On Sunday I found myself in Woody Point at the artist-in-residence’s open house. Although I have met many artists-in-residence here at the park, this was my first visit to the actual residence provided for them. The house on Lodge Lane is bright and open inside, with a lovely view out over Bonne Bay. To the left as you enter the house, the walls are covered in maps of Newfoundland and the Park; topography, vegetation, community – many ways to see the same landscape. To the right are photos, posters and art left by artists who have previously resided here.
Heather Komus, our current artist-in-residence, leads us downstairs to her studio. There is a large table covered in objects; rocks, shells, bits of metal and plastic, anything that you might find in nature, or washed up on the beach. These are things you will also find incorporated into the artwork covering the walls and floor of the studio. Komus uses embroidery, handmade paper, horse hair, pig intestines and found objects to explore ecosystems and landscapes. What she delivers is art as rich in story as it is in texture.
Komus is from Winnipeg and studied Fine Arts at the University of Manitoba. Much of her work focuses on biological processes but an interest in paleontology led her to explore the depths of what can be uncovered in a landscape. From there, she was drawn to the Gros Morne residency by a desire to explore geology in artwork. She says she was fascinated by a place where a theory like plate tectonics could be exposed and explored in such a physical way.
This physicality is important to the artist and to her process. She is interested in how we “experience landscape through the skin”, through our sense of touch, the feeling of cold or wind on the skin, the way emotions manifest physically, raising goose-bumps or giving us a chill of excitement. Things here seem “more in touch with life and death”, geology itself seems alive, its process apparent. “I wanted to represent repetition somehow” says Komus, “there is so much repetition and pattern in geology” and she is trying to express this through her artwork and through the creative process itself. Even being forced to travel by foot, she explains, encourages thought and creates a physical connection; her footfalls themselves mimicking the repetition she is trying to incorporate in her work. But she admits it can be difficult to imagine just how dramatically landscapes have changed over time.
One of her main concerns is scale, how to create something that expresses the scope of geology “in order to make us feel very, very small” and understand our own place in that history. She is working on a series of pieces that together represent a geological timeline. Each piece of handmade paper, irregular edges mirroring a natural landscape, embroidered and created with a plethora of materials. Through the entire work a long, straight line of horsehair cuts like a horizon, each hair representing a million years. To represent the geological timeline, the piece would have to be 4.6 meters long, with human history entering the work 0.2mm from the end. Komus says she hopes to gain a real appreciation of that scale through her work process.
Heather Komus’ residency at Gros Morne is drawing near its end, but she says she will return to Winnipeg with notebooks full of new ideas generated by the landscapes and experiences of this place.
featured image: detail inspired by the reptilian rocks of the Tablelands