Marlene Creates (pronounced "Kreets") is an
environmental artist and poet who works with photography, video,
scientific and vernacular knowledge, walking and collaborative
site-specific performance in the six-acre patch of boreal forest in
Portugal Cove, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, where she lives.
Montreal in 1952, she studied visual arts at Queen’s University in
Ontario (Bachelor of Art Education, Honours, 1974), and then lived and
worked in Ottawa for twelve years. In 1985 she moved to
Newfoundland—the home of her maternal ancestors, who were from
Lewisporte and Fogo Island.
For almost 40 years her work has been
exploration of the relationship between human experience, memory,
language and the land, and the impact they have on each other. In the
late 1970s she started creating temporary landworks which she
photographed (as in the series Paper,
Stones and Water, 1979–1985). This led to several years of
with what she called ‘memory maps,’ which were drawn for her by other
people (as in the series The
Distance Between Two Points is Measured in Memories, 1986–1988,
and Places of Presence: Newfoundland
kin and ancestral land, Newfoundland 1989–1991.)
Hearing elderly people’s stories as they
drew memory maps for her, and sensing a relationship between language
and the land, she spent a decade photographing found public signs in
the landscape. She has also been commissioned to create signs and
markers that incorporate other people’s stories about specific places.
Currently her work is focused on the six
acres of boreal forest where she lives in a ‘relational aesthetic’ to
the land. This oeuvre includes Water
Flowing to the Sea Captured at the Speed of Light, Blast Hole Pond
River, Newfoundland 2002–2003, and several
Boreal Poetry Garden (2005–) which uses words in situ, many
inspired by Newfoundland vernacular. This work takes the form of
photo-landworks, an interactive web-based Virtual Walk of The Boreal Poetry Garden,
documentary video-poems, and site-specific, multidisciplinary events;
—Larch, Spruce, Fir, Birch, Hand,
Blast Hole Pond Road, Newfoundland (2007–) which concerns the
individual native trees, their context in the collective of the forest
system, and the human perceiver;
to Light at Blast Hole Pond River
(2015–), based on photographs taken by a trail camera that is triggered
by the movement of wildlife at
ground level, and the concurrent movement
of celestial bodies overhead. Heaven and Earth, if you like.
Since the mid-1970s her work has been
presented in over 350 solo and group exhibitions and screenings across
Canada (including a solo retrospective exhibition currently touring
nationally, Marlene Creates: Places,
Paths, and Pauses / Marlene Creates : Lieux, sentiers et pauses),
and in Austria, China, Denmark, England, France, India, Ireland, Korea,
Scotland, and the United States. Since 2005 she has held over 40
site-specific, multidisciplinary events in The Boreal Poetry Garden,
which have been attended by over 800 people.
She has been a guest lecturer at over 200
institutions and conferences across Canada and abroad, including Chile,
Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States, among them the
National Gallery of Canada, the Glasgow School of Art, the University
of Oxford, the University of Plymouth, the University of Hartford, the
Edinburgh College of Art, and the Universities of Turin, Venice, and
Siena. She was an invited panelist at the Fifth National Women in
Photography conference, held in Boston in 1997, the keynote
presenter at the symposium Art,
Rural Life and Environmental Concern at the Bristol School of
Art, Media and Design at the University of the West of England in 2008,
and a plenary speaker at the conference Space + Memory = Place of the
Association for Literature, Environment, and Culture in Canada (ALECC)
at the University of British Columbia Okanagan in Kelowna in 2012.
She has been the
curator of several exhibitions, has worked in artist-run centres (SAW
Gallery in Ottawa and Eastern Edge Gallery in St. John's) and has
taught visual arts
at Algonquin College (1975–82), the University of Ottawa (1982–85), and
the Nova Scotia
College of Art & Design (1998). She was a director of the
Photography Program at the Banff Centre (1991) and an invited academic
visitor for the Art, Space + Nature MFA program at the Edinburgh
College of Art (fall term, 2015). She has also led multidisciplinary
environmental and place-based art
projects with about 3,000 school children in Newfoundland.
Her volunteer work
and community work includes positions with the Board of Eastern Edge
Gallery, the Arts and Letters Committee of the Government of
Labrador, the National Council of the Royal Canadian
Academy of Arts, the Board of VANL-CARFAC working for
artists’ rights, and co-founding the Advisory Committee on the
Environment (ACE) for the Town of Portugal Cove–St. Philip's.
Her work is in numerous public collections
across Canada, including The Rooms Provincial Art Gallery in St.
John’s, the Canada
Council Art Bank, and the National Gallery of Canada.
Marlene Creates received the 1996 Artist of
the Year Award from the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts
first visual artist to receive this award. In 2009 she received The Long Haul Award for Excellence in Visual Arts
(EVAs) from VANL-CARFAC, "which recognizes a substantial contribution
to the visual culture of Newfoundland and Labrador by a senior artist,"
and the 2009 CARFAC National Visual
Award "for an outstanding contribution to visual arts advocacy."
In 2013 she received the BMW Exhibition Prize, which acknowledges "an
outstanding Open or Featured exhibition" in the Scotiabank CONTACT
Photography Festival in Toronto. In 2014 she won the Grand Jury Award
at the Yosemite International Film Festival. She is a recipient of a
2019 Governor General's Award in Visual and Media Arts for "Lifetime
Artistic Achievement." She was elected
to the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts in 2001.