Questions of survival
November 7, 2014

About this photo: While at Keji, Anna Whalen interviewed many of the members of the Keji class, investigating situations in which they felt their survival was at risk, while simultaneously weaving a protective head covering. Then, equipped with these stories she worked collaboratively with Ali Giffen-Johnson to stage and take photos of each participant, referring to their specific narratives.

If you’re going camping in the wilderness, there are some things you should bring along. You might want to bring a knife, some rope, a hat to keep your head warm, and a water bottle. And don’t forget to pack a whistle or a flashlight—both are useful for signalling and communicating.

But what if you’re not talking about physical survival but mental or emotional survival? What would you need in your tool kit then?

Those are some of the questions pondered by students in Anna Sprague’s summer class at Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site in August. The results of that contemplation will go on display as part of Alternative Means: An Aesthetic Field Guide to Kejimkujik National Park at the Anna Leonowens Gallery from November 11 to 15.

Nineteen artists took part in the class, including the instructor and two assistants, Master’s student Liz Toohey-Wiese and recent NSCAD grad Dylan Fish. Over four days in August, the NSCADers hiked, swam, canoed, cooked and camped. They learned about the early Mi’kmaw who lived in the area and left their mark on slate outcrops alongside the Mersey River and the shoreline of Kejimkujik Lake. They gazed up a night sky studded with brilliant stars, unspoiled by artificial light.

The participants had diverse backgrounds, representing various ages and artistic disciplines. Some were experienced campers and some had never slept in a tent before. Everyone quickly bonded and became a tight, supportive community, said Nicole Gerber, one of the students.

“It was unlike any class I’ve experienced before,” says Nicole, a yoga instructor who is doing a visual arts certificate at NSCAD. “I would say it was life-changing for some and it certainly made me approach my art in a fresh way.”

Curated by Brea McAllister, the exhibition at the Anna Leonowens will bring the participants together once again. All of the artworks included explore a facet of survival through different personal lenses and artistic media. 

“I watched a concept I had cooked up weeks before I had the chance to meet many of the artists in the show, be consumed, digested and realized by my fellow classmates before, during and after our time in Keji, accumulating into something quite special,” says Brea, a third-year sculpture student. “I will walk away from this position with a new sense of appreciation for all the hard work and long hours that are put in to the production of a successful show. It really is harder than it looks.”

The opening reception for Alternative Means: An Aesthetic Field Guide to Kejimkujik National Park takes place on Monday, Nov. 10 at 5:30 p.m. All are welcome. There will also be an artist talk and workshop on Saturday, Nov. 15 at 12 noon to 4 p.m. There will be T-shirt and handkerchief printing and students will answer questions about the project and discuss the collaboration process between NSCAD and Parks Canada. 

“Our partnership with NSCAD continues to inspire Parks Canada staff as well as Canadians. These students help us to connect with Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site in a unique and special way,” says  Theresa Bunbury, External Relations Manager, Mainland Nova Scotia Field Unit, Parks Canada.  “By showcasing their work in Halifax it allows others to experience the park and juxtaposes rural beauty with the urban environment.”

The NSCAD summer class is made possible through a partnership between NSCAD and Parks Canada that grew out of a student-led initiative in 2012.

About this photo: During the stay at Keji, Adam Reiss traveled though the park in a 2000 Corolla illuminated from the inside out, leaving a traceless impact on the park via those staying in it and witnessing its presence.  It was created in response to the parks regulations to leave no physical trace of presence.