The Islands series

The Islands series was part of a solo exhibition at Untitled Art Society, an artist-run centre in Calgary, from April 5 – May 11, 2013. See photos from the opening here.

Exhibition text:
In The Islands, Sarah Nordean explores the relationship between image making and our connection to space and place. Considering place from afar as well as from within--from a macro and a micro perspective--she is curious how we organize and classify our environment, as well as how we experience places first hand.

Nordean’s process begins with walking through spaces while recording her movements using GPS, then using these “drawings” as compositional elements for her visual works. This project began as an exploration into parks and green spaces within Calgary, and how these spaces interact with their urban surroundings. It evolved into something more personal, encompassing daily practice and a connectedness to place. The works from The Islands are linked through continual movement, repetition in returning to the same places again and again, and a rhythm of step and breath.

all photos by Marc Rimmer

Exhibition essay: Islands of Meaning
by Jay White

The problem with most maps is that they’re designed to be universally decipherable, in order to relate very specific information as clearly as possible. In attempting to find a design that clearly articulates a limited amount of data, these maps tend to render our environment as a flat, sterile space, seen from a disembodied and inhuman top-down perspective.

Obviously, it’s important to have maps that tell us which bus to get on, or which exit to take from the highway. But I think these diagrams might be the worst way to really make sense of a place. By packaging our surroundings into crisp categories and calculated lines, the land around us becomes a distant, static and emotionless background.

I think the only way we can really relate to our surroundings is from a personal point-of-view; by observing, interacting, walking and reflecting. A map created from this perspective would look very different than a conventional roadmap. You might not be able to find the nearest gas station on it, but I think it might communicate far more important information.

Sarah Nordean’s The Islands could be seen as a collection of these sorts of maps. Here, relationships between objects are not always geographic relationships of measured direction and distance. A memory of a tree branch can be as important as the weave of a streambed. A walking route may also be a city skyline or the leading edge of a pool of paint, and these are all important to the mapmaker’s understanding of a place.

The Islands are maps of meaning. They afford us intimate, complex, and contradictory points-of-view. The artist is contained within these maps; just as their contents indicate relationships to each other, they also describe the mapmaker's engagement with her surroundings. They are ambiguous, meaningful and active objects that we can reflect upon and interpret in many ways. And by observing, interpreting and reflecting on these objects, we also form relationships to them, we come to understand our surroundings better, and we become a part of the maps ourselves.

When I see The Islands as a body of work, I realize that a place is not a static entity. A place is alive and it transforms in a constant association with myself. I don’t see this exhibition as a finished result, a progression or an evolution; I see it as an oscillation between many meanings. It is a small part of an ever-expanding understanding of relationships that will never stabilize or reach a culmination point. It reminds us that it is important to involve ourselves in an ongoing process of understanding and relationship-building; not just with other people, but with all the entities that surround us.

- Jay White

 Jay White is an artist based in Vancouver, BC. See