All five locations where Ensemble Nomad.e set up for their 2019 residencies have shown evidence of shoreline erosion. Following the high-water levels in the spring, we witnessed the traces left by the slowly subsiding flood waters. Perhaps soil loss is not unusual but witnessing the changes crystalized for me that shoreline plants, rhizomes and trees hold earth and water together.
Ensemble Nomad.e experienced four glorious days in Gatineau Park soaking up the warm autumn sun in tranquil drawing time. Set up on the shore of a small clear lake under a tall pine tree, the ground is soft with fallen needles interrupted only by the grey lines of exposed tree roots. The air crisp and tinged with autumn scents remains nippy and damp even when the passing raindrops give way to sun. We each bundle under many layers of coats and blankets in thick wool socks. It makes manipulating a watercolour brush cumbersome.
How to visually describe “good”? The sun is low in the sky. I will not find any exposed rhizome roots here as with the ever-flowing river waters. It is windy today and the top of the lake moves in ripples with the wind. I see the rhizome grasses on the bank in front of me. I take photos. The camera is a mediation of nature, but it helps me see things close up – or is it the play of the changing light that reveals tiny snails?
In the quiet of the park this week I want to observe how nature preserves the soil. While erosion is known to be a problem for land banks, witnessing where trees and plant life hold specific juts of land to the shore is an enthralling experience. I continue to explore how I might represent the healing ability of mycelial networks.
My quest is without romance. I am not a scientist, but I am behind the science. As an artist with an unsentimental approach I must find a way to translate my experiences in biodiversity into visual forms that express connections. Connection is where the magic lies – not in nature nor in me. I search for the magic that happens when I create something that connects with others. All living things seek harmony – a brief equilibrium in the flows of change – in the constant changes of nature and in the ever-changing societies we humans create.
Here is a “rhizoming” shoreline depicting soft soil on one side, gentle waters on the other side of undulating lines. How to express connections? Our society is undergoing a subtle transformation of knowledge and a dissipating distinction between evidence and intuition. Acknowledging how humans are integral in nature might prompt reflection beyond a belief that technology can save us from ourselves.
The clouds part and the trees glow without help from the sun!
At the close of our summer residencies it occurs to me that I have experienced a special relationship to the biodiversity of our region. Looking back to my drawings from October I see the calm that I was feeling sitting by the lake all bundled in layers of warm clothing. When I look at the photographs taken on site, I see the colourful stimulus of the changing season. Visually it seems difficult to reconcile the two, but they go together somehow…so, post-residency I continue to be inspired from my time at the lake.
Strathcona Park [Adàwe crossing]
Ensemble Nomad.e planned five days in Ottawa’s Strathcona Park for our September residency. This is a very urban and public place. We set up near the wall that divides the park from the water. I spend much of my time on the opposite shore among the plants at the water’s edge.
I find the ubiquitous tire.
This residency could be called Adàwe crossing, as I pass from shore to shore via the modern footbridge. The bridge is the most important element in this people place and figures deeply into each day of the residency as I seek relief from the cultured sameness of the park.
These rhizomes represent what I am seeking. They are visually intreguing and vitally connect the water of this ancient seabed with land through cohabitation and mutual dependence.
I make an abstract picture of the opposite shoreline.
Britannia Conservation Area
Beginning our residency at Ottawa’s Britannia Conservation Area, we use the first of five days to orient our senses. We breath the air warmed by the morning sun – a perfect day! Mostly I listen to the birds and insects while photographing mushrooms, talking with Emily and walking the parameter of Mud Lake.
The narrowness of the paths and a plethora of poison ivy send us to the other side of the road to explore the Southern shoreline of the Ottawa River. The Algonquin people named this majestic tributary flowing into the Saint Lawrence River, Kitchissippi (Great River) and French speakers call it, la rivière des Outaouais. As we set up to work, we discover mixtures of water and rocks, trees and grasses, waterfowl and sparrows, spiders and dragonflies of many colours and sizes.
Deciduous trees descend from the ridge and join scraggy brush and willows on the riverbank. I explore the shoreline further. I am listening to the roaring rapids while exploring the manufactured things deposited here. Ensemble Nomad.e has an advantage to be here while the river is low – we walk on the ancient shale stone.
Les rapides Deschênes provide a constant roar broken only by bird calls or people in the area. No dense tree foliage or mossy softness guide my senses. Themes in my residency work come through connecting with and interpreting each site. My senses are alive, and I must locate the natural connections to be found in the diversity around me.
Textures and marks left by the action of the water on the soft stone combine with the dense hairy roots of the willow tree to create the small near shore islands where we work.
This place is about the river: the water, stones and inhabitants that live above and among the ancient stones that form the river’s bed. I see remnants from elsewhere deposited haphazardly – uprooted trees, piles of logs and a feeling like the one left from the spring flooding at Lac Leamy with its grey film over the shoreline. Maybe it is the time of year but there are not many birds in this sanctuary – life has been redirected.
Today I made a rubbing of the memorial plaque to a boy who drowned when walking with friends in the river. I create a transfer of the words when I realize that part of the year this area must be under water.
Most of the tenacious grasses and plants near the shoreline are rhizomes. I pull out a dark green rhizome drawing I worked up in my studio last year. My intention is to make it part of this place by adding colours I find in the water’s changing surface.
Today the air is fresh and cool. I take a deep breath and smell the same fish as the great blue heron on the far shore.
Parc du Lac Beauchamp quarry
Four days in residency at Lac Beauchamp offered us sun and dry weather. Temperatures climbed each day until we had humidex figures reaching 40 degrees on Thursday. While working the canopy of trees cooled us so completely that only when we emerged from the forest onto the asphalt were we aware of the scorching temperatures. We abandoned our haven for our cars.
