Far Afield @ The Banff Centre by Caitlin Chaisson

Far Afield recently took part in a four-week residency at the Banff Centre for the Arts and Creativity entitled, Geologic Time, led by Max Andrews and Mariana Cánepa Luna (Latitudes), with guest faculty Sean Lynch.  

The residency questioned the temporal scale of conventional artistic and cultural methods, wondering how might a geologic lens affect the way we approach these practices? Such a question ignited many of my own thoughts, which have been preoccupied with a time capsule I came across in November of 2016. Buried on September 14, 1988, the location of the capsule is marked by an enormous granite boulder taken from a mountain property near Agassiz, British Columbia. The capsule is designated to be unearthed in 2088, but, alas, it has long since been forgotten. Any instructions as to its care, or its importance, seem to have been inadvertently buried along with it. During the residency I focused my energies on the development of a curatorial project inspired by the time capsule, and framed by the thematics of geologic time. The project is anticipated to take place in the fall of 2018, and details will be released in the new year. 

Two components of the residency were highlights of the experience for me, including fieldwork and bookwork. Far from being distinct activities where one would assume fieldwork belongs “outside” and bookwork belongs “inside”, we found ourselves reading in boulder basins and hot springs, while collecting samples and sediments in libraries and studios. I began to loosen some of my assumptions about research, and instead began to think about research activities as stratum that layer one-upon-the-other, grainy sediments that harden into solid, seemingly stable, or coherent states over time; perhaps, over long, long times.

Fieldwork

Some of the fieldwork for the residency included, but was not limited to, visits to: Banff Park Museum; Bankhead; Lake Minnewanka; Stanley Glacier; Upper Banff Hot Springs; and the Whyte Museum. 

Select field notes:

Stanley Glacier A Canadian Rockies Public Schools bus pulled into a parking lot in Kootenay National Park, where we clambered out and began the switchbacks up to the receding nose of the Stanley Glacier. Along the way: we viewed the remains of some major forest fires and the resultant new growth; we rested near a bridge over the creek formed by runoff from the glacier; we turned over rocks in the Stanley basin, a boulder field containing Cambrian fossils of soft-bodied marine creatures in the Burgess Shale; we listened to the pikas chirp around us as we ate lunch, and finally caught a glimpse of the very vocal and plump little critter.

Bankhead The skies clouded over and a veil of mist and light rain encircled us as we began down the steps to Bankhead. Bankhead was once a world-class mining operation (1904-1922), but is now a ghost town that is known locally as the “Twenty-Year Town”. Any building that could be picked up and moved after 1922 was transported either to Banff or Calgary, but the concrete foundations of many of the facilities remain. The Lamp House was once how they accounted for any miners that may have gone missing. Each morning, workers would be given a lamp. Each evening, any lamps that hadn’t been returned to the Lamp House indicated a search party needed to be formed to find the miner who had gone missing. Today, the remains of the Lamp House are covered in graffiti tags, marked onto the walls from the pieces of anthracite coal that can be collected from the pathways and surrounding slack heaps. The graffiti consists predominately of lists of names. No vulgar obscenities, generally, just initials, first names, last names.   

Lake Minnewanka Rebecca Belmore's powerful installation Wave Sound rests on the edge of a jutting precipice on the shore of Lake Minnewanka. Wave Sound demands a careful and concentrated form of listening, which amplifies the acoustic qualities of the lake. You have to crouch down onto the rocks to place your ear to the sculpture. You have to make yourself quite small in order to listen to the water well. 

Bookwork

In many ways, “storied matter” became a leitmotif of the residency. Penelope Smart organized and led an informal “geysering” session, which was an opportunity for the group to send our stories, ideas, interests, passions, and research gushing forth. The results of the session were transformed by Smart into a zine, Little Geysers, a copy of which has been included in Far Afield’s library.

Many other additions to the library were made during the residency, including works by a number of the “geologic timers”. The library now contains a copy of the first eight novellas of Lost Rocks by A Published Event (Justy Phillips & Margaret Woodward), Stone Theatre by Camila Sposati, Receding Agate, and Receding Rhodochrosite by Becky Forsythe and Camila Sposati, in addition to a collection of lithographic crayon zines created by visitors to the closing event of Geologic Time.

My research benefitted tremendously from the sage guidance of faculty (Max, Mariana, Sean), and from the diverse expertise of my colleagues and new friends: Justy Phillips & Margaret Woodward (A Published Event) (Hobart); Semâ Bekirovic (Amsterdam); Becky Forsythe (Reykjavik); Chloe Hodge (London); Shane Krepakevich (Toronto); Caroline Loewen (Calgary); Penelope Smart (St. John’s); Camila Sposati (São Paulo). Many thanks. 

Processes of Alignment by Caitlin Chaisson

We woke up early and saw the sun rise the first time. We taped a cardboard box shut, and cut-out a large hole so the box could be placed over our heads. A pin prick in the opposite corner was all that was needed for the sun to pass through. We got in the truck and drove to the harbour where the tide was nearly all the way out. We were not sure what we would see, or what we might feel. As the solar eclipse began, we started and stopped a number of performed actions. Every fifteen minutes we would be interrupted by the urge to look in our DIY pinhole camera and see how much the positions of the sun and the moon had changed. The light around us was altered with an almost metallic hue, and we witnessed the shadows being cast with uncertainty. For a moment, it got colder, as the moon began to cover ninety percent of the sun. Hardly a cloud was in the sky. The chilly air of dusk swept through the harbour in the middle of a balmy morning. 

Salt Spring Island was not on the path of totality, but very nearby to Victoria, BC which was identified as the best city to view the eclipse within Canada. The three-ferry sailing wait to get to Victoria at the start of the eclipse weekend was possibly a result of this small migration of enthusiasts. A nearly ideal spot to view the celestial phenomena, Salt Spring also presented an opportunity to think about the relationship between the island and the mainland, between central and peripheral places of being. If a cosmic shift in positions was possible, could we be encouraged to think about these earthbound geographies in more flexible terms? 

The diverse landscapes of the Island had a major influence on the development of the artwork for Inside the Day was Night. The environmental conditions guided much of our behaviour and actions throughout the project. We waited patiently for tides to either recede or approach. We had to hold tightly to sculptures as the wind transformed them into sails. We followed shadows as they stretched and contracted. We let currents float artworks away from us, and then swam out, or clambered over jagged rocks to retrieve them. While our own movements involved passing, crossing, handing, and following, the forces of the landscape contributed movements of submerging, covering, shifting, and engulfing. We placed our bodies in, or out, of alignment with the world around us. 

Inside the Day was Night. 2017. Work in progress. Experimenting with materials on the surface of the water.

Inside the Day was Night. 2017. Work in progress. Experimenting with materials on the surface of the water.

The artwork emerged out of a process-based approach. Working with many variables and changing conditions, the work was more about anticipating and responding. It was not clear how certain materials would react in the landscapes, how certain positions would appear at a distance, or how layering would alter objects, bodies and spaces. A quality of unknowingness is present throughout all of the artworks, but taken together, they express a certain composite experience about the landscape and our positions within it. 

Inside the Day was Night. 2017. Work in progressAn early test of some movements with the sculptures through through the landscape.