A collaborative installation at AGNS

melissa marr & heather wilkinson

October 11-13 

A series of photos from one night, or maybe two, that we worked on the frame.  When we left, the security guard on the overnight shift asked, “Now. Was that really necessary?”  Completely.  I’ll add more to this when I get a chance.

Heather is very patient.

Don’t move!  (Heather loves these moments.)

Goodnight.  I think it was close to 5am when we left.

October 8 - 10

We went to Fundy National Park for the long weekend!  Camping under the stars, walks on the shoreline, meeting up with Heather’s extended family, introducing our Indonesian friends to Hopewell Rocks and hikes through the woods where we splashed at the base of many waterfalls.

Waterfall sketches!

(There’s more to add to the last section.  (The computer froze when I tried to upload more in that last entry. It probably panicked when it got hit with the force of the waterfalls.)  I’ll add details about the Charlie Rose Brain Series Episode Twelve: Creative Brain film that we watched, the conversations we’ve been having in the gallery and the excitement building around Nocturne, but I want to add the next post - a series of photos that describe the late night of building the frame.)

October 3 - 7

We extend the clothesline to the other side of the room, connected again, by an old film reel and we get heckled and teased by the security staff who insist we are hanging out our laundry!  The clothesline is functional, but also reminds us that we want the installation to have an interconnectedness, so the connection at opposite ends of the room pleases us.

The first set of photos from the selection our visitors have taken get ordered and picked up, then added to the wall beneath the drawing.

Slowly the drawing grows more interesting and things begin to overlap.

Sometimes, one of us arrives early or leaves late and during that time we putter and make small contributions to the overall installation.  It’s always exciting to see what has changed. On a particularly bold day, I pull out some watercolours and add a bit of colour to the drawing, hoping that Heather will be ok with this shift.   If not, we have chosen to work on a sturdy, washable mylar - so it can be removed.  We haven’t really discussed parametres around the drawing, so this begins a new conversation about what is possible.  (Heather loves this new place on the drawing! Phew.)

One of the observations that we’ve made about the pantograph is that it’s more of an effort to use the tool if you are left-handed.  I have in mind to make another one - Heather made the first - for southpaws, and have notes in my sketchbook about dimensions, etc.  Since everything is mostly found and put together, we are both curious about the materials I will amass and how it will look and function differently from the original.

We use any extra time we’ve got to move these ideas along - often bringing books of interest and our sketchpads to places like the Needham pool, where our sons take swimming lessons.  We have a collection of library books that we can’t part with and can’t find time to read.  Yes, there are fines for that .

Sketching and working out details so we can purchase lumber, hardware and bring proper tools to work after hours.  We have already built one version of the waterfall, so it’s easier to reconstruct the frame - although it’s twice as wide - with that knowledge.

We do our best to make sure our process doesn’t interfere with visitors’ experiences with other shows.  The Sobey Award Show is our nearest neighbour, and some of the pieces have sound components, so we are cautious about hammering or sawing until the gallery closes to the public.

A sonotube covered in drawer liner?  Yes, that’s exactly what this is.  (Quiet daytime work.)

We return later, after we’ve had dinner and tucked in our families.  We have to coordinate our arrival time with security staff because if they are doing their rounds, we could be stuck outside waiting for up to an hour.  We call ahead.  Once inside, we take advantage of the extra space and often spill out into the hall, but no one minds.

Shuffling things around so we can have some space to work at the back of the room.

My turn.

Heather’s turn.  We take turns.

A lot of sawing happens.  We work late and can’t help that we are tired, that we didn’t accomplish everything we set out to do.

Melinda Spooner’s class from NSCAD University joins us for wet felting on Friday.  The group was lovely.  The guy in the green hat was really curious about whether you’d be able to paint with watercolour directly on the felt.  We sent him away with a sample to try.

Some young visitors join in, alongside the NSCAD students. 

One of the larger pieces created in the space so far (a switch from the cart to the table - larger surface = larger felt!).  It’s being held up by Dan, who really responded to what we were working on - both the felted waterfall idea and the drawing.  We invited him back to work with us anytime.

