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Features / November 12, 2015

Calgary Artists Light Up the Northern Night

Calgary-based artists Caitlind Brown and Wayne Garrett brought their light-installation project to Dawson City with ethereal results.

Dawson City is no stranger to the deep dark.

On the shortest day of the year, the town only gets four hours of sunlight, which barely registers through the hazy horizon due to its low angle. Calgary-based artists Caitlind Brown and Wayne Garrett were well aware of this when they began working in the Yukon as artists-in-residence at the Klondike Institute of Art and Culture.

“These conditions can have a huge impact on the community (for better and for worse), affecting behavior, social patterns, daily routines, and physical and mental health,” they told Canadian Art. “However, the darkness offers something many cities do not: minimal light pollution, an infinite overhanging tapestry of stars, and a good chance of seeing some breathtaking Northern Lights.”

It offered Brown and Garrett the perfect conditions in which to display their site-specific The Deep Dark, which emerged from series they began developing this summer that sought to “illuminate the interspaces between our sacred (and natural) environments and cultural constructs of darkness.” They began by interviewing participants about our reactions to the dark. Why do we fear the dark? Is darkness a presence or an absence?

First designed as a 600-foot solo night hike at the Banff Centre, The Deep Dark features a series of 12 door frames lined in bright-white LED strips. The contrast of the bright lights and the dark night has a very particular effect, note Brown and Garrett: “Human eyes will overcompensate for each state, and the viewer is temporarily night-blinded. A friend described the experience as remarkably similar to “being photocopied.”

After showing at the Banff Centre, The Deep Dark was installed as a part of Nuit Blanche Saskatoon, but the Yukon showing was less formal.

Installed on short notice, Brown and Garrett were spurred to bring the work to Dawson City upon learning that the KIAC was hosting a youth art workshop, and that these young artists could have a chance to see the piece before heading home.

“Without all the pomp and circumstance of a formal presentation, there’s a good possibility that, over the course of the night, someone (man or beast) stumbled across the piece by accident, glowing on the shores of the Yukon River, and was lured down a mysterious path into The Deep Dark.

“To us, this is wild magic.”