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B.C. visual artists explore wildfires at Wells art gallery

Fire Season will be the final summer exhibition at Island Mountain Arts
Liz Toohey-Wiese is among the eight artists that will be featured at Island Mountain Arts beginning Thursday, Aug. 25. (Photo submitted)

Two Vancouver-based artists want to reflect on the past, present, and future ways we understand wildfires in B.C.

Amory Abbott and Liz Toohey-Wiese are visual artists who have explored the topic of wildfires in their art practice. In 2019, they began discussing the idea of creating an artist book that would center around the topic of wildfires, and invited artists, writers, researchers, and community members who had been impacted by wildfire to contribute their insights on how to make sense of the increased prevalence and severity of wildfire on the B.C. landscape.

The first issue of Fire Season was published in fall 2020, and the second issue will be released this month at the inaugural “Fire Season” art exhibition at Island Mountain Arts.

Toohey-Wiese believes that artists can have important roles in relation to wildfires.

“The information being shared by scientists and researchers I talk to is often quite abstract,” Toohey-Wiese said. “It is difficult to understand the impacts of these fires in numbers of hectares burnt, degrees of climate warming, millions of dollars spent on fire fighting. I believe art can be a form of storytelling about wildfire that will be more easily communicated to the public. Often these artists are reflecting on their personal experience with fire and exploring the metaphor of wildfire and how it touches on other aspects of their lives.”

Though thoroughly grounded in Western Canada and the U.S., artists from across the globe have contributed to the first two volumes of Fire Season. The exhibition with Island Mountain Arts will be more local, featuring work from eight B.C.-based artists in mediums varying from written word to weaving, historical marketing campaigns to documentary film; and paintings, charcoal drawings and photography.

“It’s important to see artists and perspectives from urban and rural areas together in these books and this exhibition collection,” says Island Mountain Arts Executive/Artistic Director Elyssia Sasaki. “Rural places do a lot of heavy lifting when it comes to holding paradox (such as wildfire being both destructive and generative) and often feel the effects of our shifting climate in a very tangible and direct way. Projects like this can help bridge that perspective divide.”

Artist and co-curator Amory Abbott also recognizes that this project may have different impacts in rural and urban spaces.

“In cities, wildfires are often a remote concept marked by smoky skies and heat warnings. Among small communities in the interior of B.C., wildfire is an annual threat that pervades the lives, livelihood, and economy of those communities. Where in urban centers, an exhibition like this might be encouraging further empathy and understanding for the other regions of our province, hosting this exhibition in Wells allows us to share the work of our contributors with a community that has experienced wildfire in manifest forms, in a region deeply connected to forests and their management.”

Fire Season is the final exhibition of Island Mountain Arts’ Summer Public Gallery series and will feature the work of Abbott, Toohey-Wiese, Ana Diab, Kerri Flannigan, Eli Hirtle, Kay Penney, Andreas Rutkauskas and Emily Wilson.

The show opens in Wells on Thursday, Aug. 25, with a reception and artist talk at 6 p.m. Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.

Read More: Island Mountain Arts in Wells celebrates 40th anniversary

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