For the last few months the art and woodwork classes have been creating an art installation to engage the school community in the celebration of Magee's 100th anniversary. Students and staff were eager to create an exhibit that would be participatory, collaborative, accessible, visually dramatic and at the same time affordable.
"It is hard to come up with a single idea that embraces the diversity of students and staff who have passed through the school over such a long period of time, and to honour those who inhabited this land long before a school was ever thought of," says Magee teacher Mariette Smith. "For all of us, Magee has been part of a journey - for some it has been where we have ended a career, but for most it has been a departure point from which they have begun to explore the possibilities of life."
This realization became the seed of an idea. Smith and her students seized upon the image of the canoe - an iconic symbol of Canada and of the West Coast that ties together Aboriginal and immigrant cultures. Depending on its size, paddling a canoe can be an individual pursuit or a collective endeavor. It is light both in its construction and in its impact on the land. It takes us silently and smoothly into the unknown, deceptively simple and delicately balanced, paddling keeps us in the moment.
This idea was enthusiastically embraced by the Magee staff and the school as a whole. A sculpture consisting of canoes constructed using recycled paper, wood and bamboo was assembled into a flotilla that was then suspended from the ceiling of the rotunda. Beneath them, rivers of origami canoes, made by the entire school flowed toward the main entrance doors.
Fashioned by many individual pairs of hands, each canoe was designed to carry a message from the maker. Some messages are a simple signature while others were personal poems or stories written by hand on the paper itself. The calligraphy forms the decoration was randomized by the multiple origami folds. To animate the installation, images of water and shimmering calligraphy was projected on the canoes and on suspended backdrops. The sound of flowing water was also added to create a multi-sensory experience.
Smith says at first blush, paper might seem a strange choice of medium for a project such as this, but paper sculptures and installations can be both evocative and beautiful. Recognizing that paper is not a durable material, she says her team has created a single large wooden canoe that will provide both a focal point for the installation, and become part of its legacy. The whole process has been documented with still and video photography.
Smith says the entire artistic journey has been incredible.
"It has been a great privilege to be involved in the creation of this project for such an important point in the history of the school. The metaphor of the canoe captures the essence of our individual journeys' through life; the flotilla the sense of shared endeavor that is so important to the success of the communities to which we all belong," she says.
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