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Alyson Champ’s evocative art installation Marginal Lands gets community support

Emily Southwood

Saint-Chrysostome artist Alyson Champ is hard at work on an immersive art installation that will challenge how we value (or don’t) our rural landscapes. Marginal Lands was recently supported by the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec, the MRC du Haut-Saint-Laurent, as well as local crowdfunding, and is slated to debut at Salle Alfred Langevin in spring 2021. The work will then travel to four other locations throughout the Chateauguay Valley. The project will consist of four large panoramic mixed media paintings, digital sound recordings, and sculptures made of found natural objects.
The inspiration for Marginal Lands came when Champ received a letter from the government informing her that an endangered species of grass called Aristida basiramea was growing on several acres of sandy soil at the back of her property. She and her husband had already dismissed the land as unsuitable for sheep and left it to return to its natural state. She called to inquire what else they should be doing to protect the endangered grass. “They told me not to head out on my ATV,” she laughed. “Which is fine because I don’t have one.” The new awareness of the land’s instability made her think about it differently and she began to contemplate the other agriculturally worthless yet fragile ecosystems within our region.

 

Alyson Champs Marginal Lands will be exhibited at a total of five locations in the Chateauguay Valley in 2021 one of the four panoramic mixed media paintings to be included is shown below The artist is shown with colour studies for the paintings

 

The realization, as well as her longstanding admiration of the German installation artist Anselm Kiefer, propelled her to think of a way we might revalue marginal land. She explains, “The work is meant to be immersive and have the viewer leave with a different perspective on terrain that they may have previously overlooked. The visuals and sounds will affirm that nature will find a way to thrive no matter what we do, and whether we see that land as valuable for economic return.” The title of the project, “Marginal Lands,” is a play on the economic term applied to land that has little potential for profit from human exploitation. Marginal land is not good for farming or development, nor is it usually ‘pretty’ enough for tourism, and it is often fragile.
Each of the four panels within the art installation will represent a type of marginal land found in the Haut-Saint-Laurent region. One panel will represent a landscape with poor soil (Saint-Chrysostome). This painting will depict the sandy soil, lichen-encrusted rocks, small trees, and sparse weeds of a disused pasture in early spring. A second panel will portray abandoned or contaminated industrial terrain (Huntingdon) at the height of summer when it is overtaken by green weeds and wild flowers. The third will evoke the twisted, stunted trees growing on bedrock (Saint-Malachie-d’Ormstown or Très-Saint-Sacrement) in early autumn. The final panel will show marshlands (Hinchinbrooke or Dundee) at the beginning of winter when the bulrushes and marsh grasses are no longer green, the water is beginning to freeze over, and the landscape appears to be almost dead.

 

 

The large-scale canvases will consist of mostly paint and some mixed media, such as texture and found objects. Champ is excited to be able to work in a larger scale than is typically commercially viable, as well as by the collaborative nature of the project. The installations will include sound recordings by Huntingdon filmmaker Alain Boisvert. For example, as you come close to the canvases you might hear wind whistling through the bulrushes or geese flying overhead. The technical side of making it all come together will be engineered by Sainte-Martine computer technician Sylvain Larivière.
Making projects with and for her community supports Champ’s conviction that rural areas should have access to art. The feeling clearly goes both ways, with a part of this work’s budget having been met by local crowdfunding. “Marginal Lands is truly a community project,” she says.

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