Rising Tide, Shifting Ground

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rising tide, shifting ground, curated by Laura Demers
March 4-5, 2023

at Kings Playhouse in Georgetown, PEI
as part of this town is small Radiant Rural Halls project

rising tide, shifting ground brought together artists to present works with site-specific elements examining the rural ecologies of PEI and the Atlantic regions. Works featured include:

  • Touch Tank, an interactive audio-visual installation by artist Hailey Guzik (Montreal, QC)
  • Old friends, a luminous installation, by artist Morgan Possberg (Calgary, AB).
  • Lennox Island First Nation’s The Ice Walk, directed by Eliza Knockwood (Lennox Island, PEI), presented during an evening theatre screening.

Radiant Rural Halls is a series of free, public art events including installations, workshops, screenings, and performances, held in rural Prince Edward Island community halls.

Documentation by Greg Ellison

Curatorial text by Laura Demers

This is the place where you touch down. At the end of the peninsula, where the shore meets the sea, the marram grasses hold ground. They hold dear against the churning action of the encircling waters redrawing the island’s contours. In the wake of Fiona, sloping dunes were sliced into sharp cliffs, trees torn from soil, and waves turned red with iron-rich earth. Such events, which are bound to occur with increasing intensity and frequency, highlight the importance of community solidarity and resiliency, and the crucial role of community halls in island life. rising tide, shifting ground examines the rural ecologies of Epekwitk/Prince Edward Island and of the Atlantic regions through three artistic practices that are rooted to these increasingly fluctuating geographies. The projects presented in rising tide, shifting ground consider the many ways in which this place was shaped and reshaped, both by force of nature and by hand; imagined and reimagined by its inhabitants through time. The installation, film, and artworks in this curated series of projects touch upon intersecting themes and preoccupations; two feet in the sand, the artists reckon with material surplus, share traditional skills and space, entertain relationships with interstitial sites and their inhabitants both human and not, and expand collective understandings of the local histories embedded in their surrounding landscapes.

Working with fish skin, Morgan Possberg fills gaps in knowledge and oral histories with material and learning-based processes. As a Cree-Métis-Settler artist with ties both to Mohkinstsis/Calgary and to the island, Possberg’s approach to the traditional practice of fish skin tanning is open and encompassing. Having learned the technique from fellow artist Janey Chang, they incorporate the resulting pieces of immaculately oiled, translucent leather into sculptures and other fabrications. Their practice finds ways of relating to the natural world and to Indigenous material cultures that are relational instead of taxonomic. In the context of the Lennox Island Mi’kmaq Cultural Centre’s two-week language camp, the artist shares their learnings thus far with the First Nation communities of Epekwitk with the aim to bridge communities through story and craft. For Possberg, turning what is normally a waste product of hatcheries and canneries into a fine material is a way to transfer power to their audience, and to foster a sense of self-sufficiency. At Georgetown’s Kings Playhouse, a luminescent sculpture made of fish leather shaped into an abstracted human form occupies the gallery space. Old friends evokes the timeless entanglement of rural Atlantic communities with aquatic creatures and kin, and points to common ancestors whose skills and knowledge are reactivated by the collective act of scraping, oiling, massaging, stretching. Glowing from within, the loosely anthropomorphic lamp radiantly illuminates the hall, but only for some time — invested in a methodology that produces as little byproduct as possible, Possberg’s work often returns to the earth or gets repurposed once its constituent parts begin to decay with time.

The Lennox Island First Nation is also at the center of the documentary The Ice Walk, a film produced by Lennox Island and written and directed by Mi’kmaq filmmaker Eliza Knockwood. When describing the impact of this film, producer Renée Laprise mentions that “Lennox Island’s commitment to creating a project where the community was in control of telling its own story has made this important local history resound.” Set on these unceded lands, the feature length documentary juxtaposes poignant testimonials by Elders, Chief Darlene Bernard and former Chief Brian Francis, and several community members (including settler allies), with footage of a commemorative walk performed in honor of lives lost to the frigid waters on their journeys across the ice. Having inhabited and cared for Epekwitk (which means cradled on the waves) and broader Mi’kmaq territories for over 10,000 years, island Mi’kmaq were forced onto Lennox Island in the 1850s by British colonial forces. The bridge joining Lennox Island to mainland PEI was only built in 1973, meaning that the community was left isolated from survival resources such as food and medical care for over a century. For generations, in summer by boat, in winter through perilous ice, those needing to provide for their families crossed. The Ice Walk thus raises questions around the possibility of reconciliation in the face of such enduring colonial violence. One of the testimonials in the documentary makes clear: “We’ve created this solid structure, to connect Lennox Island to the mainland, and it’s safe now. But in so many other ways, in our emotional and our legal relationships between settler peoples and Indigenous peoples; that’s still very much on thin ice.” Despite this, The Ice Walk constitutes for the Lennox Island community — and for Knockwood — an important step towards healing.

