Artist rendering of the whale

Students set to collaborate with world-renowned artist

With the announcement of the Standing Whale project last fall, the Faculty of Arts and Science is preparing to offer students in the humanities, social science, creative arts and natural sciences the opportunity to engage with this unique art installation through the interdisciplinary projects course ASCX 400.   

World-renowned Canadian photographer and Queen’s Honorary Doctorate recipient Edward Burtynsky is continuing to push his artistic practice into the third dimension with the creation of his first large-scale public sculptural work, Standing Whale. A true-to-size, 75-foot artistic re-imagining inspired by the retrieved skeletons that washed ashore in 2014, Standing Whale is an acknowledgement to the power of telling our human stories, only this time as a three-dimensional sculpture rather than a two-dimensional image.

Based on the story of a pod of North Atlantic Blue Whales that perished off the coast of Newfoundland in 2014, Standing Whale is a thematic continuation of Burtynsky’s 40-year artistic practice looking at the impacts of humans on the planet. When the bodies of these whales washed ashore following their demise, there were only an estimated 250 left of the population. This pod represented four per cent of that at the time.

“My hope is this public art sculpture will become a true Canadian statement: one that symbolizes our commitment to protecting the environment, our cultural institutions and heritage, as well as our efforts to ensure that our planet experiences a positive Anthropocene instead of a negative one,” says Burtynsky.

Fourth year FAS students will be able to engage in the project through a special fall-term course involving multiple departments: English, History, Film and Media, Biology, Environmental Studies, and Political Studies. Working in multidisciplinary groups, students will bring their individual academic expertise to develop solutions to problem statements (ie. “how might we…”) using a design thinking framework to investigate, validate and confirm the problem to be solved, then work on potential solutions. The course will fulfill an upper-year core course requirement, rather than as an elective, to progress in their degree plans.

Faculty members will serve as mentors to the student teams in the course. FAS students from other departments will also be able to take this course, although potentially only as an elective at this time. Students will receive formal training in project management, effective teaming, problem solving and design thinking, which are transferable career skills that future employers are seeking. As with other courses, students are expected to spend approximately 10-12 hours per week on completing course requirements. 

“Through this partnership, students will have the opportunity to engage with the art installation in a unique way,” says Dean Barbara Crow, Faculty of Arts and Science. “This design of the fall-term course will also be an important model for how we design and present these experiential opportunities and courses for students in the future. I am thrilled with the number of departments that wanted to be involved and are incorporating the project into their curricula.”

To apply for the course, send a copy of your resumé, along with a cover letter outlining: why you are interested in taking the course; what skills and experience you could bring to an interdisciplinary team; and the areas of interest relating to Standing Whale that interest you, to