The hills are alive with the sound of global warming in Lisa Lipton’s multimedia installation High on a Hill, in which two alpine yodellers find their mountaintop love affair aborted when the snowy peaks are overtaken by tropical plants. Lipton, a Halifax artist whose work has been shown at a number of venues, including Eastern Edge in St. John’s and the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, incorporates video and performance into this large piece, which dominates the Khyber’s Ballroom Gallery. With a backdrop of mountains painted on the walls and a knitted “glacier” melting white woollen “puddles” onto the floor, the work transforms the room into what’s not quite a mountain landscape, but more a cartoon fantasy of one.
The knitted components of the installation lend a handcrafted touch (Lipton also contributed knitted hockey equipment to last year’s hockey-themed exhibit “Arena”): in addition to the glaciers, small knitted dolls portraying the film’s yodellers traverse the room on ropes. There is also a wooden diorama with holes that viewers can stick their heads through, posing, perhaps, as part of the mountainscape. Lipton wanted viewers to be able to insert themselves into the piece—as she’s done herself by co-starring in the video.
Lipton played viola in the now-defunct indie-rock ensemble i see rowboats and had her bandmate William Robinson compose a score for the video. Since the final edit of the video ended up shorter than the score, she arranged for live performances of the complete score (with Lipton playing alongside Robinson and two other musicians) at the exhibition’s opening and at Halifax’s inaugural late-night art festival Nocturne. The fragile orchestral music recalls Philip Glass’s Koyaanisqatsi scores and filters harmoniously into the natural-disaster atmosphere of Lipton’s piece. The shift from alpine outpost to dense jungle that occurs in the film feels believable and effortless, and the combination of so many media creates almost a Gesamtkunstwerk.
It’s wonderful to see an exhibit that really brings this space to life: the Khyber has been plagued by erratic scheduling and inadequate publicity over the past couple of years. Lipton skilfully articulates a weighty issue through fantasy, tackling it in a way that’s playful and accessible and that appealed to a wide array of audiences—it’s no surprise to learn that the exhibit stemmed from the artist’s love of The Sound of Music and cheesy Hollywood endings.