There are no fences here … when you go out of town there are no fences, but I wouldn’t call this a wilderness because peoples homes are here, people live here.
This week I’ve been packing up a set of drawings to send out to the Canadian arctic town of Inuvik for the first leg of a touring show during the the 25 year anniversary of Ivvavik National Park in Canada which was created by a historic Aboriginal land claim settlement The Inuvialuit Final Agreement, signed in 1984. In it the Inuvialuit agreed to give up exclusive use of their ancestral lands in exchange for guaranteed rights from the Government of Canada. The rights came in three forms: land, wildlife management and money. (read more on the Inuvaliuit Regional Corporation). As a result Parks Canada and the Inuvialuit co-operatively manage Ivvavik National Park with the Inuvaluit Wisdom that the “The land will protect the people who support the protect the land“. Parks Canada has organised a touring exhibition of work from their Artist in The Park programme which I was invited to be part of by artist Joyce Majiski, in 2003 with whom Ive been working with since them on projects such as Topographies and Tales.
Middle of Nowhere?
Bordered on the north by the Beaufort Sea and Alaska on the West, Ivvavik sits at the north western tip of Canada. A highly biodiverse region of the Western Arctic, its Inuvaluktun name ‘Ivvavik’ means nursery or place of giving birth. It is a portion of the calving grounds and migration route of the Porcupine caribou herd and forms a part of the Beringia Refugium; an area untouched by the last glaciation where an ice-free bridge allowed humans and animals to migrate from Asia into North America over twenty thousand years ago.
In summer 2003 I met up with artists Joyce Majiski Ron Felix, Audrea Wulf and James Ruben, guide Mervyn Joe and elder Sarah Dillon and flew out of Inuvik, across the Mackenzie Delta towards Sheep Creek. From the air (and in the imaginations of the temperate zone) the arctic taiga and tundra, is a frozen desert. But landing at the junction of Sheep Creek and the Firth River we saw tussocks of wild flowers, embroidered cushions with succulent jewel like plants, luminescent mosses and ferns; miniature gardens of Babylon. Out on the land there were larger traces of life and stories of trappers, miners, hunters and travelers. The language of the north I grew up with paints an image of bleakness, but there the myths of desolation fell away.
“Have good time miles from nowhere!” someone had said before I set off. In the world’s ‘wildernesses’ like Ivvavik it is easy for a visitor to be lost in such a reverie of wonder at landscape that you miss the lives and culture that are part of it. There is a disjuncture between the notion of wilderness as barren, by definition disconnected from the social, and the view of land as homeland, a social place of culture, food and everyday life. To many outside the north the Arctic is still shrouded in an aura of romanticism portrayed, as it has been through the history of polar exploration, as a landscape of sublime desolation. To some, I expect, it’s not a place but an imaginary landscape far away from their everyday lives. I wonder what is the global consequence of this enduring vision of the land?
One day we see five caribou. Pregnant cows lead the herd from Ivvavik into the calving grounds in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR); an area rich in oil reserves. So important are the grounds the Gwitchin people refer to them as the “sacred place where life begins”. If the ANWR is opened for drilling many people believe it will result in untold damage to the herd and the people whose lives and traditions depend on it.
A film by Alice Angus and Joyce Majiski using music, oral recordings, drawing, animation and storytelling to playfully unearth local and personal stories, memories and myths against a picture of how concepts of space and environment are shaped by ideas of belonging and home. A personal exploration of the intimate way people form relationships with their environments, Topographies and Tales takes a journey through the myths and perceptions the filmmakers encountered on their travels in the west of Scotland and the Yukon.
Topographies and Tales is part of Alice’s long term collaboration with Canadian artist Joyce Majiski. They began a collaboration in 2003 which took them to Ivvavik National Park in the Canadian Arctic, Glenmore Lodge in the Cairngorm Mountains, Scotland, the Klondike Institute for Art and Culture in Dawson City, Canada, Joyce’s Tuktu Studio in Whitehorse and the Proboscis Studio in London.
Topographies & Tales is about the relationship between people, language, identity and place, revealing personal stories against the larger picture of how our concept of space and environment is shaped by “belonging” and “nationhood”, and how boundaries, barriers and borders come to be formed.
It has included short films, essays, nine Diffusion eBooks, a Creative Lab in London and events in Dawson City, Canada and is underpinning a new body of work exploring peoples relationship to water called At The Waters Edge.
Topographies and Tales is based around a body of work that Alice Angus has been creating in collaboration with Joyce Majiski exploring the perceptions of landscape and of the North. It is driven by interests in ideas of proximity and remoteness, technology and presence, and the concept of ‘wilderness’ against the lived experience of a place. The works are a personal exploration of the intimate way people form relationships with their environments. They are underpinned by an exploration of how the technologies of travel and communication impact on a sense of time, from the coming of the railroad to the ‘new’ world of data and communications: our perceptions of geography are affected not just by knowledge, but by the way it is mediated. Beginning in the winter of 2001 Alice took the railroad across Canada, from east to west, against the historic flow, creating the film, Near Real Time. Then, in 2003, Alice participated in the first Parks Canada residency in Ivvavik National Park in the Northern Yukon. She began a collaboration there with guide Joyce Majiski which took them to Glenmore Lodge in the Cairngorms, Scotland in 2004 and Klondike Institute for Art and Culture in Dawson City, Canada in 2005 for their short film Topographies and Tales 2009.
Topographies and Tales 2009 (12.52 min)
Topographies and Tales, 2009 (excerpts 5.30min)
Using music, oral recordings, drawing, animation and storytelling to playfully unearth local and personal stories, memories and myths against a picture of how concepts of space and environment are shaped by ideas of belonging and home. A personal exploration of the intimate way people form relationships with their environments combining animation and live documentary footage, Topographies and Tales takes a meandering journey through the myths and perceptions the filmmakers encountered on their journeys in the west of Scotland and the Yukon.
Near Real Time By Alice Angus, following the railroad East to West across Canada
Landscapes in Dialogue by Alice Angus, thoughts inspired by the Artists in the Park residency, Ivvavik National Park, Yukon
At The Waters Edge with Joyce Majiski and Alice Angus
The first in a new a series of eBooks growing out of Topographies and Tales. At The Waters Edge are water based investigations exploring different perspectives of what it means to care for the environment and how it can affect the way in which water environments are managed and cared for.
Team: Alice Angus, Giles Lane, Orlagh Woods (2004-09).
Landscapes in Dialogue : Thoughts inspired by the Artists in the Park residency, Ivvavik National Park, Yukon by Alice Angus
Excerpts from ‘Topographies and Tales’ by Alice Angus and Joyce Majiski (2005).
A personal exploration of the way people form relationships with their environments and home combining animation and live-action footage. A meandering journey across parts of Scotland, London and the central Yukon and through the experiences of the filmmakers crossing the miles that separated them between the UK and Canada.