On the Road, and an interview …

It’s been a tremendous, and tremendously busy time the last couple of weeks. Said my (hopefully temporary) goodbyes to Gros Morne and the lovely people of Woody Point NL, spent a very fast couple of days in Halifax, and then was off to my next adventure – the Red Rabbit Intertidal Intensive – on the Bay of Fundy, at Thomas Cove.

Much more on that amazing experience shortly, in a future post.

Then back to Halifax for a couple of days … and now I am in the no-place that is the airport, waiting for my flight back west to Edmonton. It feels like a very long time since I’ve been in my Prairie home. I expect I will be dealing with a good bit of ‘culture shock’ for at least a few days after my landing; essentially, I have been living in rural/semi-wilderness environments for the last six weeks. Not looking forward to the noise and the traffic, and crossing the street as an extreme sport. It will be good to sleep in my own bed again, and wake up to those enormous Alberta skies again, though.

But in the mean time, I wanted to say one more “‘bye for now!” to Newfoundland, and pass on a nice little interview I did, that was just posted to Creative Gros Morne. IMG_6841 It was lovely to read Evie’s article – it brought me back to sitting in the Residency house and chatting with her, to what Bonne Bay looked like that morning … And to the head cold I had! I’m amazed Evangeline got anything coherent from me at all!  Still – good memories of a remarkable experience.

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productivity and ‘fallow’ time

It’s been a pretty hectic few months for me – travel, a move, getting re-settled in our home and the rhythms of life out west, an exhibition, then another exhibition, the always-happening paperwork of exhibition proposals … and all the “backstory” work that goes into all those things.

And now things slow down a bit … there’s still work to be done – plenty of it – but there’s no pressing deadlines, no little voice in the back of my head saying “No way you’re going to be done by the deadline, you know. What were you thinking??” (I was thinking that time was more fluid than it really was – but I did get it all done, in the end)

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And now? A ‘fallow’ time.

A time to reflect and read and do some research, to think, to play a bit, to try things that have been on the ‘when I have time’ list, to anticipate new beginnings and new work … and time no NOT feel guilty for slowing down, just a little, for just a while. A reference to the land, to farming and growing and being able to sustain new growth by allowing for a break of sorts – makes sense, in this Prairie-bred brain of mine.

That’s the tough part, though. Really tough. I think I had those work ethic lessons drummed into my head too much when I was very young to ever feel completely comfortable working at less than “full-on-all-the-time” speed. Feel guilty for taking an hour to write and think over a coffee, just for myself.

But I shouldn’t – because this is not wasted time, or even down-time, not at all. It is ‘fallow’ time, and I have been reminding myself of that … and then a very talented friend of mine reminded me too, in a way that somehow made far better sense to me than what I was framing in my own mind as  lame ‘rationalizations’ for taking the breathing space I know is needed in order to make solid work.

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Katie Belcher is a terrifically talented Halifax artist, curator, and arts administrator that I have had the privilege of getting to know in the last few years. I find her drawings beautiful and inspiring, and I find her thoughtful commentary on the way we as artists understand notions of work and our practice really valuable.

Katie notes that many of the mentors she’s had over the years have stressed the need to “get in your studio every day,” but that this charge has failed her – provided a source of stress and guilt in relation to the work of cultivating a studio practice. Rather than give up on the idea altogether, though, Katie has chosen to re-frame her practice and what goes into it – quite elegantly, I might add. She says:

Get in your studio every day
Be in your studio every day
Be in your practice every day

The shift is telling. It allows for room, of all kinds, and eliminates the pattern of thinking that says ‘Whatever we’re doing, it’s not enough’ – or not the right kind of doing.  Yes, it seems silly when I read it on the page too, but it is a real stumbling point.

Katie goes on to mention other advice she’s received that pointed to how this re-framing can be made real, allowed it to ‘stick’ as a way of seeing her practice as an artist. For me, some of the most salient observations were:

practice versus Practice
Give yourself credit and space
This is all part of your practice, and it is all filtered through you
Your various work (artist, writer, curator) isn’t separate, and the hierarchy is limiting
Creative energy takes many forms
There is no such thing as art
We produce work in certain circumstances
How we move through the world informs our practices

Any one of these could be the basis for a book length dissertation on the nature of artistic work, the shape of a living practice, of course. But taken in sum, they offer a generosity which in itself is fertile space for creativity to be nurtured. The recognition and anticipation of looking at the ‘fallow’ time and wondering (positively) what will come of it.

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Not a bad way to look at things at all, really. and one that fits with the first, slow, tentative signs outside my window that Spring might – some day – arrive.

