Category Archives: Artist


The Natural & The Manufactured 2017

Klondike Institute of Art & Culture
Dawson City, Yukon, Canada


August 17 – September 23, 2017


Opening Reception: Thurs. Aug 17, 7:00pm (part of Yukon Riverside Arts Festival’s Gallery Hop!)
Location: ODD Gallery

A collaborative, theatrical research project using tall tales of animal encounters collected from the community. Tall Tales for Short Nights and Warm Planets consists of drawings, photographs and performance created by Lisa Hirmer and Leila Armstrong over the course of a 6-week residency in Dawson City.

Performance: Tall Tales for Campfires: Thurs. Aug  17, 10:00pm
Location: Front Street Fire Pit

The Natural & the Manufactured residency artists Lisa Hirmer and Leila Armstrong will be telling tall tales around the campfire at the First Avenue fire pit (at the foot of Princess Street). Get ready to hear some stories loosely based on local animal encounters and perhaps share some of your own yarns. (Weather permitting. Please feel free to bring your own lawn chairs or blankets for seating)

Artist Talk: Sat. Aug 19, 7pm
Lisa Hirmer
Leila Armstrong
Panel Discussion with Marlaina Buch to follow
Location: KIAC Ballroom

The Natural & the Manufactured residency artists Lisa Hirmer and Leila Armstrong will present artist talks followed by a panel discussion with exhibition curator Marlaina Buch. Each artist will give a brief overview of their practice leading up to Tales for Short Nights and Warm Planets, and their work in the exhibition, on display in the ODD Gallery until September 23, 2017.

Curator’s Talk August 17th, 6:30pm
Location: KIAC Ballroom

Can we ever know *the secret internal stirrings of animals?* or are they inherently unknowable? What does it mean to meet a creature’s eyes? With differences in communication ability, perception, eyesight, biological priorities, and appropriate responses, how can we be sure of what’s really going on when we chance upon a wild citizen? Curator Marlaina Buch’s talk invites participants to toss around ideas about animal encounters and what they can tell us about ourselves.

Commissioned Text TBA, Fall 2017

Narrative accounts of human/animal interactions are complex records. Encounter tales starring animals trend tall. Recollections of brief meetings between species are frequently spectacular, and carry in them ideas about humanity and our place in the world. In these tellings, animals are often symbols, omens, scapegoats, or guides to our wilder selves. Our inability to fully understand creatures that don’t use the same systems as us (language chiefly, but also gesture and expression) creates a gap easily filled with conjecture. To meet another creature’s eyes feels significant, meaningful – “It looked right at me.” Storytelling transforms sightings with the desires, fears, and imaginings of the narrator, frequently revealing more about the reporter than the subject.

Wild animals are mysterious and charismatic, they arrest our attention in the moments we share with them. Animals are indicators of seasonality, abundance (or scarcity), migration patterns, and changes in the biological condition of an ecosystem. Animal sightings connect us to the wider environmental web, acting as a gateway to noticing other subtler natural communities of plants, insects, fungi, rocks, and elements. Falling in love with a magnificent owl could make you curious about its home, what it eats, where it sleeps. You might spend more time trying to see one, looking for signs of its presence, listening for its call, wandering around at dusk. You might see other secretive, magical things happen when you walk in the woods. This attention can broaden the knowledge base of how creatures behave and what new pressures act upon them. If people don’t spend time on the land, ears pricked, eyes scanning, the environmental memories of previous generations are foreshortened. If comparative changes in the natural world aren’t recorded and transmitted to a population that sticks around, there is less cause for alarm when things shift. The baseline of what’s normal in the natural world shrinks to a few seasons, a few stories.

Artists Leila Armstrong and Lisa Hirmer are spending 6 weeks in Dawson City collecting stories of animal encounters from locals, tourists, and transients. These tales will inform the creation of new artworks based on community research and collaboration. As with any sample, certain themes have already recurred. The recent appearance of species uncommon to northerly climes has been noted, as has the necessity of bartering with sassy ravens. In Dawson, bears fall from trees and plastic deer walk down the main drag. It’s a unique town. These are unique stories. By teasing out ideas about who we are relative to “nature”, these artists ask if new rituals can be created to orient ourselves within the natural world.

Marlaina Buch


Lisa Hirmer an interdisciplinary artist whose work spans social practice, visual media, performance, community collaboration and experimental forms of publishing. Working under the pseudonym DodoLab, she explores the complicated nature of public opinion and the public life of ideas. In her photo- based work she studies the forces that transform ecological systems and human relationships with the more-than-human world. She has shown her work across Canada and internationally including at Confederation Centre of the Arts, Harbourfront Centre, Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery, University of Lethbridge Art Gallery, Doris McCarthy Gallery, Peninsula Arts (U.K.), Blackwood Gallery (Mississauga), Nuit Blanche (Toronto), CAFKA (Kitchener-Waterloo) and Flux Factory (USA). She was recently commissioned by the Art Gallery of Ontario to create a new work in response to the sesquicentennial as part of Every.Now.Then. Recent residencies include Time_Place_Space by Arts House (Australia), the Santa Fe Art Institute and the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation. Hirmer is a graduate of the University of Waterloo School of Architecture and is currently based in Guelph, Canada.


Leila Armstrong has an M.A. in Media Studies from Concordia University. She works both independently and in collaboration with other artists such as Chai Duncan (in 12 Point Buck) and Darcy Logan, Maria Madacky, and Rick Gillis (in M.E.D.I.U.M.).  Her most recent solo exhibition was “Coyote,” a body of work addressing the intersection of wildlife with rural, suburban, and urban spaces. Her interest in traditional natural history methodologies and their intersection with drawing and printmaking has led her to her current focus on those methods. Armstrong also organizes bi-annual community-based exhibitions titled“Cabinet of Queeriosities” that celebrate LGBTQ history, identity, culture and pride through a diverse range of subject matters and approaches.


Marlaina Buch makes art, writes, organizes exhibitions, facilitates community projects and falls somewhere on the arts spectrum between maker and doer. She has a background in art education and public engagement and her practice uses creative education, experiential and collaborative workshops, typography, printmaking, critical writing and performance to investigate social and environmental challenges, absurdity, and the potential of public space. She lives in Nanaimo BC.


