It had been 24 years since I was in Quebec, a lifetime ago really.
I must confess to a certain amount of unease regarding my trip; a small kernel of doubt about “dealing with the langauge issue.” In past travels I have oddly had no serious communication worries; 2 months in Mexico, or any of my time in Italy, Spain, Portugal etc… but as a Canadian I feel guilt that I am lousy at French, and basically a language drop-out.
Somehow I feel like less of a Canadian for not being able to embrace with gusto my multi-linguistic national heritage.
In adulthood I have tried in limited fits and starts with Spanish , but French scares the hell out of me…
It emotionally brings back my worst moments in a classroom as a child feeling dumb and behind the rest of the class.
But I bottled all my insecurity, worry and language shame into a tight little container for future dumping, and headed east just over a week ago for an adventure of making art in an apple orchard alongside 11 other artists/ artist teams in Mont Saint Hilaire Quebec.
An opportunity to meet up again with artist Victoria Stanton who I resided with in Mexico last year, David and I spent a great weekend relaxing and catching up with her in Montreal, met her friends and neighbours; then rested, headed out to the orchard on Thanksgiving Monday.
Curator and artistic Director of the Land Art exhibit Jeremie Boudreault and artist Andre Boisvert took us to see the site for the first time- talk about street appeal right off the highway!Jeremie and I had talked about various locations via email, as the orchard has many various areas from spruce forest to a pond, large maple forested area and plenty of birch. We settled on my choosing an apple tree when I arrived in one part of the orchard- I felt like being in an orchard presented a unique opportunity to work with that agricultural link somehow.
With more space around it then most, it was also not covered in leaves.
Dying, the branches felt like bones exposed, it was more sculptural than the trees with all their clothes on.
Then my eye caught the small vine growing up its side
old life supports the new.
I immediately responded by collecting some of the willow cut locally for artists’ use and creating the base for a sculptural vine.
A tough day followed of roping willow together into cordage to twist around the tree. partially it was just my panic and discomfort of the fast decision-making required. I was oddly out of sorts, David managed to keep a low profile and twist willow with me as needed. Somehow we got through it, but a very tough start.
The other side of this cranky beginning, is the people I was surrounded with- incredible!
Back to the language issue- I noticed two things right off the start:
1. everybody was game to speak whatever English they could to communicate with me, and were so gracious about my butchering French AND Spanish simultaneously with every attempt I made to speak.
2. I am now officially OK with making an ass of myself by trying to speak in whatever language bits I know, no matter how much gibberish might result- my ego has been crushed by my desire to try, and to communicate. It is great to be past being the child in grade school terrified to speak up and be laughed at.
Let’s call that “maturing nicely”.
Eventually – hopefully; grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation of one language at a time might just be possible…
Right away, with everyone I met I felt I could move to this place, and be surrounded by my new family of peers.
It is an interesting life, this life of an environmental artist.
Like an international club membership, arriving in a place that focuses on environmental/land-based art almost guarantees entry into a club of like-minded, creative individuals After just such a short amount of time I feel like my community expanded- exploding across Quebec.
I had several local makers; weavers and knitters from the Cercle de Fermieres come out to join me through the week. The Cercle is an old traditional rural organization in Quebec. Women “gathering to make” is such a time-honored tradition, and I was thrilled with the level of enthusiasm and support that they brought to the project. A highlight for me was when France who had come out each day showed up on Saturday with 3 new women, and told me she was going to teach them the techniques we had been using, yes!
Our first day we wove a few large forms to add in to the tree branches, like seed heads on the willow vine.
We spent the next day just exploring the local materials, and coiling technique- the result being it took me 8 hours to make one apple for the tree.
Eventually we switched and used willow bark to sew, but when we were still using the nettle fibre to sew the forms, Francine “invented” a fibre break, using the ridge of the tree stump and a rock, she was processing the same way we have been processing linen; with a break to separate the fibre from the stock. I was so impressed to see this immediate technology understanding.
In a few of the apples I put some apple pulp inside, thinking of them eventually dropping to the ground like living apples, providing nutrients back to the tree; seed carriers themselves.
Saturday I was eagerly awaiting some orchard kitchen refuse (stealing from the pigs dinner I am afraid)…. but I wanted to ground the work somehow in the product that feels like the offspring of both the tree and human production. Originally I had my eye on the pulp from making cider, but no cider was to be made now. The apple pie peelings looked pretty damn tasty I admit, it was like handling long wet linguine, and after failed attempts to twist it into rope, I settled for big lovely twisting mounds instead. The final step of the life process was complete. Our twisting vine growing up and following the sun around the tree to the apples basket forms and the fruit-peelings providing nutrients for continued growth.
Because of the slow nature of the work, it would not have been possible without the women from Cercle de Fermieres Au Pied du Mont who came out and helped and made it all such fun.
France Avione, Francine Brongel, Fernande Monette, Estelle Kabori, Agathe de la Durantaye, Huguette St Martin, Marjolaine Arsenoult and Isabelle.
The work complete.
I finally took a bit of time and ran around to see the work by some of the other artists; here are a few photos of what others were up to!
With thanks to Bruno for hosting us in his home, Michel and the staff at Pavillion de la Pomme for hosting the event, to the women of Cercle de Fermieres Au Pied du Mont for coming out and working with me every day, David for ongoing assistance and comedic relief and to Jeremie and the city of Mont Saint Hilaire for supporting the artists in such fine style through the week. Thank You!
The rest of the photos from this project can be found here