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islandness, a living experiment: Written overview by Hannah Morgan

islandness, a collaborative exhibition between artists Jane Walker (Newfoundland) and Vivian Ross-Smith (Shetland Islands), is the first installment of a living experiment spanning across the Atlantic between two northern islands. Since meeting in 2015, the two artists have explored their identities shaped by living and working in rural contexts and the influence it has had on their artistic practices. As islanders and artists, Walker and Ross-Smith examine aspects of northern island communities and contemporary rurality.

Influenced by traditional processes while creating their work, the artists adapt to the resources found within their communities and environments. Transforming and acclimatizing to their surroundings, the ability to make art is often dependent on the capacity to learn about alternative materials and traditional knowledge. In remote locations, self-sustainability and innovation are integral to the survival of the community and contemporary art practices. Examples of such adaptations are particularly highlighted in islandness with the use of cod skin as textile and lichen moss in the hooked rugs.

This first installment of islandness synthesized on Newfoundland’s Bonavista peninsula where the artists shared studio space and worked together within the community hosting a workshop on fish skin preservation (with the Bonavista Biennale) and a communal supper with Susie’s Café in Birchy Cove. Drawing a diverse audience that included locals and surrounding community members– the public programming prompted open conversations on coastlines, hardships, ferries, cod, history, belonging, and isolation. Within the work exhibited we can find remnants of these moments, connecting experiences, and gestures beyond just that of the artists. The energy of the communities are ingrained into the material and creation of these artworks. Walker and Ross-Smith’s collaborative art works plays host to several community stories and memories shared during their time in Bonavista. Building further platforms to transfer knowledge and share experiences of ‘islandness’ in considerate ways is the core intention of the project framework.

Tools, techniques, textiles, and a variety of textures come together in this collaborative survey of what it is to be an islander and how to connect ever-important shorelines across waters which have been both the divider and the connection all along. Jane Walker and Vivian Ross-Smith connect experiences from the past and ideas for the future allowing for islandness to bridge knowledges (once separate) and communities (at times isolated) together in this exhibition.

HANNAH MORGAN (b. Charlottetown, P.E.I.) is a Master’s student of Art History at Concordia. Originally from Prince Edward Island and having completed her BA at Mount Allison University, her research focuses on the curatorial practices within Atlantic collections and engaging local histories with contemporary artists. While studying in Montreal she interned at the Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery and was an active member of Concordia’s Art History Graduate Association along with the Indigenous Art Research Group. Over the past year, Hannah was on the Board of Directors at Eastern Edge Gallery and became the HOLD FAST Contemporary Arts Festival Director throughout the summer. Previously in St. John’s she worked for the iNuit blanche Festival, and co-curated Reimagining Nanuq: The Polar Bear Postcard Project.