Finding A Sense of Place

An exciting project has been in development for several weeks now at the Felt Lab and around St. Jacobs. While we have shared some fun pictures of the developing project on our Instagram account, we are finally able to talk about the project in more detail.

The Felt Lab recently partnered with Inter Arts Matrix, a local not-for-profit arts organization that fosters the development of integrated art based in Waterloo Region.  Of particular interest in this project is St. Jacobs and its unique sense of identity as both part of the Region, and as its own entity with its own distinctive history and culture.

It is from this place, both physical and metaphysical, that five local artists: Isbella Stefanescu, Matt Borland, Sarah Kernohan, Colin Labadie, and Amanda Jernigan came together to create a multimedia exploration of ‘A Sense of Place’, combining their individual perspective of their own sense of space in the Region, and the very process of how we create a sense of place.

Since the artists can better describe their work than I can, I asked some questions about the project:

  1. What is a Sense of Place exactly?

There is a lovely quote from Robert Frost: “The land was ours before we were the land’s.”

I experience this in a very direct way coming to Waterloo Region as a reluctant teenage immigrant, and later as an artist who was trying to “make sense of a place” by drawing and painting it repeatedly. I developed a sense of place over time – by paying a certain kind of slow attention – so I did not come by it naturally, like a person who was born and grew up here, and formed that indelible childhood bond with the place.

I conceived this project – A Sense of Place: St Jacobs Country – because the beginning of a separate identity of Waterloo Region came out of the Mennonites’ settling here, and this is still visible and present (in all senses of the word) in St. Jacobs and the surrounding country side.  Once a place has been separated from the space that surrounds it, and once it has been given a name, it starts to acquire a meaning – a sense of place.

  1. Tell me about your process in creating A Sense of Place. What does it involve?

Quite often we talk about place making or about acquiring a sense of place away from the place itself. It is important for this project that the participants spend time looking, listening, making something that would force their attention to slow down, linger, and take notice, make memories, and somehow let the place claim them. These layers of attention are at the core of this project, and of the collaborative process.

  1. What is it at the Felt Lab that you use to help you in the development process? (A certain piece of technology? The space itself? etc.) What is it about the lab that speaks to the work?

Felt Lab is place of possibilities – in many ways I think of it as more of studio than a lab, a high-tech paint box: whatever you might want to make, you can find a tool at Felt Lab, and in the rare cases when it was not here, we were able to locate the tool or facility next door at Quarry.

But Felt Lab also presents certain artistic temptations – faced with so many digital “hammers” all subjects might become a nail. It was with some relief that I saw the participants in this projects use the technology judiciously. And yet, what fun it is to experiment with all this…

  1. Do you have an idea yet of what the project will culminate in?

This stage (one week work sessions x 3) was for research & development, with the creation and production phase still down the line. When working in multidisciplinary / integrated art forms there is a three year span from concept to presentation.

We left the form of the projects quite vague for this stage of the project, to allow ideas to form freely. This involves a lot of restraint on my part, making sure that I don’t steer the project into forms that I favour, but also that no voice or form of expression gets drowned out.

However, let me enumerate some of the things that were made during the three weeks we spent at Felt Lab: drawings, noise music improvisations, videos including an optical flow video, poems, hymn fragments, film photographs, quilts patterns, Voronoi maps, and plans for at least one artists’ book.

I have a feeling there will be an exhibition component, at least one performance, and a book…

  1. What do you want your audience to experience during their engagement with ‘A Sense in Place’?

… all to encourage audiences to go out and see for themselves, and to grapple with and make their own sense of place

  1. What has surprised you so far about the development of this work?

The main experiment in this project has been introducing an engineer at the concept stage  – usually it is the artists who come up with ideas and concepts, and the engineers/ programmers/ technologists pick up the train of thought at a late stage.

I had an intuition that an engineer who would make the creative journey with the entire team would add a lot of artistic excitement to the mix – but I was still surprised to see how artistically fertile Matt Borland’s presence was for the project.

  1. Tell me more about your team? What is their role in the development and what have they brought to the piece?

Matt Borland

Matt Borland is an engineering graduate from the University of Waterloo who loves working with wood, visualizing data, taking photographs, and riding his bike (in no particular order). While pursuing a PhD researching pianos he crunched huge datasets, created computer simulations of vibrating plates under different humidity conditions, and wasted a lot of time considering what fonts to use in his diagrams and figures. His major influences are George Nakashima, Italo Calvino, and Noriko Maeda. Matt works to connect the quantitative world of the engineer with the qualitative world of the artist in his research, while taking a systems approach in trying to understand the complex world of musical instruments. His latest ventures include building electronic instruments, coding his own digital synthesizers, and exploring the craft of film photography.

Amanda Jernigan

Amanda Jernigan is a writer, scholar, and editor. Born in Kitchener and raised in rural Waterloo Region, she spent years on the east coast of Canada before returning to Ontario to begin work on a Ph.D. She is author of two books of poems (Groundwork and All the Daylight Hours — the first of these shortlisted for the Pat Lowther Award in 2012) and of a short book on the poetry of Peter Sanger; she is editor of The Essential Richard Outram and, most recently, co-editor of Earth and Heaven: An Anthology of Myth Poems. Her poems have been published in Poetry, PN Review, and The Best Canadian Poetry. Jernigan has collaborated with theatre artists in Halifax and St. John’s and, more locally, with composers James Rolfe and Michael Purves-Smith. With her husband, visual artist John Haney, she has created hand-printed pamphlets and broadsides under the imprint Gauntlet Press.

Sarah Kernohan

Sarah Kernohan is a visual artist whose work focuses on landscape, large-scale natural physical events and memory. She received her MFA at the University of Waterloo (2015) and received a BFA in Drawing and Painting from OCAD (2008). She has exhibited her work nationally and internationally, and is the recipient of several awards; including the Ontario Graduate Scholarship, University of Waterloo President’s Scholarship and grants from the Ontario Arts Council. She participated in the Keith and Win Shantz Fellowship through the University of Waterloo and worked in London UK with the collaborative Peles Empire and painter Oliver Osbourne. She lives and works in Kitchener, Ontario.

Colin Labadie

Colin Labadie is a Waterloo-based composer and performer whose output includes concert works, sound art, improvisation, and sound design for theatre. His wide rage of influences inspires him to create music ranging from austere and pattern-oriented to spastic and loud. He often uses machines to realize his work, and has built or modified many electronic instruments that emit odd noises he finds interesting. Colin’s work has been performed across Canada and internationally by various groups and individuals, including New York New Music Ensemble, Arraymusic, NODUS Ensemble, QUASAR Saxophone Quartet, and the Penderecki String Quartet. Colin is currently pursuing a Doctoral degree in Composition from the University of Alberta with support from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the Canada Council for the Arts.

Isabella Stefanescu

Isabella Stefanescu, artistic director of Inter Arts Matrix, is a visual and media artist based in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario. Originally from Romania Stefanescu immigrated to Canada and continued her education in mathematics and fine arts at the University of Waterloo. She is co-founder of Globe Studios, an artist run center in Kitchener, and of the Contemporary Art Forum Kitchener and Area (CAFKA). Stefanescu has been artist in residence at the Canadian Film Centre Media Lab, and at the Banff New Media Institute. She is a recipient of the Ontario Arts Council K.M. Hunter Award for interdisciplinary art.