A drone’s eye view of P.E.I.’s shoreline has served as the inspiration behind a new exhibit of handwoven art, including two pieces depicting damage to the Island’s coast caused by Fiona.
The drone port at UPEI’s Canadian Centre for Climate Change and Adaptation in St. Peter’s Bay is not far from the gallery where the art is on display.
Shift is a solo exhibition by artist Rilla Marshall, who for over a decade has explored the Island’s changing coastlines through her artwork.
“2010 was when I really got into mapping,” Marshall said. “Part of it was just growing up on P.E.I. always interested in the shoreline as this liminal space that’s in a constant state of transition not only in a physical way… but also on a metaphorical level.
“I find the shoreline is a very rich subject to explore.”
“There’s a lot of artists working with climate change right now. I feel like more and more it’s just become part of our common knowledge, our cultural zeitgeist,” Marshall said.
“I think art can play a really important role in engaging people with the subject of climate change, and making it more accessible and personalized.”
The artist was given access to drone footage that’s been collected since 2018 as part of research into coastal erosion. She then translated those visuals into a series of handwoven pieces.
“Depicting these areas of shoreline that somebody’s familiar with but from a perspective that [you’d never] have unless you have a drone also creates these personal connections to people. [They’re] able to see how those changes affect the shorelines that we love over time,” Marshall said.
“I think all Islanders feel a strong sense of ‘Islandness’ and a connection to our Island. And I think using art to talk about climate change is a great way to pull on those heartstrings a little bit.”
Marshall said the combination of science and art was also inspiring.
“Having a conversation between the ‘old tech’ of weaving, and the high-tech production of drone images is a very interesting conversation to have,” Marshall said.
[It’s] taking that hard data and being able to translate into something that’s a little bit more human.—Rilla Marshall
“[It’s] taking that hard data and being able to translate into something that’s a little bit more human.”
Alexis Bulman is the artist-in-residence and curator of the centre’s art gallery.
“Shift as a title, it has two meanings,” Bulman said.
“One being the sort of shift of sediment from the shorelines into the water, the act of erosion. But it also is meant to represent our ‘shift’ in how we think about erosion. How we protect shorelines is changing, and how we learn about that information is changing as well.
How we protect shorelines is changing, and how we learn about that information is changing as well.- Alexis Bulman
“Like with this exhibition, you’re not just learning about it through the data collected through the UPEI Climate Lab, but through an exhibition by a local artist.”
UPEI researcher and drone pilot Andy MacDonald said he was “blown away” by the artwork.
“The imagery we get from the drones, I think it makes perfect sense to translate that into art,” MacDonald said.
“Prince Edward Island is a very unique place. We have unique coastlines, and I think documenting that in an artistic way is great. Very creative.”
MacDonald said the exhibit is also timely, as UPEI researchers continue to document the post-tropical storm’s damage to the Island.
“Obviously Fiona was a dramatic event, and I think a big part of what art can do is express all sorts of different emotions,” he said.
“I know a lot of people are feeling grief and sadness after Fiona and what it’s done, and art is a way to express that.”
Marshall’s art will be on display until June 15 at the centre in St. Peter’s Bay, by appointment only.
There was a public opening on the weekend, but it’s mainly being viewed by people attending conferences there, or visiting on field trips.