Yates, Kevin + Yates, Robert


migratory (patterns)
off-site installation at Ruby’s Place

For their off-site project migratory (patterns), Robert Yates and Kevin Yates worked in Ruby’s Place, a Parks Canada heritage building that is part of the Klondike National Historic Sites in Dawson City. Their two-channel video installation begins with the brothers’ observation that birds migrate across cultural boundaries as if all spaces are home, while humans treat distant geographies as separate.

Initial stages of the work emerged when Robert and Kevin traveled to New Orleans and Grand Isle, Louisiana. Struck by the overlap between the bird species found there and those found in southeastern Canada, the brothers became interested in the way various regions are intimately connected through bird migration. The recent habitat loss and devastation in New Orleans, for example, can easily influence what birds could be seen in abundance or decline in Ontario, Quebec, or the Yukon. While the birds find shared habitats in different regions, the cultures themselves have become isolated and view themselves as distinct and disjointed, despite having intertwined histories.

While the birds find shared habitats in different regions, the cultures themselves, though perhaps having intertwined histories, have become isolated and view themselves as distinct and disjointed.

Human migration to Dawson City was massive during the Klondike Gold Rush. While many individuals’ identities remain unknown, some of them certainly stayed at Ruby’s Place, as it was once a brothel and later a boarding house. Yates and Yates chose the building because the layers of wallpaper still clinging to the structure offer visitors a palpable sense of time.
The artists created backgrounds based on some of those fragmented vintage wallpapers. They then videoed migratory birds (mostly redpolls and pine siskins) near the Yukon River and edited the footage so the birds come and go from the patterns.

migratory (patterns) – upstairs wallpaper (photo: Robert Yates)

The installation of migratory (patterns) involves a projection in Ruby’s ground floor and a second projection on the floor above, which is viewed through a hole in the ceiling. The wallpaper-traveling birds are mirrored and multiplied, producing a pleasurable and mesmerizing effect that is heightened when the flock disappears from one projection and appears seconds later in the other.

Birds have the potential to embody the possibilities of dissolved cultural boundaries, yet they often fail to do so except to those who care to learn about or remember the birds’ instinctual and ancient routes and habits.

migratory (patterns) presents a human-generated “landscape” for the digitized birds to rest in, a gesture that invites us to consider their interactions with the natural landscape, and by extension, our own.

migratory (patterns) seen on the way into Ruby’s Place (photo: Noémie Fortin)

Kevin Yates and Robert Yates began collaborating in 2011. The brothers blend video, photography, and mixed media to construct sculptural/video installations and site-specific projects. They create unnatural dream-like viewing experiences, with uncanny open-ended narratives. The works depict subtle intersections between natural and cultural worlds, leading the viewer to question perspectives and germinate new understandings.

ROBERT YATES (Ste Julienne, PQ) Robert Yates employs his film production experience to create video works that first conjure stillness, then morph into multiplying and/or mirrored images. The slippage between interior and exterior seems constant yet is impossible, since the images reflect layers but will not break open to further ones below.

Robert Yates received his Honours BA in Cultural Studies from Trent University with an emphasis on critical and postmodern thought as well as art, cinema, theatre and media studies. He followed this with a BFA in film making at Simon Fraser University, where he began to explore the notion of film as artefact and its relationship to the difficulty in accessing the past despite its apparent fidelity to reality by manufacturing experimental narrative works that took on the guise of pieces recovered from previous eras but whose content would not cooperate with its expected genre or era-reference.

Current creative projects include an experimental film inspired by and using material gathered during the 2016 KIAC artist residency. It seems it may continue in that same vein begun during his studies and which has continued to inform his work. Kevin and Robert are attempting to undertake a larger work similar to the one at Ruby’s Place but spanning a larger geography possibly from Louisiana to southeastern Ontario or Quebec and hopefully back to Dawson. The project is currently in the planning/financing phase.

KEVIN YATES (Toronto, ON) Kevin Yates is known for his sculptural works, often highly realized miniatures, doubled to resemble a reflection in water. He likens his work to film stills: objects that hold a “pause” in space, offering the viewer time to examine and inspect.

He creates installation experiences which confound the expectation of knowing-through-seeing, setting the stage for a perpetual mystery. He is particularly interested in crime scenes, in the cold relationship that exists between the tragedy on screen and the scrutiny of the viewer. To echo this gaze, his work often takes the form of highly realistic miniatures. These miniature objects are experienced both as real physical objects but because of their inaccessible scale, they also read as an image.

Professor Yates holds a BFA from NSCAD and an MFA from the University of Victoria, and is currently an Associate Professor in the Visual Art & Art History Department at York University.

Kevin Yates has exhibited broadly throughout Canada and the U.S., including a solo show at the ODD Gallery in 2009. Solo exhibitions of note include shows at the Susan Hobbs Gallery (Toronto), Robert McLaughlin Gallery (Oshawa), Tom Thomson Art Gallery (Owen Sound), Artspeak (Vancouver), and YYZ Artists’ Outlet (Toronto). His work has appeared in group exhibitions at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia (Halifax), The University Galleries at Illinois State University (Chicago),) and the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, and is in the collections of the National Gallery of Canada, Ontario Art Gallery and the Musée d’Art Contemporain de Montreal. Kevin Yates is represented by the Susan Hobbs Gallery in Toronto.

Volcano Collective

Volcano Collective (Karen Kazmer & Deborah Koenker, Vancouver, BC) |
Northern Howl


Approaching the Yukon with fascination and awe, Volcano Collective researched
Yukon life and attitudes through conversations and interviews. They met people at
restaurants, at the Dawson City Music Festival, during the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First
Nation’s Moosehide Gathering, in grocery stores, and on the streets.

Learning that dogs hold a distinctive role in Yukon lore – and are even popularly
thought to outnumber people in Dawson City – led Kazmer and Koenker to focus
their story-gathering on tales about dogs. Whether they are pets, working sled
dogs, or hunting companions, dogs are a link to wolves. Stories about our
relationships with canines can reveal some of our desires to connect both with
another species and with wilderness.

