Requiem for a Glacier

It’s a summer story to melt even the iciest of hearts. Back on July 27 & 28, Visual Arts professor and composer Paul Walde, accompanied by an orchestra and crew of nearly 100 people, trekked to the Farnham Glacier in the Kootenays to perform the site-specific sound performance Requiem for a Glacier for an audience of one: the glacier itself.

Composer and project originator Paul Walde (photo: Pat Morrow)

Composer and project creator Paul Walde (photo: Pat Morrow)

“This project marks a continuation of my studio research in which I explore interconnections between landscape, identity, and technology, amplifying cultural gestures in order to reveal their place within nature and conversely, by capturing natural events through cultural apparatii,” explains Walde.

Commissioned by Kaslo’s Langham Cultural Centre, the performance was the basis of a new video work that will be the cornerstone of an installation scheduled for October 2013; it will also appear at Nelson’s Oxygen Art Centre in early 2014. The installation will include the history of the glacier, the advent of electricity and climate change, and the government’s announcement of a year-round recreational development and resort community in the Jumbo Glacier area, all summed up in a four-movement operatic work.

Glacier_SunAs Vancouver Sun writer Bill Metcalfe noted in this July 29 article, “Victoria composer Paul Walde wrote Requiem for a Glacier to bring awareness to melting glaciers in general and particularly to the Jumbo and Farnham Glaciers. Both are within the area approved by the B.C. government to become the Jumbo Glacier mountain resort municipality. That project has been the subject of more than two decades of controversy in the Kootenays.”

As with traditional requiems, Walde’s composition is in Latin . . . the twist, however, was in the translation: the lyrical source material is the B.C. government’s own news release announcing its approval of the proposed Jumbo Glacier Resort, as well as the published chronology of the approval process.

Csaba conducts the Requiem, with the Jumbo glacier in the background (photo: Pat Morrow)

Csaba conducts the Requiem, with the Jumbo glacier in the background (photo: Pat Morrow)

School of Music professor and UVic Symphony director Ajtony Csaba conducted the 40-person choir and 30-person orchestra, while Walde oversaw the entire production and supervised the documentation of it all. Describing conductor Csaba as “a striking sight, conducting on the glacier wearing traditional concert-hall conductor’s garb,” the Vancouver Sun noted that he had the double challenge of working not only with “a group of musicians unfamiliar with each other and at differing experience levels” but also dealing with “the special difficulties of outdoor large-group performances.”

“It was a challenging situation,” Csaba told the Sun, “because it was hard for them to hear each other. It was a diffuse acoustical environment. But it was fantastic. I have never experienced anything like this, to perform on snow. It was a very interesting and great experience.”

CBC_WaldeRequiem garnered an impressive amount of media attention—but not just locally. The idea of hiking a 50-person orchestra (plus instruments) along with a film crew, sound technicians, mountain guides and volunteer “sherpas” to help carry all the gear seems to have caught on worldwide. The story was covered in numerous media outlets, including the front page of the Vancouver Sun, on CBC News, New York’s Classicalite music blog, the Cranbrook Guardian blog, Yahoo! News, as well as the German RP Online (“Ein Requiem für einen schmelzenden Gletscher”) and the Asian WorldJournal.com (“抗議開發案 50音樂家登冰河演奏”).

Not all the coverage was enthusiastic, however. The Columbia Valley Pioneer featured a story “Local Skier Not Impressed by Requiem”, and the right-wing American blog FrontPage Magazine (subtitled “Inside Every Liberal is a Totalitarian Screaming to Get Out”) which published an op-ed piece called “Global Warming Orchestra Travels North to Play for Glacier”: “Tree Hugging is so 1980s. Get ready for Glacier Hugging,” they quipped. “If only people would wake up and stop destroying the environment to play music to melting glaciers.”

Playing for a chilly audience of one (photo: Pat Morrow)

Playing for a chilly audience of one (photo: Pat Morrow)

Requiem for a Glacier will also be the subject of a documentary film, which will extend the reach of this work and the issues it is exploring. You can help support this project by visiting their Indiegogo campaign. As the project description notes, “Requiem for a Glacier provides a cultural perspective into one of the biggest ecological issues of our time: global climate change and how it relates to the Kootenay region and the highly contentious Jumbo Alpine Resort. Located in the Purcell Mountain Range in eastern British Columbia, Jumbo or Qat’muk, is a range of five glaciers that have been spared some of the environmental degradation of other glaciers due to their high altitude. However with continued global warming, this geographical advantage will soon be lost, and in fact, these glaciers are already in retreat.”

Csaba conducts the Requiem, with the Jumbo glacier in the background (photo: Pat Morrow)

Csaba conducts the Requiem, with the Jumbo glacier in the background (photo: Pat Morrow)

“To compound matters, a $1 billion resort proposal has recently been approved by the provincial governmental. As Professor David Schindler of the University of Alberta warns, ‘Ski lifts and skier traffic on the surface of Jumbo Glacier will hasten its melting, and compromise one of the important headwater sources of the Columbia River system.'”

