LandMarks2017: Canada’s Artistic Nature

Artwork by Raphaelle de Groot.
Sculpture by Canadian contemporary artist Raphaelle de Groot.

Partners in Art (PIA) is showing Canadians that art is in our nature. In celebration of Canada’s 150th anniversary of Confederation LandMarks2017, a Signature Initiative of Canada 150, is using contemporary art to ignite a national dialogue about our collective histories and future.

LandMarks2017 is bringing together a team of nationally acclaimed curators, Canadian contemporary artists, 15 Canadian universities, post-secondary art students, and local communities to collaboratively create works of art. These works will be displayed in national parks, historic sites and urban green spaces across Canada in the summer of 2017. LandMarks Chair Elske Kofman, Partners in Art Chair of the Board Jane Brisebois, and curator Tania Willard help us brush up on the project.

Can you explain the spirit of LandMarks2017, and what Canadians can expect?

Elske: All the artworks are inspired by nature, telling stories of our land, belonging, and the multiplicity of cultures that share it.

Tania: Our unique partnership with Parks Canada allows us to work in a variety of sites from some significant wild locations to highly visited ones, and to realize commissions for a number of artists in Canada. We’re using contemporary art to reflect on 150 years of what complicated history can mean, and what our future might be.

Why do you think the connection between nature and art is important to Canadians?

Tania: Our cities are still connected to nature in a way that might be different than other parts of the world. We’re a place where Indigenous histories and different ecologies have a really important role to play in our daily lives.

Jane: Artistically in Canada, we have a long history of landscape art, and the Indigenous voice that we expect to come through in this project has an important historical attachment to the land. Additionally, the enormity and diversity of Canada’s geography has in many ways defined us as Canadians. Through LandMarks2017, artists will help us to explore how this definition will grow and change in our future.

Elske: Art is a great tool for learning and igniting a conversation. LandMarks2017 is an invitation to reflect on our relationship to the land and to appreciate, enjoy and take care of it.

How are Indigenous artists playing a role in LandMarks2017?

The emphasis on Indigenous practice really came from the curators looking at artists who could respond to the land and engage with communities. As a person of Indigenous heritage myself, there is a deep grounding in Indigenous knowledge around the importance of land and our deep connection to it. I think there’s a tendency, if you haven’t had the chance to connect to the land, to see yourself as apart from it, but clean water and nature are basic human needs.

Rebecca Belmore.
Artist Rebecca Belmore scopes out a national park.

Some of the projects are in rural areas, do you think the artworks will be an incentive for Canadians to explore the country?

Elske: One of the reasons Parks Canada came on board is because they’re excited to drive a younger audience to our amazing parks, and bring them to people’s attention in urban areas. Our aim is to leave a lasting legacy for generations of Canadians to engage with one another and make contemporary art accessible both in Parks Canada’s natural surroundings and on the LandMarks2017 interactive website.

Tania: People who are willing to go to a remote place to experience the artwork will feel very rewarded, but many of the works are happening in more popular parks, like Banff National Park, and our website will have ways for people to collaborate and participate if they can’t be there in person.

What kind of pieces do you see arising based on the different locations?

Tania: The curatorial team has done site visits this summer in Haida Gwaii, Pacific Rim, Mingan Archipelago, Thousand Islands and Rouge National Park. We have a unique connection between the park sites; Rouge, for example, is the first urban park in the outskirts of Toronto, and it’s paired with Thousand Islands, one of the oldest and largest national parks east of The Rockies. In these amazing locations the artist will be responding to everything from their own identity and place, to the world that we may not think about.

Jin-me Yoon, a Korean-Canadian artist based in Vancouver will investigate the idea of “emplacement” (the process of setting something in place) in a photographic series and video, while Ursula Johnson, a Mi'kmaw Artist of Eskasoni First Nation living in Dartmouth, will work with diverse communities in Cape Breton.

Why did Partners in Art want to be a part of the Canada 150 celebrations?

Jane: Our mission is to champion Canadian contemporary art and artists for the perspective that artists can provide us about life and living. We felt strongly that Canada 150 was an opportunity to create a national contemporary art project as an in-depth way to have a conversation about how to create a country that we all love, respect and care for.

LandMarks2017 is happening in national parks and historic sites across Canada from June 10-25, 2017. Watch this space for updates.

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