The resulting mixed-media installation Northern Howl immerses viewers in
a choreography of audio recordings, projections and sculptures, including a
pneumatically-driven “breathing” sculpture that boasts images from the local
landfill – one location where our professed love of wilderness is challenged by our
daily habits.

Volcano Collective presented more than 40 portraits of dogs owned by Dawsonites who also shared their canine tales. (Photo credit: Volcano Collective)

In the centre of the room, rotating lights inside a glowing paper sculpture cast
shadows of dogs and bears against the paper’s surface, echoing the way firelight
changes a shadow’s shape when the flames move. This central installation is
bracketed by recreations of the constellations Ursa Major (the bear), Canis Major
(the dog) and Lupus (the wolf).

The invocation of star-gazing and fire-watching – both longstanding human
activities – reminds us that it is an ancient human habit to respond to the natural
world by inventing mythologies. Two hybrid wolf-dog sculptures in vitrines embody,
through their monstrous uncanny mutations, the possibility of mythological
creatures still waiting to evolve.

Northern Howl reflects Volcano Collective’s community-shaped perceptions back to
Yukoners and tourists alike for enjoyment, discussion, and dispute.

Northern Howl – centre of room (detail) (photo credit: Noémie Fortin)


KAREN KAZMER (Vancouver, BC) uses installations and public artworks as ongoing investigations of architectural space, and human and animal interaction, originating from an interest in the body as messenger. She has worked with light, mixed media and pneumatics in producing exhibitions for galleries in Canada and the U.S.

Kazmer received her Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of British Columbia and her Master of Fine Arts from York University. She currently teaches part time at Emily Carr University of Art and Design, and previously has taught at York University. Her community-based public art projects seek imagery from community workshops, collaborations, and on-site activities of people and animals.

DEBORAH KOENKER (Vancouver, BC) is an artist with interests in writing and curatorial projects. Her years of teaching as Associate Professor at Emily Carr University of Art and Design have been an integral component of her art practice. She received a B.A. from the University of California, Santa Barbara, did post graduate work at Central St. Martins in London, England, and earned an M.F.A. from Claremont Graduate University in Southern California.
Koenker works in a variety of materials and media, making prints, drawings, sculptural objects and installations. Her installations explore sociopolitical themes using a range of media (photography, collage, sculpture, audio, text, drawing, embroidery) to produce a strong visual and sensory experience. Her work has been exhibited in Canada, Mexico and the USA over the past 30 years.

As an immigrant to Canada, Koenker is interested in borders, globalization, migration/immigration, and the difficulties of cultural integration, building community, and social justice. Personal narratives are increasingly important to her practice; her 2016 Kelowna Art Gallery exhibition Grapes and Tortillas, for example, includes texts written by temporary seasonal agricultural workers from Mexico who come to work in the Okanagan Valley, BC and across Canada.

Ritter, Kathleen | The Sound of North

Saturday, August 13th, 7:30PM in the KIAC Ballroom

As a starting point for a first trip north, Ritter will use the words of Glenn Gould,
spoken 50 years ago, and imagine what they would sound like if spoken today:

“I’ve long been intrigued by that incredible tapestry of tundra and taiga which
constitutes the Arctic and sub-Arctic of our country. I’ve read about it, written
about it, and even pulled up my parka once and gone there. Yet like all but a very
few Canadians I’ve had no real experience of the North. I’ve remained, of necessity,
an outsider. And the North has remained for me, a convenient place to dream
about, spin tall tales about, and, in the end, avoid.” — Glenn Gould, Introduction
to The Idea of North, 1967

Kathleen Ritter logging the outtakes for Glenn Gould’s Idea of North


Ritter is an artist and a curator. She was an artist in residence at La Cité Internationale des Arts, Paris, as a recipient of the Canada Council for the Arts International Residencies Program in Visual Arts, in 2013. Working with sound, photography, video, and text, often in collaboration, Ritter has exhibited her work across Canada. She was recently commissioned, along with composer James B. Maxwell, to develop a soundtrack for the international conference Institutions By Artists based on the minutes from the organizers’ board meetings.

Ritter was the Associate Curator at the Vancouver Art Gallery until 2012, where she curated the exhibitions How Soon Is Now; Beat Nation: Art, Hip Hop and Aboriginal Culture (with Tania Willard); WE: Vancouver (with Bruce Grenville); Rebecca Belmore: Rising to the Occasion (with Daina Augaitis); and commissioned public artworks for Offsite by Damian Moppett, Kota Ezawa, Elspeth Pratt, and Heather and Ivan Morison.
Kathleen Ritter and her brother, composer David Ritter, will be KIAC artists-in-residence December 2016.

Ritter, Kathleen | The Tour

Post-exhibition text for The Natural & The Manufactured 2016

The two artist duos creating work for The Natural & The Manufactured 2016 explored the overlaps between the perceivable and the imaginable. Despite knowing, for example, that pine siskins migrate between Northern Mexico and the Yukon, it is difficult to imagine flying those distances, at such windy heights. And hearing a story about finding and raising ten puppies might be just as hard to imagine in detail.

It’s a pleasure to try and imagine those kinds of journeys from the non-human participants’ point of view. Arguably, the act of attempting to see the world from another being’s perspective is one of the many personal, subjective interactions necessary to maintain empathy for other species. That empathy in turn can lead to discussions about how to balance the impacts of the manufactured on the natural.

We perceive many facts and realities about the natural world’s rhythms, but there is still so much more to imagine, to understand.

Kathleen Ritter employs an immersive, creative approach with her written response to Northern Howl and migratory (patterns). Part speculative fiction, part description of the two installations as time capsules, The Tour addresses how fragile is our knowledge of the natural world— and how robust.

The Tour
by Kathleen Ritter (bio available here)

My guide meets me at the edge of the town. I’ve been here a day and a half already, waiting, nursing feet worn with blisters. I stand up to greet her. She lifts her head and throws her arms around me in an unexpected embrace. “It’s been many months since we’ve had an outsider. Welcome.”

I wrestle my swollen feet into boots and stamp out the fire. We are standing on low ground, in the middle of the riverbed where I pitched camp. This place was once called the confluence: the place where the two rivers met. The riverbed, now completely dry, glistens in the sunlight. It is littered with bones, bleached white in the long days of summer, when the sun barely sets.

