Maria Simmons, Artist – Guelph

(photo: Charlotte Ghomeshi)

Maria Simmons (she/they) investigates potentialized environments through the creation of hybrid sculpture and installation. Her work embraces contamination as an act of collaboration. She collects garbage, grows yeast, ferments plants, and nurtures fruit flies. She makes art that eats itself. They hold an MFA from the University of Waterloo and a BFA from McMaster University. Her recent solo exhibitions include the Visual Art Centre of Clarington, Gallery Stratford, Trinity Square Video, and Centre3. She is currently in residence at Est-Nord-Est and exhibiting at Artsplace Gallery, San Sheng Arts Place, and the Contemporary Art Museum of Estonia.

  1. Bog butter

Maria Simmons, video still of unearthing bog butter, 2023

If you’ve seen my work over the last few years, you’ll know I’m knee-deep in bogs these days! I’ve been exploring sub-tundra and arctic bogs in Finland, Norway, Estonia, Northern Ontario, Quebec, and Newfoundland. I’ve also been burying butter in bogs, leaving it there for a year or so, and then digging it back up and eating it/serving it to others. I could talk about bog butter for a long time so I’m going to stop here, but I have a whole body of bog butter-related work I’m brewing up.

  1. Leaving things a mystery

Maria Simmons and Ingrid Bjørnaali, Fluctuating Rot, 2023, video

If you have burning questions about the last thing, then that’s a perfect lead into this one: learning to enjoy mysteries instead of looking up answers immediately. For example, I’ve been spending a lot of time around tidal waters over the last year, including making a video piece about tides. Although I’ve looked things up about how they work in order to have a basic understanding, there’s lots about tides I don’t understand, and I’m enjoying a period of time in which I allow myself to explore hypothetical reasons instead of researching actual answers.

  1. Forced fruits

(Image sourced from https://www.slowfood.org.uk/ark-product/yorkshire-forced-rhubarb/)

Back when I was a teen, I saw this BBC documentary about Kew Gardens, and it became one of my favourite things to watch and rewatch. There’s this one scene in the series that not only lives rent free in my head, but has set up its own rhubarb cave. The scene shows the hosts going into this dark, cave-like building, and entering into an area that’s lit only by candlelight. Inside, there’s growing the most gorgeous, yet eerie rhubarb. Grown in the near-dark, the rhubarb is forced to produce a higher sugar content. To me, the room has this almost sacred ritual feeling. One day, I really hope to be able to utilise the intense feeling I have when I think about these forced rhubarb chambers in a body of work or installation.

  1. Affogatos

Affogato time at Est-Nord-Est with fellow residents Charlotte Ghomeshi, Laurel Rennie, Mai Bach-Ngoc Nguyen, and Charmaine Li

Honestly, they are just the perfect afternoon treat. While staying at Est-Nord-Est, it’s become a collective daily ritual to make homemade affogatos – usually at least once a day if not twice. ENE-approved pairing is with Coaticook maple sugar flavour.

  1. How large Canada is

Maria Simmons, 35mm film photo of pitcher plants from a bog in Newfoundland, 2023

Over the past few years, I’ve been able to go to areas of Europe on artist residencies and experience different types of forests, ecologies, and cultures. These experiences were life-changing and I absolutely fell in love with Finland and Norway; however, they also made me appreciate the vast landscapes and ecologies in Canada. I realised how little I really know about them and how much there is to find out.