Under the sheltering sky

Under the Sheltering Sky was created during a residency at the University of the Fraser Valley in Abbotsford, British Columbia.

Abbotsford is situated in the Fraser Valley, east of Vancouver, and south of the Fraser River. Incredible views of the Cascade Mountains can be seen across Sumas Prairie and the area has a history of farming and is rich in dairy, field crops and nurseries. There is a ‘wild’ area to the south-east of the campus, just west of the Student Union Building. Here the moss is thick underfoot and cedars thrive…there is view of Mt Baker, from just over the hill from this quiet area, that is spectacular.

This residency differed from most in that it took place over two weeks but with the days not being concurrent. I stayed in Abbotsford for two nights and then commuted from Vancouver the rest of the time. This commute took me from the heart of the city, along the freeway through the suburbs and outlying areas and through farming communities…with a vast difference being seen and felt with the changing landscape.

My first day on the grounds I spent four hours collecting seeds: wildflowers, pine cones, cattails, birch, rose, cedar, acorns and others. At home in my studio I began the process of germinating them, not sure what would happen…in the end the wildflowers and birch germinated. I went away for a week to think about the site, the history of the area and the installation space.

The gallery is approximately 20 feet wide by 45 feet long, with a window at the far end, facing west. I decided to use only this far wall and window for the installation… wanting to draw the viewer to the view outside while also creating a piece that could be viewed from the outside as well as the inside. This one white gallery wall was painted a deep olive green, referencing the trees that grow just on the other side, as well as the deep moss floor in the forest where the natural materials were collected. Green was also chosen to bring a sense of calmness to the space, so that the gallery itself acts as an approach, a space of transition from the school to the work, with green being the anchor. A plinth, also painted green, stands to the right of the window and holds a small silver TV/DVD player.

The window is approximately 13 feet wide, and five feet high, and is divided into three sections. Nine shallow aluminum shelves were installed to fit inside of the aluminum window frame. These shelves have 69 holes drilled into them, each holding a glass tube filled with natural materials gathered during several walks in the ‘wild area’. These materials included some of the germinated seeds as well as dormant seeds, clippings of buds, pieces of bark, mosses, grass, fur, berries and more. Magnifying glasses were provided to get a closer look.

A short video clip plays continuously on the TV/DVD — the video is of the sky…of clouds. I was very aware of being in an area where people work in harmony with the land, connected to the seasons, irrevocably tied to the land through ancient connection we all share, but many of us have lost touch with. I wanted to honour the connections between the Land, the Sky and our very existence. Very early on my last morning there, while I was shooting the video footage, an Eagle flew a few feet above me, wings like whispers from above.

University College of the Fraser Valley, Abbotsford, British Columbia, February 2005