April 22nd, 2024

Medicine Hat artists explore urban forests in interdisciplinary project

By ANNA SMITH Local Journalism Initiative on February 28, 2024.

Artist Tish Pahtayken speaks with visitors beside her sculpture, "Tree of Life," during the exhibition's opening on Monday night.--News Photo Anna Smith


Monday night gathered artists and scientists alike at the Ómahksípiitaa at Medicine Hat College to view works of the Pulse of the Urban Forest exhibit.

The exhibition is part of Urban Trees an interdisciplinary project funded by an impact climate grant through Colleges and Institutes Canada. Spearheaded by instructor Brent Smith, the initiative leverages data from soil sensors embedded in city trees to enhance their resilience to drought.

The accompanying exhibition, partially inspired by the collected data, is meant to capture humanity’s relationship with its ecosystem via a variety of mediums, all produced by local artists.

“We started by looking at the cultural significance of the trees in Medicine Hat and how they, historically, they’ve been really important to the wellness and the comfort of the residents,” said Jim Kuehn, who curated the show alongside Elly Heise. “We wanted to kind of reflect that in the work as well, with the idea of cultural significance and wellness as being really key components.”

Keuhn explained that the project initially began with four artists, as they considered it vital to be able to pay the creators for their work, but several more continued to show up and they were fortunately able to add them on further in.

One such artist, Kennedy Chisholm, was proud to show off her piece, “Roots,” which consisted of a mix of oil painting and embroidery in order to capture her fascination with the secret politics of trees.

“I came across what you could call the wood-wide web, which is essentially how trees communicate,” said Chisholm. “Mother trees can essentially know what trees are their seedlings, and they’ll send out nutrients to them, which will help them grow. And then also, you can have trees that will create warfare, and they’ll actually send out toxins to all the trees around them, so that they can grow bigger. It’s all fascinating.”

With her work, which has strands of embroidery thread hanging from it symbolizing those connections that happen unseen by human eyes, Chisholm was able to capture an often-overlooked aspect of the plant life that surrounds the city.

In contrast, artist Erika Rouillard’s digital drawing, “Tree Execution,” calls into sharp question the relationship humans have with trees, drawing parallels between deforestation and the beheading of another person.

“I wanted to have a realistic kind of view, I guess, of the relationship we actually have, which is not always beautiful,” said Rouillard. “Well, really, we cut a lot of trees down, which brings into question if we care about them at all.”

Pieces varied from traditional mediums to animations and interactive digital media, creating a multi-sensory experience for visitors.

The experience was also valuable for the artists in getting to explore the interplay between the arts and science, which Kuehn believes is vital in today’s world.

“It was really about getting that data to be able to support or support his work for the artists, and it was also about generating culture,” said Kuehn. “That’s what we want to do, and having it interdisciplinary gets conversations that we don’t always have. I think we can sometimes be too focused in our own areas to be able to listen to people from other areas, which makes it really important that we have that conversation between disciplines.”

The exhibition is open until Saturday, and people are encouraged to not only visit the pieces but to also enjoy the real trees that grow within the city whenever they can.

“Take a moment to really appreciate all the work that goes into even maintaining the trees that we’ve got in our city, and that’s really important,” said Kuehn.

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