The riverbed is flat, and today it is the only passable route north. The ground elsewhere is dug up and turned over into heaving masses of gravel tailings from the dredges, and are not practical to cross on foot. Nothing grows here anymore. People rarely make the trip, not only because it is onerous, but because they are superstitious of the riverbed. My guide takes my hand and we start walking towards the old town. It’s only then that I realize she is blind. “How did you find me?” I ask.

“It was easy,” she replies, laughing. “There’s not much living around here these days.”

“Right. Of course.”

We walk together. The air is silent. Today birds don’t even fly overhead. They’ve changed their migration routes to avoid this area, just like the airplanes.

We hear the sound of our footsteps. I’ve gotten used to stepping on bones. At first, out of respect, I tried to avoid them, but there are too many. I hear them grinding under my boots with each step. During the long journey to come here I tempered my unease by trying to identify them, scientifically, matching them to animals I studied, animals now long gone. This skeleton is surely a salmon, I said to myself. This one must be the hind leg of a dog. There are human bones as well. I wondered about the people who lived here, the ones who didn’t make it to higher ground.

migratory (patterns) view upon entry (photo: Noémie Fortin)

“You are studying the animals that were once here?”

I nod. “Yes.” I add, remembering that she can’t see.

“They never returned. The few animals that survived moved to higher ground. There were warning signs. My ancestors listened to the land rumbling and followed the animals.”

“They were lucky.”

“They were smart,” she stops, correcting me. “And resourceful—they learned how to cultivate enough food from what remained. The rest of the land is barren; some believe it’s haunted. The roads were too broken to fix, planes refused to land. They dropped food in for a while, but after time they stopped flying overhead. We became disconnected and isolated.” She speaks as if she lived through it herself. I know the story well, but her retelling makes it real.

The town sank four generations ago, when the Tintina and Denali fault lines ruptured within a few weeks of each other. The immediate impact was devastating. The earth shook, water rose up from the ground and covered the lowlands in a series of flash floods that were so unexpectedly toxic, they left the soil infertile. Only a few people at the epicentre remained—namely my guide’s relatives—but little is known about how they managed to survive.

Despite all this, a handful of buildings in the town were left standing. As the temperatures climbed in the years that followed the quakes, the permafrost thawed, and the land dried up. The ground became so uneven that the few remaining structures leaned and fell into each other, eventually collapsing into heaps of wooden slats. “I want to know about the dogs. Can you tell me about them?” I ask my guide. “There was a time when dogs outnumbered people in this town. They were everywhere. They were different colours and different breeds. Some were as large as wolves. You could hear them howling at night. One would start and others followed, until the night air was filled with a chorus of howls so loud, it shook the moon.” I close my eyes and try to imagine the sound of dogs howling.

“My great-great-grandmother had a dog. He followed her to high ground and never left her side. She would talk to him as if he were human. She would tell him everything: her thoughts, her feelings, even her secrets. They grew old together. When he passed away, she was devastated. He was the last dog ever seen.”

Northern Howl (detail) (photo credit: Volcano Collective)

We are both silent for a moment.

“We are not sure when the animals will return. It might take a few more generations. Until then, my family will keep the exhibits open. We want to remember.”

We arrive in front of a building leaning so precariously to one side that half of the roof has slid off and lies in a heap in the adjacent lot. Flecks of pale green paint decorate the exterior slats of the facade, a hint of the colour it once was. The door has fallen off its hinges and remains permanently propped open. She invites me inside. It is dark and I can barely see.

She takes a battery out of her pocket. “You’ll need this,” she says wryly as she uses it to power up the room. The lights flicker and several images appear on the walls. I hear voices speaking. To the left on the ground, a mound of ice rises and falls, as if it is breathing. I jump.

“Don’t worry,” she giggles. “It’s not real.”

I kneel down and reach out a hand to touch it. It’s not cold—probably made of styrofoam. Its movement is mesmerizing. Above it are images of dogs projected on the wall. I’ve never seen a dog. I’ve only read descriptions of them. I stare at the changing images. Dogs are more varied than I expected.

My eyes begin to adjust as I stand up and look around the room. There are mirrors on the wall, connected with blue lines in the shape of a dog and a bear. She points up in their general direction. “These are called constellations. People used to believe that the stars in the night sky were connected in ways that resembled animals.”

“Yes, I know.” I say. Then, with curiosity, “When did your people stop believing there were animals in the sky?”

She shrugs. “When the animals left the land and the birds abandoned the sky, I suppose.”

Two vitrines contain sculptures of dogs. I take a closer look at one. It is made of plaster, a swath of fur on its back, and a rubber mask for the head. I walk over to the other and examine it. It’s also made of plaster and its head is raised, as if howling. There is a small patch of fur around its neck. It looks cold, and fake. “Is this really what they looked like?” I ask, skeptically.

Northern Howl hybrid futuristic creature (detail) (photo credit: Volcano Collective)

“Of course,” she says with a dismissive wave, irritated. I feel embarrassed. Her family was the last to know dogs while I’ve only studied them in books. Still, I can’t help but think that some things have been lost in translation.

There is a fur coat splayed on the wall, a plaster animal head in the centre that could be a dog or a bear, I’m not sure which. Images of fur are projected overtop. In the centre of the room there is paper draped from the ceiling to the floor in a long oval. It is illuminated from inside, with shadows projected on the walls. Outlines of dogs dance across the paper as the shadows rotate. The voices I hear seem to come from inside the illuminated room. I stand closer, leaning in.

“Over the years my family recorded stories from everyone we knew who had a dog. Those are the voices you hear now.”

I listen to the stories. There was a dog who stole a turkey. A dog with a glass eye. A blind dog named Katie who was kind. There were stories of missing dogs and distraught owners. There was a dog pulled out of water by its owner. People spoke of their dogs with tenderness. They spoke of dogs curled up in bed with them. They all had names. I had read that people kept dogs as companions, but only now could I imagine it.

I take out my book to make some notes. “Would you mind if I stayed here for a while?” “Please. Stay as long as you like.”

