Joan Scaglione in her studio with works in progress.

Joan Scaglione in her studio with works in progress.

A small fleet of eighteen cedar-beamed boats, ranging from eight to twenty-four feet in length, will sail across a hundred foot span in the MacKenzie’s main gallery as part of a new sculptural installation by Regina artist Joan Scaglione. On one wall of the gallery, a half-ton of roughly quarried slate will provide the backdrop: the ribs of the earth meeting the ribs of the sky. 

Driving Scaglione’s poetic work is an archetypal impulse, which she describes as the desire to “re-mythologize humanity’s broken relationship to the earth through images of healing and regeneration.” Previous site-specific installations haverealized this intention on an impressive scale. In her outdoor installation for Crossfiring: The Claybank Project in 2006, Scaglione dotted a natural prairie amphitheatre with 20 foot wooden ladders. Piercing the blue bowl of the sky, these ladders recalled the chimneys of the adjacent brick plant and gave metaphorical expression to their former task of turning raw clay into finished bricks: the ladders by which cities rise into the air. More recently, Scaglione has worked with beds as material and metaphor.

During a six-week residency at the Klondike Institute of Art and Culture in 2008, Scaglione created Earth Bed Tells, an outdoor installation which incorporated materials from the Dawson City dump as well as mine tailings from Dredge #4, a massive excavation site. The life-sized beds prompted a reflection on humanity’s collective need for sleep, a restorative interlude which is essential not only for personal well-being, but, metaphorically, for the health of the planet.

In her installation for the MacKenzie Art Gallery, Scaglione has been given the opportunity to create her largest indoor installation to date. For this exhibition, the artist has chosen to introduce a new element, the boat, which is for her a “metaphor of spiritual journey.”

Arrayed across the floor and suspended from the ceiling, her slender cedar and spruce boats evoke a ritualized journey through time and space. Like the seed-bearing ships depicted in the rock carvings of Bohuslan, Sweden, these vessels are containers of life for a symbolic voyage. Inspired by the rock carvings, Scaglione has also added blocks of stone to the installation – not as a material for building or inscribing, though, but as a graphic marker itself. Heavy rock slabs will be suspended on the wall in patterns which echo the soaring trajectories of the boats. Through this gesture, Scaglione brings into play another of her recurrent themes, the constant movement of matter through various states: air, earth, water and fire.

Significantly, Scaglione plans to bring the boats to the gallery in a procession from nearby Wascana Lake prior to installation, and then remove the boats after the close of the exhibition to a farm where they will be burned.

From water to sky and earth to fire, Scaglione’s installation seeks to sensitize viewers’ psyches, and, through the voyage of 18 slender boats, invite them to participate in a regenerative, cosmic voyage.

By Timothy Long, Head Curator, MacKenzie Art Gallery

Image: Joan in her studio with works in progress.  Photo by Carey Shaw.