At this year’s eco-minded Vines Art Festival, artists are not just finding inspiration in nature, but often physically connecting to it in their work.
Performances and installations at the outdoor Trout Lake Park event feature everything from dance-poetry in and around trees to a work that plunges its artists into the sea.
For the latter, the 58 Oceans Project, Charlotte Priest and Anna Kraulis committed to immersing themselves in the ocean for 29 days in a row, in a ritualistic ode to the salmon life cycle. Inspired by the Go #Wild4Salmon anti-fish-farm challenge and the pipeline-protesting #kmchallenge, the results will be depicted in a 3-D photo-and-poetry-journal installation at Vines’ celebration. (The title is a reference to the two photos, one of each artist, taken on each of the daily dips, totalling 58 shots.)
“We were not imitating a fish or pretending ‘I’m a fish,’ but drawing connections between ourselves and other creatures,” Kraulis says, speaking over the phone and referring to the project she and Priest undertook from the end of June to late July. “It was for a deeper connection with the ocean and also about what can we do to learn more about ourselves and how can we get connected in a deeper way. It made me feel all the challenges more deeply—all the fish farms and the pipelines—and it’s good to open ourselves up to that.”
The early days of the project found the pair, who worked together and separately in the sea in Vancouver and Victoria, getting used to the cold Pacific water—“curling up as the ocean held us”, almost like salmon eggs. In the “fry” stage, they would submerge themselves and push to the surface for air. And so it went, the pair making a visceral connection with their subject through its life cycle.
“It was bringing us back into that primordial sense of the fact that we might have come from ocean, from fishlike ancestors way before mammals, and that memory is held in our bodies,” Kraulis explains, adding she and Priest hope their installation will inspire others to take up a similar challenge to reconnect with the ocean. “There’s this feeling of disappearing beneath the waves and the city vanishes, or curling up underneath the waves and getting into that sense of the prehistorical and what that feels like. I feel like I can go into the ocean and feel instantly wilder. Maybe it’s the cold that shocks you into a more alert state or maybe it’s just entering the vastness of it.”
For Marisa Gold and Janelle Reid, nature and the personal are also inextricably intertwined in their untitled piece at Vines. For almost five years, the interdisciplinary artists have been working on a creation about finding love and acceptance for oneself and others; adapting it to the outdoor setting of Vines, at Trout Lake amid a stand of trees, they’ve linked those ideas to a larger, dance-based attachment to Mother Nature.
“It’s about one powerful unconditional love,” Gold explains. “It’s about finding that oneness with ourselves and other beings and a oneness with the environment and nature.”
Gold says that in developing the circling, spiralling work for Vines, she and Reid found profound metaphorical inspiration in trees and their life force.
“There’s just something about the peacefulness of the tree and how it moves in the wind,” Gold says, adding the theme is explored throughout the work’s poetic spoken text. “There’s so much value in trees but that also parallels the unique value in all of us: every leaf is completely unique and valuable and does so much for the planet and for the world.”
The Mother Earth angle takes on even deeper personal and political connections for spoken-word performer Jaye Simpson, a two-spirit artist who prefers the pronoun they.
The Oji-Cree Anishinaabe artist has always explored their people’s connection with the land in their poetry, alluding to everything from the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion to the Southern Gulf Islands mother orca that was recently lifting its dead calf to the ocean surface. As a survivor of foster care, they made links between finding identity and the need to get back to the land.
But, as a participant in Vines’ signature Resilient Roots project, where they were paired with mentor and Tahltan-Tlingit electronic musician Edzi’u for several months, Simpson is bringing a whole new dimension to performance and its nod to nature.
“It was just an amazing opportunity,” Simpson tells the Straight over the phone. “Now I’m creating soundscapes; I’ve gone into the digital realm.”
The performance at Vines will feature a melding of sound recordings, made mostly here and on their home territory in Manitoba. “It goes from the sound of wind through trees and the crashing of the ocean to busy Commercial Drive, and eventually it creates a cacophony,” Simpson says.
The mentorship has launched Simpson on a new musical-digital artistic path, albeit with the same themes, concerns, and driving love of spoken word. “I feel it brings to my work almost more nuance and more depth,” says Simpson.
Like other festival artists, Simpson welcomes the chance to perform work about their bond with the earth within a natural setting. “I love doing poetry outside, where you can’t control the environment or the sounds,” they say. “The stimuli from nature creates a beautiful, beautiful partnership.”
The Vines Art Festival takes place at Trout Lake Park from Friday to Sunday (August 17 to 19), with the main event all Saturday afternoon.