A Small Exhibition & Sale: Archives of Absence out in the world again

I am showing some of the work from the Archives of Absence project at Credo in Edmonton over the next while. The work went up this past Friday (February 22nd), and will be up for a few weeks.

It’s good to have this work out in the world again – it’s always good to revisit projects after a while away, I think, to see if they still ‘ring true’ for starters, but also to see what new things can be learned from them.

Berm: Epilogue
Berm: Epilogue

I certainly understand the importance of this project to my practice in a new way now. Archives of Absence really marked a shift in materials for me, and the dawning of my understanding of how crucial the specificity of place was to the way I make work. This project was also a very dynamic collaboration between me and (the very gifted) poet Catherine Owen, which brought my attention back to  the beauty of words and the joy of writing after a many-years distance. You can read more about the project, and all of its components here and here.

Berm: Further Liminalities
Berm: Further Liminalities

I really enjoy many of the images that came out of this project – and I hope the people who come and go at Credo enjoy them as well.

Berm: Fragments
Berm: Fragments

New Archives of Absence Video

My co-conspirator in the Archives of Absence project, Catherine Owen, recently passed on a link to some re-worked Berm video footage.

Lovely to have the visuals combined with the pleasure of hearing the writing performed.

There are other ‘Berm’ Videos up on Catherine’s Youtube channel … have a peek.

A word or two from Catalysts …

A video clip (courtesy Wolsak & Wynn) of our reading from Catalysts in Toronto this past spring.



Nice to be able to see this from the ‘other side’ … and to remember how great it felt to be bringing the Archives of Absence project out into the world in yet another way.

If anyone’s interested in having these words on their very own bookshelves, contact me … .


Archives … exhibition reception this Saturday

In amongst all the other things going on just now, I have a small exhibition up in the Naess Gallery at the Paint Spot. It’s a nice little space, and an ideal size to show the Archives of Absence work as it has evolved since its initial birthing into the world at the Edmonton Poetry Festival in 2011.

Some new work in the mix, and I’m really happy with how they are hanging together with the original pieces in the series.

So, if you’re looking for a way to spend a little time this Saturday (September 15), and you’re in Edmonton, drop by the reception for Archives of Absence at the Naess Gallery – 10032 – 81 Avenue. I’ll be there from 2 – 4 pm, and there will be coffee, tea, and nibblies.


Much Afoot …

Well, it’s been very  – very – busy in the studio lately!

Seems as though I’m actually making some headway though, so that’s a good thing … the last push before the exhibition in October continues, with some interesting related-but-slightly-tangential-to-the-moment projects along the way, for good measure (just in case I felt like I needed more work to keep me busy … sheesh).

The sculptural pieces I want to include in the Residency exhibition in October are nearing completion (phew~!!), and I am really quite happy with the results as they stand just now. Some tweaking and fine tuning to still do, but overall, things have worked out as I wanted and expected them to (no small sigh of relief there).

I have also been writing, and working on writing-related things … since October 3, 2011, I have been collaborating with Catherine Owen on a sustained project related directly to the work I’ve been doing in the studio: we have been co-writing a poem … and we just finished it! The piece is 50o lines long … yup, TWO zeroes there … 250 lines each, alternating, for almost a year. The idea for this project came from Catherine’s discovery that it can take up to 500 trips for a bird to find the material it needs to complete a nest. So, from this “500 lines about Childhood –  or  – It Can Take One Bird Up to 500 Trips to Complete a Nest” was born. It is by turns funny, quirky, eccentric, painful … all the things childhood is and can be – and has been – for both of us. An incredibly powerful experience to write this with Cath, and I am very grateful to her for suggesting it – and for being such a great support and inspiration throughout.  The work in its entirety will be incorporated into a sculpture I am presenting next month.  Images to follow … just not yet!

I’ve also been working with Catherine on another poetry project that will see the light of day at the October exhibition of NEST – we are producing a chapbook of Catherine’s poems and my block prints! NEST {types} is the title of this little book, and it includes a selection of nest poems written by Catherine Owen, and a limited edition series of hand carved block prints of different nest types created by yours truly. I am really excited about this chapbook – both  the writing and the prints – and am having a delightful time putting it all together.

Some pictures  – not the best – but to give you a hint of what’s in store when it all comes together:

The cover of the Chapbook, featuring a block print of a magpie nest, created and photographed for the book
The set of seven block prints that will accompany the nest poems. The nests you see represented here are the following Birds: Eagle, Blackbird, Grosbeak, Marsh Wren, European Bee Eater, and Weaver.


