The Past Looms Large

November 27th, 2018 | 12 Comments »

For the last eighteen months or more I’ve been working on an art installation that stretches along a 3-4 km trail at Glen Villa, my garden in Quebec.  The trail moves in and out of fields and forests, and each environment has its own character.

When I started the project, the idea behind it wasn’t entirely clear. Gradually, working with the land and listening to its story, the project took shape. Time — how we think about it, experience it and represent it — was a thread connecting each installation. So several months ago the project acquired a name: Timelines.

The Past Looms Large is a section of Timelines that I hope will raise questions in the mind of anyone walking the trail.  It begins with a short corrugated tin column positioned near a tall dead pine and a stump whose shape makes me think of a person drowning, with neck stretched up to the sky and mouth wide open, gasping for breath.


The dead pine and the tree stump were part of the inspiration for this section.
The tall dead pine and the tree stump were part of the inspiration for this section of Timelines.


Applied to the base of the column are letters that not only give the name of this section but also prepare a walker for what is coming next.


The red letters contrast with the grey cement and continue a colour that appears throughout the project.
I’ve used red along the Timelines trail as a unifying element. I I like the contrast here between the red letters and the grey concrete.


Looking out from the top of a rise, walkers will see a field crossed by a mown path with tall columns on either side.


The columns are striking in every season.
The columns definitely loom large. I took this photo early one morning in late summer, as the grasses in the field were beginning to change colour.


As they approach the columns, walkers are able to read the words on the bases: first Doric, then Ionic.


Doric and Ionic name types of Greek columns.
The words Doric and Ionic name two of the orders of Greek columns. The style of the capitals, the tops of the columns, are what differentiates one order from another. These columns do not have capitals, and never will.


Anyone who studied art history will know what word to expect next: Corinthian, the name of the third type of Greek column. But we aren’t in ancient Greece, we are in today’s world, where the past is an unreliable guide to the future.


The first column breaks expectation.
I used corrugated tin because it suggested the fluting that often appeared on Greek columns. .


Not far in the distance, a fifth column rises above an over-sized Adirondack chair whose dimensions illustrate again how large the past still looms.


Adirondack chairs are iconic symbols of summer in the northeastern part of North America.
Adirondack chairs are iconic symbols of summer in the northeastern part of North America. Fifth columns suggest more subversive possibilities.


The chair, designed by the Quebec landscape architectural firm Nip Paysage, marks a turning point. The path has climbed gently across the open field; now it begins to descend towards a backdrop of tall dark trees.


The path leads through what appears to be a natural opening between pairs of trees.
The path leads through an opening between maple trees towards an ancient apple tree. Two wooden stakes mark the location of the element we are working on now.


The next section of Timelines is unfinished, thanks to snow that came much earlier than usual — in terms of climate, the past is increasingly unreliable as a guide to the future.  Many months ago I determined that the final element in this section would be the façade of a Greek temple.  The trail would go through an opening between columns, as if the walker were entering an actual temple, but the façade would stand alone. I sketched possibilities, talked to architects and designers.

Using the internet as a guide, my friend and collaborator John Hay found the image of a temple that suited our purposes. He superimposed the image onto a photo of the chosen site.


John searched the internet and found an image of a temple that suited our purposes.
Neither John nor I remember where this particular temple was located. Nor does it really matter. We liked the proportions and the fact that it was partially ruined.


The image served as our guide. Should we have four full columns or should we include a broken one? How tall should the columns be? And finally, how could we construct the thing in the simplest way?

John made a model to scale and late in October we set to work with the help of Jacques Gosselin and Ken Kelso, without whom almost nothing at Glen Villa could be done.


John held the model in place while I took the photo.
The fifth column, located beside the Adirondack chair and shown in the model at the far right, gives a sense of scale and perspective. John didn’t add the chair.


The temple façade is like a billboard, a false front with construction details fully revealed.


Upright posts form a framework for the temple façade.
We put up scaffolding and the upright posts that will form the framework of the façade on a cold and sunny day.


By early November things were beginning to take shape. First two columns appeared …


The horizontal bar is only temporary, holding the posts in place during construction.
The horizontal bar that runs behind the corrugated tin is a temporary but necessary element, holding the upright posts in place during construction.


… then four.


The pediment is still to be added.
Scaffolding is still in the way, but the façade is getting closer to its final form.


It was very cold the day we added the broken pediment and the dentils underneath. We tied the pieces in place temporarily — the clamps that will hold them securely had not arrived.


The black I-beams will weather over the winter. In the spring we'll probably paint them silver.
This is not the final version of the façade but close to it.


And then the snow fell.

Over the winter the upright posts will begin to rust and the black I-beams will weather, softening the harshness of their lines. In the spring we’ll make whatever changes seem right.

But for now the work is done.




Monuments and Memorials

November 20th, 2018 | 6 Comments »
Paintings on rock made by indigenous people many years ago give us insights into their daily life and the events and objects they valued. (I wrote about rock paintings here.) Monuments and memorials serve a similar purpose. So what do they show about what we value today? Traditionally monuments were erected to great men and generals who led us in war, and to those who fought and died. I grew up surrounded by this type of memorial. The statues of Confederate leaders that lined Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia left no doubt about


Rock Art

November 12th, 2018 | 19 Comments »
Cave paintings on the island of Borneo showing animals and human hands have recently been dated back some 40,000 years, making them the oldest known example of figurative rock art in the world. (Details of the story can be found in various articles, including one here from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.) Think for a moment about how long ago that is. Forty thousand years. It takes my breath away. I've been fascinated by rock art for many years and have been fortunate to see examples in South Africa, Namibia, Australia, Chile and Peru. While the particulars