For our July residency we consider the banks of Lac Beauchamp but decide on the wooded area around the mica quarry. What a great place! I find a spot surrounded by varieties of moss and lichen among the Ironwood trees. Sun spots dance and birds sing. As I am settling in, close observation and precise drawing take over my creative activity when I find an interesting tree scar.
Days 2 and 3, I am happy to return to the same location and feel connected to the glorious biodiversity surrounding me.
On the last day, I take out my sketchbook to finish a pencil drawing of a granite rock.
Some interesting results are coming from working over old ink-jet prints. The idea is to change the meaning inherent in the printed image. Each day has produced something different.
I am walking among the native sugar maples and pick up a tree flower. Returning to my place, I preserve my find under plastic mending tape and enclose it with a drawn house-like geometric form.
Speaking of flowers, I go looking for mushrooms. They are the flowers that visualize the mycelium network beneath the soil’s surface.
Présente / Presents
La voix des archives
Commissarié par Karina Arbelaez Saenz
Exposition : du 5 juillet au 26 juillet 2019
Vernissage : le 5 juillet de 17h à 19h
Dans le cadre du programme DémART-Mtl, la Centrale galerie Powerhouse présente La voix des archives, une exposition commissariée par Karina Arbelaez Saenz, où l’installation, le son et la vidéo mettent en lumière la mémoire de la galerie en témoigant du travail d’artistes féminines et non binaires sous-représentées. Après une étude minutieuse des archives, des observations personnelles et des expérimentations à La Centrale, Arbelaez Saenz entame un dialogue qui parcourt différents moments historiques du centre.
Mon travail est présenté dans le contexte d’une exposition à la Galerie La Centrale à Montréal. Je serai à la galerie pour une visite guidée par la commissaire le mercredi 10 juillet à 15 heures.
detail of Sustain, 1988
As part of the DémART-Mtl program, la Centrale galerie Powerhouse presents Voices of the Archives, curated by Karina Arbelaez Saenz. In this exhibition, sound and video bear witness to the work of underrepresented female and non-binary artists. After a careful study of the gallery’s archives, personal observations and experiments at La Centrale, Arbelaez Saenz instigates a discussion about different historical moments at the center.
My work is being shown as part of an exhibition at Galerie La Centrale in Montréal. I will be in the gallery on Wednesday, July 10 at 3 pm. for the curator’s tour.
Lac Leamy revisited
It is a new season of nomadic residencies and we begin with a visit to Lac Leamy. Is the uneasiness in the air or is it in me? The record flooding in the Outaouais strikes a discordant note to the tender green shoots on the trees and grasses where the water has receded. The month of May was filled with dread as the waters from the Gatineau and Ottawa rivers kept rising. I went several times to visit Lac Leamy where the Gatineau river flooded the parking lot at the end of rue Atawe to about chin level on the far sidewalk.
Ensemble Nomad.e wants to see and hear changes brought with the flooding. This morning is cold and wet, we arrive around 9:00. The water is receding more rapidly now. Standing in drizzle without shelter we can not draw. Donning our rubber boots and rain gear, we begin to investigate how far we can walk around the lake, not far… the ground is spongy with mud and silt. It is slippery and the smell left behind by the receding water is foul. Goose shit is everywhere with occasional piles of other crap. Logs are out of place and the ribbons of leaves and small twigs leave evidence of how high the water reached in early May. There are no other humans but we see many herons, geese and ducks.
By the end of the week the humans are back with all types of activities; including sun bathing and picnicking over plastic covered tables. The herons are gone. This urban lake is at a crossroads of massive human and aquatic activity. The remaining traces from the flood are both beautiful and intense. We laugh and cry, feel the calm growth of spring green and witness the surreal mud-soaked picnic table tops that served as our base last September.
gail bourgeois . emily rose michaud
Ensemble Nomad.e, a multi-year project, makes visual works that emerge from the distinction of place near a body of water. Working seasonally over the next five years, Ensemble Nomad.e will continue moving from place to place within a local bioregion listening to and learning from both the natural world and human activity. Through a feminist lens our work shifts personal grief into political agency.
– To face creatively — with courage — the social climate and ecological crisis of our current moment.
– To consider our creative practice in relation to the whole of a bioregion.
– To make art work that emerges from our wanderings.
– To practice speaking and acting — with no anticipated outcome — on matters of common concern.
– To embody knowledge based on translation of self and other, including body/land/memory.
– To inform our project by slowing down, thinking relationally and by inviting diverse collaborators i.e., scientists, architects, activists, curators, artists.
Ensemble Nomad.e on Instagram: @ensemble.nomad.e
I am fifty percent of the newly named collective Ensemble Nomad.e. My colleague is the artist Emily Rose Michaud. In 2019, we will continue our practice of self-directed nomadic residencies to weave an affective bundle of connective experiences. Being in nature to make art pieces that respond to the distinction of place wraps all the pleasures of being in biodiversity with creative time away from ordinary routines.
Although we are in the early stages of our collaboration, our relationship to the bio-regions, territories and watersheds where our residencies take place grows deeper with each encounter. Nourished by our curiosity, we are dedicated to the pleasure of noticing the multispecies worlds around us and to connecting with them in meaningful ways.
Last year we began a multi-year project in which we visit new locations from April-October. The sites we choose are always near a body of water where we create drawing-based, site-specific work outdoors for four or more days. In 2018, we undertook a total of four residencies: PAF, Farrellton, Québec (July 2018); Lac Leamy, Gatineau, Québec (August 2018); Mer-Bleue, Ottawa, Ontario (September 2018); Artscape Gibraltar Point, Toronto Island (December 2018).
Here is a set of works completed on site.