Sunday, May 19, 2013

Traversing Yukon Landscapes - Yukon Arts Centre Summer Art Show

Camping at Burnt Point on the Yukon River, near Selwyn. 2012.
River camping has been an important part of our family's life. For years we made annual canoe and boat trips on the Yukon River or its tributaries. The highlight of everyday was finding a campsite and making it over into our home for the day. I have always been fascinated by the character of our interactions with place and the dynamics of how we, and many other river travelers, find home every night. As part of my research into this process in the summer of 2011 I invited Nicole Bauberger, a highly regarded Yukon artist of place and journeys, to paint the Yukon River between Lake Laberge and the town of Carmacks, some 300 kilometres down river.

This spring it was my turn to be invited to participate in the Yukon Art Centre's summer art show, Traversing Yukon Landscapes in collaboration with Nicole. I had co-operated with artists in  shows before but this time I was being extended an invitation to be an artist. For some time I struggled to understand how I could transform my historical questions and forms of communication into those of the fine arts. Nicole encouraged me to find my own way. Drawing from her fascination with the tarps I'd set up for our river trip I considered how I could incorporate them into the show. This was easy to do and helped me set up an approach that considered a river journey as a piece of art - the skills, materials and activities that allowed an engagement with place were also the tools for making a "home" every night.

Last fall I attended a community session on the Whitehorse shipyards. A number of seniors showed slides and remembered their youth. Interestingly these memories were not expressed as a series of events, things or places, rather it was the network of relationships with other people that had meaning. And these relationships made up place.

In my attempt to incorporate this idea into my art I considered how nature was an active partner in the creation of place or home. I queried our western predilection for structuring nature as a chrono-geographic matrix, in the process transforming the possibility of place into a platform for our human prowess and desires. How different from the memories of the seniors. How might nature see us?

And what do we see when we are outdoors. In addition to Nicole the artist, I've traveled the river with my family, land use planners, First Nation Elders, geologists, and studied the river in archives and map collections. But the river valley is not just a geography, rather it is a vibrant network of people, their stories, memories, knowledges and experiences bringing meaning to my own passage. How does one recognize the pulsing life of a place if we only consider the autopsy report of a cadaver?

Nicole's paintings were the centre piece of the installation. Evoking the journey, through both the eleven paintings completed on the trip and the annotations describing events, moods and observations, the exhibit reinforces the sense of a lively connection to place.

By Thursday afternoon the gallery was ready. Last minute trimming and placing of work, artists hustling off for a shower and fancy opening clothes, it was a calm and ordered space. The staff of the YAC Gallery had been enthusiastically helpful and supportive as we worked to "fit" our pieces into the gallery. For me it was a pleasant surprise to have such unbounded help in setting up Mahsi cho YAC.

I was pleased with my "campsite." Every item was real - a historian must work with facts after all. Equipment I decided I could spare for this season's boating, but each item marked with the signs of its presence in and contribution to making place. The campsite is just being set up, the visitors have to figure out how to make it home. The doors open and the visitors begin their exploration of the different traverses made by the artists.

Nicole and Joy, among the many people with whom I make home.


  1. Nice post dad; also great to see my own story and presence I the form of my life jacket. Just writing up my corrections on my first two chapters, lots on place as a network of people events, and landscape. It is difficult to communicate these, but it neat to see how others do in order to gain a deeper knowledge of each place. I'm sorry I won't be able to experience the exhibit.

    1. Thanks Erin. The story of river trips wouldn't be right without you guys in there, all part of the web. On until end August, you can see it.