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.
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.
Looking out from the top of a rise, walkers will see a field crossed by a mown path with tall columns on either side.
As they approach the columns, walkers are able to read the words on the bases: first Doric, then Ionic.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
The temple façade is like a billboard, a false front with construction details fully revealed.
By early November things were beginning to take shape. First two columns appeared …
… then four.
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.
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.