
For “The Navigators,” Anna took inspiration from much of the naturally occurring phenomena within the National Capital Region, noting the striking similarities between their behaviours and OC Transpo. “Rideau Street is a busy, high traffic transportation corridor…both the bus drivers and passengers need access to information to navigate their journeys,” she notes.
“I also imagined what existed before Rideau Street was established and this led me to think about nature and how creatures fly from one flower to the next.”
Each of the three installations outside of the Rideau bus shelters is designed to represent a separate living organism. The northernmost shelter near William Street features a design that connects the flight paths of bees to bus route #6, one of the busiest routes servicing that stop.
The southwest shelter’s design celebrates the butterfly and the theoretical use of metal filings within its abdomen to maintain an awareness of Earth’s magnetic field when navigating its environment.
Finally, the southeast shelter installation highlights birds; “Through their filoplumes,” Anna explains, “birds sense weather conditions such as air pressure and wind speed. Equally, bus drivers need to assess the weather to ensure safe journeys journey for their passengers.”
Beyond the sculptures’ aesthetic appeal, Anna’s aim with her work is to challenge what she calls the “perceived industrial nature of steel” and convey the artistic potential of steel. “I consistently strive to reveal how steel can be transformed,” she asserts.
“When we see something that we do not expect, it can cause us to reassess our assumptions and to see new possibilities. Our collective imagination has the power to change the world.”