Exploring Our Impact on the Earth

Story By Emma Christensen

Glass sculptor Cheryl Wilson-Smith invites us to consider our effect on the landscape with 21 Pillows, an interactive installation held at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery. Wilson-Smith takes inspiration from a natural landscape that is close to her heart. She modelled the 10,000 glass stones she created after those found on a moraine—a ridge formed by a glacial deposit of rocks—near her home in Red Lake, Ontario.

This is the award-winning sculptor’s first installation, and she spent two years preparing for it with the support of the Ontario Arts Council and Canada Council for the Arts. “I’ve gained incredible skill and knowledge just working that intensely at one thing,” she says. Although most of the stones are the layered, kiln-fired glass sculptures indicative of Wilson-Smith’s work, some are smooth and round, the product of an experimental combination of powdered glass and beach sand.

Instead of asking her audience to view the installation from a distance, she encourages us to respectfully pick up, move and place the stones on a series of pillows arranged on the gallery floor. “If you hold that stone and you walk around the gallery and you’re considering where to place it, that stone holds your energy to some degree,” Wilson-Smith says. She hopes that 21 Pillows will help visitors to explore how they influence not only the environment within the gallery, but also the natural landscape.

Like our impact on the environment, the outcome of the installation is unknown. Wilson-Smith plans to track its transformation using time-lapse photography. “I’m excited to see the energy that people bring into the room, and the changes that occur in the landscape that we’re responsible for,” she says.

21 Pillows runs from December 13, 2018 to March 3, 2019. The opening reception and artist talk will take place on December 13 at 7:30 pm. Wilson-Smith will be on hand to interact with gallery visitors on December 14 and 15 from noon to 5 pm. Admission to the Thunder Bay Art Gallery is pay what you can, suggested amount $5.

To learn more, visit cherylwilsonsmith.com or visit the Thunder Bay Art Gallery at theag.ca.