North Saskatchewan River, AB - Lyndal Osborne
My Watermark is the North Saskatchewan River, Alberta.
I had a residency at a tidal river called Shoalhaven River, and that's on the east coast of Australia right down in southern New South Wales. When I got there the place was on fire. It was between 40 and 45 degrees (celsius) everyday. You get up in the dark at 4:00 AM - 5:00 AM and I'd go collect singed and burnt material. But for me, the discovery was swimming in the river because I felt safe even though there was a lot of helicopters going above us trying to put out one of the biggest fires they ever had. If you swam the river, I always felt like you'd probably be safe.
I often collected things along the bank at the edge of the water. Picked up fishing lines, lures, floats, and that became apart of my experience in this particular river. When I came back here, I didn't know what I'd do with it. I had boxes of burnt material -- singed leaves, burnt seed pods, all kinds of stuff. I didn't have any idea.Then winter came, I through about the North Saskatchewan River and how incredible it is when it freezes up. As the river froze, I noticed that from the bridges you see these circular lily pad shapes form. And each day, over about a 7 or 8 day period, they get bigger and bigger. They look like lily pads moving down the river at quite a clip. So I videoed that and then I thought, what about if I collected things in the winter here and put that together with the experience that I had on the Shoalhaven River.
When I collected all the material, I didn't know how to make the river because the river was central to making this work. I collected over about a 3 or 4 month period over 7,000 glass jars without their lids, and I stacked them in a meandering shape to create the North Saskatchewan river, which becomes the Shoalhaven River at the other end. So one end was the river of fire, and that was all the things that caused the fire and the damage that was done. There was a lot burnt material: cicadas, dead snakes, all kinds of odd stuff in it. At the other end, I didn't get stuff that looked like winter, so what did I do? I dipped it in white roofing latex and made everything look frosty and then I made large bowls and I created topographies, like little geographical units of what what I'd experienced in both places. The river was really what made it.
Interesting enough, when people came to see the show, the galley's kept very dim and they're very few light, and the lights are focused on 27 objects in the glass for people to look at that are manipulated. The light was weak. People had to walk around the river, just the way I had walked around the river, and they bent down and peered and wanted to touch, just the way I had done it. That was the piece that I think a lot of people told me in different venues where I've shown it that they experienced a sense of loss of something that they had enjoyed in their own childhood or other times in their life. It made them want to go back and take another look at the river themselves to have a similar experience.