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Marlene Creates wins Governor General Award in Media and Visual Arts

Environmental artist and poet Marlene Creates relaxes in front of the only television in her Portugal Cove home — her massive picture window — that overlooks a portion of her six-acre boreal property, complete with backyard birdfeeders. She is one of eight Canadians who will receive Governor General Award in Media and Visual Arts on March 28 at Rideau Hall in Ottawa.
Environmental artist and poet Marlene Creates relaxes in front of the only television in her Portugal Cove home — her massive picture window — that overlooks a portion of her six-acre boreal property, complete with backyard birdfeeders. She is one of eight Canadians who will receive Governor General Award in Media and Visual Arts on March 28 at Rideau Hall in Ottawa. - Sam McNeish

The wind blows the light snow off the trees in her back yard.

The birdfeeders in those trees are visited by several species of birds, all fighting for a mid-day snack.

This is the view Marlene Creates wakes up to each day.

Creates is an environmental artist and poet who lives and works in Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s — surrounded by a six-acre patch of boreal forest on Blast Hole Pond Road that she has used as the focus of her work since 2002.

“I don’t even own a television. This is my television,” she said, pointing to the massive window that overlooks the grounds of her home and warmed by a wood stove that burns the windfall trees on her property.
“My work is about the relationship to the environment. Our environment here in Newfoundland and Labrador is beautiful,’’ she added.
Creates said her work is not just a straight series of photographs, it is more about how everyone fits into the natural world. She said it is a reciprocal relativity and how the natural environment affects people.

She was nominated for a Governor General Award in Media and Visual Arts by a group of three women — Anne Chafe and Mireille Egan of The Rooms in St. John’s and Melony Ward, the publisher of Canadian History in Ottawa — denoting her life’s work of 20 years or more.

The group started work on the submission in January and February 2018 for the category that is open to all visual artists across the country. Creates was asked to supply the group with 20 images as part of the information package for the submission.

When asked how she felt about the nomination, she was — to say the least — surprised and humbled.

“This is very, very nice … but I’m not going to win,’’ she said.

“Thanks for going to all this trouble, but I thought I would have to wait until I got to 80 to get something like this,’’ she chuckled.
Creates is one of eight Canadians who will receive a Governor General Award in Media and Visual Arts during a ceremony on March 28 at Rideau Hall in Ottawa.
Others being recognized for their body of work include artistic duo Cozic (Yvon Cozic and Monic Brassard), Toronto-based multimedia artists Andrew James Paterson and Stephen Andrews, Toronto-based Indo-Canadian filmmaker Ali Kazimi, Iroquois photographer Jeff Thomas, glass artist Susan Edgerley, and Lee-Ann Martin, an independent curator of Indigenous art, will receive the Outstanding Contribution Award.

Climate change has become a big topic in recent years, both with supporters and denouncers. It appears Creates was ahead of her time in recognizing the changes and her work showcases the work she did as a pioneer in environmental art.

How the environment is translated today is much different than when she first started.

“The word environment still meant what surrounded us back in those days. It didn’t refer to the natural word,’’ she said.
“Now, the environment refers to trees and water in the usage of the word. When I came here 17 years ago, we had two hurricanes, Igor in 2010 and Lesley in 2012. I remember I lost quite a few trees in this boreal forest.’’
Creates said there had never been any tip-ups, trees blown over with their entire root system on the property. That changed during those storms, as the winds, caused by hurricanes following the warm sea water, had become stronger, she said.

In fact, she left one of them to showcase the power of the winds for those who visit her property for the nature and poetry walks she hosts in the summer and fall.

Creates has no idea where she got the inspiration to become a visual artist.

She remembers being in Grade 3, at about eight years old, when the teacher asked her to do an essay of what she thought her future career would be.

“I wrote, ‘I want to be an artist.’ At the time I thought being an artist was a lofty vocation,’’ she said.

“I have learned since that being things like doctors, people that help save people, those who put their lives at risk to help others, those are lofty vocations.’’
Born in Montreal, Que., in 1952, she studied visual arts at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., where she earned a bachelor of art education (honours) in 1974. She then lived and worked in Ottawa for 12 years.

She moved to Newfoundland in 1985, the home of her maternal ancestors, who were from Lewisporte and Fogo Island.

For almost 40 years her work has been an exploration of the relationship between human experience, memory, language and the land, and the impact they have on each other.

In the late 1970s, she started creating temporary land works that she photographed (as in the series “Paper, Stones and Water, 1979-1985.”

This led to several years of working with what she called “memory maps,” which were drawn for her by other people. Her series “The Distance Between Two Points is Measured in Memories, 1986–1988,” and “Places of Presence: Newfoundland Kin and Ancestral Land, Newfoundland 1989–1991” outlined the stories those maps told.

“If you asked 100 people to draw a map, you would get 100 different maps,’’ she said, noting everyone sees their surroundings differently.

Hearing elderly people’s stories as they drew memory maps for her, and sensing a relationship between language and the land, she spent a decade photographing found public signs in the landscape. She has also been commissioned to create signs and markers that incorporate other people’s stories about specific places.

Her work is now focused on the six acres of boreal forest where she lives in a “relational esthetic” to the land. This oeuvre includes “Water Flowing to the Sea Captured at the Speed of Light, Blast Hole Pond River, Newfoundland 2002–2003,” and several ongoing projects.

Gov.-Gen. Julie Payette will host an awards ceremony at Rideau Hall on March 28. Later that day, the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa will hold a public viewing of an exhibition of the winners’ works, which is set to run until Aug. 5.

The Governor General's Awards in Visual and Media Arts are funded and administered by the Canada Council for the Arts. Independent peer juries select the winners, who each receive $25,000.

The public will get a chance to see Creates’ work, as it will featured at The Rooms in St. John’s from October to January.
Her retrospective, produced by the Beaverbank Art Gallery in Fredericton, will be featured in stops in Halifax, Charlottetown and the Carleton Art Gallery in Ottawa. The show at The Rooms will be the final stop on the tour this fall.

Anyone seeking more information about Creates can find it on her webpage at www.marlenecreates.ca or by emailing her at marlene.creates@nf.sympatico.ca.

samuel.mcneish@thetelegram.com

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