‘Amazing landscape’ inspires Sitka Center resident artists

The five new residents, who will introduce themselves Wednesday, include an underwater photographer and an artist whose work is linked to animals

Artists Isabelle Hayeur and Felix Prater, who began residencies at the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology this week, both journeyed from afar to practice their craft at the retreat dedicated to fostering creativity, curiosity, and education.

They are among five new residents who will stay through May 1. Others are whale researcher Fred Sharpe, writer Matt Jones, and mixed-media artist Brenda Mallory. On Wednesday, Jan. 23, the group will share a bit about themselves at the Resident Show & Tell at 6 p.m. in the Boyden Center.

Residents spend from 2 weeks to 3-1/2 months making art, composing music, writing, or conducting research without the limitation of a product-driven residency, program coordinator Sara Haug said. “Residents are given the time and space to explore creative pursuits that are enhanced by the Sitka Center’s mission of existing in space dedicated to the intellectual pursuits of art, ecology, and the fusion of both.”

Isabelle Hayeur often works in waders in her quest to photograph life underwater.

Residents do not receive a stipend but are provided a private, fully furnished cabin and a studio or workspace for the duration of their residency.

If you can’t make Wednesday’s gathering — apologies for the short notice — you’ll have another chance when residents do final presentations April 27 in the Boyden Studio. In the meantime, here’s a look at two of the artists visiting our coast.

Hayeur is a photographer and experimental videographer whose 10-year project is centered on the “aquatic landscapes” that have been affected by man. To get here from her home in Montreal, she spent a week on the road.

She learned about Sitka via the Internet and applied because she was interested in the center’s focus on art and ecology, she said.

Isabelle Hayeur, “Spirogyra,” photograph, 2015.

“I was interested also because it seemed like an amazing place, amazing landscape, and now that I have seen it, I can tell you it is amazing, for sure,” Hayeur said. “Also because it was close to the Pacific and I take underwater photography.”

My first thought on hearing that was something like: Uh-oh. Do you know our water? That it is cold and big and usually pretty rough?

Of course she did. She is, after all, from Canada, which can be pretty cold itself.

“I don’t dive,” Hayeur explained. “I just go in shallow water and I shoot plants, animals, and wildlife. Sometimes I snorkel. Here, I don’t plan to snorkel. I have a chest wader, I go in the water with it and it is fine.”

Hayeur’s interest in shooting water grew out of living 20 years by the once-pristine Mille Îles River in Quebec.

“Slowly it became very polluted and altered,” Hayeur said. “I always wanted to do a project about what is happening to bodies of water. When I was younger, I worked for Greenpeace. It really opened my mind to all the ecological problems, the crisis we’re facing. After I studied art, naturally it was the environmental problems and what was happening to nature that became my focus.”

Prater, who calls himself a multi-media ecological artist, divides his time between Manchester, England, and Berlin, Germany. It took him 45 hours to get here, flying from the U.K. with stops in Madrid, Boston, and Minneapolis before reaching Portland.

Like Hayeur, he was drawn to Sitka for its focus on arts and ecology, and, of course, the setting.

“The landscape really attracted me,” said Prater, who supports himself by busking. “The idea of being somewhere so beautiful and surrounded by like-minded people, to have the time and space, and be able to explore the area seemed like a great opportunity.”

Felix Prater, who splits his time between England and Germany, supports his art and himself by busking.

Just two days before boarding the plane, Prater and friends finished a full-length musical film, The Web of Life, and even managed to show it in Manchester and London before he left.

The musical is a story of two foxes, played by Prater and a friend in costume, who embark on a journey to create a musical about the web of life.

“As they write the musical, different guides help them along the way, such as a pair of beavers, a crow, a tree, and the mycelium network growing underneath it,” Prater said. “In amongst this, the characters are visited by an evil manifestation of self-doubt, who puts down their dreams and mocks their romantic view of nature. We wanted to create an engaging and easily accessible film that through the comedy and songs allows deeper themes to be subtly absorbed.”

Felix Prater’s short film “1 of 8.4 Million” pairs 48 animal eyes and their heartbeats.

Prater isn’t sure what he’ll work on while here, having learned in the past that plans don’t always pan out. Each of his projects is different. They have included work in film, performance, music, poetry, collage, painting, and installation. Each shares an overarching tie to animals, he said. For example, his short film 1 of 8.4 million pairs photos of animals’ eyes with a soundtrack of their heartbeats (octopus: 110; horse: 40).

Sitka Center is accepting applications for its next residencies through April 16.

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This activity is supported in part by a grant from the Oregon Cultural Trust, investing in Oregon’s arts, humanities and heritage, and the Lincoln County Cultural Coalition.

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