Hailey Guzik’s Touch Tank virtually transports the viewer to the buffer zones between beach and open water. Based in Tio’tia:ke/Mooniyang/Montréal, Guzik revisits familiar sites of her upbringing around the Bay of Fundy and the coasts of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, extrapolating from plein-air painting traditions. A wooden dock, oscillating beacons, and glistening seashells float before our eyes, virtually rendered from the artist’s in situ sketches, photographs, recordings, and objects beachcombed over repeated visits. Guzik’s painting becomes a digital texture within this immersive 3D environment. The fragmented, hallucinatory landscape is projected in the Playhouse’s darkened hall, the objects’ trajectories shifting according to the movement of hands touching water. Guzik’s work initiates conversation around consumerist behaviors towards the land and problematic idealizations of nature, by hinting at the history of the panorama and other scopic devices used in touristic simulations of landscape. The artist explains that “the tourism industry relies heavily on artistic tropes to engage audiences in regional discourses surrounding settler histories, environmentalism and ecology, with the aim of reconnecting visitors to their natural surroundings.” Presented in the rural setting of Georgetown in so-called Prince Edward Island during the off-season, Touch Tank offers an opportunity to reconsider our own embodied relationship to place and sites of memory. By creating a responsive feedback loop between sight and touch — between the 3D projection and the water tank — Guzik shifts our phenomenological relationship to our surroundings. Perhaps we’re not so separate; each gesture reverberates infinitely.

1. Testimonial from Hon. Peter Bevan-Baker, in The Ice Walk (2021).

2. From the artist’s website; https://haileyguzik.ca/Touch-Tank-2022 [visited February 15, 2023].

About the Curator

Laura Demers is an artist, writer, and independent curator from small town Wendover, ON, who is currently based in Tkaronto/Toronto. She is interested in ecology, local natural histories, and the materiality of our surroundings, both built and natural. As a franco-ontarian cultural worker, she also sits on the board of the AGAVF (Association des groupes en arts visuels francophones)

Artist Profile - Morgan Possberg

  • Morgan Possberg is a writer and visual artist based in Mohkinstsis (Calgary, AB). Their practice is focused on exploring the world and their Cree-Metis heritage through layers of abstraction. What matters is not whether they recreate the past, but to capture inner truths — a space where misremembering and remembering are equally valued.

Artist Profile - Eliza Knockwood

  • Eliza Knockwood is a Two Spirit Mi’kmaq filmmaker living and working on Epekwitk (PEI). Eliza started in the broadcast television industry at the age of nineteen and quickly rose through the ranks to production coordinator. In 2006 she began her journey with documentary film and has directed several self-produced shorts and community productions. After her success with The Ice Walk, Eliza created Red Giant Productions and is currently filming a short documentary series Gina’matimg – Time of Learning and is in development with the feature documentary The Rite of Passage.

Artist Profile - Hailey Guzik

  • Hailey Guzik is a multidisciplinary artist working in Tio’tia:ke/Mooniyang/Montréal, QC. Their practice expands painting into multimedia, including installation, 3D, VR, performance, video, and sculpture, to explore critical perspectives of perception and memory within representations of landscape in art and technology, and the connections this has to the climate crisis. Guzik holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Mount Allison University (2017). Their projects have been supported by ArtsNB, Conseil des Arts et des Lettres du Québec, and Canada Council for the Arts. They have exhibited work at venues such as at HIFF, ConneXion ARC, Galerie d’art Louise-et-Reuben-Cohen, Visitors, Gallery on Queen, Struts and Faucet Media Arts Center, and Owens Art Gallery.