This week, a group of five artists are sleeping in a ferry’s solarium, chatting with strangers and admiring the mountains and waterways of the Inside Passage as they head for their final destination: Sitka.
These five are almost done with their Tidelines Journey, a unique, ferry-based artist residency in Southeast Alaska with stops in Ketchikan, Juneau, Gustavus and Sitka. Each place, artists discuss the tour’s theme with the local communities: “Signal To Noise: Silence and Interference in Southeast Alaska.”
The theme comes from the term “signal-to-noise,” the ratio that compares the decibel level of a certain signal, like a radio signal, to the decibel level of the background noise interfering with it. Hosting the Tidelines Journey through the Island Institute in Sitka, director Peter Bradley said this year’s theme has naturally evolved from last year’s: climate and culture. Bradley designed this year’s theme with painter Nina Elder, another one of the five travellers.
“We wanted to come up with something that had more entry points, sort of a broader idea that is relevant to our times but most people aren’t sort of looking at or investigating,” he said. The group uses the theme as “a guiding metaphor” since it has applications on multiple fronts, he said. Some are technology, politics, and environment.
On environment, Bradley said he and Elder “were talking with a birder up in Homer who has been recording bird songs for 40 years and she has a very hard time now capturing clean audio of birds without interference.”
Bradley used the example of being constantly connected through technology as a kind of signal-to-noise ratio. He said he’s found it interesting how different people’s takes on theme are no matter where they go. In Gustavus at a bed and breakfast, the owner commented how with the rise of technology, people are more connected with their gadgets than with each other at mealtimes. In Ketchikan, one person related the theme to Alzheimer’s its resulting language loss, which could also be said to create a signal-to-noise effect.
Bradley, Elder, Billy Joe Miller (artistic medium: sculptor), Jimmy Riordan (augmented reality, letterpress and translation), and Wendy Given (photographer, sculptor) created what Bradley compared to a book club. They selected readings they thought related to the theme, and which they discuss in preparation for the presentations.
“It’s not a productive residency like most residencies,” Bradley said on Tidelines Journey. “The purpose is not to generate more work, it’s to generate new experiences and new inspiration which will hopefully sit with the artists for a long time. I think that’s been true so far, floating on the coastline on a ferry. Having that time for space and conversation within the group and with communities I think has been very inspiring.”
For sculptor Miller, the residency has been a powerful experience. He has interpreted the theme of the residency as “listening.”
“I just think that (listening) is such a perfect way of going into any new place, especially considering we’re meeting these new communities. There are five of us, and we’re all bouncing off our experiences on one another and learning together. It’s been a huge educational experience for me.”
In terms of art, he wants to use listening as a way to approach his work because it “makes you take a step out of yourself. … I think if you’re really listening then at least there is more of a chance that you’ll see something. … it’s less about the person and the ego and it just opens up a better framework,” he said.
As the tour progresses throughout Southeast, the group stops in different communities to hold talks on the theme of “Signal To Noise.” They have already presented at the Main Street Gallery in Ketchikan, the Juneau Arts & Humanities Council, and the Gustavus Public Library and local schools. On April 26, the group will arrive in Sitka for a week of activities.
Elder said she thinks the presentations the artists do resonate with the communities.
“From my point of view these community conversations are art,” Elder said. “There’s not a painting or photograph that is more valuable or different than creating a new understanding in a community. That’s a lot of what we’re talking about, how infusing curiosity and introspection can result in a creative experience. I think all of us are inspired and it will definitely inspire our practice moving forward.”
For more information, go to: iialaska.org/tidelines.