Meewasin: S.Saskatchewan River

South Saskatchewan River Project: Saskatoon – Meewasin is based on the section of the river between the Victoria and McDonald Bridges in downtown Saskatoon. I was invited to create a new work that would honour the river while inviting viewers to journey along the river, and to connect with it, in a new way. I had no idea what would emerge before I arrived in Saskatoon, and my first three days were spent walking the many trails along the river on both the east and west sides. During all of the walks the abundance of animal life became apparent, either through direct encounter or through signs left behind – tracks and spoor – and dwelling places like beaver houses, nests, webs and entrances to underground dens. Birds – hawks, eagles, pelicans, geese, crows, robins, ducks, catbirds and others: shared the sky, while otters, beavers, frogs, fish: the river, and deer, chipmunks, prairie dogs, muskrats, mice: the land, while dragonflies, butterflies and other insects remained almost hidden. I decided to do a series of works that honoured the animal life, and animal spirits, along the river. 

The sites of the installations were chosen during these initial walks along the river, at places that seemed touched by magic. On the first morning a river otter followed me from the Victoria Bridge to just past the Broadway – this marked the first site – across from the Delta Besborough. On the trails near the University Hospital a hawk swooped down and cried, marking the second site, on the side of the hill across from the Mendel Gallery. The third site, on a sandbar near the University Bridge, was chosen because a small frog was seen along the riverbank, across from the sandbar island that is shaped like a tadpole. The final site, near the weir, is set on a hill that was alight with butterflies – and it seemed that butterflies followed me wherever I went.

The symbolic and mythological meanings of Otter, Hawk, Frog and Butterfly (see below) were researched over the next few days, while the search began for rocks to be used in the installations. Adrian Stimson, the intern on this project, took me on trips to various locations, including Whitecap Park, to look for rocks. It turns out that the South Saskatchewan River is rich in sand — and there are few rocks to be found. After many phone calls and much deliberation, it was decided to drive around and search for rocks left behind in farmers fields – and at Brightwater a large pile was found at Elwood and Diane Theaker’s – many thanks to them for their generosity.

The four installation sites are all on the east side of the river and can be viewed from the walking trails on the east side of the Saskatchewan River, and from some of the bridges, or from the sky. They are slightly harder to find in the morning sun, and are best viewed in the late afternoon when the setting sun lights them, bringing them out of the shadows, bringing them to life.

Otter is a mythological animal in many cultures including Peru where it was an important cult figure, the Celts revered Otter as a companion of Cernunnos, Lord of the Animals, and to the First Nations Otter is associated with the feminine energy and the power of the Earth and Waters. Otter sits on the banks across from the Delta Besborough, under the walking trail and above the river trail. On the morning that Otter was being installed on the cliffs, a river otter, perhaps the same one that I first met, swam and watched from the river below, then crossed the river and returned again, as if watching the process. Otter size approximately: 15’x15′.

Hawk is said to be a solar bird with the same significance as Eagle and Falcon and was much revered in ancient Egypt as a Sun-God, in Greece as the messenger of Apollo, and in India Hawk brings soma from Heaven, in Borneo Hawk is a prophetic bird with feathers that have healing powers, in Australia Hawk is a deity, and in First Nations stories hawk helped create the world after the Flood and is also known as the messenger from the Creator. When we arrived at the cliffs across from the Mendel to install Hawk, a birds nest, containing the remains of four medium sized brown eggs, was found in the tall grasses just above the cliff. This was by far the most difficult work to install, the cliffside was very steep and many times it felt as if I would take flight. After the installation was completed, we travelled to the Mendel side of the river to view the piece — while we were there a hawk flew over the site, swooping down low over the work, and cried out as it passed over. 
Hawk size approximately: 20’x15′.

Frog is believed to be the rainmaker, bringing fertility and new life while also symbolizing life and resurrection. The Great Frog is said to be one of the traditional supporters of the Universe, and Ancient Egyptians had a Frog Goddess, Egyptian Christians used Frog as a symbol of new birth; the Chinese say that the Frog Spirit is a healer, while in Greco-Roman symbolism Frog represents harmony between lovers and is an emblem of Aphrodite/ Venus, the Celts say that Frog is the Lord of the Earth, and some First Nations shamans use Frog for cleansing power, and Frog is the totem for the Hopi Water Clan. Frog is on a sandbar island, shaped like a tadpole, that sits in the Saskatchewan River and was the only work that involved an actual journey on, and across, the river. A canoe was used to transport rocks to the site – the crossing was made three times. While Frog was being installed a tadpole-nearly-frog was seen walking along the point of the sandbar, just inches from the work. The site chosen is the ‘head’ of the sandbar island, or the point, and was chosen to honour frogs emerging from the tadpole shape and from the river, and then returning to the river again as a frog. Frog is best viewed from the air, or from the east side of the University Bridge, or from the path just under the University President’s Residence.
Frogsize approximately: 20’x12′

Butterfly is revered as a symbol of spiritual transformation in many cultures and they are believed to be the souls of the dead and the keepers of the power – the ancient Greeks depicted the departed soul as a butterfly, the Blackfoot and Sarcee, of Alberta, like the ancient Greeks and Romans, associate the butterfly with the wandering consciousness in the dream state, while the Aztec and Maya, symbolize the god of cosmic fire as a butterfly. During the installation of Butterfly many different types of butterflies flew in and out of the installation site which is set on the banks, just before the weir.
Butterfly size approximately: 18’x18′.

Special thanks to Adrian Stimson

Flow: A Festival of Art and Ecology Mendel Art Gallery, 2004