Carving the blocks for this project was a wondrous experience for me – a lovely combination of the things I love best: drawing, sculpture, and printing (which I haven’t done in any concerted way since printshop class in high school – which I loved!). And to be honest, I just love working with my hands – the making of doing this was so incredibly satisfying. And at the end of the day, being able to see this set of 350 prints (7 prints, 50 copies of the chapbook being created), finished and ready to be bound into the chapbook, was one of the most satisfying moments I think I’ve ever had.

More to come … soon!


Nesting, or Obsessing … Take Your Pick!

Things have been pretty quite around these parts lately, for which I apologize. It’s been a ‘go hard or go home’ kind of time the last few weeks … much going on, much to be done. This seems to be the way of it.

So… this is what I’ve been up to:

There was a really nice article in the Edmonton Journal about my work and the Residency this past Friday. Given the number of hits on my web site that day, I’d say a few people out there saw it. Thanks for stopping in – hope you come back in the future!

I’ve also been making work like a mad fool; today was day 7 in a row in the studio … 5 or 6 more to go before a day off (and I am in NO way complaining!). This is simply the point in the Residency when I get to PANIC!! There’s a part of me that is perfectly rational, and knows the work is coming along just fine, and I will have more than enough ready for the exhibition in October, and I just have to trust myself and the process of making the work and exploring all these ideas (as I have for the last 8 months) … and there’s that voice in the back of my head screaming at me … “What on earth do you think you’re doing?? What does it all mean anyway?? DO you even know anymore?? What made you think that this was good work, anyway?!”  The usual … it’s a fact of life for many of us I think. The closer we come to a big deadline, the tougher we are on what we have done and still need to do. Still, it’s been a bit unnerving and stressful … but a great stimulus for working hard!

To wit:

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I have also been drawing on a much larger scale:

I kept the ceiling and floodlight in this picture to give some sense of scale … the drawing is roughly 50 inches by 50 inches. You don’t want to know how covered in charcoal I was after this!

And I’ve also been having a terrific time exploring the finer points of block printing! It’s been a complete blast doing these so far … and I am discovering all kinds of things about mark making, and the correlation between the way I draw and the way I use the knives to carve the blocks. I am quite happy with the results of these test prints … so expect to see some of this work in October for sure:

A 6″ x 6″ test print … carved, based on one of the hundreds of photos I’ve taken of nests for this body of work.

And …

A smaller test print, roughly 3″ x 3″. It’s been really interesting to think about the positive and negative space in carving these – working through the best way to convey some sense of three dimensional space in the final print.

And of course, there’s other things going on in the background … I am exhibiting the Archives of Absence work at the Naess Gallery in September, including brand new work that is an extension of the original project; I am thinking about the work I will out together for an exhibition in February 2013 in Toronto (more to come on both of these soon) … waiting to hear back about a grant application Marian and I applied for to develop the York Hotel work we shot in September 2011 … thinking about places to send exhibition proposals. Oh, and occasionally, I have the time and gumption to do something around the house.

And on that note … off to bed! Another early start Monday! Hope you all had a good weekend!


Well, it’s almost here: the tour for Catalysts is coming next month!

I have had the pleasure and honour of collaborating with poet/musician/photographer/mayhem-maker Catherine Owen for a number of years now, and am delighted to see the fruits of this ongoing labour take yet another form. Catalysts: Confrontations with the Muse is a collection of essays and prose memoirs, published this spring by Wolsak & Wynn … and most happily for me, the two of us have co-written an essay included in this collection of her work!

“Engaging Space: Collaborations on the Berm with Sydney Lancaster” is a collaborative essay discussing our several-years work (and ongoing process with) the Archives of Absence Project that Catherine and I officially launched April 2011 at the Edmonton Poetry Festival. What makes this all the more exciting for me personally is that visual art from the Archives of Absence project is on the cover of the book. It’s quite amazing to see all these intersections  play out tangibly … to see the very real connections between the writing and the art come together in new ways.

The cover of the new book, showing a series of gel transfer prints I created from photographs taken by both of us for Archives of Absence

I’m also extremely excited about the upcoming tour for this book. We will be launching Catalysts in Edmonton AB at Latitude 53 on April 15, and then it’s ‘leaving on a jet plane’ time a couple of weeks later, to join the fray in Toronto and Hamilton!

Catalysts tour dates look like this so far:

April 15th – Edmonton @ Latitude 53 (10248 – 106 St) w/ Mark McCawley & musician Dale Ladouceur w/special appearance/reading/visuals by Sydney Lancaster

May 1st – Toronto @ the Magpie (831 Dundas Street W) with Oana A, Paul Vermeersch and Moez Surani. Catherine will be reading solo, and  we will read together as well, excerpts from our co-written essay.

