As part of the 2013 Natural and Manufactured exhibition at the ODD Gallery in Dawson City, I presented a site-specific installation piece called The Homecoming in Bear Creek, Yukon Territory.
The historical town of Bear Creek is situated approximately 12 km outside of Dawson City and was the former company town for Yukon Consolidated Gold Corporation (YCGC). It has been abandoned since the mid-1960s and is now maintained by Parks Canada as a National Historic Site. Many of the YCGC residential buildings have been transported from their original site in Bear Creek, and other sites, to Dawson City. All that remains of their presence in the original sites are their foundations.
In the outdoor installation The Homecoming, I integrated five YCGC buildings into sites related to their former place of residence via large-scale photographic prints on linen. These prints were manipulated using theatre techniques once used by Daguerre in the Paris Diorama in the mid 1850s, and saw the houses shift from dusk to night. This created a sense of home in the structures, as well as a visual play on memory, ghosts and history. In tandem to the installation at Bear Creek, five signs were placed around Dawson City in front of the buildings where they currently stand today. Each sign contained a short history of the residence and its connection to YCGC and Bear Creek.
In August 2013, when the pieces were installed in their locations, I documented each piece with a large format camera and video. Once removed from the site, I reflected on how the large linen pieces would live on in a subsequent exhibition, and decided against presenting the pieces anywhere else except Bear Creek. What remains in The Forest of No Return is the facsimile of the recreated town through photography, video and a bookwork; a photograph within another photograph; theatre projected onto the landscape; words and pictures.
In the Forest of No Return artist book, I present the remnants of the town during the day, a stark contrast to the effect created by the linen pieces at night. The final body of work reflects the relationship between the fabricated memory of the town found in the linen pieces, and the real state of the buildings and town remnants as they exist in the forest that has grown up around them.
When gathering information about the town I interviewed two sisters from the Troberg family, who grew up in Bear Creek until the family was required to move when the town was shut down. They spoke of an idyllic place – family-oriented, safe, and surrounded by the natural world. Their house was located down a different road then most of the others and a small forest behind the house led down to a creek . The sisters told me of how they used to play in the forest, and called it “The Forest of No Return”, inspired by the song of the same name from the 1961 Disney film “Babes in Toyland”. This title struck me as the perfect metaphor for time-passing and the way memory hangs in our minds, from childhood or otherwise. It also relates to the spooky atmosphere created in the original installation and ghost stories that hover around Bear Creek and Dawson City. The artist book The Forest of No Return reflects my interest in weaving a narrative between my experience in the forest and that of the sisters. It is also meant to serve as a compliment to the photographs of the installation at night.
YCGC announced it was shutting down at the end of the 1966 season and all families were to leave by the following spring. The subsequent years saw the transport of several residential buildings to Dawson and the former town site turn to disrepair. The title The Forest of No Return refers to the physical evidence of atrophy in the townsite, but also the reality of time and the inability to return to a past remembered existence.
In my art practice, I am interested in the relationship between theatre, photography and perception. Much of my work has been concerned with a sense of place and different experiences of the concept of 'home'.
I would like to acknowledge the important support of the Canada Council for the Arts and the Alberta Foundation for the Arts in the production of this project. I would also like to acknowledge the important support of the Visual Arts Department at The Banff Centre, the ODD gallery, and the Klondike Institute for Arts in Culture in creation of this work.