TWU’s Dr. Erica Grimm artwork showcased in Amsterdam

TWU congratulates Professor of Art Dr. Erica Grimm on having her Salt Water Skin Boats art installation curated for Stations of the Cross, an international, city-wide public art project opening in Amsterdam on March 6. Her large, multi-media work is the only Canadian entry chosen for this annual international public art event.

Grimm leaves for Amsterdam this week with a team to install Salt Water Skin Boats in Amsterdam’s ancient Waloon church Waasle Kerk. It will be on display from Ash Wednesday, March 6, through Easter Sunday, April 21, representing the 11th Station–Jesus dies on the Cross. She is speaking at the opening ceremony, which also takes place at De Waalse Kerk.

Many Langley and Abbotsford residents experienced Salt Water Skin Boats when it was on display at The Reach Gallery Museum in Abbotsford in 2018. Grimm is honoured at this opportunity to bring her exhibit to a new audience in Europe in 2019.

“This work connects the chemical fragility of our own bodies with the chemical fragility of the ocean,” says Dr. Grimm. “Like the human body, the ocean flourishes within a narrow chemical range. Changing the chemistry creates a ripple effect through the entire oceanic and atmospheric systems. We all know what changing the chemistry in our own salt-water-filled bodies means. It means the same for the ocean. Human actions over the last 200 years have changed the chemistry of the ocean and this, in turn, generates climate change.”

Working with sound artist Sheinagh Anderson and artist/arborist Tracie Stewart, Grimm created a series of six sculptural, coracle-like objects and a soundscape to create an immersive experience for the viewer. Coracles are lightweight boats that were first used in ancient times to cross global waterways long before human activity began to impact the natural chemical balances of the planet. The surfaces of each boat are at once flesh and ocean surface. The hulls are constructed from willow, dogwood, fig and cedar branches; cheesecloth; animal skin and gut; bathymetric ocean maps and layers of beeswax.

“Each vascular hull is covered with bathymetric ocean maps and scientific formula calculating glacial melt, sea-level rise, ocean acidification and geochemical ocean tracers” said Grimm.

The boat-like scultpures are suspended from the ceiling in a dimly lit room, illuminated from within, and set to a soundscape that evokes the sounds that boats make underwater, and the sense that the ocean is a sentient living, breathing entity.

“A number of years ago, I learned the salt content in ocean water was nearly identical to human blood plasma, amniotic fluid and tears. This curious fact launched my research that resulted in this exhibition. With metaphoric and physical connections to the ocean, the hope is that embodiment metaphors might help render this massive global problem intelligible. We are like skin boats launched into a changing global environment,” says Grimm.

Hers is a suitable art piece for the 2019 Stations of the Cross whose theme is Troubled Waters, and has a largely environmental theme. Amsterdam is a city filled with canals and waterways and will, like Vancouver, be affected by rising ocean levels due to climate change.

Stations of the Cross is an art project inspired by the Stations of the Cross, a tradition of 14 images that represent Jesus’ final journey through Jerusalem, from his condemnation to crucifixion to burial. After successful exhibitions in London, Washington D.C., and New York over the past three years, organizers are bringing the project to Amsterdam this year featuring artists from all over the world. In Amsterdam 15 exhibits, including one to represent the resurrection of Christ, will weave through secular and religious spaces including Oude Kerk, the oldest building in the city. 

Participants are guided by a map to the 15 stations throughout the city. People are invited to pray and reflect at each station, share the experience on social media, and take action by connecting with a local organization involved in social justice or pastoral care.

The creation of Salt Water Skin Boats was partly supported by Canada Council for the Arts and Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) Institutional Grant.

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