Public Artwork

Babylon (and the Tower of Babel)

John McEwen, Babylon (and the Tower of Babel),1991
John McEwen, Babylon (and the Tower of Babel),1991
John McEwen, Babylon (and the Tower of Babel),1991
Kempenfelt Bay, Barrie, ON, Canada
Artwork creator(s): 
McEwen, John
Text author(s): 
The Melodians
Installation year: 
Remarks on location: 

Rotary’s Kempenfelt Habitat Lagoon, South shore


A series of seven rusted metal pedestals in which the letters of the word “Babylon” are formed as interior voids. Mounted atop one pedestal is a large urn set at a tilt, and atop another is one of McEwen’s trademark images: a steel silhouette of a wolf seen in profile. Just offshore on the rocky islands is another wolf silhouette and a small sculpture of a satellite dish.

Text of the artwork: 


Text theme: 
Origins, freedom
Artwork theme: 

"Inner and outer landscapes […] outside and inside […] mind and nature." (Moore 2003, p. 29-34 passim): the human relationship to nature, civilization's mark on the landscape, back to the origins of a landscape untouched by civilization.


• 1991: Installing the first part of the work, McMichael Gallery (McMichael Canadian Art collection in Kleinburg, Ontario).


• Fall 1993: Purchased and donated to the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, from a collector in Montreal.


• Fall 1993: Exhibition: Art, Architecture and the Environment, an event in which the work was to be presented, is canceled.


• Summer 1994: Development of the work (creation of Tower of Babel).


• Spring 1996: Tower of Babel is added to the installed work.


Walks, art in the city, from September 1 to November 24, 1996: A variant of the work entitled After Babel / A Civic Square, conducted in collaboration with Marlene Hilton-Moore, is on display at the 350th anniversary of the city Montreal. It stood at the corner of de Maisonneuve Boulevard and Saint-Urbain Street.


• 1996: Prosecution about the donation of the work (Robert and Signy McMichael sue the Ontario government).


• 2003: Shore / lines: Responding to Place, Barrie.


• A brief chronology of legal and political debate around this work is available in the exhibition catalog Shore / lines: Responding to Place.


The text refers to Rivers of Babylon, a song by The Melodians (from the soundtrack of The Harder They Come, directed by Perry Henzell, International Films, Jamaica, 1972, 110 min.)


Shore/lines : Responding to Place

Moore, William (2003).  Shore/lines : Responding to Place. Barrie : MacLaren Art Centre, p. 64

Promenades les arts dans la ville.

Parent, Sylvie (2003).  Promenades les arts dans la ville. . <> : Centre international d’art contemporain de Montréal

Shore/Lines. Responding to Place

[Anonymous] (2003).  Shore/Lines. Responding to Place. Canadian Art. vol. 20, no. 2 (Summer) , p. 51-58