Andrew Van Schie, The Bulrush Project, 2012
North Bay artist Andrew Van Schie has a longstanding aesthetic relationship with Lake Nipissing, a broad, shallow piece of water around which the city has developed and because of which it was founded. It's a popular recreation spot, and in the winter is dotted with ice fishing huts that have been the impetus for a biennial exhibition of site-specific works. Van Schie first utilized the lake's possibilities back in the winter of 2005 when he installed Dead Men Frozen in Ice, a couple of large, modernist columns built of blocks of lake ice inside of which he'd inserted life-sized figurative sculptures. The piece lasted until the columns collapsed in the spring thaw, spilling their entombed figures out onto the rapidly melting ice.
It's summer now and, at the height of a civic festival happening along the shores of the lake over the course of the August long weekend, Van Schie worked in the warm lake water to mount The Bulrush Project. A few hundred feet away from a popular swimming area near the city's downtown, he installed dozens of long rods into the sandy bottom of the shallows just off shore, clustering them into several large and distinctly separated groups. Tiny ribbons were attached to the tops of some of the rod clusters, flapping in the strong off-shore winds, but others had small boxes attached on top, each of which held a small solar cell, battery, and a light.
In the daylight, Van Schie's installations looked much like the bulrushes that grow naturally along the lakeshore. Seen from a distance, the resemblance was especially marked, becoming increasingly "off" the closer one moved toward the pieces, which only enticed further investigation. The flapping ribbons were like markers evoking a sense of something having been recently surveyed in an odd sort of way; the rods with boxes atop them were entirely enigmatic.
Night was another story. Van Schie set the lake – or a tiny portion of it, anyway – ablaze with glowing lights, clusters of reds and yellows bobbing and dancing in the felt but unseen wind. No, "clusters" isn't right – "constellations" is a better word, for Van Schie brought the night sky down onto the lake to shine constellated starlight right back up and out. It's a kind of a celestial Milky Way in reverse he's wrought in the sandy shallows of this northern Ontario lake
Andrew Van Schie: The Bulrush Project continues until August 17.
Gil McElroy is a poet, artist, independent curator, and freelance art critic. Author of Gravity & Grace: Selected Writing on Contemporary Canadian Art, four books of poetry, and the forthcoming Cold Comfort: Growing Up Cold War, he is currently collaborating with artist Peter Dykhuis on a series of exhibitions based on abandoned military installations in Canada. McElroy lives in Colborne, Ontario with his wife Heather. He is Akimblog's roving Ontario correspondent.
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