CONTINUUM Considerations of Memory in Unquiet Landscapes
Photographs by Sylvia Galbraith 3
Elora Centre for the Arts 75 Melville St. Elora, ON N0B 1S0
October 22 - December 20, 2020
“Continuum” Considerations of Memory in Unquiet Landscapes
About The Exhibition
Co-presented by the Elora Centre for the Arts and Art North Magazine, based in Scotland, “Continuum” is a physical manifestation of a feature on Sylvia Galbraith’s art practice, published in the Fall 2020 Special Edition of the magazine. Comprising large-scale framed photographs and video, the overall collection is an examination of relationships with “place”, our overlapping experiences, and our tendency to perpetually seek connections with the landscape; geographically, in time, and in memory. Primarily based on photographs created by Galbraith during residencies in Newfoundland, this exhibition follows lines of enquiry that, on the surface, may seem unconnected; initially there appear to be three narratives at play, yet connections quickly become apparent. Galbraith’s work responds to our relationship with the landscape the physicality of the ground beneath us, the stability and constancy of rocks that are millions of years old, the reassurance of things remaining in place. At the same time, we might yearn for somewhere else; drawn towards a shifting, far-of horizon, we believe that we can change our current situation simply by changing our location. Yet in other ways, we draw those same distant landscapes back to ourselves – rather than moving towards that horizon, we pull it inside, attempting to own it under our own terms. Art North Magazine Published in Scotland, with a particular focus on the art of northern latitudes, Art North is an internationally distributed quarterly visual arts magazine. It features the work of artists and makers located elsewhere who demonstrate a clear connection with Scotland and the ‘Far North’. The magazine also serves to highlight the cultural connections that exist between Scotland and her northern neighbours. They often are less interested in a “geographical North”, and more in what they often refer to as a “northerliness of the mind”.
SYLVIA GALBRAITH is an Ontario-based photographer whose work includes landscape, documentary, and commercial photography. As a self-taught artist, she employs a variety of methods; traditional analogue, digital capture and historical processes all come into play as dictated by a situation. Recently Galbraith has been working with video within the context of her landscape photography. Galbraith’s current practice is an exploration of deep-rooted connections to one's place of origin, a consideration of the physical and psychological meaning of “place (guilt, acceptance, ownership) and the stratiication of experience. Her images form a conceptual study of the vital sense of belonging and community within the context of displacement, immigration and resettlement in lands that once belonged to others. Galbraith is drawn to some of Canada’s loneliest places, and has participated in residencies in Newfoundland, Banf and Northern Ontario. She teaches photography at Conestoga College in Kitchener, from her own studio in Fergus Ontario, and is frequently a guest instructor at venues throughout Canada. Her photographs have been exhibited in Canada and internationally and are featured in private, public and corporate collections.
As a child of immigrants, I have often felt out of place, though I live near where I was born. Somehow, I’m connected to a distant country I have never seen, one foot always in another landscape, questioning my inherited ideas of belonging in this country of my birth. Living in a land that was taken from others, I consider my own ideas of ‘place” (guilt, acceptance, ownership) and our collective ideas of “home”. Many people, especially those who live in isolated villages, share a bond with their environment that keeps them rooted to a place forever. Theirs is a precarious existence, always at risk of being shifted, yet this fact simply strengthens their bond. What it is about these hard places that brings out this loyalty and refusal to move somewhere easier? Why are they so rooted, and I am not? These questions preoccupy me and inform my work. My current practice is an exploration of deep-rooted connections to one’s place of origin, using both traditional and historic photographic methods. My images form a conceptual study of inherited ideas of belonging, exploring the physical and psychological meaning of “place’, family connections and collective memory. While people are integral to my photographs, portraiture in the traditional sense is not; instead, I acknowledge their presence in other ways – by including forgotten structures, or through photographing landscapes overlaid with human inluences. Found items - pottery, tools, or machinery – might become objects of memory, and when photographing the most remote landscape, I note an absence of people; yet often they become part of my images, albeit in a subliminal way.
