Southern Ontario Residency: Niagara Falls and Kitchener/Waterloo


Spring 2012

Niagara Falls Residency: Documentation

Project participants during residency meeting (L to R): Patrick Mahon,Nadine Bariteau, Raymond Boisjoly, Gu Xiong, Basia Irland (distinguished visiting artists – USA), Gautam Garoo, and Soheila Esfahani.

Gu Xiong and Basia Irland in discussion.

Top of the Horseshoe Falls at dusk, Niagara Falls, Canada.

Niagara Falls, Canada.

Boat and Horseshoe Falls, Niagara Falls.

Bridal Veil Falls and blue ponchos, Niagara Falls.



Niagara Falls Residency: Reflections & Plans for Developing The Project

May, 2012


Patrick Mahon – Introduction

The project, “Immersion Emergencies and Possible Worlds” began with a brief introductory residency held in the Niagara Falls area over a four-day period in early May 2012. Partly a planning session, partly about ‘water experience’, and in part a collaborative interaction, the residency brought together seven project participants (Mahon, Gu Xiong, Boisjoly, Bariteau, Esfahani, Garoo and Miner), and invited guest, eco-artist, Basia Irland.*

The Niagara Falls residency was structured around a series of discussions and experiences. Central to all of our initial work was the concern to begin our engagement as artists with the subject ‘water’ recognizing the multi-faceted character of our undertaking, and also the heterogeneity of our group. We were aware of the need to begin with the shared intention to approach our subject with openness – to the myriad possibilities that research/creation dedicated to addressing a singularly important subject at a significant historical moment necessitates.

In an early discussion with the group, I shared the following, from my original proposal for the project:

Our project uses research and practice in visual art to address the subject of water regarding its cultural and environmental importance, by linking the historical art practice of picturing nature with the potential of visual representation to offer opportunities for aesthetic and socio-cultural engagement. Immersion Emergencies is focused around three key strategies:

1)to establish an archive and database linking specific water research projects regarding the environment with contemporary art projects.

2) to establish a series of creative art investigations regarding water in community contexts for the purposes of engagement, education and aesthetic iteration.

3)and, to present new art by contemporary artists, on a spectrum of approaches to water, and also a symposium, to engage audiences around key aesthetic, social, and environmental questions and experiences.

Research by artists takes many forms and includes but is not limited to activities such as fieldwork, textual engagement, studio practice and experimentation, and the development of public manifestations and interventions. This project assumes the importance of artists forging links with other researchers, as well as looking at art historical objects as grounding to and informing new projects. Regarding the work of other researchers, Immersion Emergencies is built upon the commitment to the need for its key artists-participant(s) to become informed regarding some of the field and analytical scientific research that are underway regarding water and sustainability, and also regarding some significant projects pertaining to climate change and water (ice), relative to globalization. While it is obvious that no serious artist could hope to develop deep knowledges in these areas over a medium-length program, it is nevertheless important to the project that the artist(s) develop an awareness of the fields of study that intersect with their interests and practices. Thus the conceptual approach of Immersion Emergencies to science/social science knowledge acquisition will be based on strategies that will enable the artists to gain broad exposure to pertinent areas of study and, through discussion with researchers as well as observations of their fieldwork, to identify questions and concerns that may be transferred across disciplines. Internet investigations, interviews, field visits, and library research are among approaches that will be taken to build a new knowledge base among artists. The intention is not to do science as art practice, but to allow science/social science inquiry and its methods to inform artistic engagement. 




* Basia Irland (distinguished visiting artist – USA)

Basia Irland is an author, poet, sculptor, installation artist, and activist who creates international water projects, many of which are featured in her book, Water Library, published in 2007 by University of New Mexico Press. The book focuses on projects the artist has created over three decades in Africa, Canada, Europe, South America, Southeast Asia, and the United States. Through her work, Irland offers a creative understanding of water while examining how communities of people, plants, and animals rely on this vital element. Irland is Professor Emerita, Department of Art and Art History, University of New Mexico, where she established the Arts and Ecology Program.

She often works with scholars from diverse disciplines building rainwater harvesting systems; connecting communities and fostering dialogue along the entire length of rivers; filming and producing water documentaries; and creating waterborne disease projects around the world, most recently in Egypt, Ethiopia, India, and Nepal. She is regularly commissioned to do river restoration projects.

Irland lectures and exhibits extensively and was the only artist (and the only woman) invited to participate in the Foundation for the Future’s International World Water Crisis Forum in Seattle, Washington, 2010. She is the recipient of over forty grants including a Senior Fulbright Research Award for Southeast Asia, Woodrow Wilson Foundation Fellowship Grant, and a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Research Grant. Her work is in collections around the world and has been included in books published in Germany, England, Switzerland, and the U.S.

In 2009 Irland had five solo exhibitions; four group shows; and a cinema screening of her seven video documentaries. She was reviewed in “Art in America”; invited to create projects along two tributaries of the James River in Missouri; was the first artist honored for her work with the environment by the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance and the Bureau of Land Management; and she received a Harville Award from Evergreen Collage, which brought Irland to Olympia, Washington four times to work across disciplines on projects focused on the Nisqually watershed.

In 2010-2011 she has presented lectures at Stanford University (four venues); the University of California Davis (with nine institutes, centers and departments sponsoring her); San Francisco State University; and the Santa Fe Convention Center. Commissioned watershed projects have taken place in West Virginia on Decker’s Creek, heavily polluted with acid mine drainage; and Georgia’s Oconee River, with an emphasis on fresh-water diatoms. Irland worked via inter-net with environmental artists on the Karun River, Shoushtar, Iran.