Northern Howl (detail) (photo credit: Volcano Collective)

My guide leaves and returns a few hours later with an armful of bones. She lays them in the corner. “I’m going to add these to the exhibit,” she tells me. “If you come next year, there will be more.” I doubt that I will make the journey again, but I agree nonetheless, not wanting to disappoint her.

“I want to show you another exhibit we made.” She takes my hand in hers, and leads me to the next building. It is equally dilapidated. “This one is dedicated to the birds.” We turn sideways to pass through the narrow entrance, and step inside. There are several rooms I can just make out by the light streaming through cracks in the wooden slatted exterior. The inside walls still have scraps of wallpaper on them, decorated with repeating motifs of flowers and plants, remnants of an extravagant past. They seem familiar, perhaps because I’ve come across diagrams of ornate flowers like these in my studies.

“What is this building?” I ask.

“It was once a brothel,” she tells me. “It was run by a woman from Paris who went by the name ‘Ruby’. Her clientele was mostly workers from the dredge camps, back in the day when there was still gold in the ground and the town was full of people mining it. We call this building ‘Ruby’s Place’.”

I look around and try to imagine what it would have been like. Fancy, no doubt. I hear birds chirping and follow the sound to the next room. Suddenly I see several birds, six or seven. They fly in. Each one perches on a different motif in the wallpaper. They are small and animated and loud. I check behind me to see if my guide is paying attention, and lean in furtively to touch one. Instead my fingers graze paper.

My guide hears me recoil and laughs. Nothing escapes her apparently. “Don’t get your hopes up—they are not real either. It’s a projection. We found a recording years ago.” They are convincing nonetheless. “What kind of birds are these?”

“Pine siskins and redpolls. They were a migratory species that used to pass through the Yukon in late summer.”

I watch the projection, captivated. The birds fly in and land on their perches, rest for a while, then fly away. I look up through a hole in the ceiling to the floor above. There is another projection, superimposed over another wallpaper pattern. When the birds leave one room, they arrive moments later in the other. I have the sense that they are flying all around the house, resting for moments in out-of-sight in rooms I can’t see.

My eyes are fixed on the moving image before me. When the birds leave, I wait anxiously for them to return, worried that their fleeting presence won’t allow enough time to commit their image to memory. The chirping that fills the room seems too loud for such small creatures, but my guide reassures me that this is accurate. These birds have powerful voices.

I look to my guide. “How long do you think these buildings will remain standing?” “We are not sure. Nothing here is stable. The ground continues to move, and land still slides from the hills into the valley. But we will keep these exhibits going for as long as it is possible. We were the last to see the animals, so it is our job to keep them alive in our memory.”

“I understand,” I tell her. “Thank you.”

migratory (patterns) – top floor viewed from bottom floor (photo: James Lewis-Healey)

My guide leaves me and I stay with the exhibits until the batteries run out. I place them under the floorboard at the entrance, as instructed. As I step back into the midnight sun and walk back towards the riverbed, I take stock of what I have seen. My mind is overwhelmed with images and sounds and textures. I prepare for the long journey back, bracing myself for the sound of my boots grinding over bones of the animals who once populated this land, those that may never return.

Holmes, Courtney

Post-exhibition essay for The Natural & The Manufactured 2015


The small hamlet of Dawson City in central Yukon is best known as the home of Canada’s first great gold rush — an event which brought with it massive geographical changes upon which the modern community is built. The legacy of the decades-long search for gold in the hills and valleys of the Klondike remains imprinted on the land and psyche of the small wilderness town.

The Klondike Institute of Art and Culture’s artist in residence program plays host to The Natural & The Manufactured — an annual arts project that invites artists to compose site specific works in response to the economic and cultural values of the region.

Colin Lyons and Kevin Murphy participated in the 2015 edition of The N & M. Both artists recently spoke of their experience with Courtney Holmes, current Executive Director of the Yukon Art Society. These interviews have been edited for length and clarity.


Courtney Holmes: There has been some discussion lately at a local level about whether the dredge tailings are worth preserving. Some have suggested removing them all; others want them to stay. A third suggestion is to remove all but one, preserving it as a full-fledged artifact. Which course should Dawson City pursue?

Colin Lyons: As an outsider, I don’t think it’s my place to decide.  My preservationist instinct would compel me to leave things as they are, as a haunting reminder to the unchecked speculation and environmental devastation that was brought on by the gold rush.  Seen from the Midnight Dome, the tailings offer an unmistakable glimpse into the lasting effects of industrial development and extraction-based economies.

Given the environmental impact of these industrial projects and the harm they create, how does nostalgia fit in?

In industrial ruins, we are confronted with past notions of progress and utopia, which have since proven to be failures but leave visible traces of their unfulfilled promises. I think post-industrial ruins serve a vital purpose, as a kind of counter-narrative.

We now live in a world where the struggle to keep up often leaves us frozen in the present, unable to fully imagine a future. The reaction, we see time and again, is nostalgia for the past.

What are examples of nostalgic industrial utopia that exist in Dawson City or elsewhere?

Part of my hesitation about restoring the tailing piles is exactly this issue.  Without them, Dawson risks becoming a place which rests on the nostalgic tropes of the Klondike gold rush era, while glossing over the human and environmental costs of this history.  This was part of my fascination with the tailing piles — that they can be read as a lasting authentic ruin of the Klondike gold rush.

How does your upbringing in Petrolia inform your interest in Dawson City?

Growing up in Petrolia, I was constantly surrounded by evidence of industrial obsolescence: Victorian mansions, a massive playhouse, and slowly-bobbing pumpjacks. All pointed to a place which had fallen on tough times after a period of great promise. Petrolia’s very reason for existence was founded on oil. As the country’s first oil boomtown, the men flocking there never thought about whether this was a renewable or non-renewable resource.  Of course, as is the inevitable fate of any boomtown, the oil slowed to a trickle by 1908, and my sleepy hometown has spent over a hundred years fading into irrelevance.

Petrolia and Dawson City followed similar trajectories until relatively recently, when Dawson took on renewed significance as a centre for the arts and tourism. In many ways, Dawson City is an ideal place to consider the ideas that came out of my Petrolia experience: it’s a place where industry has irreparably shaped the landscape; where the residents have had to do some soul-searching about its very reason for continued existence; and where there are ongoing questions of what to make of the material remnants of its golden era.

