In the month of June I went to Alberta to conduct some research on my family history and ancestry, visit archives, local museums and libraries; I also wanted to visit the land that my ancestors once occupied. My Great Aunt Ivy, my grandmothers’ sister, lives in Grande Prairie and she opened her house to my mom and myself. We stayed there just over a week, visiting family and helping around the house. Along with visiting relatives I went to local archives and libraries, including the library in Grouard where my grandmother went to residential school. Ivy agreed to take a day trip to High Prairie to show me the dairy farm she grew up on, I was hoping to get some recording of oral stories and histories while I was there and include them in my show at the Anna Leonowens in July (the one that just passed). Unfortunately while my mom and I were visiting my Great Aunt Yvonne, Ivy’s sister, passed away from complication at the hospital. It was an incredibly sad week. Ivy, understandably, couldn’t bring herself to take a day to drive around High Prairie and talk about the times passed.
Knowing that I wouldn’t be back in the area for some time I decided to take a drive to around the area on my own. Ivy drew me a map of where the old farm once stood and we had long discussions about the area and her time there. While driving I was struck by the expansive landscape, the Albertan landscape appears endless; you can see the weather moving in on you. This was the first aspect that inspired my installation piece at the Anna. After driving for a few hours and taking numerous photos I starting thinking of creating a document of the land. Something tactile and factual, something that replicated the articles I was looking for in my research. I sat with the thought while driving, thinking over and over again about this document of the land. While driving I finally came across Heart River, I parked on the side of the road and started walking along the river. Without really thinking about it I started looking at the plants along the river, imagining how people before me once stood here, in a completely different landscape, and looked at these same plants. Or did they? Have these plants changed with the construction of pavement roads, industrial farming equipment, oil pumps and green houses? As I thought of these things I started picking parts of the plant, not decimating the plant but removing parts of the leaves, small flowers and stems. I had an entire arm full when I got back to my car. I did this three times and then decided I had enough for the idea that was forming in my head.
The concept for this piece was to create a document of the land by using plants from the land of my ancestors in paper and assemble an installation that mimicked the landscape. As some of you may know, I just completed my first year of the Master of Fine Arts at NSCAD University. During this year you are required to write papers on various subjects as well as a draft of your thesis. I am a very tactile learner, I have to edit papers with a pen in hand and a draft copy in front of me, so, as you can imagine, all these drafts and papers added up to a lot of used paper. I had decided during the year to keep these and somehow reuse them later. While formulating this piece it occurred to me that this would be the best opportunity to reuse the papers in my recycling bin.
I went home and started work, there are about 140 pieces of hand-made paper made from reused academic readings and writings, and plants from the edge of Heart River. I spent days on my deck in the sun pressing the paper and drying it out. Once all the pieces were prepared I assembled a hanging device out of chicken wire and hung fishing line from it, later to be attached to the circular paper sheets.
I was extremely happy with the outcome of this installation piece. When I applied for the Anna Leonowens exhibition I imagined a show that consisted of research, documents, photographs and maps; I wanted to show what I had collected. I feel that this piece is a truer representation of what I had learned and what I had gained from the trip. This was the land of my ancestors, collected and mixed with all the work I had done in the month’s prior. It was a cathartic experience to use the paper I had collected throughout my first MFA year. The action of combining the plants from the land of my ancestors and used paper was like combining two worlds I had previously thought of as so separate.