“In both the Columbia and Kootenay communities bordering the Purcell Mountain range, approximately 80% of residents are opposed to the approval of the resort.  In fact, the majority of citizens who live in the region are outraged and saddened by the continued development of our remaining wild spaces. The proposed development area provides key habitat for grizzlies and important other wildlife species and is sacred to the local Ktunaxa Nation who have declared themselves, ‘expressly opposed to the Jumbo Glacier Resort.’ In November 2011 the Ktunaxa Nation was joined by hockey legend Scott Neidermeyer in the Provincial legislature to present the Qat’muk Declaration, which outlines the sacred significance of this area.”

Requiem for a Glacier

Requiem for a Glacier It’s a summer story to melt even the iciest of hearts. Back on July 27 & 28, Visual Arts professor and composer Paul Walde, accompanied by an orchestra and crew of nearly 100 people, trekked to the Farnham Glacier in the Kootenays to...

Paul Walde wins REACH Award

This May, UVic’s second annual REACH Awards celebrated UVic artists, scholars and scientists for their extraordinary contributions in research, creative practice and teaching—whether from a field school in Cuba or a performance atop a glacier in BC’s interior.

Paul Walde

That’s where this year’s Award for Excellence in Artistic Expression comes in: the 2018 recipient is Visual Arts chair Paul Walde, whose Requiem for a Glacier performance and subsequent gallery installations have earned him international attention.

“This year’s REACH Award recipients again demonstrate the strong link between research and learning,” says UVic President Jamie Cassels. “They share and advance knowledge and wisdom in a range of areas. UVic is privileged to be home to such a talented and dedicated array of people.”

While the history of Canadian art has been built on our relationship with landscape and the environment, Paul Walde has fused that artistic legacy with decidedly 21st century concerns and practices by exploring unexpected interconnections between landscape, identity and technology.

“Both the Visual Arts department and Faculty of Fine Arts are tremendously privileged to have such an important artist and educator shaping our program,” says Dean Susan Lewis. “Paul Walde’s art draws attention to the important landscape that makes up our province and nation.”

 

Walde’s “Glacier”

Since joining UVic in 2012, Walde has enhanced the student experience while expanding his reputation as one of Canada’s leading extended media artists. 2014’s Requiem for a Glacier saw him take a 50-piece orchestra and chorus to the top of BC’s threatened Jumbo Glacier (Qat’Muk) and, while the performance earned international headlines at the time, the subsequent gallery installation continues to impact viewers across Canada and Europe—notably this spring’s exhibition in Paris.

“We want[ed] to call attention to this project and recognize its significance as an artwork that advocated for environmental awareness,” says nominator and Visual Arts colleague Jennifer Stillwell. “Paul’s extensive and thoughtful career has made a large impact on the landscape of Canadian visual art. His distinguished achievements and the social impact of his work are worthy of celebration and recognition, both within our institution and beyond.”

The awards were presented at a special on-campus evening ceremony on May 24.

School of Music professor Suzanne Snizek was the 2017 winner of the REACH Award for Excellence in Artistic Expression.

Swimming into the past

Despite unseasonably cold winds and unusually choppy waves, intermedia artist Paul Walde dove into the waters of Algonquin Park’s Canoe Lake on July 8 and, after months of preparation, completed the first stage of The Tom Thomson Centennial Swim.

Paul Walde swimming on July 8 (Photo: Clayton McKinnon)

 

Emily Denison plays flugelhorn for the swim (Photo: Andrew Wright)

Occurring on the 100th anniversary of iconic Canadian landscape artist Tom Thomson’s drowning in Canoe Lake, Walde was accompanied by an eight-person synchronized swim squad, a five-person brass band playing Walde’s own 45-minute composition written for the occasion, a film crew and a flotilla of a dozen boats, including six canoes custom-painted in Thomson’s signature green.

“The scariest part was when it was really choppy. I got lost and disoriented and blown off course.” Ironically — and unintentionally — Walde ended up in the part of the lake where Thomson’s body was found and Walde almost had to call for help; but, by spotting the tall white totem pole erected beside the Thomson memorial cairn on the shoreline, he was able to reorient himself and complete his swim.

“Landscape painting is about beauty,” Walde said in this Toronto Star article. “But the landscape is dangerous. It doesn’t care if you live or die. That was the very limit of what I could do. For me, to be in the water where he died — that was powerful.”

With the site- and temporally-specific portion of the project now complete, Walde — chair of the Visual Arts department — turns his attention to the equally labour-intensive next stage: viewing, editing and preparing the footage for exhibit.

Chris Solar and Joe Leslie (Photo: Andrew Wright)

“The gallery video will be very different from the swim itself,” he explains, comparing it to his 2013 piece, Requiem for a Glacier. ”It’s not a concert video that simply documents the event, but will be a more poetic, immersive experience that ties together the various film and sound recordings. What will make it really unique is my perspective: what I’m seeing and hearing in the water, my sense of disorientation. I’m using Thomson to frame this activity, but at the same time I’m reframing him; it goes both ways.”