May 2nd -Toronto @ Pivot Reading Series at The Press Club (850 Dundas Street W.) Catherine Owen with Gabe Foreman, Steven Price & Claire Tacon. Sydney Lancaster in attendance.

May 3rd – Hamilton @ Victoria Park/The Staircase Theatre! With John Terpstra as well as TO authors listed above!

May 5th – St Catharines w/Gregory Betts

May 8th – Ottawa @Tree with guests

May 17th – Vancouver @Robson Reading Series with Waubgeshig Rice (Midnight Sweatlodge)

May 25th – Victoria @ Planet Earth with guests.

All in all, a good way to greet the Spring – with the birthing of new projects into the world.

Some thoughts on new drawings …

I’ve been quite conscious of my work process in the last while – more than usual – because it seems to be evolving quite rapidly. This is, quite naturally, bringing all kinds of interesting questions to light for me in relation to the way I work, why I am drawn to do what I do: the ‘why’ of the ‘how’ if you will.

This body of work appears to be resolving itself around repetition/recapitulation, and consistent references to specific patterns and shapes. This is something that had begun to make itself known with the initial work for Archives of Absence, but for the most part, I chalked that up to working in different materials and with different content than I had before. Now, I’m beginning to think otherwise.

A bit OCD? Maybe … but there’s other things at work here:

What does the reiteration of form or object say about the object itself, and/or about the need to repeat or recapitulate the form  – and the doing? Certainly for this body of work, focused as it is on birds’ nests, this form of making does certainly tap into action as an instinctual and/or ritualized process.

There’s also my predilection for squares, circles, and grids:  circles and squares are two of the ‘perfect’ forms, and they seem to encapsulate notions of balance and harmony, this being inherent in equilateral/bilaterally symmetrical shapes. The way these shapes relate to space is important here too – their extension into space is the same in all directions. These are democratic shapes – they occupy and contain with equality. Grids and patterns based on grids work in a similar way, especially when used as a means of expanding or contracting the scale of an object, or measuring space. Grids = Order, Containment, Regularity, Pattern. They allow for variation, but within rigidly set boundaries.

 This repetition can create blindness through its sameness, on one level … that jaded sense of “seen that before”/ “same old, same old” … we become desensitized to the things we see repeatedly. But the converse is also true, and something I want to explore much more: if we are presented with a sequence/series/reiteration of the same object or form, we are also (at least I am) drawn to the details: the hide-and-seek of finding the differences between these objects which are essentially the same. It is these threads that reveal independent narratives attached to (and issuing from) each object.
So in the end perhaps this is becomes about seeing and choice,  and the connections between the process of  making and the process of recognition.

An Ongoing Dialogue …

One of the most remarkable things about making art for me has always been the opportunities this mad existence has offered to meet – and work with – some truly exceptional human beings.

I have been gifted with several such ongoing encounters, one of which I’d like to share today …

I have worked on (and continue to work on) a collaborative project entitled Archives of Absence with  Catherine Owen, a terrific poet from Vancouver. We launched a chapbook, a miscellany, and the visual art from this meeting of minds in April 2011 at the Edmonton Poetry Festival, and I blogged about it here.

Catherine and I also wrote about our experience of working together on this project in an essay entitled “Engaging Space” … and that essay has (happily!!) just been published by Radius – you can find it here.

It is an amazing thing to me – as someone who has ‘shifted gears’ over the years from written to visual modes of expression to see this (very) visual project described and made real in words … another iteration, and other way of seeing all that we have seen as individuals, and as a collaborative team. This collaboration has been all the richer too, in that it has provoked a re-kindling of my desire to work with words again in an active way – to write, as well as make visual art – and that is a tremendous gift, beyond the telling.

The work on Archives of Absence continues … I continue to make work for this project, returning to it as a place which distills many of the ideas that permeate both my work and Catherine’s on an ongoing basis. Each foray in brings something new: a new way of seeing the land, the city, the work already made … the way I work and why I do what I do.

Collaboration keeps people honest and open, keeps the ego checked at the door, and and makes one just unsettled enough to keep the work continually fresh. For these things and so many others, I am always grateful.

Engaging Space will be released this spring by Wolsak & Wynn, in a collection of essays and prose memoirs entitled Catalysts – featuring visual art from the Archives of Absence project on the cover.

How I spent my Summer Vacation …

… which hasn’t been entirely a vacation at all – but has involved travel. And Art. And a suntan (in stripes). I’ve been to Toronto twice to visit and work with my friend and fellow creative agitator David Young, a quick trip to Ottawa, to Halifax for the CARFAC conference, a few days on the west coast of Newfoundland … and two trips out to a beautiful and magical farm near Smoky Lake AB, owned by my wonderful and inspiring friends Jannie and Mark. More on this a little later in this post.

