Last month, Edmonton artist Sydney Lancaster was Artist-In-Residence as part of Gros Morne National Park’s Art in the Park program. As part of the residency, Lancaster created a sculptural installation entitled Boundary|Time|Surface on the shore and sea at Green Point, Newfoundland. It was assembled the morning of June 22nd, and naturally disassembled within one tide cycle. In early July, AE caught up with Lancaster to learn more about the experiences she, and others, had creating the large-scale, ephemeral piece.
|Artist Sydney Lancaster|
How did your life as an artist begin?
SL: It took a long while before I was able to commit most of my time to my practice; I began dividing my time between waged work and the studio in 2005, including a stint as Administrative Officer at Latitude 53 Artist-Run Centre in Edmonton. The real 'leap of faith' came in late 2011, when I was given a year-long residency at Harcourt House Artist-Run Centre. I spent from October 2011 to October 2012 developing a large body of work, working essentially full-time in the studio. I've continued to refine work from that residency, and have exhibited it several times since the initial post-residency show. I've been working pretty constantly in the studio since then, developing several projects, and I've been fortunate to get some grant support for some of that. I'm also involved with a number of visual art organizations, and I help when I can; I volunteer on occasion at Latitude 53 and Harcourt House, and I also sit on the board of Visual Arts Alberta-CARFAC, as Advocacy Director.
What inspired Boundary|Time|Surface?
SL: My practice is concerned with the relationship between place, objects, meaning, and identity. I've always been fascinated by the way people attach meaning to things and places: how that really informs their sense of who they are and their way of being in the world. There are always competing narratives feeding that process, and individual stories get re-written and edited all the time. Boundary|Time|Surface provided an opportunity to explore some of these ideas on a much larger scale - literally and metaphorically. In this work, I set out to explore the human inclination to create what are essentially arbitrary divisions of all types, but especially as tools to manage and understand expanses of space and time.
How did you come up with the logistics of Boundary|Time|Surface?
SL: Boundary|Time|Surface was created at Green Point in Gros Morne National Park. This spot was chosen because it is the location of the internationally-recognized stratotype for the boundary between the Cambrian and Ordovician periods in the geological time scale. There were several locations around the world which could have been selected, but after much discussion, research, and debate, Green Point was chosen. I found the entire history and process by which this spot on the map was chosen to represent a defining point in geoscience quite fascinating; there are social, political, and scientific stories intricately woven into the whole process. The place itself is visually stunning too - there are thousands of layers of rock exposed in the cliff face and on the shore below, all of which are eroded by the tide - so the locale presents a tremendous physical manifestation of time's passage on any number of scales.
On a personal level, I had been looking for a project for a while that I could work on that would include some input from my partner - he's a structural geologist who teaches at the University of Alberta - I wanted to find something that would incorporate our respective disciplines in a very concrete way. When John showed me Green Point for the first time in 2013, I was immediately excited by the location, and I spent some time that summer working through some preliminary ideas, and in the fall, we set to work pulling together a proposal for the juried selection for the residency.
The final installation date was chosen through a combination of practical concerns: the first consideration was when the tide cycle offered the longest window of daylight time to create the work, but weather conditions were also a big part of it. I had hoped to install the sculpture on June 21st - the longest day of the year, another 'boundary' of sorts - but wind and rain prevented that. So in the end, the work was created on June 22 2014. One day past solstice, but the reward was a beautiful day of near perfect conditions, so it was well worth it!
Creating the installation with a community of volunteers - did that leave a profound effect on you?
SL: Absolutely. It was a tremendous experience to work with such a fantastic group of people, all of whom were really supportive of the project and the ideas behind it. This was my first experience making work in community, and I feel so very grateful for that support and for the generosity of spirit that everyone brought to the project. I'm still quite overwhelmed by it!
What was it like to observe the installation as the tide came in?
SL: There was a stillness the work seemed to hold; watching the work come apart was actually quite meditative. I think in large part this was due to the calm sea that night; the tide was rising in gentle increments, so the posts came down quite slowly, and then floated around as the water rose (and some were even left at the end of the day when we lost the light and had to head off the rocks). I think the gradual, gentle dissolution of the work by the tide was perhaps more effective in communicating ideas of transience and arbitrariness than if there had been wind and breakers crashing in.
What did you discover/or what surprised you about Boundary|Time|Surface that you hadn't expected before it was installed?
SL: The first thing that struck me was how much 'presence' the work had. John commented that it seemed more 'solid' than he's expected it to feel, and I felt the same. Part of that may have been our awareness that we had constructed the work to be ephemeral. The scale of the piece had an unexpected impact on me too - it made its role as a human intervention in the landscape really evident, but at the same time, there was no question that the land and sea were still dominant, and were the most crucial elements in the end. I had wondered at the start if I'd feel some sense of loss watching the work come apart; I didn't. It felt really liberating.
What are you up to now or what are some future plans?
SL: I am just starting my last week of this residency at Gros Morne, and I'm hoping to do some more small installations on the shore the beginning of this week. Then, I'll be off to Nova Scotia for a bit! I'm really excited to be participating in another residency - I'll be participating in The Red Rabbit Intensives series from July 15 - 20. This is a five-day intensive workshop led by Thomas Young, in which the participants will be creating ephemeral work on the shore and intertidal zone on the Bay of Fundy. From there, it's back home to Edmonton and the studio ... I've got thousands of images and hours of video to sort through, just for starters! I think it will take a while to "digest" everything that will come of my time in Newfoundland - but the goal is to develop a body of work from the documentation of the installation of Boundary|Time|Surface. I have some other work to finish off too, in preparation for an exhibition in January 2015, and I'm also hoping to hear back about some of the exhibition proposals that went out in the first half of the year for YORK, which is a collaborative series of works that I created with another Edmonton artist, Marian Switzer. So ... no shortage of things coming up.
Is there anything you would like to add?
SL: I wanted to take this opportunity to thank the people who helped make Boundary|Time|Surface a reality: Anne Marceau, Michael Burzynski, Renee Martin, Lisa Liu, Shawna White, and Ryan Lacombe were my installation-team-extraordinaire! And my partner John Waldron, who was a huge help to me in planning, logistics, and in assisting in the pre-install work of lugging 52 driftwood logs around the cove to Green Point, and in helping me place the 52 piles of rocks we needed to keep them upright!
I'd highly recommend the "Art in the Park" Residency Program at Gros Morne - the folks at Parks Canada are great to work with - and the people of Woody Point and Rocky Harbour have been so welcoming and helpful. It's been a fantastic experience.
There will be more images and some video from Boundary|Time|Surface posted to my website in the next few weeks: www.sydneylancaster.ca