“Restoring land without restoring relationship is an empty exercise.”
– Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants, Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer
RETURN TO WATER, the convergent program offered by the Comox Valley Art Gallery this spring, provides multiple channels for the community to engage in arts-based exploration of land use, climate, community connections, and, of course, water.
Weaving together exhibitions, an outdoor media festival, community make-art projects, video screenings, public talks, tours, and a creative residency, the program is all about restoring the relationship between people and the natural environment.
RETURN TO WATER even includes the creation of a map-making narrative game. Speculating on future relationships between water, humans, and other entities in the Comox Valley, the game development is a collaboration involving local students and led by Calgary artist Jay White.
White is part of the Fathom Sounds Collective, a multidisciplinary group of artists who care about the state of water as a living entity and a flowing field of living bodies. He and the other four artists in the collective—Alana Bartol, Kat Morris, Genevieve Robertson, and Nancy Tam—are taking part in a creative residency in the Comox Valley where they research, experiment, and create new work.
From March 3 to May 14, the collective presents Salt Stained Streaks of a Worthwhile Grief at the Gallery. This exhibition includes site-responsive audio soundscapes on the plaza and inside the gallery, interactive installations, animation, drawing, and multi-channel video. The artists describe the overall project as “our love letter to water.”
The exhibition is highly participatory. Visitors to the Gallery are invited to reflect on their own relationship to water and write their own letters, which can take any form: prose, poems, drawings…. These letters are written on water-soluble paper and placed in rain barrels installed in the gallery. Video recordings of the dissolving letters will be incorporated as collective research and memory.
In addition to the exhibition, an outdoor cross-cultural media festival in May gathers Fathom Sounds, the community, artists, and Indigenous knowledge-keepers to learn and share together at the Gallery. The festival will showcase thoughts about water from students of all ages, as well as artist-facilitated community make-art projects.
The RETURN TO WATER convergent program involves a great deal of community partnership. The creative residency and some community events will take place at the McLoughlin Gardens (with special thanks to the McLoughlin Garden Society). The local school district, the Indigenous education program, and North Island College are actively engaged in organizing events and make-art projects. Fathom Sounds is working closely with groups such as Project Watershed, Comox Valley Nature, the Cumberland Community Forest Society, and more.
Fathom Sounds has described the importance of coming together to confront the issues addressed in RETURN TO WATER.
“We live in times where increasing floods, fire, and other climate events make it impossible to ignore the need for exploitative and extractive colonial culture to find a different relationship to the land and water. This urgency, coupled with the unpredictability of the Covid pandemic, has necessitated in us a spirit of flexibility, gentleness, and generosity.… We were called to ask: How do we gather, resist, and protect in this time? How do artists counter colonial-capitalist perspectives that support exploitation and extractivism? When we take time to listen to these bodies of water, what do we learn? And what can we give back?”
The Comox Valley Art Gallery is normally open Wednesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Many events and public engagement opportunities are taking place during the RETURN TO WATER program, but schedules may change in response to public health orders or other Covid protocols. Please check CVAG’s website or social media accounts to stay current.