Dwelling and Transience, Greater Victoria 2000

Commissioned by the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria through the Canada Council for the Arts Millennium Fund.
medium: 50 azo dye (cibachrome) colour photographic prints, each 14 x 20 inches (36 x 51 cm).
installed dimensions: 8 feet high (from floor to top of frames) x 18 feet 4 inches wide (244 cm high x 559 cm wide).
collection: Art Gallery of Greater Victoria

Visiting Victoria, I was struck by something immediately: all the coming and going, especially around the harbour. Seaplanes and fishing boats, international ferries and harbour taxis, pilot boats and canoes, coastguard vessels and windsurfers, kayaks and tug boats, cruise ships and zodiacs, sailboats and freighters, catamarans and naval ships, yachts and, even, floathouses. And that was just on the water. Helicopters, buses, scooters, trains, bicycles, cars, trucks, airplanes, horse drawn carriages, and pedestrians. I learned that there are, for example, forty-five helicopter flights every day between Victoria and Vancouver. I saw countless people on the move at the end of October, and I was just another one of them. I started to look at this carefully, and Victoria, for me, seemed to be, above all, a city of movement.

I live in St. John’s, Newfoundland. Victoria and St. John’s are both harbour cities on large coastal islands, on opposite sides of the country. I wonder about the word insular, which means remote, isolated, and even narrow-minded. It is from the Latin insula, meaning island. But in a world of migrations, I think islands are very interactive places. Unlike landlocked areas, islands are surrounded by contact zones.

Victoria is a city built around the water, and the harbourfront is the main area that tourists visit. But not all the travel and movement taking place is by tourists. Many of the people on the move undoubtedly live in Victoria; therefore the title includes “Dwelling” and “Transience.” This series of fifty photographs records some of the particular inscriptions—touristic, commercial, military, recreational, administrative, preventive, and geopolitical—in Victoria’s distinct landscape relating to the movement of both people and freight at the turn of the millennium.

In my earlier work I wanted to express a connection between people and places. For example, I would ask people about their experiences in specific places—places they may have lived their whole lives—and I would ask them to draw what I call “memory maps” for me. At that time I was trying to form a kind of synthesis between geography and identity. I think that work came from me looking for a zone of belonging. In my recent work, though, I have been interested in the dissonance between image and text—the lack of consistency, that is, between appearance, hidden histories, and invisible stories.

I find that what has been at the heart of my inquiry for many years is the landscape's increasingly complex history as a place of both dwelling and transience—these are situations that give rise to the motifs recurring in my work: presence, absence, displacement, and loss. One of the advantages of being an artist is that one can recast one's losses into other forms. I have come to appreciate my shifting position in relation to my various geopolitical identities: In different places and at different times I am a Newfoundland artist, I am a mainlander, I am an Anglophone born in Montreal, I am a nonnative citizen, I am a homeowner, I am a tourist, I am an adventurer, I am a guest, I am a descendant of outport Newfoundlanders and of working-class Londoners, and I am a St. John’s “downtown girl.” No matter where I am, I have a sense of being provisional, which is both a loss and a liberation.

Marlene Creates, 2000

A publication on this work is available:
Dwelling and Transience, Greater Victoria 2000