Sue Corr

Sue Corr in Meduse

Sue Corr - Méduse Report 2008

January to April 2008

Getting to know snow

I am going to bang on about the weather. Snow, snow, snow and more snow.

Although snow and ice has figured in my work in the past few years I had actually put forward a grand ambitious proposal that had nothing to do about snow. But what’s a girl to do when over 500cm falls and your whole world for three months evolves around snow. And I was lured before I even landed in Quebec.

On my journey to Canada I was lucky enough to fly over the tip of Greenland, apparently they only do this under certain weather conditions. My visual dance began with a sighting of Greenland glaciers and unable at the time to photograph these amazing phenomena, I made a note of the places using the in-flight tracker screen, Godthab, Bagotville, and Hobush hoping to access them in some way on my arrival. These became my initial source of inspiration aided by Google earth.

The subsequent downloaded images are evocative of Hokusai’s Japanese prints, and interestingly I had already expressed a desire to incorporate the thin transparency of Japanese paper within my work.

I arrived minus my luggage, although I had actually seen it in Montreal so I knew at least it was in Quebec, was met at the airport and driven to my wonderful loft apartment in Meduse overlooking Quebec City.

My initial response to this strange and unfamiliar environment and experience supercharged my senses.

Whilst I appreciated Quebec City’s comforting European ambience, there was still a great urgency in the first few days to make it familiar to me. Yi Fu Tuan in his book, Space and Place, discusses the notion of the intimacy we have with our local landscape: that we have a practical knowledge of it, and make a mental map in our minds to negotiate our sense of this place. I had temporarily lost my mental map.

Interestingly as snow imposes itself upon the landscape a once familiar place is transformed into a completely new environment, and becomes an annual winter experience for the local residents.

I have never seen so much snow in all my life. Actually the Quebecois had never seen so much snow either; there was a record fall of 500 cm this year. In my three months there only three days of rain fall, for the rest it was snowing or cloudless skies with glorious sunshine.

I became enraptured with the snow. Whilst the Quebecois were beside themselves with despair, continually donning their boots and shovels wondering where on earth to pile it next after each snowfall, I got to know it, got to revel in it and ultimately be thoroughly inspired by it.

"Snow is the most beautiful thing in the world. But we must get to know it, learn to consider it, give it the shape of our dreams. Above all we must listen as it falls" (Alan Grandbois) *

I listened and watched in awe as it fell.

Visual Research Gathering:

Juan Munoz ** stated that:

"I did spend many days walking up and down but I could not envisage anything. I did what I believe many artists probably do, and walked through endless amounts of books and through the streets, taking in all of the little incidents and accidents of everyday life. You hope that images will resonate in your mind and that they will help to lead you on, to find some shape or form to begin with". **

My first walk

(I thought about these three words and it sounds like "baby’s first walk" – however one literally had to learn how to walk in certain conditions otherwise you would end up on your backside, I did just once) Strolling down the street was an interesting and potentially hazardous experience.

Armed with a small concertina sketchbook made the previous evening with the idea of recording my walk, I embarked on an adventure up a kind of cliff-side lift to old Ville de Quebec; although I wasn’t quite sure of the feasibility of drawing given the temperature – 29.

However it became rapidly obvious that this was not an option as my fingers began to lose their feeling; a note from my journal:

"Tried to draw a wrapped tree, lasted about three minutes and needed wrapping myself. My walking sketchbook is going to have to be metaphoric I think, a journey of the mind rather than the feet".

I walked through the fortification walls towards the chateaux, past an ice slope being prepared for some mad skating event for next months’ festival, towards the St Lawrence River. I had no idea I was about to be exposed to the most spectacular sight I could ever imagine. This awesomely huge river was glistening in the sunshine with creaking ice floats swarming towards the ocean.

It was breathtakingly cold and I couldn’t stand still for long. Lip balm was solidifying on my lips and toes were beginning to freeze.

The impact the river had on me visually and emotionally made it of paramount importance to get on it and or travel across it and it became central to consequent work. A few days later I was crossing the river on the ferry enchanted by the mini icebergs.

Quebec City’s wrapped trees had immediately engaged my attention.

‘Ville De Quebec’s’ very own Christo installation perhaps? They really became compelling and I became a wrapped tree obsessive. I walked round the city collecting images, some of them dishevelled, trying to discard their wrappers, breaking out, some standing upright, others bent and curved, their survival questionable. I began to associate these covered trees as a metaphor of my experience here.


Armed with visual research I felt ready to begin work in the print room.

Things were in a state of flux at Engramme when I arrived and frustratingly my initial proposal had to go on the back burner. I was also disappointed to discover on arrival that the centres only technician was about to leave Canada for a while and would be unavailable for most of my stay. I had been hoping to fill in all the gaps missing in my technical knowledge.

However on reconsidering my options I realised that one has to work round what is available (it makes life easier) and this might bring an unexpected surprise. I know it is a bit of a cliché but especially in this instance it was the journey that was important, the process more than the result. Observing and absorbing what has been felt and seen.

I spent the first couple of weeks familiarizing myself with a new work place and regime, learning the French for various substances and sundries. I signed up for a pronto workshop (polyester litho plate printing) and grasped at my limited French to try and follow. I made many test prints experimenting with this process.