Time Machine For Abandoned Futures. Detail: Gold rush artifact in etching acid undergoing electrolytic cleaning process. Installed on the Midnight Dome, August 2015. (Photo credit: Colin Lyons)

Time Machine For Abandoned Futures. Detail: Gold rush artifact in etching acid undergoing electrolytic cleaning process. Installed on the Midnight Dome, August 2015. (Photo credit: Colin Lyons)

Does gentrification relate to these landscapes?

Gentrification is a term specifically used when discussing the relationship between a location and class dynamics (the displacement of a lower class for a higher one), which I feel is not exactly what is happening here.  However, there is a kind of glossing over that can come along with the historicizing of a place.

With the reconstruction and tourism of Dredge No. 4 for instance, the tailing piles become background or setting for understanding the grandeur of the post gold-rush projects.  In that context, I found myself thinking “wow, that’s brilliant,” instead of “that’s horrifying.”


Do you have a specific thought or statement that Dawson City residents should take away from your art?

No, nothing that precise. The reality is, those who have spent decades immersed in this environment are going to see my work much differently than I do.  Also, since this installation was perched on the side of the Midnight Dome, the audience was equal parts tourist and resident.

There seemed to be a kind of compartmentalizing of the landscape, where visitors hoped to witness either the vast northern wilderness, or a mecca for mining and industrial history. I hoped to reorient the gaze from the Dome to acknowledge this complicated legacy, and force a collision between these two notions of the landscape.

With my Time Machine, I attempted to highlight that binary approach to the landscape by subverting the utopian architectural form of the Earthship, creating instead an inefficient and wasteful system. I hope to bring to light the ways in which so many of our modern industrial projects are using antiquated and wasteful technology, yet attempt to project an air of progressivism.

Finally, I hope this project helps further the discussion about what to do with the legacy and ruins of the gold rush. I think the tailing piles can be read as a kind of accidental monument.


Courtney Holmes: Can you explain your research process for this installation? 

Kevin Murphy: The research for this project was extensive. It took place online, in books, through visits to the Dawson Archive and local historic sites, and through correspondence with Yukon Land Titles, Natural Resources Canada, and Quaker Oats, among others. Much of it relied on technology, from easy communication with various parties, to sourcing the deeds on EBay, and locating the sites through GPS.

The most difficult step was determining the individual one-inch locations. Each deed is stamped with a unique alphanumeric code. Ostensibly these are locatable through a site plan, but the precise reference pattern has long been lost. Quaker doesn’t have the records anymore, and doesn’t want to talk about the promotion at all. David McDonald, who directed the film Cereal Thriller, has done a mountain of research on this, and was very generous with suggestions. In the end, I pieced it together through reference to books and articles; David’s resources; and certain mathematical parameters, including the lot dimensions and the range of deeds that were printed.

Once the site plan formula was reconstructed, it had to be overlaid onto larger land survey plans to determine each set of GPS coordinates. Whitehorse-based surveyor Glen Lamerton generously helped with these calculations and then lent me his GPS unit to locate the sites.

One Square Inch More or Less (detail). ODD Gallery exhibition, 2015. (Photo credit: Kevin Murphy)

One Square Inch More or Less (detail). ODD Gallery exhibition, 2015. (Photo credit: Kevin Murphy)

Was this Quaker Oats promotion a form of colonialism?

Well, it certainly mimicked and utilized colonial systems insofar as it involved the division and widespread distribution of Crown land. But more than this, as a fantasy representation of land, I see Quaker’s project as a fascinating cultural example of “landscape.” Cultural critic W.J.T. Mitchell refers to landscape as a form of soft power, a permeable social construction that is “something like the ‘dreamwork’ of imperialism.1″ For Mitchell and others, Western landscape traditions appear natural, but hinge on imperial and colonial fantasies embedded in territorial consumption and expansion. In North America, these fantasies have especially been tied to the romanticized West and North. One line by Quaker’s own legal team provides a particularly perceptive analysis: “the real value of the deeds was based on the romantic appeal of being a property owner in the Great Yukon Territory rather than on any intrinsic value of a one-inch square of property.2” I think what’s wonderful about the Big Inch promotion is this visible connection between the romantic and the economic. When the deed holders linked the representation of land to its physical occupation and ownership, the promotion collapsed under its own weight, beautifully exposing the underlying tensions.

The promotion was essentially an invasion of the imagination. It valued the land not for what it was but for its imagined romantic nature in the minds of southerners who had never actually been there. Do you see parallels between this habit of mind and modern relationships between North and South?

Sure, and I think Dawson has built a lot of infrastructure around these processes of romantic projection and their crystallization in tourism economies.

For me, as a southern/Vancouver artist trying to propose a site-specific project for a place that I had never been, this idea of imaginative projection also felt like an appropriate reflection or refraction of my own position. Entering the artist residency period with only a distance-based and thus surface understanding of Dawson implicated me in a way that felt honest, and created, I think, a kind of parallel to the imaginative responses of these children, decades earlier.

One Square Inch More Or Less (detail), 1958 survey of land referred to in Quaker Oats'  Klondike Big Inch Land Co. promotion. ODD Gallery exhibition, 2015

One Square Inch More Or Less (detail), 1958 survey of land referred to in Quaker Oats’
Klondike Big Inch Land Co. promotion. ODD Gallery exhibition, 2015

Because so much of the legal precedent surrounding land and property is based on possession, occupation and use, do you feel like you settled or have some ownership of these tiny parcels of land? 

No, I felt very conscious that I was working in a space that didn’t belong to me, and possessing the deeds heightened that awareness. But the ownership of land, and particularly its abstraction and representation as title, is certainly one idea I’m investigating.

Something to note about the deeds is that in Western Canada, we are on the Torrens system, which means land ownership is transferred through registration of title instead of using deeds. So a “land deed” is not a legally recognized document in Yukon at all. The Klondike Big Inch Land Co. was created primarily for the U.S. cereal market, so Quaker used broadly U.S. terminology. It’s just another fiction among many.

