Fine art students illuminate winter festival

February 6, 2014

Flying_canoe_story_mainpicWinter nights have a sense of magic about them. Most of us, however, choose to hunker down in the warmth of our homes rather than embrace the season.

However, if a group of boisterous voyageurs in a flying canoe have anything to say about it, the time has come to get outside and take a walk.

Yes, a walk. Outside. In February. At night.

But don’t worry—MacEwan University’s Fine Art students will help brighten the way.

Family fun on a winter’s night

On February 7 and 8, La Cité en Lumières (The City of Light) will present the second annual The Flying Canoe Adventure Walk, a unique and free nighttime event that covers the area from La Cité Francophone (8627-91 Street) and through the Mill Creek Ravine.

“The Flying Canoe Adventure/L'aventure du canoë volant hopes to bring the people of Edmonton together in celebration of a winter's night with light, music and culture,” explains event coordinator Shannon Brennan.

Extraordinary opportunity for fine art students

Flying_canoe_story_collabpicThis year, festival organizers invited the university’s second-year fine art students to participate. Seven groups of students have been working with local artist and lighting guru Dylan Toymaker to create the art installations that will light the path through the ravine.

“The Fine Arts students are contributing fresh, innovative and thought-provoking artistic work that will be experienced by a large number of people,” explains Shannon. “It is a partnership that offers many opportunities for learning and benefits the development of local artists.”

Leslie Sharpe, chair of the Fine Art program and instructor for the class working on this project, was excited to see the students get the chance to take their installation to the great outdoors.

“This project gives the students a chance to do something outside, to work with a very major event and with a huge audience. Any artist would love to have that audience,” she explains. “It was very generous for La Cité to invite us—they could have gone to one or two professional artists. For our students it’s a real opportunity to learn so many things.”

Flying_canoe_story_installpicA lesson in installation

The project fits perfectly with Leslie’s eight-credit Intermedia course, in which students learn to work within a wide range of contemporary mediums. To prepare for this project, Leslie gave students an introduction to installation, and the class explored many examples of how artists use light to cast shadows, build colour and create mood. They discussed their own experiences with winter and reminisced about building ice caves as children.

“Each of the groups was inspired by their own histories of environment and space, or what they discovered on our first visit to La Cité and the ravine,” says Leslie. “That’s what’s so exciting about working with students at this level. They’re starting to progress from foundations and put their own ideas into practice.”

The guys in the canoe

The Flying Canoe blends French Canadian and First Nations legends. A group of voyageurs make a deal with the devil on New Year’s Eve to fly their canoe from their remote timber camp to visit their sweethearts 100 leagues away. The ending varies but the story provides a great theme for a winter festival. The local Aboriginal stories and beliefs about the Wolf Trail and the Sky World, and the use of the ravine by their ancestors, also contributes to the mystical atmosphere of the event.

Upon entering the ravine trail’s major starting points, festival goers will be greeted by a group of lost voyageurs who will give insight into the journey ahead. They will encounter more storytellers along the illuminated path as they continue on to the Métis Base Camp, where bannock baked over an open fire will be served and Métis jigs and reels will entertain. The journey culminates at the City of Light (La Cite Francophone) for more light and entertainment.

Students work together to enhance festival

Flying_canoe_story_createpicThe students are excited to contribute to such a unique community event, and were up for the challenge of working outdoors and with new materials.

“I thought it would be fun to do because I’ve never worked with lights and outside materials,” explains Courtney Stevens. “For our installation we’re working with ice and snow, so it will be really interesting to see how they work together.”

A large component of the Intermedia class is learning to work with other artists on a larger project. Creating art is generally a solo endeavor, so choosing groups of people to work with can be challenging.

“It certainly takes a lot more planning … and you need to learn how to split the work between people evenly,” says Maura Madsen.

Tessa Dakin agrees.

“The great thing about working in groups is having three or four minds to help figure things out,” she elaborates. “If you run into an issue you, don’t have to figure it out yourself – you have a team of people who can offer solutions you may not have thought about.”

Public Art

Leslie, who as an artist herself recently worked on an installation in Whitemud Park, believes that public art has an important place in the community.

“It allows people the opportunity to see the spaces they already know in another way, and to carry the experience of what happened at the installation with them in memory,” she explains.

“It’s such a rich thing to connect with anything new and fresh for you in terms of how you’re usually experiencing the world. Art can transform a site or environment or your regular day and take you to another place momentarily. And hopefully that will happen for some people. We’re all going to see the same work, but everyone will take away something different.”

Visit The City of Light for more information on the Flying Canoe Adventure Walk, February 7 and 8, 2014.

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