“Everything that moves, whether animate or inanimate, is a low system. All low systems generate shape and structure in time in order to facilitate this movement across landscape illed with resistance or friction. The designs we see in nature are not a result of chance. They arise naturally, spontaneously, because they enhance access to low in time.” – Adrian Bejan, Design in Nature, 2012
Outside of Time
Rocks presume a sense of stability, constancy and strength-- we imagine them as immoveable and unchanging. Yet rocks are neither static nor solitary – they exist within a slow progression of time, incrementally changing, or being changed by their environment and other events. They are hardened liquid, molded, grinded, shaped, tossed, and split. Geological texts describe this activity as “luid or lowing” or “folded and bent” -- a history of land and time. Canada is a geological wonder. Her landforms are spectacular and unique… demonstrating not only these violent beginnings, but also an historical timeline. The Rocky Mountains in the west are the youngsters… formed much later than the ancient landforms we see in central and eastern Canada. Separate sections arrived from diferent continents, exhibiting shapes and structure dictated by their origins. These regions continue to change in incremental ways through a gradual process of natural events and human interaction, especially as people ilter into the most remote areas. Yet the bones, the original forms, continue to stand out…. one inds evidence of ire, water or wind carved into the present-day strata. I photograph the inluences of time and geological events on the Canadian landscape; it’s my way of unravelling history. Through careful research I discover landforms that have been eroded or scoured of, where the underlying bedrock is exposed. Marble-edged canyons carved by glacial rivers, ragged clifs along ocean edges, and barren islands in the Great Lakes feature strongly in my work. While the written history and scientiic study of these remote places intrigues me and informs my work, the extraordinary visual aspects are what draw me in. By including the on-going efects of time on the physical landforms, and through careful framing and use of light, I join the precision of science, the narrative of history, and the subjectivity of art in response to this on-going process of transformation; one which both precedes and deies human intervention, and is truly “outside of time”. 13
In Virtual Conversation Ian McKay & Sylvia Galbraith
IM: How would you introduce the works that appear in the current exhibition? SG: The works here respond to the sense of stability, constancy and strength as evidenced in Canada’s distinctive landforms; we imagine them as immoveable and unyielding, yet in reality they exist within a slow progression of time, incrementally changing, or being changed, by their environment and other events. While this body of work was created in remote parts of Newfoundland, Ontario and British Columbia, there is no inherent sense of location; the images are from “any place, any time”. As a lens-based artist, I work with traditional analogue and digital technologies which include still imagery and video, however in this particular case, the photographs are based on high quality digital capture. IM: And what about your subject matter?
SG: I imagine rocks as immovable and unyielding, yet in reality they exist within a slow progression of time; incrementally changing, or
being changed, by their environment and other events that occurred over millions of years. Within the present-day strata, I discover evidence of a violent beginning; of being molded, ground down, tossed, split, folded and bent. I consider our traditional perception of time; how we tend to measure it to the scale of our own existence. But describing geological history in human terms is inadequate and impossible. The timelines are incomprehensible - eons, eras, millions and billions of years - and the scenes as photographed are disorienting. Am I viewing the remains of a distant, uninhabited age, or are these landforms indicative of what a future world might look like? Am I the irst to stand in this spot, and if not, who came before me? Simply by being here, have I altered the existence of this place...will that rock, that tree, that water, become diferent in some way because of my presence? The earth has now entered a geologic period where human activity has a signiicant impact on its natural processes, and we are unsure of what the future holds. There is an assumption that these inluences
are permanent and cannot be undone, yet these remote landscapes suggest otherwise. Perhaps the answer is much simpler - that the earth is patient and will carry on in spite of us, in a never-ending process of renewal that is outside of time. IM: In looking at the works on show, and talking with you now, it is as if you perceive not just the landscape you photograph, but time itself as something almost tactile. Is that a fair observation? SG: Possibly. Physical connections with wild, distant landscapes have always been important to me. I have a perpetual need to see and feel the ground underneath me. My artistic work responds to this desire to be part of the landscapes I photograph; I take comfort in the enduring solidity of the rocks I walk on, and there is solace in knowing that within the greater context of geological time, all is as it should be. 15
I IM: In our brief conversations by telephone, you’ve spoken a few times about your yearning to be back out in the landscape, but also, at the height of the irst spike of the Covid pandemic in Canada, a frustration that you could not travel far, although that may be easing slightly, perhaps. Has the pandemic had a signiicant impact on your practice? SG: In a situation of global isolation and immobility, my life has been in a holding pattern. “Pandemic” time weighs heavily, each day mimicking the one before. Feeling trapped as I’m forced to stay home, my landscapes are too far from me and my sense of urgency builds as I think about what is happening there without me. And yet, it occurs to me that time has always meant nothing to the scenes I photograph - water lows, rocks erode, the wind sighs across the grass - whether I am there to experience it or not. My disappointment in my cancelled trips fades, and my distress abates. I simply breathe deeply, inding comfort in the knowledge that the landscape is waiting for the day I can return. For now, my photographs are enough. IM: And yet, the making of your art is central to who you are, so that yearning that you’ve alluded to is understandable. Where does your desire to make art come from, though? What drives you to make the work that is included in this exhibition? SG: Primarily, I make art as a means to better understand the inherent dissatisfaction that I feel with my own circumstances and background... and, as a language that I can use to describe ideas that are diicult to pin down using words. To gain an understanding of the world in the context of time outside of human timelines, to discover humility in the face of the greater forces at work in nature, both in the past and as a concept of what will come. To ind evidence that nature does, and will, continue to sustain the planet. Overall, to create a record of the shared world we inhabit. IM: And in doing that you are inspired by... SG: ... by ancient landscapes that exhibit a sense of “soul” through human qualities (knuckles, faces, reaching arms) seen in the shapes and patterns formed by water and wind. The northern Atlantic Ocean and its temperamental nature both reassures and frightens at the same time. It, and the lands that border it, commands respect; I recognize and revel in the fact that they could kill me in a heartbeat, yet I also ind solace and reassurance in knowing they will continue on long after I am gone.
