Last winter, on a placer mine outside of Dawson City, Nicole Favron set out to shovel a path through snow three feet deep, paralleling the tracks of a moose. She shovelled for two days, in weather that dropped to 40 below, documenting her effort with a short video. The entire process became an art piece called 5.5 hours of shovelling so I can walk in the path of a moose, which Favron made as part of a class in four-dimensional art at the Yukon School of Visual Arts (SOVA).
Favron’s ephemeral, performance-based work is now being recognized by the BMO Financial Group, which announced the Dawson artist as the Yukon winner of the 2020 BMO 1st Art! Competition. The annual competition celebrates outstanding achievement by undergraduate artists from all Canadian provinces and territories. The award includes a $7,500 cash prize for Favron and other regional winners. Favron’s recognition for a performance piece is especially impressive as, prior to taking the class in four-dimensional art, she was accustomed to creating in more traditional two-dimensional formats.
“I loved the performance unit we did, it was really eye-opening,” Favron says. “This is just the first year of art school that I’ve done and going into it, all the art I ever created was two-dimensional, just drawing and painting, which is totally fine. But having these other facets of art opened to me was really interesting. I like the performance and how it isn’t super permanent, and open to interpretation.”
While researching her class project, Favron found inspiration in a British artist named Simon Beck, whose “snow art” involves snowshoeing intricate, football field-sized patterns in the snow. A former runner with an orienteering background, Beck plots his designs on a computer before executing them in the snow. Knowing that she also wanted to work with snow, Favron walked around her family’s placer mine and eventually found her inspiration in some moose tracks travelling through an old settling pond. While she considered creating a pattern, for practical reasons she chose to clear the way with a shovel rather than trying to walk through three feet of snow.
Compared to Beck’s careful planning, Favron’s approach relied more on chance, on the randomness of a moose passing through the placer mine site. The distance Favron shovelled depended on the size of the settling pond; the mine foreman figured her path was about one-and-a-half kilometres long, though the artist thinks it was somewhat less. Whatever the distance, 5.5 hours of shovelling so I can walk in the path of a moose is tied to Dawson as a place. It’s very site-specific, from the frigid winter temperatures to the placer mine setting.
“That’s what made it special for me,” Favron says. ”It was such a unique opportunity in using the resources I had.”
Even as Favron picked up the shovel and started digging, her purpose didn’t emerge until she finished her journey at the end of the settling pond.
“I ended up finding more meaning with it once I was done with it,” Favron explains. “Like with any project I’m doing, I’ll start without a lot of intent and then it kind of becomes clear at the end. Looking back on it, it was definitely about endurance; winters are hard up here. We’re always shovelling.”
Favron’s work references the mental and physical toughness it takes for humans to make it through Yukon winters. She also acknowledges that wildlife move through the snow more effortlessly, without special footwear or tools.
“The idea of an animal being able to walk easily through snow that is three feet deep is impressive. I wanted to translate my awe of this achievement by trying to create something impressive myself.”
The video of Favron’s path, and the work of all the artists selected as winners of the BMO 1st Art! Competition, are being showcased in a virtual exhibition hosted by the Art Museum at the University of Toronto. For Favron, being recognized in a national art competition boosts her confidence in her art practice and encourages her to continue making art.
“It’s quite the honour and I’m super excited. It’s a really big affirming thing knowing that my art is recognized and appreciated. It definitely makes me want to continue. It feels really good.”
The BMO 1st Art! exhibit can be viewed at ArtMuseum.UToronto.ca from Sep 15 to Oct 16.