Walde feels the timing was right for this project on a number of levels: not only the centenary of Thomson’s death, but also his own age (“I’m 49, how much longer could I really wait to do this?”) and recent advancements in technology.

“There were a lot of ideas I had for the piece that we just couldn’t do 20 years ago: we wouldn’t have been able to have a flying drone or put a camera on my bathing cap and shoot 4K video.” As a result, the final exhibit will include surface, underwater body-cam and overhead footage, as well as recordings both underwater and of the accompanying band, and scenes of the locations featured in Thomson’s paintings.

Walde with synchronized swimmers (Photo: Andrew Wright)

Walde was accompanied on his July 8 swim by a number of other Canadian academic artists, including University of Ottawa visual arts chair Andrew Wright, Fanshawe College visual arts chair Gary Spearin, Ottawa artist Adrian Göllner and recent Visual Arts alumni Brandon Poole and Laura Gildner; also witnessing the performance was Christopher Regimbal, senior exhibitions coordinator for the National Gallery of Canada.

When it comes to choosing his art projects, Walde takes the long view. ”My career is about following these kind of ideas. The ones you can’t shake are the ones you end up doing — this one was gestating for 20 years.”

When asked about future plans, Walde just laughs. “Once this one is complete, you mean? I’d like to do a forest fire piece. I’ve been thinking about that for a couple of years now.”

Two artists, one lake, 100 years apart

Paul Walde (UVic Photo Services)

On July 8, 1917, iconic Canadian painter Tom Thomson drowned in Algonquin Park’s Canoe Lake. Now, on the 100th anniversary of Thomson’s death, intermedia artist and Visual Arts chair Paul Walde will swim the length of Canoe Lake — accompanied by a synchronized swim squad, canoe flotilla, brass band, film crew . . . and a minute of silence recorded at the bottom of the lake.

Not only will The Tom Thomson Centennial Swim allow Walde the opportunity of commemorating the centenary of Thomson’s death with this site- and temporally-specific piece, but he will also be reframing the enduring images and legacy of the early 20th-century artist for future gallery installations.

Walde training at a local lake (photo: Brandon Poole)

Media interest in this story has been high, with Walde being interviewed for 10 different media outlets in BC and Ontario, ranging from CBC Radio’s Up North in Sudbury to The Early Edition in Vancouver (skip to the 1:20 mark) and talking about “Canada’s Van Gogh” on radio shows in Victoria, Kamloops, Kelowna and Prince George, as well as this June 22 Times Colonist article and this Saanich News article.

But the most interesting piece was this story that ran on page A3 of the July 9 issue of the Toronto Star, where arts reporter Murray Whyte actually traveled to Canoe Lake to witness the swim itself.

“Landscape painting is about beauty,” Walde says in the piece. “But the landscape is dangerous. It doesn’t care if you live or die. That was the very limit of what I could do. For me, to be in the water where he died — that was powerful.”

Walde is well-known for his bold and innovative sound and video installations, including Requiem for a Glacier in 2013, filmed live onFarnham Glacier in BC’s Purcell Mountains and earning international headlines, and Alaska Variations for an Anchorage Museum exhibition in 2016, which was singled out by USA Today as one of the top US museum exhibits of the year and was recently exhibited in Norway. 

Tom Thomson’s 1912 painting The Canoe, painted at Canoe Lake

“I grew up in Northern Ontario near where the Group of Seven did their first trip together,” he says. “This is what was presented to us as Canadian art, and through my work I’ve been trying to find other ways of engaging with the landscape, especially around issues of the environment and colonialism.”

“I’m trying to give people a sense of what [the landscape] sounds like, what it looks like below the surface, to try to create . . . a different understanding,” Walde told the Times Colonist.

The Tom Thomson Centennial Swim will be documented by a professional film and audio crew. Footage from the event — including underwater body-cam, mobile boat units and stationary positions — will be combined with shots of the lake and locations featured in Thomson’s paintings.

Thomson was also the subject of Walde’s 1997 theatrical performance, Index 1036, a collaborative work created with his wife Christine Walde, a UVic librarian, which fictively examined Thomson’s death in the context of contemporary performance art.

A former competitive swimmer who uses lake swimming to inform his practice as an intermedia artist, composer and curator, Walde has created a body of work exploring interconnections between landscape, identity, and technology with historical events as a recurring theme.

Tom Thomson

Canoe Lake, where Canadian artist Tom Thomson died in 1917, is located in Ontario’s Algonquin Park, Canada’s oldest provincial park (est. 1893) where Thomson worked as a guide from 1913 until his death.

UVic’s Visual Arts department is recognized nationally and internationally for developing innovative artistic voices and is one of Canada’s leading contemporary art programs.