View from the Street: A Sense of Place

View from the street:
“A Sense of Place – St. Jacobs Country”
by Darin White

Nothing happens in isolation. The most interesting things happen at intersections. Here is one of the most intriguing projects of Waterloo Region that in all likelihood you have not yet discovered. A Sense of Place is a project out of Inter Arts Matrix connecting creative explorers from different disciplines. These active observers experienced the village of St. Jacobs and surrounding countryside and then expressed their reaction. Left to right are Colin Labadie (composer), Amanda Jernigan (poet), Sarah Kernohan (visual artist) and Matt Borland (engineer).

I'm Darin White, photographer, storyteller, and I'm doing a little guest blogging for Inter Arts Matrix. While I caught up with a presentation of this project at Felt Lab in October 2015, it was connections new and old that got me there. One week before this session, my friend Rob Gorbet who runs the Knowledge Integration program at the University of Waterloo said “I want to introduce Matt Borland as I feel you two should know each other.” At our first coffee meetup, Matt invited me to this talk at Felt Lab. I was delighted to learn that my friend Sarah Kernohan was involved with the project. I first met Sarah when she agreed to speak at an event I cooked up that brought artists and makers together to speed-talk about their work, but mostly to meet each other.

Rounding out the friend-connection here is Isabella Stefanescu, Artistic Director of Inter Arts Matrix and creative super-connector who pulled together this team. The point of all this context: these rich intersections of people and perspectives that put me in the room to hear about this project reflect the structure of the working group itself and really the broader magic of Inter Arts Matrix.

In fact, I experienced my own sense of place here much broader than St. Jacobs. The Venn Diagram of Waterloo Region includes a lot of overlap of expertise and interest.

Dr. Jill Tomasson Goodwin (centre) is the research contact at Felt Lab for the University of Waterloo's Research Entrepreneurs Accelerating Prosperity (REAP) program. She's chatting here with Amanda and Sarah. So we see developing intersections beyond this project with the academic world.

Even the venue, housed within Quarry Integrated Communications, highlights an intersection with private industry.

It was particularly interesting to see the toolset that each person brought to the project.

Amanda, as a poet, saw word structure in Mennonite hymns. Particularly impactful was a visit to an Old Order Mennonite cemetery where simple headstones are traditionally inscribed with the days, months and years in the life of those who have passed on. Amanda and Colin are working on a collaboration called Years, Months, Days that will lead to a choral piece composed by Colin with words by Amanda.

Sarah's drawings are often based on landscape and geological processes. Her interpretation of the team's visit to the Steed and Evans aggregate pit would be different and complementary to Matt's understanding of that site as an engineer who has visited many such sites in the course of his professional work.

Intersections brought this team together and influenced the collective interpretations and work that has come out of the project. Some of these intersections have spawned new projects beyond A Sense of Place. Colin and Matt, with a common interest in electronic music, created the Waterloo Tape Music Club in January 2016.

Colin looped in his friend Jordan Mandel from UW's Digital Media Lab. Jordan and Matt had met at an earlier Felt Lab session. So the intersections continue to ripple out from this work.

Constructive intersections are evident even in the project acknowledgements of those who offered support.

Awash in intersections, I started to wonder about the audience connections. What other first-time meetings happened that day? What seeds were laid for future projects?

At a meta-level, a successful project like this one serves as a model or maybe a critical nugget of encouragement for other collaborations.

I haven't told you about all of the outcomes of this work. I always like to leave interested readers with a concrete next step, but in this case the project is still evolving. You'll have to take ownership for your own intersection with A Sense of Place. The best approach is to follow Inter Arts Matrix on Facebook or on Twitter or join their email list.

One particular element I'll be watching for is this collaboration of Colin's haunting music/sound composition with Matt's mesmerizing video of a barley field.

My still photo of this MicroTile display doesn't do this piece justice. It is beautiful.

Maybe that's my concrete action for you, dear reader. Let's find a great space to share this piece and create new intersections.