At the Point of Convergence; A Meeting Place

Art by Alexandra Dvornikova

By Denise Lysak, Guest Blogger 

In the wilds of Northwestern Ontario, creative residencies dot the landscape with hundreds of miles in betwixt and between. Rural and remote places are creating new pathways for discovery and exploration as artists travel from near and far away to take deep dives into their artistic practices. Old logging roads are now being used by nemophilists and in these deep, dark woods – artists are finding themselves inspired by the great outdoors, surrounded by lakes, canopied forests, and rocks that have been here for hundreds of millions of years.

In 2016, the Bridge & Falls Creative Residency (BFCR) set down new roots in the Township of Sioux Narrows-Nestor Falls. Since its inception, more than 20 artists have explored their artistic disciplines with time and space away from their usual environment and everyday life. Kindred spirits and soul friends best describe the artist-in-residency (AIR) programs that form a loop, a point of convergence with Whiteshell Provincial Park bordering the west, Quetico Provincial Park marking the southern border, Lake Superior demarcating the eastern end, and the programs in between are the AIRs in the Township of Sioux Narrows-Nestor Falls, the City of Kenora, and the Experimental Lakes Area.

These artist-in-residencies provide a time of reflection, research, presentation and, when possible, production and community engagement. It is a complex system, not unlike the process of photosynthesis. AIR programs are not cookie cutter in nature. Some of the residencies are housed within larger institutions, others are part of museums, while some are hosted by municipalities. What the programs all have in common is that they exist in rural spaces, remote villages and small cities – deep in the heart of our natural environs.

The photo above is part of a new work in development by Ms Laura Malacart, who was an artist-in-residence with the Bridge & Falls Creative Residency, summer series 2019. Laura Malacart calls London, England home and her sojourn across the big pond afforded the BFCR the opportunity to host their first ever artist from the United Kingdom! And, what a treat it was. There was a never-ending stream of consciousness that bubbled to the surface as Ms. Malacart explored, discovered, and created. Laura took full advantage of a small and very rural community and in the absolute quiet and solitude of a tiny “built” dedicated floating studio – she sought to create connections to history, heritage, the oppressed and the marginalized. She tackled the strangeness of a new land and the inhabitants, both wild and human, with a gusto. Her rare and spirited energy, lifted up new narratives and important conversations, all about our time – contextually connecting our community to the larger, global world. Wait there’s more…

In 2018, Falcon Trails Resort welcomed local artist and good friend, Chrissy Sie-Merritt as part of their Artist Residence Program. Chrissy runs South Moon Studio, an amazing artist-run space out of East Braintree, a neighbouring community. In Chrissy’s own words: “My intention when I arrived was to create a quiet space, connect with the land and allow images and ideas to come through. The quiet and peacefulness of Falcon Trails supported these intentions. Most artists are trying to create in those in-between moment of our busy lives. To be able to really step out of the busyness and into myself felt like the spark I needed to ignite my creative fire. Connecting with nature and that quiet within are my two main sources of inspiration and guidance. This truly was the perfect setting to settle into this process and explore. I had no ideas how much I needed this solitude, not just time to be creative but to really connect with my work and myself. It really was a treat to step away for awhile and be free to just simply paint.”

Chrissy Sie-Merritt: Photos from Falcon Trails Resort Artist Residence Program, Spring 2018

 

 

For many of the artists, the solitude that they seek is all here, in rural and remote Northwestern Ontario. The time and space afforded to the artists to focus on their work is balanced by natural inclinations to share their new experiences with the larger public. Many of the artists have engaged with community members through talkback sessions, open houses in the tiny studios, painting workshops, readings, and concerts. And, the response from the general public is always warm and welcoming with an eagerness to learn more about the artist and their art. Early on in the residency program, on a very, rainy day – more than 2 dozen people attending a folk art painting workshop by Tyler Boyle. While the rain came down in sheets outdoors, people of all ages, from 8 to 78 were warm and dry indoors, exploring a creative process individually and collectively. Moments like this, leave indelible marks and for all of the right reasons. The arts, in any form, help people connect: to a place and a people. An ambiguous aphorism, comes to mind. And, it has captured my attention for decades and decades. The towering giant and journalist Mr. Peter Gzowski once challenged his listeners to complete a saying “As Canadian as…” and Heather Scott answered that call with “…possible under the circumstances.”

I truly believe the Bridge & Falls Creative Residency, the newly minted residency at the Experimental Lakes Area, the Lighthouse Residency on Lake Superior, et al that form the loop in Northwestern Ontario are products of this ubiquitous saying “As Canadian as possible under the circumstances.” There is a beauty and a vague-ness that together captures exactly what our vast nation is all about. We celebrate the spirit of the true north, strong and free with artists from Canada and beyond our borders. That’s enough. Our expectations are not too high. We expect to manage rather than lead, except in the sport of hockey.

If you are looking for a meeting place, an artist-in-residency program to further your aims, aspirations, and artistic goals – then google AIRs in northwestern Ontario. Here you will most certainly find the endless potential to spur on your creative impulses and fuel your artistic endeavours.

 

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