Maureen Gruben draws attention to a rapidly changing Arctic with Stitching My Landscape
Using art to draw attention to the changing Arctic at Pingo National Landmark, N.W.T.
I“IT’S A WONDERFUL clearing of the mind,” says Inuvialuit artist Maureen Gruben, describing the experience of standing atop the Ibyuk Pingo on the shore of the Beaufort Sea near her hometown of Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T. “It’s just you, the low, rolling landscape, the ocean and the sky.” Come April, that vista will include Stitching My Landscape, Gruben’s contri
bution to Landmarks 2017/Repères 2017, a series of 10 collaborative nature-inspired artworks in Parks Canada sites across the country that are meant to deepen and critically explore the connections between Canadians and the land during the country’s sesquicentennial year. Gruben’s work will be in Pingo National Landmark, a site just west of Tuktoyaktuk that protects eight geological curiosities known as pingos, ice-cored conical hills formed by the upheaval of permafrost. Working with Tuktoyaktuk residents and curator Tania Willard, an artist from British Columbia’s Secwepemc First Nation, Gruben will orchestrate the drilling of as many as 100 ice-fishing holes along the shoreline. Configured in a zigzag array, each hole will be linked to the next by a red cord, suggestive of the trim used to embellish the edges of traditional
handmade parkas. Conditions permitting, Stitching My Landscape will be installed
from April 24-26. While the use of red cord honours regional textile customs, the pattern it will create is meant to underscore receding sea ice and accelerating erosion, two byproducts of climate change facing Arctic coastal communities such as Tuktoyaktuk. In late November 2016, for instance, temperatures around the hamlet rose 20 C above normal, which led to polar bears roaming the environs at a time when they traditionally would have been far out on the ice hunting seals. The scarcity of sea ice, in turn, meant that the land was exposed to waves and storms for a longer period of time. “When the west wind is strong, the ocean swells and washes away part of my community,” says Gruben. “Every year during these storms, we can witness our land drop into the ocean.” The cumulative effect of this exposure in Tuktoyaktuk is prompting some to consider relocating their homes. It is also endangering the community’s cemetery and raising concerns among scientists about how sediment produced by erosion will affect marine life. Gruben is keenly aware of her home’s vulnerability and knows that Stitching My Landscape will have her creating on the knife-edge of change — but she wouldn’t have it any other way. “I draw inspiration from and am part of the land,” she says, “and that is reflected in my art.”
A snowmobile heads toward Ibyuk Pingo (left), which is near the site of Maureen Gruben’s art installation Stitching My Landscape.