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!


Curiosities, Sketching with Words – AND – Catalysts, Part 2 … on the road!

Feel like I’ve been flying lately … not flying dreams, unfortunately!

So much going on:

– Had a fantastic time with Shawna Lemay co-faciliating the Sketching with Words workshop at Harcourt House for the Edmonton Poetry Festival last weekend! It was an amazing afternoon of writing and drawing and thinking and talking about all the connections between those lines on the page: the ones we write and the ones we draw, both to capture wheat we experience of the world as we know it. I feel extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to work with Shawna, and such a great group of eager, talented people!

– Almost finished a mixed media assemblage for the fast& dirty collective’s upcoming po-up exhibition called Curiosities which will be coming to Edmonton streets the first weekend in June …

The curators have this to say about the project:

Curiosities: a fast & dirty project is an exploration of the politics of furniture. The project is a collaboration between five Edmonton curators: Jennifer Rae Forsyth, Robert Harpin, Kristen Hutchinson, Carolyn Jervis, and Kyla Tichkowsky and twenty artists: Matt Arrigo, Jeff Bai, Marnie Blair, Blair Brennan, Raylene Campbell, Sherri Chaba, Olivia Chow, Jennifer Rae Forsyth, Robert Harpin, Nickelas Johnson, Kristen Hutchinson, Adriean Koleric, Sydney Lancaster, Dawn Saunders Dahl, Sergio Serrano, Tyler Sherard, Alex Stewart, Claire Uhlick, and Ryan Wolters. Each curator has chosen a chest of drawers to accommodate artworks based on five different themes: intimacy, line, collections, landscape, and family. Each artist will be given a single drawer from one of these dressers to create a site-specific artwork.

Curiosities will be exhibited in a rental van from June 1-June 3 2012 in three different locations in Edmonton. The project asks artists and viewers to think about each dresser as a cabinet of curiosities and to consider each drawer as a small laboratory for investigation and experimentation. Drawers are intensely private spaces; they contain everything from the most precious, personal objects to everyday detritus that we just haven’t gotten around to getting rid of. After all, who knows what’s really hidden underneath that neatly folded sweater?

... and more to come, in short order!

I fly to Toronto tomorrow for a couple of dates on the next leg of the Catalysts tour (and then am back east for a couple of weeks mid May)… so the last couple of weeks (since the Edmonton launch), has been a hurry-up-go-faster-get-stuff-DONE time … hence my brevity and silence here.

The launch in Edmonton went well – a nice crowd, some lovely familiar faces that I hadn’t seen in a while, and some new ones, which is always a treat. So amazing to actually see the book, for real … paper, cover, pages, text … words!! Words we wrote. Wow. Not sure I’ll ever get used to that – which is a great thing, I think.

So … the next leg looks like this:

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. I’ll be there too :).

– I head back to Edmonton after this – to do a talk on another project  I’m developing with Marian Switzer called YORK, for the Edmonton Arts Council Transitory Art Program  …

One of the rooms in the (now demolished) York hotel ...

… but Catherine keeps travelling and taking us into the world. She will be reading:

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.

So … now, to finish packing, panic that I’ve forgotten something crucial at least three times … and board that flight in the morning!

More news to follow – not doubt!


Midnight brought the first real Spring rain to my corner of the world. This seems utterly fitting: rain that means new growing things, melting of the last snows, the washing clean of everything to start over. This is new, and old at once. Old in the way that each wheel’s turn reminds us that it has been this way for a very long time – and we are a part of that (if we choose to pay attention). New in the shape and character of this particular rain: its nature contradicts experience of this place, raises questions, reminds of other times and places.

Prairie born and raised – and now marking my first half-century on this day – I know what Spring Rain is in this place (or should be): coming out of nowhere, cloudburst, pummelling and drenching everything … and gone before I had time to get out the rain gear, leaving everything chilled and soaked to the bone and wondering what just happened.

But this rain isn’t like that.

