Whitehorse-based artist Joyce Majiski captivated Salt Spring islanders who attended her recent artist talk at Mahon Hall, in which she described her current project called Song of the Whale.
Majiski is on the island through April for the Salt Spring Arts Council’s Artist in Residence Program, and while here she’s sculpting a 30-foot-long replica of a humpback whale skeleton out of salvaged styrofoam and plastics. Those who missed her talk on Jan. 23 — and those who attended but want to see more in person — will have the opportunity during an open studio this Friday, Jan. 31 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at The Point.
Song of the Whale is a multimedia installation slated for a three-month exhibition at the Yukon Arts Centre. Majiski, who worked for 20 years as a biologist and a wilderness guide, often addresses environmental themes in her artwork.
Majiski has lived in the Yukon since 1984 but often travels to other parts of the world. Song of the Whale has its roots in a series of residencies that Majiski set up while touring a previous body of work overseas. At that point she had been working on “the idea of north” for around five years when a water theme started to take hold.
Reflections on sand and water that started in the Moroccan desert continued during a follow-up residency in southern Spain, where Majiski contemplated a collaboration with the ocean itself. While she abandoned the idea of having the tide leave its mark physically on paper, she still wanted to document the way the sea changes the shoreline. She did drawings, took photos and spent hours walking the beach every day. The connection to plastic waste in the ocean and the devastating impact on wildlife soon followed.
Majiski is carving the foam into the whale’s skeletal pieces, modelled on an actual humpback skeleton that belongs to the Beatty Biodiversity Museum and is stored on Salt Spring by Mike deRoos and Michi Main of Cetacea Contracting, a company that specializes in marine mammal skeleton articulation.
Carving has become simpler since Majiski has teamed up with a friend with a bandsaw who can cut the foam to the basic rib shapes, which she can then work down to finer detail with a precision knife. The fluted vertebrae are more challenging, and it can take up to two days to complete each one.
The skin itself will be a transparent fabric made from ironing pieces of flexible plastic together. Majiski is also creating a school of herring out of clear and coloured plastics, which are either ironed or sewn together, depending on the melting properties.
The work will be suspended from the ceiling with two projectors coming in from different angles to bounce light off the reflective top surface. A recorded soundscape will contribute to the immersive experience.
“I’ve got a composer friend helping me compose a conversation between the whales and the sea and humanity,” Majiski said, noting this will incorporate sounds from tanker traffic and underwater sonic hammering as well as the whales themselves.
For her Salt Spring residency Majiski has brought along some pieces from earlier bodies of work such as North of Myth — inspired by circumpolar travels that included a residency aboard a three-masted tall ship out of Svalbard, Norway — as well as Tales From the Tideline. Open studio days at The Point continue on March 20 and April 24.
Some of this work will be included in the SSAC exhibition Against the Current, which shows at Mahon Hall Feb. 14-23. Majiski will be also offering an arts council workshop on how to make a mixed-media accordion book on Feb. 22 and 23.