Place, and Change, and History …

The idea of ‘place’ and its meaning is a recurring thread in my work. This preoccupation seems particularly apt at this point in my life, as I am really ‘betwixt and between’ in many ways: some projects have concluded, others are taking shape; I am revisiting the NEST work, and preparing for a new exhibition; the sabbatical here in Halifax is very quickly coming to a close, and so I will be back at packing and sorting and moving; we are also selling the place we have here, so that is another layer of transition, another shifting relationship to place.

The calendar year is coming to a close, the Winter Solstice just past … returning to light, to work, to a place I have called home for many years.

I think that’s why this building struck me so. I’ve gone by it many times over the years, over many walks downtown, but this time the layers seemed particularly evident, the exposure of change to the wide world more vivid.

buildingmemory

Surfaces like this are also a rare thing in Edmonton – we are very good at erasing our history, at least when it comes to buildings. The boomtown preoccupation with the new, coupled with the relative youth of this city has contributed greatly to this erasure, as has the tendency for development to place profit and efficiency over preservation. So, place is different there; its associated narratives and threads of history are less easily read on the surface. They are there nonetheless, but it takes digging (or flying above it all) to really begin to grasp it.

aerial2 aerial1I have often been thoroughly disheartened by what feel like thoughtless, short-sighted erasures and edits to the tangible records of place/history out west (certainly in relation to the preservation of buildings and history in Halifax the difference is most dramatic). But for all of that, there is a deeper thread to understanding the meaning of place for me, that cannot be broken by myriad (and seemingly endless) boom-town-construction changes. Or perhaps that thread is because of the change: because the economy has brought so very many ‘come from away’ people to Edmonton for its entire history – and especially so in the last 40 years – I am something of a rare bird. I was born there. It is a corner of the world that has shaped me irrevocably, if for no other reason than time in.

There are people out here who can go ‘home’ to a place that has been in the family for generations, to a house that has stood for centuries. I can’t do that  – I am the daughter of an immigrant and a first generation Canadian, both of whom did their best to forget the past of the ‘old country’ and even of all but the barest snippets of their growing up years. They saw the house they called home as setting them apart from all of that by its modernity – they renovated the original house to their own design, laying claim to space, changing the land the house stood on, leaving their personal stamp on what they built. 20th Century Pioneers. The life of the place can only really be measured from the very late 1950’s or early 1960s as the place I knew as home. And now, the house and yard has been completely changed by the current owners, and almost everything around it has been transfigured by suburban expansion; even the long, straight roads I walked have been erased, in favour of winding asphalt and cup de sacs.

But the river is still there. The ravine is still there. The changes matter, impact the place deeply, make it a different city. But not entirely. I guess its in the blood, somehow, in much the same way the ties to ‘back home’ run so deep out here in the Maritimes.

It’s just the surface realities that are very different.

Travel, and New Work

It’s been a very busy few weeks in my little corner of the universe. (**Long post warning!!)

Another interview for YORK, and then sorting and packing and shipping things in advance of an extended stay on the East Coast of the country!

I’ve been travelling for the last 2 + weeks … in Montreal for the wedding of two lovely friends. Had a great few days in Montreal; lovely food, and beautiful architecture in the old part of the city, where we were staying. Had a great visit to Pointe-à-Callière, and spent a good bit of time strolling through the cobble streets of Vieux Port. Also got a chance to visit with some friends living there, and explore some other parts of the city. I really love the way life is lived on the street there; there’s a constant energy, and so much visual input. A feast.

love this one!!
love this one!!
another alley artwork
another alley artwork
an alley mural
an alley mural
Pointe-à-Callière
Pointe-à-Callière
a side street; love the buildings
a side street; love the buildings
another view of the video at Pointe-à-Callière
another view of the video at Pointe-à-Callière
A video installation at Pointe-à-Callière, a really interesting archeological and historical museum in Old Port Montreal
A video installation at Pointe-à-Callière, a really interesting archeological and historical museum in Old Port Montreal
Historical Reenactment
Historical Reenactment
Place de Jacques-Cartier
Place de Jacques-Cartier
a fire escape in Old Montreal
a fire escape in Old Montreal

After Montreal, I headed to the Bay of Fundy – one of my favourite places on the planet – a perfect place to decompress a bit, get reacquainted with the Atlantic Ocean … and to make work. These photos are all from Cheverie, NS. It’s stunningly beautiful, and there’s really nothing to compare to the power of the tides (the link I’ve supplied is to a place I have been to, but not on this trip; it’s just around the shore from where I was).

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While my partner was doing some research on the area (he’s a structural geologist), I got busy myself, and created a site-specific installation/durational performance, called Fault/Line. I am quite happy with this work: with how it tested my limits physically, how it pushed me technically and conceptually, to make work within the material and temporal constraints that made sense in that place. I like this way of working and the many challenges it poses. I didn’t know I could still lift that much weight!