This rain is steady, softly insistent and insidious. The stuff of coastal climes, oceanside, northern rain forest. The kind of rain that would have me hunting massive beds of moss in Goldstream Park on Vancouver Island, or walking the shore of Point Pleasant Park or the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia. Such a rain should make me wistful – nostalgic even – for these places that I love so much, that are part of the beating in my blood. But today … for some reason, today this rain makes me feel forward not back: quiet anticipation, the slow building of excitement for what will come, in every way.

Already, the shift has begun – the first marker of change: the buds on the May tree outside my house have burst open overnight to reveal the crisp green points of leaves. This first hesitant dusting will open over the next few days, proclaiming colour and promising scent from blossoms still latent, not yet formed.

Building things, growing things, changing: it feels as though these states, the active modes of being, are the shape of my life and work. What has lead to this moment in time … and what will shape the days to come.

And so much coming into being, and so soon:

The Catalysts Launch is this Sunday, April 15… and the books are coming by courier to my door today! Can’t wait to see them, and share that moment with my friend and collaborator Catherine, and then send the work out into the world with her.

This volume contains an essay co-written by yours truly!
This event is taking place in Edmonton, AB, Canada. Hope to see you there!

The Poetry Festival is coming soon, and with it the Sketching with Words workshop – which will be great fun to facilitate with Shawna Lemay.

Then Toronto, to Launch Catalysts there May 1 & 2.

I’m working on a little sculptural installation for the Fast & Dirty Collective too, for their show Curiosities, which will travel to various places in Edmonton on the weekend of May 11- 13.

And in between times, the work on NEST continues, as does work for on a particular aspect of the project in advance of the Harcourt House Open Studio event on June 21st.

It looks like a to-do list … but what I am really doing is counting blessings today, for all that I am doing, and for all of the magnificent people in my life that inspire me and make it all possible. A remarkable, humbling thing, this life.

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!

Birthing … in stages

Well, I am thrilled to say that the launch of Archives of Absence was a success!

The event on the 26th was well attended, and it was tremendously exciting and rewarding to see all the various elements of this first iteration of the project come together in one place … and to see it all connect and make sense in the ways I thought it would. In some ways, images speak louder than words in this regard, so to that end – her’s a series of images from the night of the Launch:

Installation view of Gel transfer work, Cabinets, and other artifacts

Installation view with Video on

The two “bermologists” beginning the Reading. Photo Credit: Tracy Kolenchuk.

Me, Reading from the Miscellany. Photo Credit: Tracy Kolenchuk.

Catherine Reading. Photo Credit: Tracy Kolenchuk.

The two of us, reading from the Miscellany. Photo Credit: Tracy Kolenchuk.

The amazing Thom Golub, who provided a magical musical counterpoint to word and image throughout the night.  Photo Credit: Tracy Kolenchuk.

And the books are even more beautiful than I dreamed they’d be!

Trisia really outdid herself in making this aspect of the project come to life … with tremendous sensitivity to the overall aesthetic of the project, and our own personal concerns regarding sustainability and treading gently in all the work we do.

These books are all hand-assembled and hand-bound. The care and attention that went into this is apparent, and I really feel these books stand on their own as works of art.

The collection presented on the 26th: Berm: Morning Eclogues, Berm: A Miscellany, and the essay Engaging Space. The three were available as a set the night of the launch directly from Red Nettle Press – and contact them directly to get copies! The essay was co-written by me and Catherine, and will be published this Fall  by Wolsak and Wynn, as part of a collection of prose work by Catherine Owen called Catalysts.

The Eclogues folio opened, to show the 4 chapbooks inside, and the amazing piano-hinge binding … created with ribbon, linen cord, and twigs.

A chapbook opened, to show the hand-stitching. Each chapbook comes with its own set of images, appropriate for the season the booklet documents.

The folio and a chapbook opened, with the set of photos spread out. The goal here was for the reader to be able to experience the Berm visually whilst reading Catherine’s meditations upon the space – a reiteration of the collaboration of word and image we undertook in this project overall.

The Miscellany – again, with a hand stitched binding.

Flyleaf. The saying and image were derived and adapted from a manual on Berm Construction that Catherine found, that dates from the 1960s.

Miscellany title page. The work in this book is quite diverse: a lexicon, a series of erasure poems, list poems – among other forms. It was an opportunity for us to explore the berm linguistically, and have some fun with it too … Bermtastic!

