Award-winning media artist Sylvia Grace Borda has spent the summer working in the fields. As an artist-in-residence at the Surrey Art Gallery’s TechLab, she’s been shooting film, video, and still photographs on large and small farms in Surrey and the Fraser Valley. “It’s a study of the agricultural work that takes place behind the scenes,” she tells the Straight.
Sipping a cup of herbal tea at a West Side café, she explains that some of the farms she is representing are small, worked by hand, and surrounded by new subdivisions. Others are large and worked by huge machines. No judgments are handed down. The intention of her project, she says, “is not to promote an ideal of nature, but to lift a veil on our preconceptions of where our food comes from and also what is present within our local environment.” Then she adds, “Part of this project is to engage and celebrate suburban and rural audiences and producers, who are rarely involved in contemporary art delivery.” Farming, her art insists, is a cultural endeavour.
The results of her summer’s work can be seen in the SAG’s upcoming exhibition Figuring Ground (running September 21 to December 15), and projected on the Surrey Urban Screen (nightly, September 21 to January 6). In both instances, Borda is experimenting with new and old media, working with a crew of television people and a Google-certified photographer to create an interface between field and exhibition venue. At the innovative end, she is using Google Street View shots of farms and farmers to present what she calls “a dimensional portrait in time and space”. She has also been experimenting with low-altitude aerial videography, delivering new visual perspectives on agricultural production in southwestern British Columbia.
At the historic end, Borda is honouring early experiments in 3-D imaging by replicating Victorian-style stereoscopic photographs. Her remarkable diptychs of individual fruits, vegetables, and flowers may be viewed on their own or through a stereoscope. “No one in their right mind takes on such a historical, dated medium,” she says with a laugh. “To make contemporary art with it is a bit suicidal.” Still, she says, she was interested in the process because, in her gallery work, she wanted to create a mood of intimacy and introspection.
Borda, who was born and raised in Vancouver, studied photography and video at Emily Carr Institute (now University) of Art and Design and, simultaneously, anthropology and fine art at the University of British Columbia. She went on to earn a diploma in graphic design from Vancouver Community College and an MFA in digital media from UBC. Since 2008, she has been based in Vancouver and Glasgow, and is a research associate at Emily Carr and a guest lecturer at the University of Stirling, in Scotland.
From her breakthrough photographic project, Every Bus Stop in Surrey, BC, to her recent images of modernist churches in Northern Ireland, her art has considered the overlooked and the unremarked. “A lot of my work is about subjects on the periphery, and reassigning them value,” she says. Much of it, too, is about acutely attuned observation. “Hopefully, this transfers to the viewer—and they go on a transformative journey.”