A series of works based on the veneer of the St John River, introducing an aesthetic and symbolic connection between place and memory.River Cantatas is comprised of two series of works; Site works done through a residency with the Beaverbrook Art Gallery of Fredericton, New Brunswick in the Summer of 2010 that represented our presence and interaction with the river; and secondly, a series of gallery based works which represent our conceptual wanderings in a studio environment following through to 2011. We were invited to navigate and explore the Wolastoq River, Maliseet meaning 'beautiful river' later to be named the St John River or Fleuve Saint-Jean in 1604 by French Explorer Samuel de Champlain. The river is approximately 673 km (418 miles) of which slightly more than half is located in New Brunswick forming the Canadian /USA border in two places along its length. The river has great importance, symbolism and history to the people of New Brunswick as evidenced in the 2010 "Beautiful River" exhibition curated by Terry Graff at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, presenting a myriad of approaches and perspectives to viewing the river. After close examination of the socio-political aspects of the river, we realized that the river itself should establish a viewpoint.
*A Cantata is a composition of one or more voices that often use sacred text comprising recitatives, arias and choruses. Voices that evoke notions of resonance, whispers, inspirations, shadows and echoes that form a texture of old and new analogies.
|Morning mist over the Fifth St. John Pond where the River begins.||The image shows liberal use of overlapped Google Earth images traversing the length of the River. The image consists of 306 separate files, 3.7 gb in size and 2180 x 1380 inches.||Detail of the satellite overlapped images.|
Our explorations began with the physical trekking of the river using Google Earth as our navigational tool. We constructed a map comprised of 308 images that composed the entire river length from its source to the mouth of the river. This allowed a multitude of visual viewpoints; a distant overhead view as well as a more intimate\ detailed viewpoint of each segment of the river. Navigating the river searching for the source brought us to the fifth St John Pond located in the North Maine Woods. An isolated, privately owned area abundant with wildlife and maintained as wilderness. The fifth St John Pond is actually the culmination of a series of small connected ponds that merge forward as the St. John River. We camped at this site and began our research, listen and investigations of the river itself.
The patterns and rhythms of the beginning of the Wolastoq were magical. This brought us to our next reference; the use of the Maliseet/MicMac hieroglyphic: a symbolic language system that is arguably the oldest written language of North America. In fact, the glyphs were referred to as komqwejwi'kasikl a Maliseet word which means 'sucker-fish writings' after the patterns that sucker-fish left on the Wolastoq River bottom giving the River its voice; singing its own cantata as 'river speak'. The sucker fish patterns are thought to be the inspiration of the glyphs themselves. Like the name of the River, the glyphs were also altered in time, purposely in an attempt to change the 'belief" system of the River's indigenous populations. Catholic missionaries in the 1600's used the glyphs to teach prayers and general beliefs of the Catholic Religion. They changed the meanings of the glyphs; for example the symbol which meant life force or spirit of the people became a symbol representing the devil. The re-interpretation of the glyphs by the Missionaries prompted us to "return" gifts to the River; giving back its symbols creating earth scriptures and River cantatas through a series of new River rites.
Baptism: Given the re-naming of the river from the Wolastoq River to the St John River after St John the Baptist ... it was here at the source that we made our first gesture; to baptize ourselves and subsequently the River giving back its original name.
Last Rites: Contemplating the rites, we collected images and videos as we traversed the length of the River until it's end at the mud flats of the Bay of Fundy in St. John New Brunswick. Here the mud holds all the residues, experiences, stories and histories of the river itself. We made a gesture towards the final sacramental rite - extreme unction or the final anointment where one is anointed as one passes through one form to another as did the river as it dissipated into the Atlantic Ocean. We immersed ourselves this time into the mud flats – using our own forms within the site, anointed by the mud emulating images of a post mortem context. Forms revealing the processes that shape them. This was our final gesture with the River and as site artists we move on ...
Gallery Based Works "Earth Scriptures"
Our gallery based constructions represent the conceptual wanderings within a studio based environment in Vancouver. These became the thoughts and conceptual meanderings that were secondary to the actual experience on the river but reflected our physical wanderings there. The theory that the hieroglyphic were influenced by the suckerfish patterns of the Wolastoq/St John River gave rise to the notion of River Speak/Earth Scriptures. In this work "Cantata; Earth Scriptures" an 18 panel musical composition, we created the patterns of the fluvial sands of the River's source. This scripture is based on the satellite images of the fluvial sands (produced by Google Earth) at the source of the River sited at the Fifth St John Pond in the North Maine woods.
In the Cantata called "Scriptures", we created an 18 panel musical composition based on the Hail Mary prayer freeing the original meaning of the glyphs. This gesture echoed cantatas in the halls of the Beaverbrook Art Gallery.
The following works were conceptually based on three of the sacramental rites:
Confirmation, Communion and Reconciliation connecting them to our river observations. Confirmation or Chrismation is the second sacrament of Christian initiation. It is called Confirmation because it confirms and strengthens baptismal grace. It is a time when an individual makes a personal commitment to their faith; a rite of passage. We constructed as the rivers rite/right of passage a series of paddle like structures representing the paddle oars of the canoes built and used by the indigenous people of the area. Each oar had a circular opening for the passage through ... There were four of them: one opening was left empty for a multiplicity of possible voices; one held a small bundle of kilhuswasq a medicinal herb grown on the river's edge and important to the health of the indigenous people yet now threatened by the damming and waste products of the river; one had a series of bundled stories representing the stories of the river that belong to the river; and the last were two bear claws representing Lance's ancestors of whose territory we were in.
Eucharist or Communion The Eucharist, also called the
Most Blessed Sacrament, is the sacrament by which Catholics partake of the Body and Blood of Christ and participate in his one sacrifice. The Eucharist is seen as "the source and summit" of Christian living, the point of contact between the parishioners and the liturgy of heaven; a transformational act that connects one to great insight and vision. The body of the river begins at the fluvial sands of the source which carry throughout as the riverbed. Notions of transformations are carried in the reflective qualities of the river itself as well in the transformational aspect of sand itself and its ability to create glass, that mysterious translucent substance of which structures for vision and insight occur. Representing the notions of body and transformation we placed Silica Sand and pieces of lenses from a reflective telescope in two cast iron cooking vessels designed for camping. Each pot was placed respectively on elevated altar like structures and was connected by a drawing of earth scriptures in the form of automatic writing overlaid onto an image of the passing river.
Penance/Reconciliation The Sacrament of Penance is the sacrament of spiritual healing from sins committed; remorse for wrongdoing. As quoted by the church "Many sins wrong our neighbor. One must do what is possible in order to repair the harm. Simple justice requires as much. Raised up from sin, the sinner must make amends ". The sins towards the river are evidenced in the pollution, in the shifting and altering of its course through dams, and in the oral histories of how the river once was. Here we created a prie-dieu, a kneeler used in the church for atonement and prayers. We built it from wood and found water bottles filled with the polluted river water collected near St John NB. The bottles themselves are evidence of the waste and pollution that we have contributed to mother earth. The prayer book was an analysis and report done by the Canadian River Institute in collaboration with the University of New Brunswick entitled "The St John River: A State of the Environment Report"; July 2011. It is a comprehensive report that includes not only the scientific evidence and analysis of the river but as well the traditional ecological recounts in the form of oral history narratives by the Elders of the area as to life on the river
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