A fold-out page from on of the berm Erasure Poems that made up a sequence entitled the Desirable Berm: A Self-Esteem Manual. I really love the presentation of this sequence!

I’ll post more on the project – including a link to a great essay by Anne Pasek on the project – soon!

Archives of Absence

I’m very excited about this event … and it’s not very long now until it’s here!
This event on April 26 marks the debut of over two years of work on the Archives of Absence project for Catherine and me, and so far, I am delighted with how it’s all coming together.

What’s it all about? The short answer is:

Archives of Absence is a meditation on landscape, the environment, notions of home/alienation and the transformations wrought through art.
This event will feature an exhibit of artifacts and gel transfer photographs, video loops, music, and a reading from two new handmade chapbooks of poems released by rednettle press: Berm, morning eclogues and Berm: a miscellany.

It is going to be amazing to see all of this work in one place, together – these separate elements have all been developed and completed over time and in disparate places (I was working on some of the gel transfers in Halifax and began the video there, Catherine was writing in Edmonton and editing in Vancouver; Trisia Eddy at Red Nettle Press in Edmonton has been collaborating with both of us long distance and in person on the book design and layouts, edits, and revisions.

I must also take a moment to thank the people who are helping us realize our vision for the project, and for the launch event itself …

Trisia at Red Nettle has been an utter joy to work with. She has been so open to ideas and active input and collaboration with us on the creation of the books, it’s really been a delightful and remarkable experience working with her. Red Nettle believes in the value of the book as a creative, expressive object in and of itself – and so, we have been able to create a vessel for the stories we needed to tell that really reflects our combined vision and reflected the essence of the project in it’s aesthetic and structural considerations. Trisia sums up Red Nettle’s approach to this project best; she says “Our books are handmade, with as much care and attention given to the process as possible, and we seek to engage with the book both as a literary and artistic medium. The Archives of Absence is a limited edition project, the result of close collaboration, which brings together the vision of both author and artist in a physically meaningful form.” Check Red Nettle out here: 

The other person that needs to be thanked is Thom Golub, the wonderful bass player (upright!) that will be providing musical interludes, counterpoints, and comments for us on the 26th. Thom is a great musician and composer, and is a welcome and vital addition to our launch event! 
Click Thom’s picture to check out his music:

I am hoping that – after this brief release into the world – we will be able to get some proposals out ot various galleries and literary events across the country, and take it on the road. This launch event is one night only, and most of the artwork will only be up at the ARTery until May 1 – so it would be great to have more opportunities to present the project to other audiences.

Working on this project has taught me a great deal about my relationship to this city, to the landscape as a whole in this area. The physical space delineated by the Berm (and it’s very existence) mark this place in a unique way. I haven’t seen this type of structure in other cities – certainly not used to the extent that berms are created and deployed here – and as Catherine noted, before her move here from Vancouver, she’d never encountered a berm at all. So, this really has brought home to me how much Archives is about space and specificity of space, and how much there is here, in Edmonton, in Alberta, even in a city this size. I’ve also become even more acutely aware of how liminal spaces like this are, and how little we can ever occupy spaces like this (perhaps any space, really) in any kind of permanent way. I find it fascinating that despite the berm’s artificiality – its genesis as a completely human construction imposed on the landscape – it is a space that humans can never really dominate or contain in the same way they do the spaces on either side of it (subdivision, freeway).

Archives of Absence has also reinforced and refined my ongoing interest in memory and story. Working with the physical aspects of the space – the Berm itself and with the various artifacts we found there  – has made utterly tangible the anonymous interlacings of story and event that is human life. These traces, these histories all intersect in one space over time … and they are there to be uncovered and explored, if we take the time to look. This is a privileging of the absolutely ordinary – detritus of the doing of daily life that we generally ignore – or dismiss as garbage. The waste left behind when living has been done. But it tells us so much about who we all are, and leaves glimmers of very personal moments to be acknowledged and (thus) re-membered in to being. Some of it is terribly funny – some of it is sad, but it’s all important in its own way.