Interventions in Western Newfoundland’s Built Environment

Cameron Forbes; Photo submitted by Cameron Forbes

The term Built Environment refers to spaces and infrastructures developed by humans. The built environment can range in scale from highway networks to fishing stages, and even a sandcastle built at the beach. In Professor Forbes’ art practice, she considers human interventions with the natural landscape and already developed environments as a creative act. In her current project Active Site: Interventions in the Built Environment Forbes’ key question is to understand what the built environment means in Western Newfoundland.

From 2008-2010 Cameron Forbes worked as the executive director of Art City, a not-for-profit centre in Winnipeg, which hosted artists from around the world to run workshops where the entire community was invited. Community members with creative skills and practices were also invited to host workshops. The space was more about making art together than final exhibitions. While there, she worked with the city and other stakeholders to maintain the momentum of the art making space.

Prof. Forbes’ paintings and drawings have observed the landscape and people’s relationship with it, which led to her often working with buildings and windows. She particularly paid attention to the windows, which work as the frame to see the interaction of the outside and inside. She is interested in how painting reflects meaning for people and uses painting as a way to activate space rather than simply mounting art exhibitions.

In 2013, Prof. Forbes went back to academia and earned an MFA at Concordia University in Montreal. There she was able to further her studies in the relationship to urban spaces and people while using an abandoned hotel as a medium for her thesis.

Studies from the Maritime Plaza Hotel, Cameron Forbes 2016,  Watercolour, gouache, acrylic and mixed media on paper and board: Photo submitted by Cameron Forbes

Recently, Prof. Forbes received a SSHRC grant to further her studies of the built environment.

“This project is a mixture between teaching, painting, and community engagement. It’s bringing all three aspects together because they are equally important to me.” 

The SSHRC grant will allow Prof. Forbes to work with students by bringing them outside the classroom, getting them to know people through talking about landscape and architecture, and learn things like building techniques from community members. Her interest lies in how communities think about, and develop the landscape.

The first stage of the project will consist on documenting ways in which local communities creatively build structures that are used in everyday life.

“Is it creative work to build a shed in relation to the environment?”  

She asked.

During the first year of the research, Prof. Forbes plans to facilitate art workshops in collaboration with community partners to develop an archive of creative interventions in the environment. The emerging built environment sites will be documented through stories and images, which will be digitally archived. The second year of the project will involve a collaboratively built site intervention, and developed in partnership with the City of Corner Brook.

Collaboratively built structures from the two-week residency program, Collective Assembly at Artscape Gibraltar Point, April 2018. Through group-oriented workshops, Forbes and other participants were introduced to basic woodworking skills and timber frame construction methods. The outcome of this residency was to collaboratively build a temporary pavilion for the Gibraltar Point grounds; Photo submitted by Cameron Forbes

The research will be supported by MFA students, and some Grenfell faculty such as Dr. Roza Tchoukaleyska, who has a broad background working with public spaces in a social and cultural context. Ms. Forbes is also working with architectural consultant Sabrina Richard.

Prof. Forbes wants to emphasize through this project how art becomes an entire experience that goes beyond framed artwork. Artwork involves everything around painting, from taking a bus to arrive at an art studio to talking to the people around. Art allows people to make their own stories.

“so we want to gather a lot of visual information because it is a visual project”

Said Ms. Forbes. She also reiterated that since this project is in its very beginning stages, many questions are still wide open, but the development of social networks is one of the most important outcomes of the research.

Written by Mayra Sanchez; Additional editing by Cameron Forbes.

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