The screen print area was down and out of action and as I knew little of lithography I made myself at home working in the etching room. There was no set up for safe etching and difficulty in obtaining things like copper sulphate, zinc and the like. Towards the end of my stay Cynthia Dinan Mitchell returned from Australia armed with new skills in safe etching and we exchanged knowledge and ideas.

In the meantime I decided that collagraphs seemed the easiest option to start working with. Using a wonderful thick 3mm grey board veneered with a semi matt white surface I made some relief plates echoing the shifting shapes of the creases found in glaciers. I produced a varied series of prints, blank embossing with the plates before inking.

Soon after arriving an invitation to model for a local portrait group, run by Pierre Lanoie a well known Quebecois artist, and a discovery of Kiki Smith’s printmaking in her book, ‘Prints, Books and Things’, sparked off a very unexpected series of self portraits.

These alarmingly became incorporated within my prints. The work was beginning to take on a figurative angle and engage with contextual issues, forcing me to think in fresh way. I had embarked on a voyage of unexpected personal discovery and technical and creative challenge.

The print rooms were fairly quiet and it was a productive, enjoyable environment to work in, clean and tidy. The Quebecois artist Carl Heywood visited while I was there with a paper- making colleague called David Carruthers who invited me for soup if I visited Montreal. Well there was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

I discovered he owned the St Armand Paper making mill, made a note of its location and set off to visit. The building was placed in an old industrial area of Montreal beside a canal. The entrance was sunk below the level of the road, an old metal door with the words St Armand scribed graffiti-like in bright red. It looked quite ominous but David’s hospitality was overwhelming and he enthusiastically took me round the mills’ nooks and crannies describing each part of the paper making process as we went. He lovingly restores various old machines among them one for rag pulping and an enormous fourdrinier which originates from Scotland.

And after spending lengthy time showing me round we then went out for soup. Carl was intrigued by the way I was incorporating chin colle with the collagraph process and suggested I would enjoy a visit to Atelier Circulaire in Montreal. This entailed exploring another part of Montreal off the beaten track.

Once again I was met with an overwhelming friendliness and enthusiasm to share the space and its activity. It is a lovely print centre, with stunning views over the eastern part of the city. One of the ateliers members, Wing, took me round the atelier and showed his work, mainly collagraph plates and prints. His hospitality knew no bounds as he introduced me to the owners of the local Japanese paper shop, where we made a pact to share paper and print together and then out for coffee.

It was good to talk to Wing. His command of English was excellent and it was refreshing for me to be able to have a relaxed printmaking conversation. I had no idea that so little English was spoken in Quebec and whilst I was determined to learn French avec Michel Thomas loaded on my mac and ipod I soon realised that this was too big of a mountain for me to climb.

I had an equally wonderful and inspiring time at Trois Rivieres as a guest of Jo Ann Lanneville at Presse Papier, lunch and lively chat with some of the centres members and being shown round the atelier. This print centre has some very innovative and exciting projects behind it of which I would like to be a part of in the future.

Desperately trying to make inroads towards my proposal.

Referencing the impact on the senses of my experience here I decided to try and record the sound of the ferry ploughing its way through the mini icebergs on the St Lawrence. It was a bit of a struggle getting technical help so I took the situation into my own control and ventured into the recording organisation, ‘Avatar’ in Meduse who kindly lent me a sound recorder (which I was firmly informed was worth $2000). Access to the riverside was not easy, so instead of ice floats creaking I recorded the sounds of footsteps in the snow.

Imagine: Lone woman walking along with a small machine pointed at feet, occasionally plunging thigh deep in snow frantically waving recorder above head so as not to damage it in any way.

These sounds formed part of my presentation at the end of the residency.

What an amazing, unique experience of a lifetime. It was incredibly intense. My emotions ranged from disappointment and frustration to that of euphoric. The intensity of which affected me in a curious way, even more so since returning. Last year I established that taking things to the edge had been my challenge, and this year was going to be about taking things over the edge. And whilst regrettably the resources were not available to fulfil my proposal maybe I have been very close to achieving my challenge. It’s good to get beyond your experiences, your habits and the daily grind of your own studio.

The last week of April 6th saw signs of spring approaching (tulips don’t bloom here till June) and the snow began to thaw. I was heartbroken. How strange, snow melts and the sounds of the city begins to emerge, birdsong is fair deafening – where have they all sprung from and where have they been these last few months? The snow-melt seemed like a metaphor for my departure. Quebec and its snow have captured my soul. In the clichéd words of Schwarzenegger, "I’ll be back", without a shadow of a doubt.

All work has been experimental, I can’t wait to discover the long term outcome over the next couple of years. It is hoped that I meet with Lise Vezina during her Glaswegian residency this summer. I’m excited to have worked with Denise Pelletier who has kindly invited me to collaborate with her and a colleague in Romania, Maria Nichita. And look forward to my print exchange with Wing. Experienced a wonderful friendship, inspiration and collaboration with Madeleine Samson.

I still feel very emotional about my stay in Quebec, what a privilege. I would like to thank very much, all the people who made it possible. To everyone at Wales Arts International, Engramme and especially those who helped me out and shared their time with me.

* Alan Grandbois: Quoted on an installation in the Musee de la Civilisation, Ville de Quebec

** Juan Munoz: 'Double Bind at Tate Modern' Catalogue, 'A Conversation, May 2001"

By Sue Corr

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