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Peter von Tiesenhausen’s Epic Art

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Things I Knew to be True, 2019 by Peter von Tiesenhausen; Stanley A. Milner Library Image credit: Laughing Dog Photography

Peter von Tiesenhausen, a Lieutenant Governor of Alberta 2015 Distinguished Artist, spent the past six months hunkered down in Demmit Alberta building a deluxe playground for the community center – and musing about connectedness, the importance of social interaction and his role as an artist in the social contract.

Peter’s last project prior to the March 2020 COVID-19 lockdown was the installation of Things I Knew to be True in the newly renovated Stanley A. Milner Public Library, part of the City of Edmonton’s public art collection. The work is a wall-mounted ‘epic paragraph’ of 822 characters in the form of abstracted human figures. To develop these, von Tiesenhausen revisited a repetitive design process he had explored more than a decade earlier – using a basic stick figure, he scratched his thoughts, beliefs, and daily observations in this abstracted text onto charred pieces of whitewashed wood. “As you scratched through the fragile whitewash, pieces would chip away and expose images I could not anticipate.” Each figure – though begun with the same basic shape – was made individual by the process.

For the library installation, these figures were reimagined in steel salvaged from industrial oilfield fabrication. “I wanted whatever I made to have the lowest environmental impact possible.” In addition to using recycled steel, the entire work was fabricated in a shop and with tools driven by solar energy. As each of the 822 figures was traced, plasma cut, edge-grinded, it went through its own translation, allowing the hands of the scribe to be seen on every one.

His goals for the installation were to create something meaningful and lasting that would address the times we live in and reflect on writing and the craft of the scribe. Things I Knew to be True in its abstracted yet familiar form, encourages the viewer’s own musings on knowledge, interpretation and understanding. “My hope is that someone looking at this piece would put their own words into the spaces as they reflect on it.” His original scratched meditations had focused on the environment and our impact on it, though he no longer recalls the specific words he’d been expressing. The work’s title also asks viewers to consider how our perspectives change over time and with new knowledge. “We are all looking for some kind of harmony – what beliefs could shift from things we thought were irrefutable? How can we lift each other up to see this incredible place we live in?”

He has yet to see the piece surrounded by the stacks of books in a library populated with patrons. That day will come – it will bring Things I Knew to be True alive for the artist in ways he likely cannot yet imagine.

Things I Knew to be True, 2019 by Peter von Tiesenhausen; Stanley A. Milner Library Image credit: Laughing Dog Photography

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