International and Northern artists collaborate to explore colonial connections

Animating the Archive project artists, from left, Heather Thoma, Michael Belmore, Sophie Edwards, Elizabeth Reeder and Amanda Thomson pose in front of a Centennial Museum of Sheguiandah outbuilding.

SHEGUIANDAH—‘Animating the Archives,’ an offshoot of 4elements Living Art’s Bonnie Blink Project, brought together a variety of artists from both Northern Ontario and Scotland to explore archival materials and the colonial connections between Scotland and Sheguiandah at the Centennial Museum of Sheguiandah.

The artists involved in the project include Michael Belmore, a greatly celebrated Canadian sculpturist, originally from Thunder Bay; Amanda Thomson, a Glasgow artist who fuses traditional and digital printmaking techniques, photography, bookworks, video, sound and three-dimensional elements in her work; Elizabeth Reeder, an award winning fiction writer who lives and works in Scotland; Heather Thoma, 4elements community program coordinator and Manitoulin artist; and Sophie Edwards, 4elements executive director and artist.

Throughout the week, the artists worked at the Centennial Museum of Sheguiandah poring over archives and examining artifacts, as well as exploring the landscape of the area and Manitoulin in general.

“With this project we wanted to bring together artists who were grasping with similar questions,” explained Ms. Edwards. “All of us have worked with each other in one setting or another, so we wanted to all come together on a project—exploring settler/colonial traces between Scotland and Sheguiandah. We all work with various medias and we aren’t sure what the end result will be, but we have been looking at the archives together, having conversations, and we will see what will emerge from it.”

Ms. Edwards explained that some of the questions the group has been exploring are: what was it like for settlers such as the Scots coming to the new world? What was their process of settling like? How was the relationship with the First Nations who were already settled on Manitoulin? How has the language evolved? The landscape?

“This past week has really just been the beginning of the research portion of the project,” continued Ms. Edwards. “After everyone leaves here (Manitoulin) we will continue to explore the documents and maps that we have scanned and continue our conversations. We are working towards developing an exhibition, but it will evolve differently depending on our medias.”

“All our work will be connected inherently through our research, but it may be expressed differently,” added Ms. Reeder.

“The evolution of what will come will be from when we leave here and have time to reflect,” added Ms. Thomson. “We have read a lot and explored a lot, now it is time to process everything and see how it will transform. Our work won’t be a literal expression of the work that we have done this week, but will be more textual—what is underneath, at the heart of it.”

Ms. Thoma explained that Animating the Archives evolved from the Bonnie Blink Project—a project that brought together fourth-year Queen’s University geography students, artists, Island historians and community members in 2012 to explore land use history centered around the Bonnie Blink house and the hamlet of Sheguiandah.

Since the research portion of the project in 2012, the artists involved have been busy developing and creating their pieces which include both gallery-based works and outdoor installations and opened last week at the Centennial Museum in Sheguiandah and runs until Wednesday, July 23. The museum is open Mondays to Wednesdays from 9 am to 4:30 pm, Thursdays from 9 am to 8 pm and Fridays to Sundays from 9 am to 4:30 pm.

For more information visit 4elementslivingarts.org.