History inspires me, as do authors who write about the environment as a living entity outside of ourselves, how the built environment shapes our way of thinking and being; writers such as Robert MacFarlane, Simona Schama, Lucy Lippard; also visual artists whose work describes the landscape through patterns, especially water and rock. Photography can only depict the past; as soon as an image is created, it becomes a record of a place, an object, or a person’s history... this could explain why I chose photography as my art form (after years of painting and sketching)... I look back as a way of understanding the present and future. IM: It seems that with photography there is often a curiosity about the technical process - more so than with other art forms, maybe - and about how the work comes into being. As an artist you are the sum of many creative parts and have worked with a variety of media, but from a technical point of view, I wondered if you could share some of the technical backgrounding to your photographic work? SG: I embrace new technology, but in saying that, I also stay true to the medium through the use of historic image-making processes such as pinhole and camera obscura. The works in this exhibition are exclusively digitally captured images, however. Ultimately, the “how” is less important to me, and I don’t share the current fascination with the gear... For me it’s about “what’s out there” and when someone brags about their new lens or camera, my immediate response is “well, what have you made with it?” My videos are similar to my photographs - precisely composed and lit - I use them to ill in spaces left by the limitations of the still image. For me, it’s about observation as much as interaction, which might colour my thoughts and inluence my direction. I am also fascinated in learning the stories and background of a place. The ephemeral nature of certain processes (pinhole and camera obscura, lumen prints, extended exposures... i.e the sun in impossible positions as it is recorded over extended time in a single exposure) reinforces the notion of time as a necessary attribute of any system. These slower processes mesh with the incremental pace of change occurring in my rocks and landscapes. It’s a two-way process, however. It’s been said that “the camera looks both ways”. I think, ultimately, that I photograph landscapes to better understand myself. - Ian McKay is the Editor of Art North Magazine. This interview is an excerpt from a PDF catalogue for “Outside of Time”, a Projectroom2020 online exhibition of work by Sylvia Galbraith, published by ART NORTH Magazine in 2020 and made available via the artnorth-projects.org website. Projectroom2020 was conceived as a means for artists to exhibit during the COVID-19 pandemic between March - to September, 2020.
Adamantine Chromogenic Photograph, 24 x 36”
Eldritch Cove Chromogenic Photograph, 24 x 36”
Eastern Edge Chromogenic Photograph, 24 x 36”
Seabreaker Chromogenic Photograph, 24 x 36”
Vertigo Chromogenic Photograph, 24 x 36”
Arpeggio Chromogenic Photograph, 24 x 36”
Northern Songlines Chromogenic Photograph, 36 x 24” 24
Silver Plume Chromogenic Photograph, 36 x 24” 25
To A Sunless Sea Chromogenic Photograph, 24 x 36”
The Shape of Night Chromogenic Photograph, 24 x 36”
As a child of immigrants, I have often felt out of place; somehow I’m connected to a distant country I have never seen, questioning my inherited ideas of belonging within the context of displacement, immigration and settlement in lands that once belonged to others. I consider connections to the landscape - the physicality of the ground beneath me, the stability and constancy of rocks that are millions of years old, the reassurance of things remaining in place. Yet I yearn for other places; I stand with my feet in the sea, drawn towards a shifting, distant horizon, imagining what might be beyond my view. My father came from a country in Northern Europe that was bordered by the North Sea. Forced to leave as a teenager during the Second World War, he led west; Canada became his refuge - here he settled and raised his family, with no apparent desire to live anywhere else. Yet after he died I discovered countless photographs, taken over a lifetime here, that depict landscapes almost identical to mine - distant horizons, water below sky, endless seas. Though of diferent places, they demonstrate a similar sense of dislocation; of being steadily drawn towards “somewhere else”. I wish that I could ask my father about these images that so closely parallel my own. Did he experience the same sense of displacement that I glimpse in myself? Was he truly happy in his adopted country? The photographs shown here provoke ideas of home and belonging through the visual interplay between parallel experiences shared by two photographers; the scenes are eerily similar, though separated by time and situation. “Horizons” draws the gaze outwards towards the unknown, tantalizing us with an unobtainable “over there” or “beyond”.
