• Impermanence and Temporality

    Date posted: October 15, 2008 Author: jolanta
    Leah Oates: What does being an artist mean to you?
    Marlene Creates: I want to have a life full of rich experience. Of the infinite ways one might achieve that, being an artist seems to provide me with the greatest possibilities. Perhaps that sounds selfish, but many aspects of a rich life include dialogue, exchange, collaboration, and participation in the world that surrounds us. Those are the parts of being an artist that mean the most to me. Art provides a precise way for me to explore my curiosity about the world, and a precise way to acknowledge and express emotions.
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    Marlene Creates, interviewed by Leah Oates 

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    Courtesy of the artist.

    Leah Oates: What does being an artist mean to you?

    Marlene Creates: I want to have a life full of rich experience. Of the infinite ways one might achieve that, being an artist seems to provide me with the greatest possibilities. Perhaps that sounds selfish, but many aspects of a rich life include dialogue, exchange, collaboration, and participation in the world that surrounds us. Those are the parts of being an artist that mean the most to me. Art provides a precise way for me to explore my curiosity about the world, and a precise way to acknowledge and express emotions.

    LO: When did you become an artist and why?

    MC: I have always wanted to be an artist. I say that because I happen to have one of my grade-3 composition books in which I had to write a composition on my future career. At age eight, in pencil, I wrote: “When I grow up I think I want to be an artist and paint pictures.” At that time, I thought painting pictures was what being an artist meant. Actually, I wasn’t bad at painting pictures then.

    LO: Your current work deals with impermanence in nature and in human existence. This seems a sad subject and yet your work is very spiritual and gorgeous. Is this a dark subject or rather cause for celebration? What are your thoughts on this aspect of your work?

    MC: Oh thank you, Leah. I guess my answer would be that impermanence includes both the dark and the celebratory. “The only thing certain is change,” is how I described it in 1981. I find that what has been at the heart of my inquiry for many years is the landscape’s increasingly complex history as a place of both dwelling and transience—these are situations which give rise to the motifs recurring in my work such as presence, absence, displacement, and loss. One of the advantages of being an artist is that one can recast one’s losses into other forms. In moments of poetic attention, when I sense the ephemeralness of fleeting phenomena, I’m astonished by the planet and have the utmost feelings of gratitude for being alive—all the more so because of my own temporality. Those moments are themselves “spiritual and gorgeous.”

    LO: Has there been a change in the focus of your work since you set down roots in Portugal Cove, Newfoundland, Canada?

    MC: I’ve always been interested in the idea of place. My whole art practice, spanning three decades, has been an exploration of this idea—in both urban and rural contexts. Until I moved to Portugal Cove and started inhabiting six acres of boreal forest, I lived in cities and my working process was very nomadic. I would leave those cities to find most of my subject matter, mostly in rural areas but also in other cities. Since moving here, the focus of my work has become these particular six acres. Probably one of the reasons is that I’m older, and staying in one place and paying attention to it over a long period of time is more interesting to me now than going about and looking elsewhere. And this, too, coincides with the larger cultural awareness of our carbon footprint. Consequently, my work is becoming more and more dematerialized.

    LO: Your current project is a time-based work about transforming the land around your home and making trails. This seems both permanent and temporary at once. Any thoughts on this new work and has it changed you?

    MC: I hope that any transforming I’m doing to the land is being done in collaboration with it. Yes, I’m making paths through the forest, but I’m not cutting down any living trees; I’m only removing blow-downs, which then become fuel to heat my house. During the winter, I observe where the moose have left tracks in the snow and, to some extent, the paths I’m making follow their footprints. The moose have certainly helped me find routes through this terrain.

    The way I’m working now is very physical and I suppose one of the ways it has changed me is that I’m stronger than I’ve ever been. Another change in me is that, as I’ve become familiar with the place, I find I can go out at night and walk around in the woods by myself quite without fear. I like doing this especially in the winter on snowshoes under moonlight.


    LO: Do you consider yourself an artist or photographer or both? Is there really a difference or is this simply an art world distinction?

    MC: I haven’t come to any conclusion yet about what I am. I’m not saying that to be cheeky, but I know I’m not a true photographer. And claiming to be an artist is difficult because I’ve always felt that being a true artist is one of the highest human achievements. I’m still trying to achieve being an artist.

    LO: You are a highly respected artist in Canada, and have shown a lot nationally and internationally. What do you think makes the Canadian art scene different from other art scenes such as NYC or European capitals for art?

    MC: One of the priorities that I see for many artists in Canada is not so much to make art for the market and collectors, but for a national conscience. As one of the explanations for this, I would point to the fantastic network of artist-run centers right across the country that nurture the creation and dissemination of contemporary art which is socially engaged and, indeed, risky and oppositional. Many of the curators currently working in the large public institutions in Canada started their careers in artist-run centers. I’m personally very grateful to the strength of artist-run culture in Canada, not only for the support I have received as an artist, but also for the work by other artists that I have been able to see as an audience member.

    LO: Who are your favorite artists and why?

    MC: My favorite artists are those whose work challenges and enhances my perceptual relationship to the world. Almost any art will do that, if I can understand it.

    LO: What are you working on now in studio, and what upcoming shows or projects are in the works?

    MC: My greatest aspirations are presently constituted by the six acres of boreal forest that I inhabit, and I’m slowly tuning my body and my reflexes to its details. I’m coming to know this habitat by engaging with it in various ways: corporally, emotionally, intellectually, instinctively, linguistically, and in astonishment. I have two ongoing projects with the site. One is The Boreal Poetry Garden (2005-present), which takes the form of color photographs as well as live-art performances where I lead people through the site on paths I’ve made. I stop at certain spots and read out site-specific poems. The second ongoing project is a series of black-and-white photographs titled Larch, Spruce, Fir, Birch, Hand (2007-present) in which I photograph my hand touching certain trees—the ones that have become individuated to me amongst the thousands in this forest.

    To some extent, I’m trying to work outside the institutions of the art world. I’m trying to integrate my life and my artwork in this place, and this has resulted in the slightness of my artistic gesture. In responding to the landscape that surrounds me, my work is becoming more and more dematerialized, that is to say, less and less dependent on using artistic materials, frames, and crates, and shipping everything to galleries in the outside world. The main way that I publish my work now—as in the literal meaning of making it public—is by inviting people to experience it in the material presence that is here.

     

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