At the Water's Edge / by Caitlin Chaisson

Artist Andrew Maize arrived in Prince George on a passenger train three days before the close of Disturbances in the Field. Having spent the majority of the exhibition rolling through the vast expanse of the Canadian landscape, the travel formed an integral part of Maize’s process-based artwork. The artist followed the contours of a rail-line once used to cinch the settler-state’s fledgling sense of national identity together in the nineteenth and early twentieth-centuries. A tool to “unite”, “connect”, and “join” the economic and social resources of the country together, the early railway portrayed a veneer of harmony and accord that glossed over the brutal machinations of colonization.

 In Prince George specifically, the history of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway (GTP) has strikingly direct connections to resource extraction (forestry), the rivers that traverse the city, and the displacement of the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation. Capital-driven power and imperialism coalesced in harrowing ways between 1907 and 1913, which ultimately saw the GTP's controversial acquisition of reserve land, and the forcible relocation of the Lheidli T’enneh. The existing village was set on fire and razed to the ground to make way for the passage of the railway [1]. This land continues to be a part of the specific claims resolution process in the Lheidli T’enneh’s fight for treaty rights, where the council notes, “the surrender of land at Fort George IR#1 remains an injustice that more than 100 years later still requires resolution” [2]. Today, this space is now a public park. In 2015, Fort George Park, the former site of IR#1, was renamed Lheidli T’enneh Memorial Park in a city council vote [3].

Maize’s overarching research project nations are narrations, titled after a line by Edward Said, is looking at the ways in which confederate-driven enterprises like the railway have shaped, displaced, and profited communities in disproportionate ways. Maize’s time spent travelling by train allowed the artist to listen closely to the spectrum of narratives that are told about these places and their histories. Maize became particularly attentive to the contentiousness of place-naming. Influenced by Lucy Lippard’s claim that “every place name is a story, an outcropping of the shared tales that form the bedrock of community” [4], Maize wondered about the sociopolitical motivations behind re-naming a place, and the instabilities of place and community that accompany such alterations in the ‘bedrock’.

Over the course of two days, Maize conceptualized a sculpture-based performance piece titled FRASER (confluence). The work makes use of the name Simon Fraser, a figure whose presence in the region continues to be channeled through the river named after him. On the first day, Maize sourced two planks of freshly hewed Douglas Fir from a local mill on the outskirts of town. For the artist, these long, rectilinear shapes echo the slats of wooden ties that form rail tracks, and are also the familiar materials seen in the cargo loads of freights travelling through Northern British Columbia. In the evening, Maize began a smoking process that charred the lumber, priming the raw material in preparation for carving. Secured together so the smoke could be funnelled through a small gap between the wood, the blackened pair of boards resembled something similar to a Rorschach blot test when separated. As a result, the two planks bore completely identical, but inverted markings. The mirrored qualities created an effect that bound the pieces visually together as a paralleled set.

Inversion, repetition and distortion became the major process strategies for the artist, who continued to work on FRASER (confluence) the following day on a bank of the Nechako River in Cottonwood Island Park. For about five hours, Maize used a chisel to carve text into the charcoal surface, interacting with local passersbys as he worked. On one plank, the name “Fraser” appears in a vertical scroll. Without margins between the lines, the repeated and conjoined F’s deliberately spell Eraser. On the other plank, Maize carved out the negative space around the text, raising the name Fraser in a lettering shaped out of the blistered charcoal. When the chiselling was complete, the pair was split up by the artist. One of the planks was taken into town and the other was tossed into the confluence of the rivers, where it was carried by swift currents and will ultimately be left to deteriorate when it gets caught in the tangles along the water’s edge.  

Much like the artist’s sojourn, FRASER (confluence) involved a kind of tracing and retracing of ideas and movements through space. As an experimental artwork informed by the artist's rail-travel, the history of the city of Prince George, and the colonial legacies of naming, FRASER (confluence) is an expansive work that draws on many influences.

The legibility of the text on the planks will not weather well. The material is brittle, and already showing signs of breaking down.   


Maize would like to thank Arts Nova Scotia for their support in his project nations are narrations.

[1] Vogt, David and David Alexander Gamble. ‘“You Don’t Suppose the Dominion Government Wants to Cheat the Indians?”: The Grand Trunk Pacific Railway and the Fort George Reserve, 1908-12’. BC Studies, 166: Summer 2010. <>.

[2] Lheidli T’enneh Historical Timeline. <>.

[3] Daybreak North. “Lheidli T’enneh Memorial Park to be new name of Prince George Park.” CBC News. June 17,2015. <>.  

[4] Lippard, Lucy. Lure of the Local: Senses of Place in a Multicentered Society. New York: The New Press, 1997.