September 29 - October 2

Dale Sheppard has organized a series of talks about the brain to compliment the Synaptic Connections exhibit and Dr. Ivar Mendez is the first to speak to crowd in the Windsor Lecture Theatre on September 29th. He is one of the founders of the Brain Repair Centre in Halifax, a pioneer in robotics in neurosurgery, a professor at Dalhousie University in Surgery, Anatomy and Neurobiology — and an artist.

Mostly, I listened and didn’t take notes, but here’s an idea that caught my interest:

"The brain is the organ that has and is the basis of creativity."

He referred, a number of times, to the forest of fires, the complexity of fibres that communicate with each other, also lateral sides of the brain, and talked about research and innovation happening at the Brain Repair Centre (Halifax Injector, Implantable Intelligent Devices, Remote Present Network).

For more art and ideas, google: Ivar Mendez or visit: ivarmendezart.com

After his talk, our studio attracted visitors - especially curious about the drawing tool.

Once the gallery closes for the evening, we head home to prepare for an early morning discussion of art as it relates to the brain, for Breakfast Television.  We work for several hours exploring the possibilities of what we might create live on tv in a matter of minutes.  Heather and I always over prepare, over think simple things like this!  In the end, we decide we will talk about the brain and the connection we’ve made with visitors since we’ve been on site at the gallery, while demonstrating our method of wet felting with host, Heidi Petracek.

We arrive earlier than we are supposed to, but are immediately miked and put on the air - live!  It’s probably better that way because there was less time to be nervous in the studio.  Heidi’s easy to have a conversation with, it goes smoothly, Dale arrives just in time to catch us packing up and we head out to Coastal for coffee and a delicious breakfast.  To our surprise, a lot of people comment on the segment.

Heather makes a quick trip to Gaspereau Valley Fibres to get more raw wool and I add details to the blog.

With these details wrapped up, we get ready to work.  Our goal is to finish felting for the waterfall and have the structure built in time for Nocturne on the 15th of October.  (But we take the day off on Saturday to connect with our families and see the Susan Wood show at The Mount Saint Vincent Gallery.)

Highlights from Culture Days - a three day celebration of creativity from coast to coast.

These girls stayed through the entire process, to create marvelous pieces of felt.

Rinsing in hot, then cold water alternatively allows the wool fibres to shrink and further connect making a denser, stronger piece of fabric.

An orange t-shirt with an orange felt sample (dyed in kool-aid) brightens up our Sunday!

September 26, 27, 28

We continue handing out our cameras as people stop by to see what we are working on - in order to have a variety of images to draw from with the Pantograph Machine.  Some of the results are really great. 

This gives us a chance to see what catches people’s eye.  The shot above is of a found object - a dendrite like thing that I found on a walk with my dog just after Dale Sheppard, curator of the Brain show, invited us to consider being resident artists.  It was an exciting find! 

This is what the top of it looks like.  It’s been a reference point for us in conversation related to brain pathways, but for now, it just leans against the wall.

More photos taken by visitors of all ages.

(I love the little sandaled toe in the corner!)

A photo in relation to the drawing.  I think there are about 12 photos along the length of the 20 foot drawing.  We were interested in rigging up a little line, with clips, to hold the photos but there was no time before the opening.  A quick solution was the green painter’s tape, which is an eyesore, but does the trick and allows people to freely position the photo where they want along the wall.

In both shots above you can see where we’ve begun darkening some of the lines, a connection with reinforcing pathways in the brain.

We’re settling in, getting a chance to talk more to gallery staff, security, and generally feeling more at ease.  The check list we have made for ourselves is growing, but we accomplish a few things in the first week - including our first talk with the docents.  The ideas we are working with are still new to us, so presenting them without time to reflect - especially as the actual brain content is still sinking in - makes us a bit nervous.  Much of our work is about process, so the vulnerability we feel right now comes from the fact that so little of the process has actually begun, in relation to Minding. Still, it was great to gauge the docents’ interest and hear their questions.

On Tuesday, we review our contract with the gallery and the highlight is that we have 24 hour access to our space!  For us, this is a gift because we often work late into the night.  Actually, we often begin our work at 11pm or later, so it’s really necessary. 

Our work looks mostly like this with the public - contained and clean.