The land itself was repossessed by the Canadian government in the 1960s for non-payment of taxes, and it’s been bought and sold since then. So although I purchased them, the deeds have been divorced from this land for more than fifty years, and really, I would argue, since their creation. In some ways, this project is about re-establishing a link between the deeds and the land they signify, and also about the impossibility of doing so.

What do you think of the fact that this land is now a golf course? Is there any narrative worth exploring there? 

The land isn’t actually the golf course, but is directly adjacent to it. That turned out to be an often-repeated misconception that sprang up around later discussions of the promotion.

The land with the deeds is privately owned and most of the sites I visited were in the forest, some areas thinned, and some quite dense with new growth. One site was in a tire rut on a dirt lane, another was in a horse corral, and a third was beside the rotting and overgrown remains of a burned out building….

Were consumers tricked? How much did a notion of injustice play in this installation?

I’m less interested in injustice to consumers than I am in these implicit and historical injustices that come with the whole framework of deed as representation.

I’m not convinced that Quaker ever expected anyone to want to physically claim the land. For me, the most surprising thing about the whole enterprise was that its developers made the journey in person to see the property.

I suppose that consumers may have been tricked insofar as the land was not legally attainable, but I actually agree with Quaker’s lawyers that the land was not what they were really selling. I think where Quaker misstepped was in allowing the fantasy to unravel, which in turn revealed that the fantasy was merely a fantasy.

One Square Inch More or Less, detail, ODD Gallery installation 2015

One Square Inch More or Less, detail, ODD Gallery installation 2015


1W.J.T. Mitchell, “Imperial Landscape,” Landscape and Power, 2nd ed. (Chicago: U of Chicago Press, 2002), 10.

2 Arthur F. Marquette, Brands, Trademarks and Good Will: The Story of the Quaker Oats Company (New York: McGraw Hill, 1967), 121.

Courtney Holmes is the Executive Director and Curator with the Yukon Arts Society in Whitehorse, Yukon. A graduate of the Yukon School of Visual Arts in Dawson City, Holmes has previously worked for non-profits and youth organizations in Yellowknife, NWT and Iqaliut, NU. Holmes is also a past member of the ODD Gallery and KIAC Artist-in-Residence Committee.

Collins, Curtis



This discussion will examine KIAC’s The Natural & The Manufactured projects over the past three years, with a focus on how participating artists have delimited the environment according to places that are rarely indicative of nature and almost always affected via artificial means.

Friday, August 14th, 7 PM in the KIAC Ballroom

DR. CURTIS COLLINS  graduated with a PhD from McGill University’s Department of Art History and Communications Studies in 2002. Over the past twenty years, Collins has served as a curator and director for public art galleries across Canada, including the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in New Brunswick, the Art Gallery of Algoma in Ontario, and the Dunlop Art Gallery in Saskatchewan. Among those universities that Dr. Collins has been engaged as a sessional lecturer are: the University of Lethbridge, Trent University and the First Nations University of Canada.

In January of 2013, Curtis was appointed as the new Chair and Program Director of the Yukon School of Visual Arts in Dawson City.

Lyons, Colin


Lyonstime machine for abandoned futures_web

August 8 – 16, 2015
Site-specific installation: Midnight Dome

Opening Night: Thursday, August 13
Artist talk at 7PM in the KIAC Ballroom | Reception and shuttle to follow


During my first visit to Dawson, in January 2010, I was driven up to the dome to look out at the vast intestinal tailing piles left by decades of dredging in the area. For me, this vista became the lasting image of my trip to the Yukon. In a town that boasts many historical monuments, these tailings seemed to represent the ‘authentic’ ruins of the Klondike gold rush.

Over the past several years, my work has focused on the remnants left behind in the wake of our industrial pursuits, and how we can preserve, memorialize, or simply move beyond the weight of these remains. In these works, I fuse printmaking, sculpture, and chemical experiments in exploring industry through the lens of fragility and impermanence, pushing printmaking beyond its traditional boundaries, as a re-enactment of the boom and bust cycles of industrial economies.

This project began with a quintessentially Klondike activity – a kind of treasure hunting. Over the course of several weeks, I walked along the dredge tailings, using a metal detector to excavate industrial cast-offs, amassing a substantial collection of rusted metal tools and fragments.

Colin Lyons walking the dredge tailings, looking for artifacts, July 2015

Colin Lyons walking the dredge tailings, looking for artifacts, July 2015

With this collection in tow, I brought it to the midnight dome, where I installed my Time Machine; a strange off-the-grid laboratory which became my home for a few weeks. Built with plexiglas, aluminum, and chemicals, this shelter adopts a design similar to Earthship architecture, but rather than environmental sustainability as its guiding principle, this bubbling chemical structure comes closer to the absurd inefficiency of many of our modern industrial pursuits. Powering this machine is a massive, roof-top battery, in which etching plates and etching acid power an electrolytic cleaning process to remove the rust from my scavenged artifacts. Once cleaned, I meticulously etched the markings left by decades of rust and erosion, forming a kind of topographical map. The result is a glistening surface that memorializes the artifact’s entire lifespan.

Overlooking the dredge tailings, this machine presents a kind of prototype for the preservation of degradation. As it stands now, our most sincere attempts to preserve this era are often counterproductive, a further erasure or gentrifying of these objects and spaces, resulting in a kind of nostalgic industrial utopia. With this project, I attempt to reintroduce the evidence of time, erosion and labour into the restoration process: the act of polishing bringing a sharpened awareness to the work that was once performed with these tools.


COLIN LYONS grew up in ‘Canada’s original oil boomtown’ of Petrolia, Ontario, an experience that has fueled his interests in industrial ruins and sacrificial landscapes. His recent work fuses printmaking, sculpture, and chemical experiments, pushing the role of the etching plate beyond traditional uses to create re-enactments of the rise and fall of industrial economies.

Lyons received his BFA from Mount Allison University (2007) and MFA in printmaking from University of Alberta (2012). His work has been shown in solo exhibitions across Canada, and in group exhibitions internationally. He has received grants from the Canada Council for the Arts, Conseil des Arts et des Lettres du Quebec, and The Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation, among others. Exhibitions include projects presented at Platform Stockholm (Stockholm, Sweden), The Soap Factory (Minneapolis, MN), OBORO (Montreal, QC), SPACES (Cleveland, OH), CIRCA art actual (Montreal, QC) Centre[3] (Hamilton, ON), aceartinc. (Winnipeg, MB) and artcite (Windsor, ON).

