Change comes so suddenly and unfolds so gradually that it can be hard to see at all. Buildings and entire communities seem to go up and come down overnight, while the natural landscape shifts around us, often imperceptibly and occasionally with startling force.
More than any other technology or art form, photography provides us with tools to better perceive and respond to change. It allows us to "stop the clock" or speed it up as needed -- or it at least creates the illusion that we can.
For the past two summers, photographer and interdisciplinary artist Tracy Peters has applied a variety of innovative and unconventional photographic approaches to the changing natural and man-made landscapes around her. The subjects of Peters's ongoing research are unassuming at first: a weathered, 100-year-old wooden shed on the outskirts of Charleswood and the tufts of foxtail barley (an aggressive native grass that most consider a weed) that blow in through its open doors and windows. As it happens, both speak to waves of human and natural succession.
The foxtails are opportunists, moving in whenever the landscape has been disturbed. The shed, built when the land was first developed for farming, is set to be torn down in coming years when the entire area is redeveloped once again, this time as suburban housing.
Peters first photographed the spidery foxtail seeds, printing the muted brown and beige images at tremendous scale on metres of translucent vellum. She then cut the photographs into long ribbons, which she wove among the slats of the shed itself, letting them trail outside, exposed to the elements for months at a time.
At the site, the effect is one of subtle camouflage. The creeping foxtail imagery is barely noticeable from a distance, but when the wind picks up, the loose-hanging strips blow and rustle like long grass. The shed foundation seems to come apart, threatening to dissolve like a mirage.
Peters further documents the site and her interventions, making photographs, videos and sound recordings. She prints and manipulates still images, slicing them apart and reconfiguring them to create sculptural works that recreate and reimagine aspects of the shed (the textures of its peeling wood, a bird's nest or spider web) while highlighting their ephemeral nature.
Peters has also produced a series of camera-less images at the site, made by laying foxtail seeds directly onto photographic paper and exposing them to the sun under glass. Though the resulting imagery is diaphanous and dreamlike, it's also the result of physical contact and chemical processes -- "hard evidence." When Peters eventually removes woven photo strips from the shed, their kinks, crimps, tears, and weather damage will function the same way, as further layers of documentation and unorthodox forms of record-keeping.
Her works in and about the shed do have a mournful quality, and the subtext of the area's impending redevelopment and the impact that will have on the local environment is inescapable, but Peters avoids excessive sentimentality or judgment. Her methodical, unobtrusive approach invites individual reflection while still acknowledging that any change, even when it's familiar and inevitable, still incurs some loss.
Though Peters exhibited some of her shed-related works at her Exchange District studio last year, members of the public will only have one chance to see the installation on-site. A closing reception will be held next Saturday, Sept. 28 (the day of Nuit Blanche), with a free shuttle bus departing from the Shoppers Drug Mart parking lot at Portage Avenue and Burnell Street at 2 p.m. (returning at 4 p.m.). Reserve seats by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org. Full event listing at culturedays.ca
Steven Leyden Cochrane is a Winnipeg-based artist, writer and educator.