Exhibit features collaboration between Tracie Stewart and Institute of Urban Ecology
By Caroline Ho, Arts Editor
From salmon to forest, from ruins to rebirth, reconnect with the cycle of nature through artwork on display right at Douglas College.
Greenlinks 2017: In a Nutshell features the mixed media works of artist, professional gardener, and certified arborist Tracie Stewart, along with displays by the Douglas College Institute of Urban Ecology. This exhibit runs until September 8 in the Amelia Douglas Gallery, which is located on the fourth floor of the Douglas College New Westminster campus.
The idea for this collaborative exhibit came about when Stewart was giving a talk at the Surrey Art Gallery last year and was approached about doing a show at the Amelia Douglas Gallery. When she proposed creating an exhibit themed around the myth of the salmon and the Tree of Knowledge, partnering with the IUE seemed like a natural step.
In Irish mythology, the salmon becomes the wisest creature after eating hazelnuts from the Tree of Knowledge. Other creatures who then eat the salmon in turn perpetuate the spread of knowledge—but this natural cycle has been disrupted by modern human greed.
To depict this story of the salmon, In a Nutshell features multiple photographs of carved wooden salmon installations placed within forests and alongside rivers, taken at various points along the route of the longest salmon run in BC. The run begins in the town of Wells in central BC, goes down the Bowrun River, and finally enters the Thompson River. The salmon installations themselves, carved out of recycled cedar, are also on display in the gallery.
Although Stewart’s photographs follow the specific route of the salmon run, she did not plan out the locations of her shots beforehand, instead traveling along the path and finding opportune spots to set up her salmon as she went. Such natural serendipity is most evident and impactful in the final piece in this series, “A Salmon Ceremony.” Stewart explained to the Other Press in a phone interview that she took this photo as daylight was fading, and she wished to get in a picture before the day’s end of the salmon going into the Thompson River. As she pulled over by the bank of the Thompson, she discovered that somebody else had previously painted the Medicine Wheel and a bear paw print on one of the boulders by the river, telling her that somebody had performed a salmon ceremony in that precise location.
To Stewart, finding this site was a poignant affirmation of the salmon’s cultural and environmental importance. “It was a real special moment, telling me that what I was doing was really connecting,” she said in the interview.
Another recurring piece of imagery In a Nutshell features is the hummingbird, linked thematically to the phoenix. The inspiration for these works tying the hummingbird with the phoenix came from Stewart’s experience with a grove of hazelnut trees that she used to drive past in Chilliwack. One day Stewart discovered that the entire grove had been knocked down, but when she walked among the burned remains of the trees, she saw a hummingbird appear and land among the ruins, despite having no food or water in the area.
On one hand, Stewart was sad to see the loss of what had probably been the hummingbird’s home for generations. On the other hand, she was inspired by the resilience of the little bird and wanted to acknowledge its vitality, rather than focusing on the destruction and negativity. “You can’t just make people feel guilty and bad about it,” said Stewart, referring to her message in making the hummingbird a symbol of rebirth. “Giving them something to create hope, inspire them, I think that’s our way to move forward.”
This idea of respecting and reconnecting with the land is at the core of In A Nutshell and Stewart’s work. She also has a simple recommendation for anyone looking to take a first step to getting back in touch with the Earth: Gardening. Just a few minutes of weeding, or even just feeling the soil in your fingers, brings benefits on all sides, in what Stewart describes as a “symbiotic relationship” between people and plants. Plants receive the care of humans; humans receive an instant boost in serotonins and the satisfaction of doing something positive for the Earth.
Stewart believes that the simplicity and the holistic benefits of gardening are part of why the Institute of Urban Ecology is so important. As a professional gardener, too often she encounters people who want to get into gardening but are afraid of doing something wrong. The Institute’s work in bringing simple education and awareness to the public is invaluable in helping people make those first steps toward reconnecting with nature.
Stewart will be giving a free Artist’s Talk in the Amelia Douglas Gallery on Friday, September 8 at 10 am, which is the final day of the exhibit.