Lyons currently lives in Iowa City, where he holds the Grant Wood Fellowship in Printmaking at The University of Iowa.

Murphy, Kevin


August 13 – September 18, 2015
ODD Gallery

Opening Night: Thursday, August 13
Artist talk at 7PM in the KIAC Ballroom | Gallery Reception to follow


In 1955, the Quaker Oats Company launched the Klondike Big Inch Land Co. promotion. Accompanying boxes of puffed cereal, consumers received elaborate and apparently official deeds to one square inch of land subdivided from a plot outside of Dawson City. Capitalizing on romanticized notions of the North at the turn of the century, the promotion was a tie-in to Quakerʼs sponsored television show Sergeant Preston of the Yukon, and explicitly framed the titles in the context of the Klondike Gold Rush. Slogans such as “Get Free Gold Rush Land Today!” were wildly successful in capturing children’s imaginations and encouraging cereal sales. 21 million deeds were drawn up and rapidly claimed in a strange echo of the earlier rush.

More valuable than other cereal prizes, many of the deeds were saved through the years. However, they were never intended to have real property value. Quaker had considered the cost of so many land transfers unfeasible, and none were ever registered. To make matters worse, in 1965 the land was repossessed for non-payment of $37.20 in taxes. Over the last 60 years, generations of deed holders who didn’t read the fine print have contacted various administrative bodies, only to be redirected to Quaker and subsequently disappointed. The response from Quakerʼs legal department was that, “the real value of the deeds was based on the romantic appeal of being a property owner in the Great Yukon Territory rather than on any intrinsic value of a one-inch square of property.”[1]

Plotting the lots on today's survey plans (detail)

Plotting the lots on today’s survey plans (detail)

So the land was real land, but was never truly intended to exist anywhere except as an idea in the consumerʼs mind. This confusion, and the tension between the various partiesʼ expectations, nicely opens up the complicated relationship between land and landscape- between a physical place and the accumulated human and social lenses through which we view it.

Now fully detached from the land that they signify, Klondike Big Inch deeds are readily available for sale online. Revisiting this bizarre property and settlement microcosm, I have been collecting these deeds for the last year. While in Dawson, my project has involved locating each corresponding one-inch land parcel using survey plans and GPS. Using the physical deeds themselves as the material for tiny paper sculptures, I have built camps, homesteads, claims, and the various other built objects and environments of this second imaginary Gold Rush. Photographed on their respective lots, the scale of the resulting landscapes is confused, allowing the sculptures to become models for larger potential sites. In the end, I see the exhibited project as a complementary paradox: the imagined space of the deed finally made real by its location and documentation, and the real space of the land made imaginary- transformed into model, picture, and landscape.

[1] Quoted in Arthur F. Marquette, Brands, Trademarks and Good Will: The Story of the Quaker Oats Company (New York: McGraw Hill, 1967) 121.



KEVIN MICHAEL MURPHY is a Vancouver-based artist working primarily in three dimensions, using a variety of materials, often in combination with pre-existing systems, cycles, or organisms. From his contemporary urban perspective, and against a backdrop of growing environmental crises, Murphy explores the ways that humans interact with the living world around them in material, economic, and imaginative terms.

Murphy received his BFA from the University of British Columbia, Vancouver in 2009, and went on to work there for a number of years as UBC’s Drawing, Painting & Sculpture Technician. Past projects have included Atlantean Timepiece for UNIT/PITT Projects’ What Future series, and New Xanadu at the UBC Botanical Garden and Centre for Plant Research. This September he will begin his MFA at the University of Guelph.


Garneau, David


sm“Entrancing Bird.” Oil and acrylic on canvas. 122 x 152cm. 2006

Friday, August 15, 7:30 PM in the KIAC Ballroom

This philosophical, poetic, and occasionally humorous, illustrated artist talk considers wild life art as the anthropomorphic expression of our desire for family and freedom; roadkill as spiritual objects; the ditch as a site of existential and spatial anxiety; and how the Métis experience shapes the Plains landscape.


DAVID GARNEAU is Associate Professor of Visual Arts at the University of Regina. He was born and raised in Edmonton, received most of his post secondary education (BFA Painting and Drawing, MA American Literature) at the University of Calgary and taught at the Alberta College of Art and Design for five years before moving to Regina in 1999.

Garneau’s practice includes painting, drawing, curation and critical writing. His solo exhibition, Cowboys and Indians (and Métis?), toured Canada (2003-7) and Road Kill toured twenty one centers throughout Saskatchewan (2009-11). He is most interested in the collision of nature and culture, metaphysics and materialism, and in contemporary Indigenous identities. His paintings are collected by The Canadian Museum of Civilization; Parliament Buildings; Indian and Inuit Art Collection; The Mackenzie Art Gallery; Mendel Art Gallery; Dunlop Art Gallery; The Glenbow Museum; NONAM, Zurich; Musée de la civilisation, Québec City; City of Calgary; the SaskArts Board; Alberta Foundation for the Arts; Paul Martin foundation; and are in many other public and private collections.

He has curated several large group exhibitions: The End of the World (as we know it); Picture Windows: New Abstraction; Transcendent Squares; Contested Histories; Making it Like a Man!, Graphic Visions, TEXTiles; two person exhibitions: Sophisticated Folk; Reveal/Conceal, and solo shows: Diana Thorneycroft, Tim Moore. Garneau has written numerous catalogue essays and reviews and was a co-founder and co-editor of Artichoke and Cameo magazines. He has recently given talks in Melbourne, Adelaide, New York, San Diego, Sacramento, Saskatoon, and keynote lectures in Sydney, Toronto, Edmonton and Sault Ste Marie. Garneau is currently working on curatorial and writing projects featuring contemporary Indigenous art and curatorial exchanges between Canada and Australia, and is part of a five-year, SSHRC funded curatorial research project, “Creative Conciliation.”