Investigating the life of things across space and time

Pioneer and Earthquake (2013)
collage, monoprint and drawing; 5.5m x 2.5m
Journey, The Unsound House, 44 Days, Hamelin's dream (2013)
etching, monoprint, installation; dimensions variable
Journey (2013)
photography, drawing and collage; dimensions variable
Nosehill, Louise, Earthquake, Pioneer, Tumbleweeds (2013)
etching, monoprint and drawing
44 Days (2013)

So pass away the old timers, one by one (2013)

A coincidence of names, a missing cabin and how to see further than the horizon.

An exhibition of printmaking, collage and drawing made during the Tim Mara artist residency at the University of Calgary and exhibited at The Little Gallery, Calgary
by Sarah Gillett

The Unsound House (2013)
etching, monoprint and drawing; 3m x 3m

Hamelin and the Unsound House: snowy landscape cut up into vertical strips and rearranged so that the sky and snow and trees and cabin are abstracted and disjointed
Hamelin's dream (2013) detail; monoprint and etching on paper; 70cm x 100cm; © Sarah Gillett
snowy landscape cut up into horizontal strips and rearranged into abstract boulders as though in a snow blizzard
Louise (2013); monoprint and etching on paper; 100cm x 70cm; © Sarah Gillett

So pass away the old timers, one by one

In January 2013 I spent seven weeks with the University of Calgary, mentored by artist Bill Laing, Professor in the Department of Art. I was given a huge studio, an exhibition slot at The Little Gallery and forty four days to make something happen.

I went to Calgary as part anthropologist, part archaeologist, part adventurer. My plan was to track down the remaining pieces of a log cabin built by an Irishman called John Glenn who settled in Fish Creek in 1873.

And there the cabin stood, outliving its occupants and its function until 1999 when the University of Calgary Archaeology Department dismantled it for restoration. The funding for this project fell through and the cabin was never rebuilt.

I wanted to draw these pieces of wood as a starting point for a speculative body of work about landscape, making and home. I didn't know how I would feel when the pieces were unwrapped in front of me but in my mind the wood was a stand in for all the human lives that had sheltered inside it.

As it turned out, no one knew where the pieces were. This was fourteen years after the cabin had been taken apart and put into storage. Systems and staff had changed. Despite several emails, I had no joy.

After my initial disappointment, it turned out that the idea alone was enough for me to start a series of works in which the Glenn cabin has a strong presence. My imagination took over and excavated its own story.

Being a visitor in a new place gave me an outsider’s perspective and a sense of challenging my usual routines and habits. At first, the jet-lag and the higher altitude made me slower, clumsier. I photographed the landscape and the walls of my studio. Everything around me was unfamiliar – the snow that blanked out everything underneath, the glacial lakes buried under ice a metre thick, the cold, the vast distances – sometimes I felt I may as well be on the moon, looking back at myself. I felt like I had been cast adrift in my own spacesuit.

Everything was topsy-turvy and I found myself pulling fractures and fragments of images from home, from outside, from the studio and from myself to make the work. In the spirit of the shipwrecked, I had to be resourceful and use every part of my materials and surroundings, recycling and reusing drawings, prints, paper and photographs.

Thinking about the moon led to a leap in the mind to another John Glenn, the first American to orbit the earth in 1962. Linking these two men squared the circle; two great pioneers taking trips that changed their own lives and many others along the way. I think of them as representing the four elements between them; John Glenn the Irishman building a log cabin in the new world, so much bigger than the land he came from, standing for earth and water; John Glenn the astronaut in a spacecraft looking back on the earth, signifying fire and air.

They must both have had feelings of alienation, isolation and doubt during their journeys. My own life felt much smaller in comparison but here I was, flanked by the experiences of two great adventurers. I channelled the lost cabin, the spacecraft that almost burned up on re-entry, vast terrains illuminated by the sun’s light. I went through press cuttings and historical notices at the library, using a phrase from Irishman’s John Glenn’s obituary for the title of the show. The slow falling away of life.

My resulting exhibition ranged from small, intimate works to unplanned large-scale collage and was shown at The Little Gallery, Calgary, Canada in February 2013.

Exhibition gallery

Earthquake: collage of paper rocks, trees and sky

Earthquake (2013)

Accidental large scale collage created from the process of making other work: offcuts, leftovers, rejects and stencils at the end of their lives, having been printed, pressed, battered and cut into multiple times.

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Hamelin and the Unsound House: snowy landscape cut up into vertical strips and rearranged so that the sky and snow and trees and cabin are abstracted and disjointed

Hamelin and The Unsound House (2013)

Hamelin is a rag puppet doll just under a metre in height that I took with me to Canada. She appears in So pass away the old timers, one by one as my alter ego. Multiplied through the process of etching, she exists in more than one dimension of space. She is also dressed as a fool: mischievous, bold, lost, never fitting in to the time she occupies or with the people around her. Everything about her is strange, to them and to herself.

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