This is intriguing to our visitors and they ask questions about its relationship to the brain.  if you look closely, you can see that the cell-like egg cups are attached by magnets and as they are dragged into different positions on the grid, tracks are left on the paper.  It’s a subtle, beautiful record of where they have crossed paths.

Much of our time is spent running around gathering supplies, and stocking the studio: tools, felt, dish soap, pencils…

Cinder blocks and a carry-all bag: this is a bit of a story.

We rely on found objects in our work and that leads to collecting things of interest* most of the year. In our respective households, no one really appreciates this, but it’s necessary because there’s rarely a budget for our own art pursuits and almost never one when we work on projects in the community, or in schools. 

*This really includes everything from the mesh bags lemons come in to flattened rusty metal on the side of the road.

We decide to rig up a clothesline in the space at the gallery because we are generating a lot of felt that gets rinsed and needs to dry. 

After attempts to find a sturdy pole, we eventually locate a fantastic steel pole on a sturdy base just down the street from my house.  When odd things are left in front of people’s houses, they are generally up for grabs - and I have walked by this particular item for as long as I can remember.  Just the same, we leave a message at the house to contact us if its removal is a problem. 

It’s heavy.  We load it into the back of Heather’s car, drive to the gallery, unload it and begin to install.  That evening, the call comes.  It belongs, in fact, to the Kings Theatre Society, it is needed, and could we please immediately return it.

Back to piecing together a stand ourselves with scrap wood and cinder blocks, sigh.

25 September

Gray matter and white matter are two components of the human brain.  When people walk into our room and see the heavy felted cloth (above) draped temporarily over an old wooden ladder, it’s often white matter they see.

Originally, this fabric was created as a component of a performance piece called The Falls for Halifax’s nighttime celebration of art, Nocturne in 2010.  Heather and I designed and built a kinetic waterfall as the focal point within a drawn landscape, activated by five performers over the course of the 6 hour evening.  A few hundred people stopped by to view the piece - gave us great feedback - and then we packed it all up and put it in storage.

It wasn’t until we began laying down tape, putting up the drawing and working with all the egg cups in our space at AGNS that we recognized the need to introduce materials that weren’t so cold and straight and monochromatic.  We played with many ideas for a larger piece and in the jumble of sketches, dialogue, research, experiments we rekindled a connection with the falls. 

Folks who had seen the performance were mostly our friends and neighbours and were naturally positive.  But, what we were told about the falls specifically, seen in the context of a larger landscape, was that it was mesmerizing.  Handmade felt flopping over the top of a drum and flowing down, back up and down again as we turned the wheel all night long. 

It was equally mesmerizing to turn it, hour after hour.  The turn of the wheel, the rotating drum, the chain pulling, the clunks and creeks and moans, the band of cloth cascading down - rhythmic and meditative, it put us in an instantly present and focused space.  And that was our connection to the brain - the unconscious, that place you sometimes tap into when working creatively or in deep focus…

White matter facilitates communication between gray matter and the rest of the body.  This resonates as I consider how this felted piece became our main connection with the public.  Whereas the other elements in the room required a little more explanation, this piece was easy for people to connect imaginatively with and make a direct link to the brain.  Our technique, wet felting, was also easy to share. 

Our first Family Sunday at the gallery, we were joined by many folks of all ages who learned a basic wet felting technique that allowed us to add pieces of felt to our growing falls.  It began an earnest dialogue around how it connected to our findings about the brain.

We work on a small cart on wheels at the back of the room, near the falls.

Rose Adams - who has also done significant artistic work and research about the brain - came with her son and daughter to see Synaptic Connections on the fourth floor.  Both her children stayed to make a couple highly original sections of felt - with knots and holes and wild edges - which made us very excited about sharing this process.


Hey…nilan from TO…friend of melis & co. saying a big HI and wave and liking your work and ideas a lot…peace’nlove and hopefully visiting….nian

Anonymous asked: Hi Melissa--I met you this afternoon. I checked out your site tonight, thanks for pointing me to it and showing me around your space! I'm going to post your page on my fb. Can't wait to see how the space evolves :)

Thanks so much for your interest!  Please join us at anytime, share ideas, or arrange something more specific when we are on site that might relate to your work/thoughs (if you get a break from your school work!).  ~ melissa

More updates coming soon!  Thanks for waiting!