Tag Archives: winter

the wind and the rain

Victoria Ward
Victoria Ward

The wind and rain hit the side of the house so relentlessly and powerfully all night that I assumed when I would wake the next morning everything would be blown away. But as the sun came up over the field, beyond the garden and work shed it was business as usual; Molly the dog running about, birds flitting about on empty trees and the southern Ontario sky moodily moving clouds back and forth – grey, lavender, white and grey again. Morning in farm country. It is an entirely different kind of morning than in the forest.

I am in southern Ontario installing an art exhibition that is the consequence of a residency. The landscape, with farms and hollows is completely different than where I live which is foresty, rugged with Precambrian shield rocks and has hundreds of lakes. Where I am now there is one, huge great lake. But as it always is when we embark and then embed ourselves in different landscapes, we feel comfortable in our relative discomfort. I admit to being a home body; I like being in my jammies and reading and hanging out on my property and wandering up my road. So, when I travel and even if it is only somewhere else in Ontario it has an impact on my psyche.

Winter is coming. A foreboding tag line if there ever was one. The turn onto our road last winter – yeah, we get snow.

Ontario used to be a place with fairly consistent weather; rain in in the shoulder months, snow in winter and heat in summer. The sun always around and appearing regularly. Ontario weather is now no longer that consistent. Our summers are a mixed bag, sometimes wet and cold, sometimes too hot, our winter starts later and later and when the snow comes it comes in heaps and there seems to be crazier and crazier rain storms. This past year I witnessed flooding I had never seen before in lots of places in the province. It is alarming for sure and with the fact that my life has been built around trekking across the landscape to make and exhibit art, I have to say I am not filled with the greatest of optimism that this will become easier, in fact I think these ventures will become harder. Secretly though I also think that perhaps we might have to stay home more (quiet little yeah!).

Being a landscape inspired artist in an era of accelerating climate change isn’t exactly what I bargained or readied myself for. Listening to the rain last night in that 19th century farm house with its huge wooden doors and big heavy windows – the kind you can sit in on a pillow and create poetry in – was exactly where I hoped I would be one day when I was young girl obsessed with Mary Shelley and the Brontes. Unfortunately loving stormy nights doesn’t fill me with Gothic ecstasy anymore, they come too fast, too hard and go beyond drama into something far scarier and foreboding. Climate change is ruining my love of Goth. Storms now cause power outages and we can’t use our water – this isn’t romantic, it’s boring. Dark foreboding skies are still beautiful, but they can also mean that a heavy rain will probably make the door jamb in my house leak. So, this is where I am now. I moved into a gorgeous log cabin in the woods, a romantic setting if there ever was one only to have all the sensuality of violent weather drummed out of me. Climate change you suck.

I WISH I thought climate change was a hoax, I would probably be more able to pretend that on a stormy night I am sitting with the ghosts of Shelley and Byron trying scare each other until it stops raining. No such luck. I listen to the wind howl in a way that seems completely psychotic, not eerie or evocative, just simply psychotic and try to distract my fear of our roof coming off by watching Netflix and praying that the internet holds. Ok, I may be waxing a bit dramatic here. These storms aren’t relentlessly ubiquitous yet.

The thing is I have always loved the weather in Ontario and in all parts of Ontario. One year we got stuck in a blizzard and had to stay in our hotel an extra couple of nights outside of Cobalt on Lake Temiskaming. It was amazing really. Our hotel had a fireplace so, if the power went out we’d still be warm (it didn’t) but watching the snow sweep across the lake, it’s power and beauty an almost ethereal and translucent spectral event – made for a very memorable couple of days.

The morning after, strange swirling forms of vapour rose off the lake spiraling to the blasting sun as though the very air was giving blessings to the universe. I could not possibly make art our of such an event – there was no need really. We drove slowly away toward home and of course I was happy and relieved however changed, because the landscape, the weather and the movement through time that others refer to as travel had made its mark upon my soul. A reliable sense of things in our atmosphere seems to be vanishing – I shall hold its poetic power as long as I am able.

