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Of Water & Tides

by Linda Cvetanovic

Yesterday I had the pleasure of being involved in the creation of an art installation at the Art Gallery of Burlington (AGB).  “Of Water & Tides” by Lyndal Osborne with the collaboration of John Freeman opens on February 7 and runs through April 5.  Anyone that read my previous post about the “Coast to Coast to Coast” exhibition knows that I am at best a layman when it comes to art so when I was invited to come and assist the artist I accepted (with much trepidation).

Upon arrival at the AGB, I was introduced to the curator, Denis Longchamps and the artists, Lyndal Osborne and John Freeman and received a brief overview of the exhibition and a catalogue for reference.   I looked around and saw a beehive of activity with volunteers placing pieces and work being done on lighting; the exhibit was coming to life around me.   Lyndal joined me as I took it all in and then walked  me around explaining the history of the exhibition and the pieces found within it.  I hope that I can do her justice as I try to re-create the passion and insight she shared with me.

Artist Lyndal Osborne  ©David Howells 2012

Artist Lyndal Osborne
©David Howells 2012

The two installations Shoalwan: River through Fire, River of Ice (2003) and Tidal Trace (2004-2013) are being presented for the first time in Ontario at the Burlington Art Gallery.   The first thing that became very obvious is the amount of passion Lyndal has for this project.  The River of Fire represents the Shoalhaven river in Australia and materials that accompany the piece were collected during her residency at Bundanon in 2002.  Lyndal told me that while in Bundanon there were ravaging fires that burned on the escarpment of the river singeing and burning the materials in its path.  Every day she would walk in the intense heat collecting these materials which became the focus point of the “River of Fire”.  She pointed out different materials and explained their significance to the river, the environment and her art.  I will share a few insights but I encourage you to visit the exhibition for yourself and see everything through your own lens.

From the "River of Fire"

From the “River of Fire”

The first “materials” I saw were cicadas, or more accurately the shells of cicadas.  The formation of the cicadas reminded me of locust but when I asked if they swarmed, Lyndal explained they do not.  These little creatures were found on trees where they burst from their shells which were left behind, the circular arrangement which I interpreted as a swarm is instead described as “a continuous spiral formation, we are reminded of the force of nature as a catalyst for change[1]”.


One material of particular interest is the mangrove seeds that during the fire had fallen off the trees and were collected up and used in this piece.  The mangrove is currently under threat as it is generally seen as a wild and unattractive plant; however it serves a very important purpose – protection.  The mangrove provides a natural breakwall against tidal surges as well as crocodiles (which are plentiful in Australia) cannot get through it.

Of Water & Tides - mangrove

The final material I will share is the charred wood set up like a campfire.  It was determined that the 2002 fire was likely the result of neglectful campers or a tossed cigarette.  All this destruction was preventable and a result of human carelessness.  As you explore the exhibition and the materials contained within, note the combination of natural and man-made creation and waste.

Of Water & Tides - campfire

From there we move on to the “River of Ice” which is based on the rivers in Northern Saskatchewan where the artist currently resides.  Lyndal explains to me that when she was looking at all the “fire” pieces she pondered what would be the complete opposite of that, and that would be a Canadian winter.  The materials for this piece were all collected during the artist’s daily walks in the vicinity of her home.  She shared with me that she regularly collects materials (over 40 years worth!) even if she doesn’t have something in mind for them – they are cleaned, stored and catalogued in a very large outbuilding for future use.  I suddenly feel a lot better about my under the stairs collection of “valuables”.


While the contrast between the two sides is obvious by the colours of the containers featuring red, amber and orange on the right/fire side and white, blue and green on the left/ice side.  The less obvious (or maybe it’s just me) is the juxtaposition of discarded artificial materials and organic materials.  From the beaver chewed driftwood and coyote bones to the discarded farm implements – the yin and yang of nature vs. man.

Of Water & Tides - bones Of Water & Tides - farm equipment

Surrounding the larger stand alone materials are ‘lily pads’ which are representative of the freezing Saskatchewan river.  As the river begins to freeze the artist noticed the lily pad like shapes that formed on the surface of the river that slowly grew until the entire surface was frozen.  It is upon the artist’s lily pads that volunteers are carefully placing bowls of materials.  I spoke to one of the ladies working on the fire side who explained to me that she is not an artist but volunteered because she felt it would be a great opportunity to express her creativity.  I felt the nervousness return, I like to think I have creative visions but those rarely make it out into any discernible form of creative talent.

Of Water & Tides - creating

So, how did I end up here anxiously awaiting my chance to carefully place bowls upon a lily pad?  Well, my instinct was to decline the offer but then I thought about how I encourage my daughters to participate in new and interesting activities even if they might not feel they are “good enough”… it’s important to try and be proud of what you do, so I swallow my insecurities and head over to a fellow volunteer who has started to work on the final open lily pad.  As it turns out my partner is Connor Bunn, a volunteer at the AGB who has just finished University and is looking for opportunities in real world arts and culture. I find out from Connor that the process is to pick bowls from the table of materials, some that you find very interesting and some less so.  As I tentatively look around it’s like shopping (something I am much more familiar with), you want to pick the right thing but you’re afraid if you don’t move quickly you could lose that perfect item.  I scoop up a bowl of rusty nails, some moss and some pumpkin seeds.  I head back to the lily pad for placement.  There are varying levels for placement, higher for more desirable items and lower and closer to the edge for lesser favourites. I start placing and continue the process of choosing materials and placing them.  The problem is that as I add more materials and look at the placement I start to feel differently about them.  The hierarchy of placement changes and I start to look the colour and contrast and wait, I’m thinking creatively and those creative ideas are coming to life!  Connor works with me and together we create a lily pad that we are both pleased with but the final word is with the artist.  Lyndal inspects each lily pad and offers suggestions to nudge or place materials a bit differently but always in consultation with the volunteer that worked on it.  I think the last time I was this nervous was before my University finals.  It turns out (much like finals) that my nervousness was unwarranted; Lyndal likes what we had done and makes some minor adjustments before declaring that this is the quickest the lily pads have ever been completed.  High fives all round.

Connor Bunn & our lily pad

Connor Bunn & our lily pad

There is still more water jars to be placed and filled before the installation will be complete and ready for public viewing.  I can’t wait to return and see the final work.  What an incredible experience, I would like to thank Lyndal for taking the time to speak with me and share her work with us.

The beginning of a river

The beginning of a river

I encourage you to visit the exhibition and if possible make plans to attend the public reception on Sunday February 8 from 2-4pm as Lyndal will be present during this time.

The other work “Tidal Trace” features the recreation of a shoreline with video by John Freeman.  This piece was not ready for viewing during my visit so I don’t want to embellish on it, however in speaking with the artist I am excited to see this as well.

Of Water & Tides - tidal trace Of Water & Tides - ocean kelp

Need to know information:

Location: Art Gallery of Burlington –  Lee-Chin Family Gallery
Artist: Lyndal Osborne
Curator: Denis Longchamps

There is a suggestion admission of $5.00 to this exhibition.

For more information on planning your visit to Burlington give us a call at 877.499.9989, visit our website or connect with us on twitter or facebook we’re always happy to help.

[1] From the catalouge “Of Water & Tides”

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