islandness is a living experiment. An open platform spanning the North Atlantic, this project explores life on two northern islands through the art practices of two islanders: Jane Walker (NL) and Vivian Ross-Smith (Shetland Islands). Between August and October 2017 in Newfoundland the artists will host a series of community-based workshops, a community seafood meal, and a collaborative exhibition. Walker and Ross-Smith come together to engage in dialogues about art, islandness and contemporary rurality in the Shetland Islands and in Newfoundland. Both artists use traditional processes and adapted materials of northern island culture such as fish skin preservation and rug hooking in their individual practices. Following several weeks of collaboration,  experimentation, and community engagement in Newfoundland an exhibition in St. John’s will feature new and recent works by Walker and Ross-Smith involving alternative textiles, bronzes, fish skin preservation and project documentation.
The project is experiential and personal for the artists and the communities involved.  Everyday life, rhythms, gathering places and local experiences will become central to the project, whether that is through participation in a workshop, attending the community supper, or taking the time to consider what it means to be an islander in shared conversations.

I’ve always enjoyed using Instagram in my practice – Its like a digital sketchbook for me, I can capture the places that inspire my work, I can curate the images I take to tell a story and allow followers to understand my visual language. I also find it a very useful tool as an artist working from a remote location, the internet connects my ideas with others and allows me to be part of a network rather than feel isolated and out of the contemporary art loop.
I first communicated with Jane Walker by ‘liking’ some of her photos taken on Fogo Island – a place I’d been lusting over for some time (and still am). Through that initial gesture and hint that we might be interested in the same spaces, ways of thinking and seeing things, Jane got in touch with me, leading to many shared emails, which developed into my being part of Jane’s research she was conducting for her masters degree. Jane visited me in Shetland where she interviewed me for her thesis, this turned into far more of a conversation however and after semi-abandoning the pre-written questions, Jane turned off the recording device and declared “we are just talking now!”. By the end of our first meeting we had already laid down the basis for islandness. I left feeling energised and excited that two such apparently remote places could all of a sudden feel so connected.

Over the coming year we kept in touch, Jane returned to Newfoundland and I stayed on in Shetland. From separate locations we considered our islands and the sea that connects our two places. We had already decided I had to come to Newfoundland, had to make the journey so we could share that space. I’ve always considered islands to be linked – more so than cities or urban areas. The seemingly negative space of sea is the thing that islands and islanders have in common. It is the connecting factor.

We were accepted to exhibit collaboratively at Eastern Edge Gallery, St John’s. The project was becoming a reality! We both knew that artwork wasn’t enough – this needed to be a full project, a gesture to the places and communities within that we wanted to know and understand how these islands could work together. With the support of our curator Penny Smart, we developed a series of events to lead up to the exhibition, which will allow me a chance as a visitor to get a feeling for Newfoundland and allow myself and Jane some real time to work together and understand each other as people and artists.


The following events will take place between August and October 2017, we invite you to be part of islandness:

Bonavista Peninsula
Fish Skin as Art and Craft with the Bonavista Biennale
Keels Hall, Keels NL
Friday, August 25th, 2017
1 – 4 pm
As part of Pam Hall’s The Knowledge Exchange, Vivian Ross-Smith offers a drop-in workshop based on her use and experimentation with fish skin as a material connected to island life. Explore traditional fish skin preservation techniques and learn how Ross-Smith incorporates fish skin into new forms of artwork and craft.

Community Supper and Conversation
In partnership with For a New Earth and Shirley Ryan and Diane Cuff of Susie’s Cafe
Susie’s Cafe, Route 235, Birchy Cove NL
Friday, August 25th, 2017
6 pm
RSVP event
What does being an islander mean to you? Join us for a meal and discussion about islandness, fishing, traditional skills and being a Newfoundlander in the 21st century.

St. John’s
New experiments in rug hooking, fish skins, and nets
Workshop in partnership with Island Rooms of Petty Harbour – Fishing For Success
Eastern Edge Gallery, St. John’s, NL
Thursday, September 14th, 2017
6 – 9 pm
Join artists Jane Walker and Vivian Ross-Smith for a drop-in, hands-on workshop exploring fish skin preservation and rug hooking as traditional materials reconfigured and re-purposed in contemporary art. Local organization Fishing for Success will be on hand to explore other skills of our island fishery such as knots and nets.

islandness exhibition
September 16 – October 11 2017
Eastern Edge Gallery, St. John’s NL
Opening Reception: Saturday, September 16, 2017
6-9 pm, Artist talk at 7pm

an islandness publication funded by ArtsNL and produced by Nothing New Projects will feature exhibition documentation and an in-depth look at the community supper and workshops through images, critical text, and words from islandness participants.
Please contact Eastern Edge Gallery to pre-order a copy.


See more on islandness in my new ‘Projects‘ website section and follow us at @islandnessart on Instagram.

Further reading:

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