Third Space Chats with THIRD SHIFT 2020 Artist Graeme Stewart-Robertson
Graeme Stewart-Robertson is the Global Hub Coordinator for People Protecting Landscapes and Seascapes, a project of WWF-International, supporting the vital role Indigenous and local communities around the world play in protecting and safeguarding land and seascapes essential to global conservation goals. Contributing to environmental and arts initiatives across Atlantic Canada, Graeme brings his unique insight and passion to issues ranging from arts advocacy to climate change. With over thirteen years of experience in designing, implementing and managing community-based projects, his work challenges our collective relationship with landscape and nature and continues to explore the depths of how we define humanity and its role in natural systems.
What inspires you as an artist?
Graeme Stewart-Robertson: Inspiration for my art comes from the landscapes and seascapes of the world around me. Whether immersing myself in the preservation of nearly-lost ecologies or questioning the existence of the forms and materials we take for granted in our everyday lives, the beauty and tragedy of our human impact on the environment inspire me to question and create every day.
What inspired your THIRD SHIFT project, Infill?
GS: Scientific research and creative practice are often considered to be distinctly separate, as are their audiences. I have long believed there is great strength in having artists and writers contribute to the conversation surrounding climate change as it encourages more impactful and intimate discussions of experiences. Visual art and language can expand on the material and tangible, making space for compassion and empathy. The idea of Infill was to bridge that gap, acting as both a call to action for Saint John residents and as a platform for better understanding the unique and beautiful geography and environmental history of our region.
What do you love most about contemporary art?
GS: My love for contemporary art stems from its diversity of materials, voices, and forms. Whether challenging the very notion of what artwork is, to providing an opportunity to poke and prod the privileged – and everything in between – the roots of contemporary art are beautiful and daring – two traits I have long been drawn to.
How did you get started with creating contemporary art?
GS: My interest in contemporary art has always been grounded by my desire to better understand the world around me and communicate that understanding to others. This started in as a child experimenting with rolls of film and playing with light in a darkroom, and grew as I began my career in geography seeking to represent the landforms around me in new ways. I find the creative license inherent in contemporary art to be freeing as I continue to find new ways to.
What do you love most about the contemporary art community in Saint John and the Maritimes?
GS: The contemporary art community in Saint John is amongst the most supportive and dynamic creative communities that I have ever witnessed. With phenomenal artist-run centres such as Third Space bolstering and amplifying the work of a diverse range of creators, the ability to foster an active art practice in the Maritimes is more thrilling than ever.
What is your favourite part of THIRD SHIFT?
GS: My favourite part of THIRD SHIFT each year comes from watching this fantastic City become transformed by contemporary art, actively engaging residents’ minds and hearts while bringing new life – and new ideas – to streetscapes and public spaces.
What are the ecological benefits of artificial reef structures?
GS: Our oceans and waterways have also become ravaged by losses of habitat and species diversity, leading to the development of artificial or technological salves for these ailing natural spaces. Artificial reefs provide an opportunity for us as humans to provide structure for marine species who may have been displaced or negatively impacted by other human activities. Whether made from repurposed materials or custom cast from materials such as concrete, artificial reefs exist as a unique form of a human built environment designed not for our own use, but purely for supporting the fragile ecosystems we often take for granted.
What is the significance of this installation in Saint John specifically?
GS: The City of Saint John is often renowned for its incredible history of changing tides. Like many urban centres, its history is also defined by a changing morphology of place and the shifting shores that have been moulded and modified by colonialism industrialization. The practice known as infilling with the goal of creating what is often called reclaimed land is pervasive throughout much of the world and leaves human and natural systems alike in vulnerable and inescapable circumstances. Meanwhile, our oceans and waterways have also become ravaged by losses of habitat and species diversity, leading to the development of artificial or technological salves for these ailing natural spaces. By exhibiting the unfamiliar form of reef balls in plain-sight, amongst the infrastructure of both the terrestrial and urban, my project calls into question our community’s sense of place, and seeks to conceptually undermine the very existence of the land on which that community is built. These sculptural forms, which typically belong fathoms-deep not at face-height, serve as robust reminders of the region’s natural history and allow us to consider the geologic mimicry of human materials.
Infill challenges our contemporary practice of land reclamation through the placement of large concrete artificial reef structures into familiar public and accessible spaces which previously belonged to the sea and its inhabitants.
By exhibiting these unfamiliar forms in plain-sight, amongst the infrastructure of both the terrestrial and urban, Infill calls into question our community’s sense of place, and seeks to conceptually undermine the very existence of the land on which that community is built. These sculptural forms, which typically belong fathoms-deep not at face-height, serve as robust reminders of the natural history of the region, and allow us to consider the geologic mimicry of human materials. Audiences are invited to view the works from as close or from as far as they are able, to either examine their form and negative spaces, or their role within the context of the greater urban fabric. Upon the conclusion of THIRD SHIFT, these reef balls will be placed into the Bay of Fundy and the Wolastoq [St. John River] as natural habitat, functioning as a legacy contribution to the festival as they fill a meaningful role within our ongoing reconciliation of the delicate relationship between humanity and the natural world.
See more of Graeme’s work here
Remember to view Graeme’s project, Infill, at Tin Can Beach in uptown Saint John during THIRD SHIFT 2020, August 21-28!