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we are all engines of joy
 at conrad grebel university college
waterloo, ontario

Brief talk given by James Paterson at the CGUC late 70’s – early 80’s Reunion June 4th, 2022


I am very happy to be here today with you all and honoured that Conrad Grebel University College has commissioned me to do this art piece for the new lounge area in the dining room called, We Are All Engines of Joy.


The idea for it came out of a discussion Paul Penner and I were having when he had connected with me after seeing a piece of my work in a gallery in Ottawa. We got talking about how empty of students the college has been during the covid pandemic and the hope that it would soon all be over. I began to think that it would be neat to have a touch stone to both signal and celebrate our coming out of this season, something that would be joyful and bring hope.


I believe that we were made for joy. And that out of that joy comes our desire to create. And to be creative means to participate in bringing things together.

I know that many of you in your lives and careers have spent much time bringing things together, whether it be people in relationships, concepts in building ideas and processes or even what those who work here at Conrad Grebel University College have done to bring together by building community. We all in some way participate collectively in being creative. My job as an artist is perhaps more metaphysical in that I gather with my senses what I perceive as going on around me and then attempt to make it material through physical representation in a way that speaks to the imagination of those who encounter my work. With this art piece I hope that as people respond to it by touching it, seeing it, and feeling it move they will be reminded of the hope we share and that we can all be engines of joy going out into the world, living in expectation, as we emerge from this past season of social detachment, isolation, and division.


The piece itself is intentionally ambiguous in its vaguely machine-like look allowing the viewer to bring their own imagination to it and draw out their own symbolic motifs. I have however incorporated certain elements that are representative. The triangular roof peaks of the original CGC residence, the nod to the chapel windows, and piano keyboard and neck of a stringed instrument recognizing Grebel’s music, the six wheels in line that mark the six faculties that make up the U of W, the wedge shapes that suggest plow shares of peace and the windmills that speak to the agricultural heritage of the Mennonites in Ontario. The sail like images with the flags suggest the wind of the Spirit enlivening us all and blowing us forward out into the world. Beyond these suggestions I hope the viewer will find parts of their own visual landscape and story embedded here.


My hope is that people who see this art piece will come away with an infusion of joy and delight. That they will be reminded there are mysteries in life worth probing, inner journeys of discovery worth taking and deep resonant rhythms sounding around us that we must listen carefully for if we are to hear them and be awakened to the redemptive nature of God in creation. I want people who see my art to reclaim a childlike sense of wonder as they go forward believing that one day all things will be made new again.

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