Kamloops Art Gallery presents

Paul Walde in conversation with curator Charo Neville

Published FEBRUARY 8, 2023

Professor Paul Walde discusses his solo exhibition Glacial Resonance with Kamloops Art Gallery curator Charo Neville.

Presenting the glacier as a central protagonist, Glacial Resonance (on view January 21 to April 1, 2023) brings the stark reality of otherwise distant mountain ranges to the forefront. A solo exhibition of ambitious projects by Canadian artist Paul Walde, Glacial Resonance shares the artist’s enduring concern about environmental crises, channelled through sound and video. Best known for his interdisciplinary performances staged in the natural environment, Walde’s work often involves music and choreography. His immersive installations materialize from projects on mountain sides and from deep in old growth forests that involve myriad volunteers and performers, and technically  ̶  and geographically  ̶  challenging logistics. The splendor and sense of awe evoked by these landscapes, emphasized through the embodied sound experience of Walde’s installations, offer alternative modes in which to traverse the overwhelming scale of climate change.

Glaciers are a vital source of fresh water for humans, animals, trees, and plants. The slow and steady disappearance of mountain glaciers around the world is dramatic evidence of Earth’s warming climate. Worldwide, most glaciers are shrinking or disappearing altogether, causing sea levels to rise. Remnants of the last Ice Age, glaciers’ accelerated retreat today is an austere visual record of our impact on Earth. Glaciers tracked by the World Glacier Monitoring Service since 1970 have lost a volume of ice equivalent to nearly 25 metres of liquid water—the equivalent of slicing 27.5 metres of ice off the top of each glacier. [1] In their work to distinguish the natural ebbs and flows of the Earth’s climate from human generated outcomes , NASA scientists state, “Changes observed in Earth’s climate since the mid-20th century are driven by human activities, particularly fossil fuel burning, which increases heat-trapping greenhouse gas levels in Earth’s atmosphere, raising Earth’s average surface temperature.” [2]

Glacial Resonance brings together Paul Walde’s iconic 2013 project Requiem for a Glacier with his newest video and sound installation Glacial. Both address concerns about land use and the impacts of the climate crisis, 10 years apart, with glaciers as the primary focus and an urgent sign of the Earth’s tipping point to an irrevocably changed climate. Requiem for a Glacier is a multichannel sound and video installation that emerged from a site-specific performance featuring a 55-piece choir and orchestra performed live on the Farnham Glacier, in the Qat’muk area of the Purcell Mountains in southeastern BC. The composition converted climate data, including temperature records for the area, into music notation and featured a Latin translation of the BC government’s media release announcing the initial approval of a year-round resort community at the site that borders a nature conservancy. Transmitting a sense of solemnity through string, brass, and percussion instruments, along with the stirring voice of soprano Veronika Hajdu, the performance conveys the tension between this human-made and natural data. The interplay of visual and musical melodrama is intercut with black squares throughout the video that work to subvert historically romantic landscape traditions and disrupt a normalized experience of unfettered relationships between art, nature, and spectacle.

Glacial is a meditative durational experience, sharing distant vistas and extreme details of the Coleman Glacier at Mount Baker (Kulshan), in Washington State, along with the sounds of the glacier melting, modified through musical instruments used as speakers. Over the course of five hours violin, viola, cello, double bass, bass drum, and a cymbal fitted with sonic transducers transform field recordings into tones which form the basis of the composition and act as conduits for the glacier to communicate resonant frequencies.

The exhibition also includes Walde’s Alaska Variations project from 2016, conceived as an album of performative sound and music compositions responding to the Alaskan landscape and created in collaboration with dancers and musicians as part of the Anchorage Museum’s Polar Lab residency. The glacial landscapes in the exhibition are punctuated by a large-scale panoramic print of the circumference of a several-100-year-old tree, Treescape Revolution. This project manifested through Walde’s advocacy work with Awi’nakola: Tree of Life, a group of activists, scientists, and artists. Here the rapid decline of the glaciers is linked directly to the steady disappearance of old growth forests through resource extraction, pointing to the essential role trees play in storing atmospheric carbon, sustaining wildlife, and providing clean water.

Together, the works in Glacial Resonance speak to our reverberating impact on Earth’s ecosystems and reveal the entanglement of human activity and the natural world in ever-resonating and interconnected ways.

The Artist

Paul Walde is an interdisciplinary artist living in on lək̓ʷəŋən territory, where he is a Professor of Visual Arts at the University of Victoria in BC. For the past 30 years, his work has addressed environmental issues, including the exploration of non-human activity and communication, global warming, deforestation, land use, and the artworld. Recent exhibitions include Alaska Variations at Indexical, Santa Cruz, California; HYPER-POSSIBLE: The 3rd Coventry Biennial at the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum, Coventry, United Kingdom; Ecologies: Song for the Earth at Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal in Québec; and Weeks Feel Like Days, Months Feel Like Years at the Anchorage Museum, Alaska.