After Archives of Absence was presented at the Edmonton Poetry Festival this April, I found myself needing to make work that challenged my physically – both in terms of scale and in the actual physical requirements of creating the work. One (of many) lessons coming out if Archives, and my earlier sabbatical year in Nova Scotia –  was a new understanding of the importance of place  – and real physical spaces – to the creation of my work. The sabbatical in Nova Scotia provided the benefit of distance from the familiar history, space, and landscape of Edmonton and Alberta – a sustained period of time to reflect upon and begin to understand the impact of vast expanses of land and these massive skies has upon my (literal and metaphorical view) of the world, and some first solid inklings of the connection of these big spaces to a ‘frontier mentality’ – and the ability to re-invent oneself, take risks. Archives of Absence refined that understanding even further, in that all the content – visual and written – had as its focus a specific location and time frame – here, in Edmonton –  and I was working with this material before, during, and after my time away from the city of my birth.

So the intersections of social history, personal story, objects, and space/place became clearer … and needed to be considered in a new way. Which is where Jannie and Mark’s farm comes in … and two new projects!!

The first of these projects is what has been named by Jannie and I  …


I had approached J & M while I was staying in Halifax  – back in early 2010, I think it was – about the possibility of doing a larger, site-specific work on their farm. Essentially, this would be a land-art (or environmental art if you prefer that term) project … I wanted to work with that specific place – and most importantly, make work that spoke to and about the land, creating an active dialogue with the place itself, over a period of time.

The goal was/is to construct a series of living structures,  developed from the extant trees and shrubs on the property. I also set out a series of parameters for the work; I felt it was extremely important to be active and conscious about my approach from the outset … back to the notion of Intent and Methodology … and the intersections of art and politics. To that end, I set out the following framework for what I wanted to create:

– I want to work with what is there as much as possible
– Anything that I introduce to the landscape must be able to integrate completely with it, ie, be made of natural materials, and subject to the same weathering/changes that any other natural material in the area would be subject to
– I don’t want to do anything that will harm the land or any living thing in, on, or near it
– I don’t want to introduce anything that would not normally be found in the landscape (ex: non-native plants or stones etc)
– I am aware of the change and transience of all the materials I work with, and both expect and accept that the work will be impermanent in one respect or another
– Some of the greatest beauty that can come out of the work is to be found in the processes of change and decay

So far, three structures have been started … with mixed success. I have been working with two varieties of willow (wolf and red), and caragana (Siberian peashrub).

 … the structure in May 2011 …

The caragana structure is the most complete, given that it was formed from existing mature plants; the basic shape is in place, and the ongoing work will be to add seedlings for green “walls” and to weave the long branches over several seasons.

… and in July 2011 …

 The second willow structure (which was actually set into the caragana grove) has not developed as we had planned – many of the saplings didn’t take. So. That structure will be re-thought this fall or in the spring, and will be made of extant caragana as well.

The ‘failure’  of the one willow structure (actually, the first in the sequence that was planned and planted) has produced an unforeseen benefit to the project as a whole. This image below was shot in May, during the initial phase of digging and planting for the first ‘failed’ willow structure. Some of the willow ‘took’ over the course of the summer, but many of the saplings in the ring did not … you can see the surrounding caragana grove in the background.

But … from this setback, comes an improvement over all: since the caragana is the overpowering plant in this space, it will be used for making a structure here as well. There will be a consistency and stronger connection between the first caragana structure and this space, now that the materials are consistent … and the additional space and paths cleared between this space and the current caragana structure can (and will) be developed more fully over time … covered pathways are a possibility, as are other additions to the structures themselves.

… down the garden path we go …

… weaving the branches to form the roof …

The wolf willow structure will take several years to mature, and will need the addition of more saplings, and considerable training … but the saplings that were planted earlier this summer have taken well, and I am hopeful for their ability to overwinter. They are in an exposed space on the farm, and so this structure has a much more public face and nature; I foresee it becoming a gathering point, a communal greenspace in which people meet for food, conversation, companionship.

Photos of this one to follow, soon I hope.

My current goal is to get out to the farm again at least once this fall, to do further work on these, and addition structures in the sequence – and to document the spaces again. I would like, if at all possible, to see them again at least once in the winter too – I think the framework of each of these structures, blanketed by snow, will create yet another set of responses and ideas.

There is something quite magical and remarkable about seeing these structures change through the seasons … just the difference between the caragana in May and July was quite startling, and showed my the great potential for these spaces to teach great lessons in change and transformation.

Process … it’s all process.

More on Make=Believe soon …

… and coming up:  EGG … my other site specific sculptural work from this summer!