May 7- August 31, 2022
Mayne Island Japanese Memorial Gardens
This art installation draws attention to water conservation through the modern interpretation of an ancient irrigation technology, the olla. The installation is composed of two elements: a 2-meter diameter ceramic mural and a tumbled stack of 50 ollas.
The free-standing circular ceramic tile mural graphically depicts the use of ollas in the context of food growing, water conservation and local food security. It is a stand alone piece of art; celebrating water conservation and exploring the juxtaposition of slow, traditional modes of communication (the hand-written letter, type-set press, ancient relief tiles) with more modern modes (instant tweet, text or email) as well as ideas of permanence and impermanence. The information depicted by the mural will be created through work that spans weeks not seconds and it will stand the test of time just as shards of pottery dug from archeological sites tell the story of times and cultures past.
The second component of the installation is a tumbled stack of 50 slip cast terracotta ollas. Ollas are porous clay vessels that are buried in the ground and filled with water which slowly release moisture to surrounding plants at a rate dependent on size of the olla, soil structure, soil moisture and plant need. Ollas can reduce water use by 75%; they have been used in various countries over the centuries. Each olla is 32 centimeters tall, capable of holding approximately 8.5 litres of water and watering a 1.2 meter squared raised garden bed.
The COVID-19 global pandemic has drawn attention to the fragility of supply chains and the lack of local food security in particular for rural and remote communities such as Mayne Island, BC. With 1300 permanent residents, Mayne relies on goods being transported to it by ferry and has limited water resources. Many conversations are now occurring about food security, water conservation and self-sufficiency. Through this exhibition, we propose that a modern interpretation of an ancient water-conserving technology, the olla [OI-yah], be part of those conversations.
This project reinterprets the rustic, historic olla form into an elegant modern terracotta slipcast vessel. Using modern technology to create these beautiful vessels only to bury them in the ground so that they may do their essential service. Viewers will be drawn to an impressive tumbled stack of slip cast terracotta ollas flanked by the large interpretive circular tile mural.
This installation is exhibited at the Mayne Island Japanese Memorial Gardens. The ambience of the Gardens is one of calm serenity that encourages visitors to navigate the pathways at a contemplative pace. This peaceful environment sets the stage for our exhibition where visitors will be encouraged to consider a large mural and substantive tumble of ollas. As visitors approach, they will see that the mural is made of ceramic tile, and that it tells a story. They will not feel rushed, they will be comfortable spending time viewing the mural and reflecting on the information it communicates.
Through this installation we hope to generate thoughts of ancient storytelling by sharing our story in this artistic nonverbal way. Thus, allowing the viewer to ponder the livelihood of ancient civilizations and to consider the technological achievements of those times, which relates to the history of the olla and how it has been used in food production for centuries. We may even encourage a few to consider the technology and tempo of our time (cell phones, computers) and contemplate how these contribute (or not) to our personal wellbeing.
In addition to ambience, and clear thematic connection to growing, the venue was also selected because it is a non-traditional (i.e. not in a gallery space) location for an art exhibit. The garden has the potential to extend the reach of the exhibit to a broader audience- an audience not necessarily seeking an art experience. The garden is a well-promoted island attraction and also accessible. There is no entrance fee to the gardens (reducing socio-economic barriers) and the pathways, though gravel or bark mulch, are flat and navigable. Through our promotion we hope to attract viewers interested in ceramic arts to the exhibition but other visitors to the garden will simply happen upon the installation. They may be surprised to encounter Tile Mural with Ollas among the verdant gardens and have an unexpected art experience.
At the close of the exhibition,10 ollas will be donated to the Japanese Memorial Gardens.
The project is supported by the Canada Council for the Arts.