In 2017, the Canadian-flagged icebreaker MV Polar Prince navigated Canada’s unique coastline, tracing a route from the Great Lakes outward to Atlantic Canada, northward through the Arctic, before turning southward along the Pacific Coast.
The Canada C3 – Coast to Coast to Coast expedition was organized by the Students on Ice Foundation (SOI) and invited Indigenous and non-Indigenous voyagers with a wide array of interests: scientists, musicians, elders, historians, newcomers, youth, journalists, athletes, writers, entrepreneurs, educators, and community leaders.
Open Channels, the new travelling exhibition featuring the work of the participating “artists in residence,” has been launched in partnership with the Canada Council Art Bank in Ottawa, Ontario, at Âjagemô Gallery.
The title of the exhibit refers to the flow of navigable water, sailing along Canada’s three coasts, through actual open channels via the fabled Northwest Passage. It is also a metaphor for the remarkable, floating, experimental currents intertwining those aboard ship and those on the land via the communities visited along the way.
From Nain, Newfoundland, to Prince Rupert, British Columbia, the northern coastline and the communities along the way inspired new work across a range of media, including painting, drawing, sculpture, and video.
Francine Potvin [Leg 6: Nain, Newfoundland to Iqaluit, Nunavut] created a haunting series of collograph prints made by rolling ink over algae and other plant forms found along the coast. “During the journey, I heard the thousand-fold voices of the natural world and I saw the oldest mountains on earth, rivers, icebergs and the sea. We need a new sense of what it means to be human in our relationships to each other and to the interconnected world in which we live.”
Known as a painter with a fluid, lyrical style, Phil Irish [Leg 7: Iqaluit, Nunavut to Qikitarjuaq Nunavut], was struck by the precarity of ice forms as climate change begins to alter the Arctic landscape. His work is a hybrid painting/sculpture dramatically suspended in the centre of the gallery space. The front face features the intricate white and blue shades of melting ice; the reverse view, the shocking explosion of orange and red heat anticipating a future apocalyptic time.
Paula Murray [Leg 8: Qikitarjuaq, Nunavut to Pond Inlet, Nunavut], was profoundly moved by the conversations, sometimes difficult, between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples during the journey. Referencing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action, she visualizes the process of listening, a central activity of the Canada C3 experience. The arrangement of fragile, smooth, bone-like porcelain forms are symbolic ear “trumpets” to help each other hear what she refers to as “the injury of experience”.
Leslie Reid [Leg 9: Pond Inlet, Nunavut to Cambridge Bay, Nunavut] travelled with fellow participant Uluriak Amarualik. In her short video work, views of the shore from the ship roll past while Uluriak speaks of her experiences as a young Inuk woman in Resolute, the granddaughter of Inuit relocated to there during the High Arctic Relocation of 1953–55.
Stunning large-scale drawings by Rachel Rozanski [Leg 10: Cambridge Bay, Nunavut to Kugluktuk, Nunavut] were inspired by the dramatic rate of biological, geological and material transformations occurring in the current Anthropocene. She considers the imagination as an ecological force bearing witness to northern environments experiencing rapid change.
The complex sculpture No Space At Home by Benjamin Kikkert [Leg 11: Kugluktuk, Nunavut to Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories], takes the form of brightly coloured minerals suspended in glacial clear and opaque forms of ice, all formed by blown glass fragments created by the artist.
“This work distills glimmers of what I saw in the moments during my visit. The Inuit see the landscape as collective experience; I feel it is time for the rest of Canada to recognize the wisdom of this perspective.”
Véronique Tifo [Leg 12: Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories to Prince Rupert, British Columbia] created a triptych composed of poetic fragments in the form of delicate drawings: the figure of an Alaskan Iñupiat elder, an iconic plant from Qikiqtaruk [Herschel Island], emblematic of a unique and fragile ecosystem, and a young Tuktoyaktuk woman bouncing on a nalukataq (an Inuit trampoline). The evocative nature of this graceful combination was inspired by the storytelling character of qimiqrunguaq (Inuit drawings).
This journey along the Arctic coast deeply imprinted the participating Canada C3 artists, evident in the evocative individual responses that give visual form to the effect of advancing climate change and shadows of history over contemporary life in the North.
The exhibition will be on display in Ottawa until January 26, 2020.
Melissa Rombout is the Open Channels Curator and Tara Mascarenhas is a Students on Ice staff member.