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Deep-rooted artworks go from grove to gallery

Branching Songs is featured at Sunshine Coast Arts Centre until August 13
Artists Simon Overstall, Julie Andreyev, Giorgio Magnanensi, Myles Feltenberger and M. Simon Levin, who contributed to the Branching Songs exhibition, assemble among a living display of forest flora which will later be returned to nature.

A newly-opened collaborative exhibition at the Sunshine Coast Arts Centre invites visitors to resonate with forests at risk — literally. 

Upright slabs made from reclaimed B.C. timber are affixed with transducers, which cause the blond wood to thrum a subsonic soundtrack. Computer software shapes percussive recordings in real time. Images and maps chronicle the fraught relationship between humans and their habitat. 

Branching Songs, which opened at the Sechelt gallery with a public reception on June 23, is a collection of mixed media works whose total integrity evokes ecological environments on the Sunshine Coast. Almost two years ago, artists Julie Andreyev and Simon Lysander Overstall approached the Sunshine Coast Arts Centre with their proposal for a multispecies generative media project. 

The result was a live performance (also supported by Vancouver New Music) held last month in Tuwanek Springs Forest. The location was originally used for gathering and hunting by members of a former shíshálh village. Using their hands and specially-designed “tree feelers,” artists Andreyev, Overstall, Keira Madsen and Myles Feltenberger coaxed sounds from variegated bark. Multimedia virtuoso Giorgio Magnanensi, from Roberts Creek, installed his upright resonators and diffusers to add aural texture. 

The plein-air performance is echoed in Clear Cut Chorus, an audiovisual work by Overstall, Andreyev, Magnanesmi and photographer M. Simon Levin. Images and an aural lament commemorate a razed forest near Porpoise Bay. In contravention of a provincial stop-work order and despite being the location of a shíshálh burial site, the area was decimated through clear cut logging. 

The exhibition was opened by former shíshálh Nation band councillor Robert Joe, who also contributed to an adjoining exhibit by Ali Casey and Jessica Silvey titled Into the Forest. Joe described the vital relationship between the shíshálh Nation and forests of the Sechelt Peninsula. “When I heard that we’re cutting down old growth now,” he said, “and they’re telling us, ‘Oh, you’re going to make money,’ I call ourselves the minions. We’re the lower-end commoners now. How do we benefit from all of this? I don’t see any benefit at all.” 

Andreyev emphasized the streak of activism that runs through the artworks. “We’re advocating through this installation and through the [Recital With a Forest] performance to not cut the Tuwanek Springs Forest,” she said. “It’s really a magical place.” 

Overstall, a composer and computation multimedia artist, designed the generative algorithms that make the recorded sounds transform over time. 

“What I’m interested in is creating systems that let me think about the relationships between different components,” Overstall said. “In these systems, things feed back and influence each other and are always changing. And that’s analogous to ecological systems and biological systems and all the other systems in the universe.” 

Textile artist Lara Felsing’s Medicine Wheel Blanket was displayed during Recital With a Forest, and is also shown as part of Branching Songs. The repurposed cotton fabric was dyed with a combination of natural materials including sweetgrass and sage. Handwritten wishes for the forest are pinned to its surface. 

A richly-illustrated map of the endangered Tuwanek Springs Forest (created by Andreyev and Emma Pallay) includes depictions of its distinctive plant life and inhabitants. The area is scheduled to be clear cut by the Sunshine Coast Community Forest for BC Timber Sales. 

Pinned to a wall nearby, a green-inked note written in a child’s hand reads simply, “I hope that the forest gets better.” 

Branching Songs remains on display at the Sunshine Coast Arts Centre until August 13.