Recalibrating at the Light – Reflections on an Artist Residency

Art

Story by Betty Carpick, Photos by Emily Hunt

For the first two weeks of July, I lived within the beautiful and chaotic illumination and darkness of the island Kawaghn.mish. The last in a chain of volcanic islands off Lake Superior’s Black Bay Peninsula between Black Bay and Nipigon Bay, the igneous rock, Porphyry, gave the island its newest name.

In 1873, the original light on Porphyry Point was the second lighthouse constructed on the Canadian side of Lake Superior. The light was automated around 1989 and eventually fell into disrepair, holding its stories and secrets and memories amid the persistent transactions between the forest, the water, and the weather.

My artist-in-residence (AIR) project, Finding the Lacuna, was one of four residencies on Porphyry Island awarded in 2018 by the non-profit Canadian Lighthouses of Lake Superior, who began resurrection of the decommissioned light around five years ago. I planned to map the real and the imagined spirit and poetics of the island by working in all weather conditions during different times of day and night. Finding the Lacuna is about gaps and spaces. Presence and absence. The space between installation and performance. The missing portions between the real and the imagined.

Bringing natural materials including cotton fabric, Toronto Ink Company pigments, and threads, I pinned two-inch inked squares to driftwood on the black sand beaches and let nature embrace them. I embroidered the outline of the island a dozen times and was left wondering what the shape meant. I picked wild rose petals, beach glass, rocks, wood, bark, and plastic debris. I made marks, drew images, wrote down words, and took photographs. I listened to the wind, the water, the birdsong, the insect-drone and the trees. I felt the life-force of the living planet.

I began to try to weave in the island’s natural beauty and isolation, and its deep history with Indigenous people and others who have explored the area with an idiosyncratic and ephemeral language. In the end, I was reminded how the evocativeness of nature is humbling. What art can achieve is only the smallest gesture.

For detailed information about the Artist in Residence program on Porphyry Island, please visit: clls.ca/artist-in-residence

Artists Involved in the 2018 AIR program
Betty Carpick – Inter-Disciplinary Artist
Adrian Brooks- Travel Theatre
Cynthia Nault – Multimedia
Kaija Savinainen – Painting