Sans façon

The Uncertain Places of Sans façon by Jenn E Norton

"Our relationship to place is a strange one: why is it that a feeling or memory about a particular place or time can be more vivid than others? How do significant, and seemingly insignificant, moments lodge within our sense of self? Is it possible that a certain place or experience, no matter how small, can define part of who we are?" 

-from the didactic of sans façon 's Jasmine from Grasse at the esker foundation 2016-2017

We are very excited to welcome Sans façon to the Public Art: New Ways of Thinking and Working symposium on Friday, May 19th, on the Artists and City Building panel.

Led by Charles Blanc and Tristan Surtees, Sans façon is an award-winning art practice focused less on outcomes and more on the processes and relationships of making public art. Working internationally and Calgary-based, Sans façon takes on public art projects that allow them time to respond to a context, developing works that participate in a discourse with the city.

“Artists are good at asking questions, and they bring a quality of exploration to any situation. That is what excites us" Tristan Surtees, Sans façon

Their projects are realized through networks of communities, organizations, and individuals. With projects ranging from ephemeral performances to permanent works, Sans façon see the role of the artist and of art as a catalyst in a process of raising questions and inviting one to look and think differently, and their practice represents an important shift in public art practice, the spectrum of public art, and how public artists work.



Beginning in 2009, Watershed+ is a city-wide program with The City of Calgary’s Utilities and Environment Protection department, and the Public Art Program. The project's guiding motive is to embed, not so much the artist, as their process within Water Services and Water Resources, and to create an emotional relationship between citizens and their watershed. Since then, Watershed+ has grown to encompass more than 20 initiatives, plus three 18-month mentorships as well as rotating artist residencies. Some of the projects included Fire Hydrant Drinking Fountains and Forest Lawn Lift Station.

"[It’s] experienced not in an explanatory or didactic way, but more by creating intrigue for people to want to know more about what’s happening around them."

Cacher pour mieux montrer (which translates as “Hide to show better”), was a temporary public artwork developed for Saskatoon's Public Art program where the duo covered public sculptures in the city of Saskatoon in a smooth industrial shrink-wrap, and in doing so, invited questioning and intrigue about the presence and function of public art in our cities, but also about the individual sculpture temporarily hidden from sight.


Smell, a sense that is strongly and directly connected to our long-term memory, uniquely allows us to access past places, experiences, and emotions through the faintest association. Their project Jasmine from Grasse at The Esker Foundation, was an invitation to journey to a specific moment in someone else’s life through an olfactory encounter. Sans façon, with the help of Professor of Psychology, Glen Bodner, and Master Perfumer, Irene Schnell, faithfully recreated the scent of a place and time drawn from the individual memories of six members from the Atlantic Avenue Art Block, generously allowing participants to share in the intimacy of a long ago moment through its particular scent.


Other projects have included public art masterplans for Seattle CSO system, and City of Calgary UEP Department; new work exploring light in urban spaces, in Marl, Germany, for the 2017 edition of Urban lights Ruhr; Gathering Place, a permanent interventions for the City of Inverness, Scotland; Limelight: Saturday Night, an international light installation and video work exploring the potential of public spaces by expanding the role of urban lighting, replacing street lighting with theater follow-spots in fifteen cities around the world.


Limelight: Saturday Night, an international light installation and video work exploring the potential of public spaces by expanding the role of urban lighting, replacing street lighting with theatre follow-spots in fifteen cities around the world.

Through their work, Sans façon has produced significant impact by centring process, giving artists an opportunity to work with issues that are integral to the thinking around city systems and place-making, and championing risk.

“Not knowing exactly what you’re going to get in the end is vital. That’s a level of unknown, of educated risk.”

-Tristan Surtees, Sans façon

Although public art processes are often quite rigorous and predetermined, for Sans façon, and many artists working today, it is that very risk that lies at the heart of what makes art vital.



Sans façon will be joined by Michael McClelland from ERA Architects, artists Jennifer Marman & Daniel Borins, Jonah Letovsky, Westbank Corp and Bryan Newson, the former Public Art Program Manager of the City of Vancouver, alongside moderator Helena Grdadolnik, Public Art Consultant and Director, Workshop Architecture, for a panel Discussion on Artists and City Building, Friday, May 19th at 1:00pm. 

You can register for the symposium here.