September 18th, 2019

Eye on the Esplanade: Terrestrial Beings explores Mother Nature’s many hats

By Jasmine Keillor on July 11, 2019.

Photo by Jasmine Keillor
The Terrestrial Beings exhibition is on display now at the Esplanade until Aug. 3.

Every year in early spring, I feel somewhat like a bear. Emerging from the dark, warm shelter of my urban cave, I shed my fleece and thick duvets and slowly step into the sun. This is the beginning of my annual rekindling with the natural world. It’s a cyclical affair, both turbulent and vivacious, with phases that follow the changing seasons. As spring turns to summer, a feeling of adventure fills the air and by early July I’m ready to take on the mountains. This past weekend I stuffed my pack with beans and dried fruit and hit the trails with a group of friends for a 10-kilometre hike through the Canadian Rockies. Our destination was a rustic cabin 2,000 metres above sea level. This particular adventure involved a healthy dose of bug bites, blisters, wet socks, sunburns, muscle cramps, sleeping bags (but not much sleep), and a surprising burst of hail and crackling thunder at its peak. Somehow, somewhere along this rugged route, I found a tremendous sense of accomplishment and triumph. We had a blast.

It’s hard to explain the exact reason for our excitement. Perhaps it was the sense of connection and camaraderie we felt as we gathered around the light of a blazing fire. Or perhaps it was the satisfaction of working with our hands to fulfill the daily needs we normally take for granted. We gathered wood for the fire so we could eat, and boiled water from the creek to drink. The next morning, we were overcome by a great sense of timelessness as we woke to greet the rising sun. There was nothing in our immediate surroundings to link us to the present day and we felt ourselves walking in the shoes of our forebears. There was an unmistakable pinch of nostalgia mixed in as well, with each of us recalling fondly the summers of our childhood. As humans, our relationship with nature is wickedly complex and richly diverse. Like any relationship, it ebbs and flows with moments of sheer delight, tranquility, mystery, discomfort and utter distress.

With the sun shining and flowers growing tall, I can’t imagine a better time of year to ponder themes relating to the outside world. Currently on display in the Esplanade Art Gallery, Terrestrial Beings brings us a roster of twelve contemporary artists from across the country whose works examine, question and depict their own relationship to the earth. Featuring poetry, exquisite drawings, captivating paintings, delightful cut-paper collage and delicate sculpture, visitors are presented with a visual feast of technical mastery and wild imagination. Each artist has a story to tell, and in examining their works you’ll find bits and pieces of their own memories, personal histories and cultural traditions mingling, in curious and quirky ways, with elements of the natural world. A quick walk through the gallery and you’ll spot intricate bodies fastened from coral reef, faces emerging from the leafy mass of magnificent trees, sprightly figures prancing in the swaying grass, and so much more. Mother Nature wears many hats.

Be sure to stop by the Esplanade Arts & Heritage Centre tonight from 7-9 p.m. for our public Art Gallery reception, as part of the Medicine Hat Downtown Art Walk. We’ll be partying in style, with food and music from local musicians Taking August, in celebration of both Terrestrial Beings and the Hat Art Club & Medicine Hat Potters Association Biennial Exhibition. Looking to dive deeper? Tomorrow, July 13, I’ll be leading a curator’s tour in the Esplanade Art Gallery at 10:30 a.m., alongside Terrestrial Beings artist Marigold Santos. Afterwards, we’ll head next door for an artist tour by Susan Shantz, who will be leading us through Currents: river works-in-progress, a site-specific exhibition in the historic Ewart Duggan House. Perhaps after a morning of thoughtful observation and stimulating conversation, you’ll be inspired to head outdoors and contemplate how your own personal stories fit into our planet’s elaborate puzzle.

Jasmine Keillor is acting education coordinator at the Esplanade.

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