Standing on a step ladder, Dawn Johnston applies a water and flour adhesive to a wall at the Nanaimo Art Gallery. She is in the midst of installing a towering photographic print by gluing it directly onto the surface, in what she describes as a style of early street art.
“It’s just this really kind of cheap, inexpensive way to reproduce images and do large impact images with very little expense,” she said.
“Usually art is very specific and very high-quality materials and I like taking that all down to something very, very simple that everyone can access or have. It just simplifies the process.”
The print, called All Lost, is a combination of two images. In the foreground, stranded explorers from the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914 are trying to get the attention of a procession of modern-day travellers in the distance, photographed by Johnston while on an Arctic residency in 2011.
Johnston lives on a boat with a shop on Gabriola Island and said her practice has been heavily influenced by that lifestyle since she started sailing about eight years ago.
“It’s been almost wholly centred around this weird life of living on the ocean and the crazy characters that have also done the same,” she said.
“I live on it literally, I see it, I smell it, I feel it every day – whether there are days where I hate it and days where I love it. So my relationship to the sea, I know, is very different than other artists.”
Johnson is one of 12 artists and groups sharing their relationship with the ocean in the Nanaimo Art Gallery’s latest exhibition, Landfall and Departure: Epilogue (Listening to the Sea) which kicks off with an opening reception on Thursday, Jan. 11 and continues until March 10.
In keeping with its “listening to the sea” theme, many of the pieces feature audio components in the form of music and interviews and references to sailing and maritime industry abound.
The show is the last in a series of three projects dating back to 2014 that examine the effect of Island resource industries on its inhabitants and beyond. It also marks the end of a year of exhibitions and programming at the gallery covering the theme “What does it mean to live on an island?”
It’s a concept that speaks to interdisciplinary artist Eleanor King, who is setting up her piece on the wall across from Johnston. King originally hails from Nova Scotia but now lives on New York City’s Manhattan Island.
“I’m really interested in looking at the landscape from the perspective of how humans alter it … and thinking about how humans navigate the landscape as well and our understanding of what we see through our first-person experience, so how I understand Nanaimo from my being here actually, or versus how I understand it from using source material of Google Maps and Google Earth,” she said.
Like Johnston, King’s piece, The Harbour Forest, is also applied directly onto a wall. The wall painting is an abstract representation of the Nanaimo landscape, from the harbour’s log booms to Mt. Benson. The piece includes a video tour of Nanaimo using Google Earth’s inexactly rendered 3-D landscape.
“Certainly growing up both on the ocean and within a rural community, the environment and environmental issues have always been really present in the work…” King said.
“Sometimes I make sculptures and sometimes I make audio work and sometimes I make videos and sometimes I make paintings, but that’s one thread that connects all those things together.”
WHAT’S ON … The opening reception for Landfall and Departure: Epilogue (Listening to the Sea) will be held at the Nanaimo Art Gallery on Thursday, Jan. 11 at 7 p.m. The show runs until March 10.