Horizons - Silver, Yellow, Red Chromogenic Photographs, 8 x 12” 34
Horizons - Blue Chromogenic Photographs, 8 x 12” 35
Horizons, 2016 & Dad 1952 Chromogenic Photograph on Dibond, organza overlay, 26 x 40”
Horizons, 2018 & Dad 1971 Chromogenic Photograph on Dibond, organza overlay, 26 x 40”
The Viewer Chromogenic Photograph on Dibond, 16 x 24”
Horizons, Dad 1971-1995 Kodak & Agfa ilm transparencies
People who have lived for generations in coastal villages have a bond with their environment that keeps them rooted to a place forever. Their homes perched close to the sea that sustains them, they draw the horizon close, embracing it, never wanting to be anywhere else. Original homes still exist beside a sea that remains constant. Within/without - they are inseparable in the minds of the inhabitants. Theirs is a precarious existence, always at risk of being shifted, yet this fact simply strengthens their bond. What it is about these hard places that brings out this loyalty and refusal to move somewhere easier? When I look at that same horizon, I feel dislocation; of being steadily drawn towards “somewhere else” just beyond my view. Why are they so rooted, and I am not? I am fascinated by early photographic processes. I have been exploring camera obscura* and pinhole techniques, documenting exterior scenes as projected within homes of early inhabitants as a way of illustrating how, in opposition to a desire for far-of places beyond distant horizons, one might draw those same landscapes inside in an attempt to own it under his or her own terms. The ephemeral quality of these historical processes complements the nature of my subject, in that light, landscape and human situations are transitory, and will not last; a sentiment that has become even more relevant in our current pandemic situation. Today’s emphasis on digital technology has made the use of basic natural materials as emulsions and developers almost obsolete. By choosing these methods rather than a more contemporary approach, I celebrate the origins of the medium and remind viewers of new/old ways of contemplating the inherent principles of photography. *Camera obscura (also referred to as pinhole camera) - ancestor of the photographic camera. The Latin name means “dark chamber,” and the earliest versions, dating to antiquity, consisted of small darkened rooms with light admitted through a single tiny hole. The result was that of an inverted image (reversed left to right, and upside down) of the outside scene cast on the opposite wall.
Morning Light, Bonavista Bay (Camera obscura) Chromogenic Photograph, 16 x 24”
Sunset, Bonavista Bay (Camera obscura) Chromogenic Photograph, 16 x 24”
King’s Cove (Camera obscura) Chromogenic Photograph, 16 x 24”
Loretta’s House (Camera obscura) Chromogenic Photograph, 16 x 24”
From Bill’s Window, Duntara Chromogenic Photograph, 8 x 12”
Red Shed, Duntara Chromogenic Photograph, 8 x 12”
Jack’s Bedroom (Camera obscura) Chromogenic Photograph, 8 x 12”
Antique Organ (Camera obscura) Chromogenic Photograph, 8 x 12”
Teacup #1 (Pinhole) Chromogenic Photograph, 5 x 7”
Deck Chair (Camera obscura) Chromogenic Photograph, 5 x 7” 51
Elora Centre for the Arts 75 Melville St. Elora, ON Canada N0B 1S0 519-846-9698 www.eloracentreforthearts.ca Art North Magazine Hatchet Green Ltd. Tongue, IV27 4XF Scotland +44 (0)1847 611775 www.artnorth-magazine.com This exhibition has been supported by:
All works: © Sylvia Galbraith, 2020 except where noted. www.sylviagalbraith.ca