Here’s a composite-panorama of the work, just after it was finished:

Fault Line. An ephemeral, site-specific installation and durational performance. Created August 31 2013.
Fault Line. An ephemeral, site-specific installation and durational performance. Created August 31 2013.

A full slide show and more details on this project can be found HERE>

… And now, I’m in Halifax, starting to get settled in, slowly (at least all the stuff I’ve shipped has arrived, but we’re not unpacked and sorted yet … that will come). I will be out here for a while – making work, writing, thinking, and talking to the ocean. For my partner, this time is a research sabbatical; I am treating it in much the same way – as a self-directed residency. A time to shift gears, think about all I have been doing and making in the last couple of years. TIme to go deeper. Make more work. Take more risks. Hibernate and ruminate.

You’ll likely hear more from me in the next while, as this little sabbatical unfolds.

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  …

Make=Believe.

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
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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!

New Work … keys and small things series

Have just finished a set of small works that will be finding their way to Halifax shortly.  I will be sending them to Love, ME – so if you’re in Halifax, check them out in the next while.

This little collection is called keys and small things. It is literally “little” as a series: each piece is no more than 4″ x 4″ unframed. As I was making this work, I realized that each piece was really an articulation of those small gestures each of us makes in our lives – ways of acknowledging or being open to different ways of seeing ourselves and our lives. These ‘keys’ can both open and close, provide or deny access to things … .

Perhaps this is part of the fascination old keys have for so many people, myself included; they embody so much mystery and ambiguity in their thing-ness.

A selection of the work from the series, below –  hope you enjoy.  

Daisy, 3″ x 4″ unframed.

Scale, 3″ x 4″ unframed.

Seed, 3″ x 3″, unframed.

Magnificat, 4″ x 4″, unframed.

Land and light … and the magic of both

I have been thinking a good deal lately about light. Not only the way it shifts and changes continually, but it’s physical properties, and the connection between light and time on both the immediate scale (a 24 hour period shifting from dark to light and back) and the cosmic scale (star light, moon light, lightning, the mind-numbing distance that a light-year is). 

These musings have come about for a number of reasons.

I am incorporating more and more photographic work into my practice in the last year or so, and so I am increasingly conscious of the technical elements around photography, and the light that I want to capture in the images I make. So it’s practical need as well as aesthetics in this case … and the realization that I have a massive amount to learn about photography and about light.

Living in Halifax for the last year, I have become very aware of how different the light is here than in Alberta – and how my own perception of space have been informed by growing up and living on the Prairie. The light here on the East Coast is far more subtle, incredibly nuanced … I know there are people who have lived out here for many years and complain about how unremittingly grey it can be at times… but it’s anything but constant. Even on the most drab winter day, the light changes constantly; shaped by fog, by rain, by snow, by the odd break in the clouds.  It really struck me this past winter; I am so used to the harsh simplicity of the Prairie light: brilliant blue skies that tell you how breath-suckingly cold it is outside, and how blinding walking in fresh snow can be. Leaden skies that produce the crispest whitest snow.

I’ve just got through reading a brilliant book by Ben Tufnell, called Land Art. It traces the history and variety of land art in the US, to the UK and Europe. Really fascinating stuff, and the fact that the work addresses the variation and methodologies in the UK and Europe is a big plus for me; the approach taken by several artists – Goldsworthy, Long, and Fulton in particular – appeals to my interest not only in ideas of transience, but also to my overall desire to ‘tread lightly’ in what I do as an artist and a human. This is all a preamble to the section of the book in which Tufnell discusses Turrell’s Roden Crater, a massive project that has been under construction since the late 1970’s in the Painter Desert in Nevada. This work is utterly amazing; the way Turrell works with the sky and all available forms of light is sheer genius.  To give you some idea:

http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=5929848&server=vimeo.com&show_title=1&show_byline=1&show_portrait=0&color=&fullscreen=1
James Turrell – Goldstein Skyspace/Roden Crater Project from Rindermulch on Vimeo.

Really quite magical, both in scale and execution. I would go there, absolutely, if it is ever open to the public.

Enjoy.

time of a different order of magnitude …

Obviously, any hope I had of updating here on a regular basis proved fruitless.

Still, the last few months have been immensely productive on a number of levels, so it’s really all good in the long run.

A number of things coming down the pipe:

–  It looks as though the chapbook for the Archives of Absence project I am working on with Catherine Owen will be coming together (literally, physically!) in the next little while. Had a marvelous meeting with Catherine and our publisher, Trisia Eddy (the genius behind Red Nettle Press) back in May – and things are shaping up well. We’ve picked paper, figured out binding options, got the final layout sorted … so now the birthing begins in earnest for Trisia!  I am so very excited by this project, and can’t wait to see the final result. I think it is going to be really beautiful as an object, and as a book.  It is so rewarding to work with people from totally different areas of creative activity, and be able to share ideas and and create something larger than the sum of its parts.

