Around the Water’s Edge, St. John’s Harbour, Newfoundland 1995
for Container 96 – Art Across Oceans,
Copenhagen, Cultural Capital of Europe 1996

medium: photo-installation in a shipping container. 14 colour cibachrome transparencies, 7 each 11 x 14 inches (28 x 36 cm) and 7 each 20 x 30 inches (51 x 76 cm); 7 plexiglas panels, each 7 feet high x 3 feet wide (213 x 91 cm); wooden supports; blueprint map of St. John's Harbour and area, 28 x 36½ inches (71 x 93 cm); and 7 lights.
container dimensions: 19½ feet long x 7½ feet wide x 7½ feet high (6 m x 2.3 m x 2.3 m).
collection: Government of Newfoundland & Labrador, Provincial Art Bank.

My project is a photo-installation inspired by the geography and diversity of current land use around the edge of St. John's Harbour. The work reflects the varying relationships between the water and the steep cliffs and gentle rises that have shaped the built environment. The specific configuration of land and water is the reason that the city of St. John's (described as “the oldest city in North America”) has developed here. I can see the harbour from my studio, the ships coming and going, and the North Atlantic weather colouring the surrounding hills; and I walk uphill and down on the sloping streets that radiate from the waterfront.

Around St. John's Harbour the range of human activity is quite remarkable. Some of the features represented in the photographs include: the generating station; the fish plant; the fuel storage tanks; the dockyard; the downtown; the fishing village with its domestic architecture and fishing stages; and, overlooking the entrance to the harbour, the headland which is now a national historic park. All these features – public and private, industrial and domestic, built and 'natural' – are located around the perimeter of a small, deep basin just over 1 mile (2000 m) long.

There are seven pairs of colour photographic transparencies – each pair consists of a large view of a section of St. John's seen from the water and a public sign seen at ground level within that section. The signs – public announcements meant to direct everyday activity in an area – amplify, or perhaps contradict, what appears to take place in the part of the city and landscape seen in the larger profile. For example, one of the signs prohibits the cleaning or filleting of fish along a section of the shoreline; another specifies the protective clothing, including shirts with sleeves and long pants, that must be worn in a certain area; and another lists the procedures a pedestrian should follow to cross the street in traffic, concluding with thanking the driver.

Each pair of photographs is mounted on a plexiglass panel the size of a door and lit from behind. The seven panels stand in the shipping container leaning against the walls, three on each long side and one at the end. A map of St. John's Harbour, with the surrounding land and sea, is centered on the floor, oriented to the photographs. The order of the photographs around the shipping container coincides with the contour of the harbour so that the visitor standing in the container is presented with a coherent portrait of many natural and human features that encircle St. John's Harbour.

Marlene Creates, 1996