The days of autumn were speeding by faster and faster, sweet with sun as the evenings grew longer and colder; and the email thread between Sharon, me, Alex Chisholm, Candace Roberts and Ari De La Mora regarding Gathering Place Community Centre’s first annual Festival of Hallows at Emery Barnes Park coalesced into a face to face meeting with a timeline and a plan.
EartHand had been invited to participate in the festival some months ago. As the project budget took shape, event managers Alex Chisholm and Candace Roberts decided they wanted to have a large installation of natural materials and flowers that would anchor the smaller personal shrines created by community members in workshop series leading up to the Festival on October 31.
Sharon and I agreed that this opportunity was better suited to being handled by one of us individually as a commission, rather than by EartHand, and she invited me to take it. I was very excited to partner with Ari de la Mora, and to tackle the technical challenges of a large scale weaving project with very specific design parameters: the structure had to be modular and safely freestanding, easy to anchor into the ground; something we would be able to erect on site within a few hours and then dismantle quickly at the end of the evening; and able to fit underneath a 10×10 pop-up tent in case of rain. It was a large and refreshing departure from my usual community-engaged, research and education-based practice to use my mind and skills to fulfill a design brief like this; the more subtle aspects of what I was presenting, how I would be influencing the mood of the gathering with such a large structure, I hoped to discover as part of the process.
What came to mind to fulfill the design requirements was a circular lattice like a yurt wall, similar to one that I had participated in creating at the UBC Orchard Garden in 2013 under the direction of mathematician George Hart. This would allow for a stable free-standing structure without the need for braces or buttressing, and could collapse flat for transport and storage. I sketched it out for the others as we stood in the park, trying to describe how I saw it in my head, like a lantern glowing from within, patterns of light and dark; Ari said, “That seems like a beautiful invitation.”
I created a scale model of the structure to confirm the number of poles and joints that I would need, and a detailed project plan for gathering all the materials and assembling them into the form over the course of four days prior to the Festival. I was fortunate to have the help of an assistant for laying out and lashing the lattice wall.
I made an arch of willow and framed it into the opening of the lattice, which provided the foundation for Ari to create a flower arch inspired by traditional Oaxacan Dia de los Muertos shrines.
The outside was covered in a skin made from the offcuts from the bamboo poles I had harvested from Means of Production Garden for the lattice wall, lashed together with clematis and ivy from Vancouver Park Stewards at Everett Crowley Park. To keep the structure collapsable, the skin was created separately and lashed to the bamboo lattice frame just for the installation. Two assistants helped me with this part of the project.
More flowers, strings of LED lights, candles, tables and cloths to hold the community shrines completed the effect. The arrangement of the tables arose spontaneously as we were installing on the afternoon of the event, and all of us were very pleased with the way they framed the arch and enhanced the invitation to the space.
I stayed for the entire evening of the Festival, observing the way the space changed as the daylight faded into dusk, the streetlights came on, the lights in the woven skin glowed, the candles were lit on the community shrines and inside the lattice wall of the sanctuary space. People came over and were drawn into it, standing amid the gentle glow of the candles and strings of lights inside, marvelling at the flower arch and taking selfies in it. I was surprised at how comfortable people seemed with it, like it was a big playhouse, a slight membrane to shield them and create a sense of coziness, but permeable enough to feel safe, knowable, public; it was, as Ari had said, “a beautiful invitation.”
I met with Alex and a few others for a debriefing a few weeks afterwards. Among the images that arose was of people bringing their own candle shrines to include as part of the candle labyrinth at the event, and the vibrancy of the arch that Ari and I had created; it was suggested that next year, the edges of the labyrinth be defined with a low barrier of some kind, and the entrances be framed with arches, to create a motif that repeats as part of the aesthetic and character of the event. I look forward to seeing how these ideas unfold next year.
For my part, I would like to reconnect with my vision of the sanctuary space as a lantern, perhaps sacrificing some of the gentle character of this year’s installation to explore something with more light, power, and contrasts — perhaps more like a bonfire than a lantern. And I would like to enhance the playhouse/otherworld atmosphere of it, finding some way to leverage that atmosphere into some kind of engagement of the festival goers. What kind of actions would be enhanced by the structure? what kind of experience would I like people to have in relation to the occasion, the theme? Something free and daring, personal and yet public, like graffiti.
Transition, celebration, honour;
marking time and place, marking transitions;
looking back, looking ahead;
a place to leave messages, to speak truths;
to celebrate, reveal, release.