– The second (and third) parts of Archives of Absence are coming together very well also. I have finished over 30 gel transfer works on board for the gallery-based portion of this work, and am slowly wrapping my head around the arcane workings of Final Cut Express to get the video portion of the beast together. Have some more photographic work to do when I get back to Edmonton, and reacquaint myself with the Berm in all its vacant oddness, and need to resolve, once and for all, the best way to deal with the collection of objects, and what the archive will itself look like.  It’s coming together, and I’m looking forward to finishing all the components and seeing it as a coherent whole.

 – I have collected a vast array of wonderful bits in my time in Halifax: bones, bird wings, rusty metal things (many, many rusty things!), all of which will be returning to the Prairie with me all too soon. They will be fuel for the fire on the creation of a new body of work coming out of this year away.

– Plans are afoot and sample works have been created for a collaborative project with visual artist and art historian Kristen Hutchinson. This installation-based work is titled In Living Memory, and will deal with the way in which memory is presented publically – as memorialization – in graveyards, and what happens when there’s no one left to remember those passages.

– I will be traveling to Toronto next week to plan, plot, scheme, and generally hammer out another collaborative project for exhibition with my friend David Young.  This work (as yet unnamed) is going to be a process-based installation, exploring some ideas we have around parallel narratives and the conjunction of physical change, memory, and narrative processes … the constant becoming of all these things. It will be exceedingly interesting for both of us, I think, to work through our ideas in relation to our different (but related) methods of working.

 – Received some very happy news when I was back in Edmonton in May: my exhibition proposal for Profiles Gallery in St. Albert has been accepted for December 2011 – January 2012. SO … I know I have a good bit to think about and plan (and execute!!) over the next couple of years.

 – Had a piece accepted for the next Edmonton Timeraiser.  A great opportunity, and a very worthy project! 

– have been working on various grants, residency applications, exhibition proposals, and so on. Crossing fingers (and toes and anything else I can!) that some of these bear fruit.

Hmm … I guess I understand why I haven’t been keeping this updated regularly.

flux, and watching the dust settle

Finally starting to feel somewhat settled, in this, my temporary home city of Halifax. The summer – and fall, thus far –  has been a fabulous, hectic adventure of arrival, travel, and settling in. So far, we have been to the Stan Rogers Folk Fest (mudfest!), the UK and Ireland for field work and family visit, Newfoundland, and will be heading off to Wolfville for the Deep Roots Fest this weekend. That’s a lot of miles since July 1 when we landed. In between times, I have been walking the city, getting to know it as a place I live (as opposed to a place I am simply visiting), and working on the two collaborative projects I have on the go with Catherine Own and Kristen Hutchinson.

It has been the ‘in between times’ – the time I have had to spend living here in this space and this city and working – that has been most interesting and telling so far. We are living a spare existence here – a very compact living space, with very little in it that is ours. But for me this is the perfect mode of existence for this year and the work we both have to hand. The move and this sabbatical have been about getting back to what’s essential to each of us, and to the two of us as a couple. The process of preparing for the sabbatical became a joyous purge, a letting go of all that was non-essential; moving from a 4 bedroom, 3 story house to a 1 bedroom apartment had a that effect purely in practical terms, of course. But that process of choosing, of being absolutely conscious and active in selecting what to bring and what to leave (or get rid of) had the most liberating effect emotionally and psychically as well. I know I was going to a place where I didn’t want to carry a great deal with me in any sense; I wanted to bring only those tools and necessities of life that were truly important for my well being, and leave the rest behind, to leave the space I need to make the most of this year away.

I find myself working in a totally different way than I have previously, as well. In part this is purely practical: I am forced to change materials and methods due to the limitations of the space we live in and the absence of studio space. But I am seeing there is more to this than simple practicalities the longer I work here. The change in venue has forced a stripping down, a spareness to my work, that I am just beginning to appreciate. It’s forcing me to be even more conscious of the choices I am making  – image selection, placement, composition –  and in a different way than I am when I am working with the wax and the plaster. These images I am working now are all semi-transparent – single skins – so all is revealed in the single gesture of printing to the panel, whereas the collage/construction work that I have been doing for the last couple of years has relied on virtually the opposite approach: building up and hiding objects and images, re-revealing certain elements.  I have absolutely no idea how this year-long method of working will impact my practice over the long term, but that’s part of the beauty of being here: I really don’t know anything, and I don’t know how it will all turn out. It’s this state of flux that I am really appreciating as the days pass; it really is all process, and not product.