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State of the Arts – Elizabeth Fennell’s Attic of rebels

Victoria Ward
Victoria Ward

Gallery in the Attic is a local arts hub & a place of rebellion

I have in my email box a ton of invites and notices about panel discussions regarding the arts. There seems to be lots and lots of talk about the arts and how we should be “going forward” or “creating in the 21st century”. Personally I can’t think of anything less appealing than sitting in one of those awful hotel ballrooms watching a power point presentation highlighted by declamations and applause every time someone says how important the arts is for our children. I’d rather see the money spent on people who open galleries and actually engage with the public. But because I feel this way I am deemed a misfit. I like the word rebel better, it’s a little more au currant.

I get it though. We need to talk to each other, I guess. The thing is I am not a joiner, a team player or even a participant really, but I do believe in ideas of inclusiveness because I understand how we do need each other. My world then is peopled by misfits like myself who also want to belong but in deeply uncompromising ways. Can this be achieved? It depends. The group I would join would have to be one of rebellion or at the very least run by rebels.

One particular rebel that I have come to adore is Peterborough’s Elizabeth Fennell, that indefatigable beauty who runs Gallery in the Attic and The Darkroom Project, both out of a classic old Ontario building on Hunter Street. It’s the kind of place people in Toronto used to live and work in before the city turned all the warehouses into condos. Elizabeth is a small town girl with a very large idea about the world and how to be creative in it. Her collective, Little Red Hen comprises of many of Peterborough’s artists; a composite of emerging, mid and senior, she sees room for everyone.

Here is Elizabeth Fennell at a recent opening giving someone her undivided attention. Contact is what it's all about & Elizabeth makes this her art.
Here is Elizabeth Fennell at a recent opening giving someone her undivided attention. Contact is what it’s all about & Elizabeth makes this her art.

One of the finer joys I have had in the art making world over the past few years (and for most of us there hasn’t been much joy recently) has been spending time at the Attic and meeting many creative people from every art form and age group. In Toronto my experience in the arts was always somewhat homogeneous; everyone seemed to be around the same age and from similar backgrounds. This however has changed completely since I left the city as people in rural areas are drawn together out of a different kind of camaraderie; we are bound together by the fact that we understand we all need space which is why we left the city in the first place. It’s a strong, emotional bond but one with a lot of room.

Elizabeth has captured this essence of creative living without the need of city excess. It’s that Williamsburg/Brooklyn approach, when the boroughs of NYC realized they didn’t have to cross a bridge to do something special. The Gallery in the Attic has comfy old fashioned furniture, a record player, a bar with Scotch, a darkroom for film development(!!) and an atmosphere of total creative enterprise while remaining inviting and unique. Elizabeth’s curatorial approach is to exhibit a solo artist in a tidy, perfect little white room, a duo or group effort in a brick walled space perfect also for bands that get to play at certain openings and then a main space where the collective gets to hang their work in a meticulously designed and perfectly annotated large group exhibitions.

Gallery in the Attic during  a recent opening. The art scene of Peterborough has come to rely on the gallery's funky, go to atmosphere.
Gallery in the Attic during a recent opening. The art scene of Peterborough has come to rely on the gallery’s funky, go to atmosphere.

The space and the initiative has all come about in the last five years which were possibly the worst on record for exhibiting and selling art work. Our world perhaps is crumbling or at least what it once was is crumbling. The current art scene, almost anywhere is a meniscus of serious desperation and frothy consumerism. I see however much hope in what Elizabeth is doing as her sense of community, rebellious “I’ll do it myself” streak and heads up organizational approach illustrate how one only has to roll up one’s sleeves, grab a drill and make it happen. I used to believe in this and lost my way somehow over the years; a creeping fear of time? Of course having a museum studies degree has helped Elizabeth focus her talents but I think it’s her outdoorsy, everyone into the canoe sensibility and a vividly smart & dark sense of humour that has helped make the Attic and who she is extraordinary.

I put some questions to Elizabeth about the Gallery and her ongoing challenges of running an independent art space:

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