The Parka Experience – Artist Statement

I taught printmaking in the Arctic Circle in 2011. The only directive I received from the north was to bring a parka. My parka became the inspiration for this new body of work. The parka confines and protects. It limits vision, constricts movement, muffles sound, yet it is mandatory survival gear. I experienced -59 Celsius temperatures, high winds, snow fog, fear of frost bite, and fear of wolves and polar bears. My senses were both heightened and dulled; the dangers were real but my physical response was altered. As an outsider to this environment I had a keen awareness of the parka experience.

While I was in the Arctic Circle, I made drawings, recorded video and sound, and made prints. Using this source material, I explored my outside inside parka experience of scale, being small in a big space, being vulnerable in the face danger, seeing the world as white on white with no familiar reference points.

As a printmaker, I have begun to create varied editions of a single image. Working with varied edition prints allows me to capture the stages of the development of an idea. I begin with a basic image and create layers using collograph and alumigraph techniques. The aluminum surface changes over time and this is reflected in the resulting prints.

Documenting this flux has become an integral part of my art making practice as I now conceive of technique and content as building upon one another.

In tandem with my experiments in varied edition prints, I experimented with transferring actual parkas to the plate using soft ground and etching with a less toxic solution of copper sulfate and salt. The resulting images simultaneously print both the front and the back of the parka, merging the outside and inside experience. I have been inspired by the American artist Betty Goodwin’s soft ground vest series.

I have also begun to work in video. I see the two media as complementary; both involve the layering of ideas and both bear witness to the passage of time. I have travelled extensively throughout my life and I have lived in many diverse places. I grew up in the Congo, went to school in Kenya, and lived in Philadelphia, Ottawa, Winnipeg, and Eritrea. I continue to seek out experiences that place me in a cultural or geographical context with which I am unfamiliar. These encounters provide life-on-the-edge moments; one’s senses are sharpened and awareness of one’s mortality and physical vulnerability are accentuated.

Things that may seem commonplace and mundane in a particular culture and place are seen by me with an outsider’s eye in a fresh light.