Thursday, May 14, 2009

Visiting Artist at Cape Jourimain's Eco-Arts Festival

Last Fall I was fortunate to be selected as a Visiting Artist at the Eco-Arts Festival at Cape Jourimain Nature Centre. The Centre is located in a 675-hectare National Wildlife Area at the base of the Confederation Bridge in New Brunswick and celebrates the link between natural and human environments. So it’s no surprise that they hold an annual festival that marries art and nature.

On arrival, the Artists were encouraged to walk the trails and select a location for their “studio”. Like a fish caught in an eddy, I was continually drawn back to the beach. I envisioned numerous artworks all based on the use of the naturally-occurring wrack line of dried eelgrass. As the tide continually reshapes the shore, my intention was to continually reshape the eelgrass during the course of the festival. A rake would be my paintbrush, the seaweed would be my paint, and the beach would be my canvas.

My first artwork was this 18-foot long fish which I entitled Beached. As part of the natural process, animals get beached with the tide. This fish suffered the same fate but at the hands of the artist.

On day two, I breathed life back into that fish and adapted it for a second artwork: a fish that is sneaking up and about to swallow me! I was looking for a way to redefine the wrack line. The natural line of the eelgrass became the waterline of the Northumberland straight. With me swimming along the waterline, half above water and half below, the fish comes up behind me for a chomp.

To photograph the artwork, I needed to get to high ground. The Centre built an Observation Tower for just such viewing.

Peye in the Sky Idea
The Observation Tower’s vantage point gave me a pie (or eye) in the sky idea.

Could these artworks be visible from the satellites used by Google Earth or Google Maps? Their big eye in the sky is a technology whose omnipresence is being exploited for marketing purposes the world over. So, I attempted to write large enough to be captured by Google Earth. This URL not only names the land but identifies it as Canadian (.ca) and lets people know where to go to find out more information about it. I put a bird, an eel and a snail around the web address to indicate that it's an area rich with wildlife spanning earth, air and water habitats.

The last time the area was photographed by Google seems to have been in 2006 so I was hoping that Cape Jourimain was due for another shoot! I made sure that the web address was above the high tide mark so that it would remain on the beach for a while. I tracked Google Earth for the 3 weeks that the URL survived the elements but it never showed up. If Google did photograph it, it hasn’t appeared on their web site yet.

The web address ended up being about 96 feet long and 12 feet tall. To give you an idea of size, I've included a photo with people in it.

Everyone’s an Art Critic
One of the most interesting things that happened was when a group of shore birds flocked to my upturned seaweed — it must be a source of food for them. By bizarre coincidence, they seemed to prefer the “drawing” of the bird to pick at. I’ve worried about critics tearing apart my art but never birds!

The Challenges of an Outdoor Studio
Producing the works had its challenges. Creating something so large (for example, the largest letters in were 8 feet by 12 feet) introduced the problem of perspective. Viewing it from high above and from different angles stretched and warped it. I had to run back and forth to the platform of the beach's stairs between forming each letter to see what tweaking it needed. The letter that was furthest away ended up being extremely warped from the beach but looked perfect from the tower.

Photographing the work was interesting, too. I photographed it from the tower but to get a closer view of it, I ended up borrowing a huge ladder from the facility. Not only was it difficult to find sure footing in loose sand but the wind took the ladder out several times in the attempt! After several tries and with the help of fellow artists and the festival coordinator, I got the shot that I was hoping for.

And then there was the shear physical aspect of it. For example, using a rake all day is nothing like using a paint brush all day. I quickly learned that gloves, rubber boots and a strong garden rake were essential and that flipping seaweed to air-dry overnight meant much lighter work the next day. My arms got a workout that weekend!

A Thoroughly Enjoyable Experience
The Cape Jourimain staff were super. Their leadership and assistance was wonderful and the food was amazing; much of it organic, all of it local.

Working all morning and all afternoon in our own "environment", then breaking for coffee or lunch to bring the artists and staff together allowed us to talk about the day's accomplishments and the impact that working outside had on our approach to art-making. This wall-less studio takes down many barriers; the fear of people seeing my work mid-production was a big one for me.

During the festival, visitors were really engaged. We talked about the act of creating art since most visitors were finding the artists part way through the creation of an artwork rather than with finished works. It was more like a studio tour than a gallery tour... the world's largest and most freeing studio! A few asked me if my communication on the beach was a sort of S.O.S. By the end of the weekend, I'd perfected an answer "Yes, a form of communication but the exact opposite of an S.O.S. in that I DON'T want to be found!"

My CJNC Eco-Arts Visiting Artist profile page

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