This summer, an open call for igNIGHT was posted by the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. igNIGHT is a 10 day temporary public art exhibition of illuminated artworks with this year's theme of Canada 150. I love art installations and find myself dreaming up all sorts of wild ideas - but with no place to install them (or a lack of a budget to make it happen in the first place.) So, I was excited to see a local opportunity and began to dream and ask questions and research and budget. My friend and colleague, Liana Wheeldon came alongside me in the journey and we were thrilled to bring this idea to life.
Wanting an accessible and playful way to approach the Canada 150 theme, we created a 5' x 8' beaver lodge, complete with illuminated beaver lanterns. The entire structure was surrounded by 8 interpretive panels with all sorts of fun and crazy beaver facts and lovely sketches created by Liana. We amalgamated our skill sets and got to work! Home, Sweet Home (or my nickname for it: Beaverville) was the culmination of construction, sculpture and assemblage I love the finishing touches of the wicker patio lights - those beavers are good decorators!
I took on the construction elements, using 2x2's to organically create the beaver lodge frame. I loved the minimalism of the frame just as it was and will have to revisit this process for another project. The lodge is constructed in 3 sections so that we could transport it separately and have access inside for the lighting elements. Thankfully, we had the gracious support of friends who offered up their garage and driveway so we could continue the process in a sheltered location. We gathered fallen branches from the surrounding forest and selected the best ones to cover the frame - systematically pre-drilling and attaching them, creating a bit of a puzzle as it all came together. The inside was covered with outdoor fabric to ensure that we had the light diffused enough to allow the lodge to glow at night.
Each of us created our own beaver lanterns, starting with moulds we made of plastic, cardboard, tape and newspaper. The moulds were then covered with vellum and rice paper using a papier mache technique. I lovingly named mine Buckeye and Bernadette (and Beavis for the tail sticking out of the water). ;) Lights were installed inside each beaver and they were attached to both the lodge and the frame. A lighting dress rehearsal took place late one night to ensure that everything had power and all the cords had their place in the crazy maze underneath. Planning, executing, tweaking, planning some more, tweaking some more... all a part of the day to day work to make all the details work together. Countless hours were spent at each stage and I can certainly attest to having learned a great deal through it all.
Creating a design and proposal on paper naturally leads to some oversights in details and the troubleshooting became an integral part of the artistic process. Taking the bones of the proposal and bringing it to 3-dimensional life meant that we were constantly experimenting and refining elements of the design, making the project stronger as we progressed. There were many challenges (including having to install in the pouring rain and frigid temperatures) and the timeframe was intense but we completed our project! We were over the moon to share our blood, sweat and tears with the community and even more thrilled to watch how people interacted with our beaver friends.
One of my favourite elements was the use of nature sounds so, in the dark, you were transported from the middle of the city to the peaceful beaver world filled with creaking toads and quacking ducks and even the sound of the beavers splashing in the water. The temporal nature of our project also pointed to the ever-changing natural environment around us and the importance of the process.
I absolutely adore installation art. Walking into a space where the entire room is a work unto itself is so captivating to me. Environmental art is an installation that becomes part of an outdoor environment and I was really excited to create within this realm. Working with Alma Louise Visscher, who is currently working within installation art, has been an invaluable opportunity. She was generous to share so much of her own process with all of us, holding workshops to show us how she uses fabric and working with us one on one as well. Many of us were inspired to take what we learned and the fabric we dyed into our own practice. For me, the process of naturally dying fabric fit perfectly within the body of work that I already had in progress.
The bundle dying technique began with the gathering of found wildflowers, which became a bit of an experiment to see how different colours, textures, parts of the plant, and plant species, responded to the dying process. I have been particularly enamoured with the vibrancy of the clover in our region this summer so I knew I wanted to grab big bundles of these purple and blue flowers. I also added dried lavender, rose and hibiscus petals that created a more defined texture. After arranging the flowers on prepared fabric, it was tightly bundled and steamed. Unrolling the piping hot bundle was an exciting part of the process - we could finally see how our "experiment" turned out!
And after it was dry and all the fragments shaken off, our fabric became the new "canvas" for our creations. Some used it just like a canvas, painting over it, others used it as clothing, and another artist framed it as is. Mine was used to create another part of my mountain work, cut and shaped into pyramids - approaching the mountain range with yet another point of view and fragmentation. These little mountains were completed and installed in Jasper National Park, bringing my Fort McMurray studio journey full circle into the Rockies themselves. I even strapped one of them to my backpack as I hiked up Wilcox Pass.
Being drawn to natural elements and processes, I loved having this beautiful fabric to create the fragile pyramids. The next step was to install the work among the trees, with the goal of recording how the created work interacted with and related to it's natural surroundings - especially concerning a variety of light conditions. Serendipitously, the trees in our campsite were perfectly spaced for me to create my environmental installation within the comfort and safety of our own space. Strewn from rough twine, they were hung among the trees, and LED tea lights were carefully placed inside for me to document the warm evening light changing to darkness. I found the transparency and colour of the fabric allowed the work to change, blend and compliment its surroundings - it felt as if they were meant to be there! Creating my own installation sparked a desire to continue to push my creative limits in so many ways.
The entire residency was a creative retreat in the midst of a time of transition - a welcome time of refinement and exploration. It was a blessing to be able to glean from our two mentors, and to dive into these six weeks in the studio with them. I was stretched and rejuvenated and oh, so grateful to have had this experience.
“We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.” ― Kurt Vonnegut