626 Main Street
"Three Sisters"- Anders Swanson's winning design for Mural Fest 2k6, rendered in 2006. The vinyl Mural still exists , but was removed from the building a day to 2 prior to the building's demolition in May, 2008.
Original notes follow.
In March of 2006, Anders Swanson submitted the following synopsis in support of his
"Three Sisters" submission to the Mural Fest 2K6 competition.
"This Mural is about human intervention and participation in the landscape. It is an
attempt at a reckoning --- by way of sampling the living landscape's perspective on the
cultural history it has seen and by cataloguing/reasserting the presence of the inhabitants
of that landscape."
"The setting is Manitoba. The living surface in this case is populated by over 300 of
Manitoba's native plant species, including mushrooms, lichens, mosses, most of the
orchids and all of the trees. An individual member of a species exists as a coloured line
drawing reflecting its overall shape, texture, leaves and flowers. Each plant is located
with respect to its particular geographic and micro-climatic needs. The resultant
landscape looks surreal because it is a cross-section of habitats. I believe this part of the
Mural fulfills a desire to 'heal' the gap made in the landscape by such a large object
(Mural/building) and that it has value as a learning tool."
"The living human presence is represented by three sisters. This is also a reference to the
three plants they are caring for: corn, beans and squash. These three species, developed
into food staples by, and, to a certain extent, responsible for, thousands of years of
civilization throughout the Americas, are known as the three sisters because of the
traditional practice of planting these very different plants together to then benefit of all
"The embedded cultural history is not intended to be comprehensive. It is meant to
unfold, as physical objects become threads of stories which are, in turn, pieced together
and interpreted according to the vagaries of present understanding. The 'underground'
section is marked by movement, both literal movement and movement through time
shown by the building up of layers and through the appearance of different characteristic
objects and skeletons."
"The ownership of a skeleton is something which, obviously, we all share as humans.
Through the process of neoteny (the timing variation in fetal development, which, on an
evolutionary scale, produces a hand or fin with the same raw materials), the shape of our
skeletons also group us, through time and space, with thousands of other creatures and to
thousands of other ways of being alive. The gesture drawings of skeletal creatures,
ironically express moments."
"The skeleton is in many ways a societal taboo. Viewing a human skeleton is compelling
and laden with meaning. We immediately imagine occupying that life, having those
loves, having that vision… and soon we begin to respect and empathize with the ultimate
speechlessness of someone who has run out of time. The skeleton, like art, has the
crucial ability to encourage someone to look at things from another's perspective. I
believe that the ability to create bridges between perspectives is the essential healing
property of art and is why I believe that this artwork deserves the chance to be in the
In addition to the synopsis above, Anders granted me the following commentary:
Anders Swanson: "This was a wonderful experience for me and it changed my life. I had
the neatest experience a month or so after I was done. I was going back with my
girlfriend to look at it and a couple of guys came up to me and said 'hey do you know
what this is about' and then started telling me right away this whole story of what it's all
about. It was really neat and it had nothing to do with what was on the synopsis but
rather it was things I had said to people. It had gone around the community and then
come back to me and he was telling me this whole story. And then I got a half hour
lesson in Cree. For some reason he broke into teaching me about this and telling me all
these stories. In the end I never told him who I was- I just couldn't do it. It was just the
"The top part is a study of the plants in their places and their uses, because there's a bias
towards plants that are useful and special. It's varied: there's an old growth forest and
most of the plants are community plants that time has proven are suited for that particular
place. The bottom part is narrative; and is somewhat representative of major trends of the
history of this place. It's purposely layered; and nothing is necessarily as it seems. For
me the main character is in the bottom centre- it's a dancer- I guess I could say that it's a
Powwow dancer but that's from my limited understanding of culture and it's probably
not right. Powwow has probably developed to what we see now from a different form, if
that's the right place chronologically where it's buried. That for me is a main character-
it's got bird like bones metamorphosed into the body. That's kind of what the rest of it is
like- all the things are shown in the shape of bones."
"With all the tools in the top layer, the idea is that these are all extensions of our hands;
and we'd better be careful because without these things in our hands we're really no
different from the other creatures. There are a lot of references to time, like the
grandfather clock which to me represents the concept of breaking down time into sections
that you can sell off or partition- for example selling your labour. Every little object in
there represents something- there's nothing in there that I put in just for kicks. This was
my chance to do something important and memorable and I didn't want to waste it on
putting in something that didn't have some meaning or importance. If there's anything
that was repeated it was the figures at the bottom (and that was deliberate) who are
making gestures- looking lovingly into someone else's eyes, telling a story, jumping,
being scared, laying down, conversing. These weren't specifically chosen moments for a
reason; but the fact that they are just moments and gestures is what's important. Literally
speaking, the skeletons would never be in the ground in the orientation being shown- they
are in fact frozen in time; they are instants."
"In the bottom right hand corner, there's a person telling a story who is surrounded by a
group of listeners. That's connected loosely to another section on the left near the top of
people sitting around watching the TV (to the left and slightly below the streetlamp)."
"In the middle third of the lower layer I started to realize that I could put almost anything
in, but I decided to put in the things that the landscape (if alive) would remember like
wounds or things it felt. The hedge trimmer, the whippersnipper, the excavator, the
heaviness of the vehicles, the lawnmover and things I have a problem with."
"There's some depth in every direction- through time, depth inwards, and east-west. On
the left, the settlers are coming in behind the ox and cart from the East (Ed. note- if you
are IN the Mural looking outwards). The boreal forest is also on the left and the prairie is
on the right. There's one Manitoba tree that's NOT in there- the hackberry, as it only
exists at the bottom tip of Lake Manitoba. The boreal forest transitions into swamplands
and with the aspen parklands. The prairies have 4 or 5 different sections too. It's not all
totally precise because I was in a bit of a rush at the end, but it definitely has a dry area
and a wet area. The alkaline loving plants are all mixed together; and all the plants are
adjacent to plants it normally associates with. The Tamarack Jack mushroom usually
grows with Tamarack trees."
"My apprentice was Darryle Caribou. It was really fun working with him, but we could
only work for a couple of days. The way it worked out was the bottom part it was
possible to work with somebody else but by the time I got to the top part (something I put
two weeks into) I wouldn't have been able to use him. I had put literally hundreds of
hours into the design of it and I had very strong ideas of what I wanted to see happen, and
it's pretty tough to do that with what I had in mind. I had developed some practice with
oil paintings and roughly the vinyl paints worked like the oils and I was able to make that
come across. Darryl probably would have done a wicked job on his own, but it definitely
wouldn't have looked the same, and I had to make it look the same as I had originally."
"I'm amazed that it worked out as well as it did. The weather was good, I could work
every day and I didn't have to have any interruptions. Everything worked and clicked. I
took the whole last week to work and perfect the top part. It's lucky that I had already
painted it once on the computer (see photo 3). If it had been instead something that was
just in my mind, I wouldn't have been able to do it again."
"People tend to think of public art as a pretty picture or an economic beautification
mechanism. This project helped me to coalesce around the idea that it doesn't matter
how much you study something- there still has to be a backbone and purpose behind what
you're doing. People who don't know what they're doing should stop and think about it.
If they were to think of what they're doing as an art form and think of it as their legacy
and perform in that fashion everyone would be much happier. Public art needs to be
present, in whatever form, all over the place! Mural Fest is an unprecedented step in that
direction. There's no way anybody else would have let me paint what I painted."
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