Learning how Nature Speaks to Us
Rocío Graham’s Dialogue with the Landscape
Her residency connected with the sea ania, the flower world, to explore decolonization and community inclusion.
Rocío Graham’s collaboration over an entire year at the Kiyooka Ohe Arts Centre marked the first time a guest artist explored in situ how Nature and art inform each other using the land as a canvas. As an emerging artist, Rocío has been working with a range of media, techniques and styles to address critical and current social issues and the negative human impact on our planet’s climate and environmental future.
To fully appreciate the depth of Rocío’s work at KOAC, we must first contextualize it within the vision of founders Katie Ohe and Hary Kiyooka. A mandate of KOAC is the protection of the environment as a dedicated sculpture park/botanic garden, wetland, woods/sanctuary. That objective is captured in the phrase Art in Nature, which we coined with Katie a couple of years ago after discussions with Harry about his vision for preserving the Centre’s pristine forest.
As a notion, Art in Nature encapsulates the founders’ and KOAC’s ethos: to cultivate a balance between art and Nature by contrasting and harmonizing one with the other. It also conveys the principle that Nature is our Gallery. By allowing visitors to explore the many outdoor pieces of art straddling the 20 acres of the Centre, in a natural setting, on their own and without walls, the intimidation factor that museums or galleries summon on a large swath of the population is considerably reduced. One key objective of the Centre is to inspire the layperson to engage with contemporary arts in its various dimensions and promote the perception that art appreciation does not require an exceptional education.
The Art in Nature concept introduces the no lesser discussion of how to pair art with Nature without competing. Do we prioritize the setting over the art? Who’s got the primacy? All these are questions that every sculpture park faces and that KOAC must answer as it continues to develop.
Rocío Graham’s residency considered all these aspects. She found her connection with the urban forest at KOAC and heard the sound of the resident owls and the shimmering of native trees throughout the four seasons. She brought to KOAC the beauty, variety and intricacy of two botanical gardens. Her interaction through performances in the forest took us on a journey of millenary traditions and the history of cultural continuity and tribal sovereignty of the indigenous peoples who live in what today is a diverse and multicultural Mexico.
One rainy day last summer, Rocio performed the Deer Dance, a sacred tradition among the Mayo Cahitas and Yoremes, which she learned growing up in Tehueco, in the sparsely inhabited hot coastal desert of Sonora. Since times immemorial, the Deer Dance represents the struggle between good and evil and the effect of hunting to secure a proper relationship with the plant and animal worlds. With their movements mimicking the deer’s, the dancers seek to connect with the flower world, the sea ania, to call ancestors and learn about the indispensable balance with Nature because “the collective connection to the natural world is fragmented and frail,” she says.
In summer workshops, Rocío’s gardens introduced the public to invasive species and how these colonized the landscapes where we live. And how we can be respectful guests of this land by caring for our ecosystems in meaningful ways, primarily by rescuing and promoting the growth of native plants. Other artists will use her legacy botanical gardens and maintain and replant them as needed to show how art brings beauty into botanical gardens, adds a human element, tells a story, and creates dialogue.
Watch Rocio performing the deer dance and describing her residency experience at KOAC in the video below.
Rocio Graham is a multidisciplinary artist who splits her time between her farm near Christina Lake in British Columbia and comet-like visits to Calgary, where she has a home. She emigrated to Canada from Mexico in 2002. Graham studied art at Emily Carr University and the Alberta College of Art + Design (now Alberta University of the Arts), where she obtained a Bachelor of Design in Photography. Her cultural heritage, her ancestors’ ways of knowing, her interest in life cycles and her knowledge of botany are all influences on her art practice. She explores the landscape from a body engagement perspective, where labour, mysticism, science and temporality merge. Her community activism and art practice are concerned with creating inclusive spaces and engaging in more extensive conversations about systems of oppression in the art world. She was an emerging artist in residency at the Kiyooka Ohe Arts Centre from August 2020 to September 2021.
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The Kiyooka Ohe Arts Centre is a place for art and artists, for the curious, for the novice and for the expert alike – everyone is welcome to visit, to make, to learn and to talk about contemporary art, whether by traversing our sculpture grounds and gardens, or visiting (when appropriate) with our artists in studio or via our digital forums and workshops.
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