Using tanned sturgeon skins and bookbinding, Debra creates structures echoing glacial forms, but also calling up the sturgeon as an animal marking and recording the changes in its environment. Glass shelves create a water line and cast rippling light lines on the wall. The scorched edges of the paper above the glass water line reveal the frayed existence of these fish, once plentiful and now in peril. The pages beneath the waterline, not bound with skin, float undamaged and unwritten.

Indicator Installation ~ Shirley Richardson Gallery ~ c2 Centre for Craft

Eco-Craft pairs Manitoba craft-based artists with scientists whose work connects to climate science in this province. Many of the scientists are not climate scientists per se but work in subject areas affected by climate change, the range of disciplines exemplifying the interconnectedness and diversity of current research. The artists in the show were given the opportunity to meet and discuss the work, the intentions, and the research practice each scientist maintains and to create or co-create a piece connected to that experience. Art and craft have the virtue of letting us into complicated subjects through visceral and tactile means, to build personal connections between the viewer and the content, and to disarm us with humour, materials and wonder. They allow us to look through new lenses, swinging our vision between the microscopic and telescopic to dizzy us out of the myopic, while still soothing us with laughter.

Eco-Craft is not a show of traditional craft, rather it uses traditional craft techniques to address another utilitarian agenda – to narrate the science that reveals climate change and tell its story, not through illustrative diagrams but through a personal engagement with the subject and the careful methodology of the slow tech. The partners in this project include a wide range of voices from both domains: graduate students and established research scientists, emerging and senior artists were invited to participate. Pairing people according to overlapping interests produced conversation and contemplation, resulting in delicate, wry and dynamic pieces full of risk and reflection.

Erica and Debra drifted through the data and imagery of changing sea ice to understand how modelled expectations align with the reality of climate change, with Debra producing metaphorically encoded books anchored in sturgeon skins to describe the deep history found in glacial structures and the animals inhabiting these seas.

~ Seema Goel, Eco-Craft Curator

The piece I created for Eco-Craft is called Indicators.

Sturgeon skin leather emerges in book form with aged and scorched paper signatures, tall above a glassy surface, while the remaining signatures of unmarked pages float below, bound to a frayed linen canvas.

This body of sculpture is a response to my work with Dr. Erica Rosenblum, climate scientist specializing in Arctic sea ice. As an avid fisher person and fish skin tanner, I have a deep respect and concern for the health of our environment and especially for our aquatic ecosystems. My work with Dr. Rosenblum aims to illuminate her research, reflecting on local changes which must be read as microcosms for the changes occurring on a global scale.

The disappearance of Arctic sea ice is one of the most dramatic pieces of evidence demonstrating climate change. Canadian regions are particularly susceptible to the disappearance of sea ice and rising ocean temperatures due to their impacts on local ecosystems and coastal infrastructure.

Lake sturgeon, an ancient and threatened fish species that can be found in prairie waters, are considered an indicator species – living organisms that allow us to infer local environmental conditions and changes in an ecosystem. In this way they become message carriers, holding the reality of our global climate.

Dr. Erica Rosenblum is a physical oceanographer and climate scientist. Her research is focused on geophysical fluid dynamics, ice-ocean interactions, upper-ocean dynamics, and sea ice evolution using a range of tools including state-of-the-art climate models, hydrographic and satellite observations, idealized models, and lab experiments. As a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Centre for Earth and Observation Science at the University of Manitoba, she is examining how seasonal ice-ocean processes have changed over the past few decades in response to global warming, and how accurately these changes are simulated in climate models.

It was such a pleasure to work together with Erica on this project. She is passionate about her research and loves to share her findings through story. Her physics and mathematics based research could be seen as daunting and formidable but she has an incredible ability to make it approachable and understandable.

NOTE: The sturgeon skins used in this work were prepared from laboratory raised fish at the University of Manitoba; no wild or protected fish were used. The animals were part of research investigating sturgeon biology as part of conservation efforts; all care and subsequent euthanasia adhered to university animal care protocols. These skins were gifted me me with full knowledge of their future use as elements of my craft-based practice.

My submission for Eco-Craft was made possible through the generous support of the Canada Council for the Arts, the Manitoba Arts Council and the Winnipeg Arts Council.

photo credit: Gabrielle Touchette