Navigating Through Forests, Art Pieces, and Sibling Rivalries

A couple of weeks ago my sister Hannah flew up from Vancouver, where she teaches at the Emily Carr University of Art and Design, and spent a few days in the Yukon.

She was busy most of the time — meeting with members of the Yukon Orienteering Association (YOA) — so our sibling hang out sessions were limited. Still, we had a family dinner at my folks’ place and she came to watch me recite a poem (badly) at Brave New Words.

My sister, who graduated from F.H. Collins in 1997, is perhaps best remembered in the Yukon for her stint as KIAC’s artist-in-residence in 2004. Hannah and her collaborator, Valerie Salez, experimented with snow shoveling as an artistic medium. The idea was to take something that most of us consider a chore and reinterpret it as a form of creative expression — or something like that.

The back of my family’s ’87 Toyota Pickup still proudly dons a bumper sticker reading: I’d Rather Be Snow Shoveling.

Since her Dawson City days she has pursued her art elsewhere — Toronto, Portland, Vancouver, and residencies as far flung as Finland. Sometimes I have a vague idea where she is and what she’s up to.

Case in point: a few days ago, I scanned the cork board outside a local coffee shop and noticed my sister’s name on an advertisement for an art show called Traversing Yukon Landscapes. The poster informed me that she is one of seven artists featured at the Yukon Arts Centre’s Public Art Gallery until August 31.

I had almost certainly been told about this event, either by my sister or by my parents, but in the ongoing struggle to stitch my own life together, such details sometimes escape my mind.

I had had a solid run as the sole Jickling sibling in the Yukon arts community, but standing In front of that poster I realized that I would once again be sharing the spotlight with Hannah. A nice short visit is one thing, but I didn’t want her mowing my lawn.

So I went to the exhibit opening on May 16 to check out my sister’s art. My competition.

It turns out much of Hannah’s recent practice has focused on illuminating the overlapping space between the sport of orienteering (in which participants navigate from checkpoint to checkpoint through the woods using specialized maps) and the tradition of landscape artwork. Suddenly the above-mentioned orienteering meetings made more sense.

Her contention is that orienteerers and artists both interpret landscapes using their own language and symbology. But she is interested in the subversive results when the symbols associated with orienteering are applied to art.

In Finland she designed an orienteering course using art pieces as checkpoints. One such checkpoint was a painting of a bridge. On her orienteering map she marked the painting with the symbol orienteerers use to denote an actual, physical bridge.

In the Yukon she hopes to help members of the YOA curate their own show using their orienteering expertise as opposed to their artistic expertise. In this way she hopes to challenge orthodox notions of artistic interpretation.


So am I.

But it turns out she’s coming up to the Yukon for six weeks this summer, so she’ll have plenty of opportunity to explain herself. And despite my earlier bluster about her “mowing my lawn,” I’m looking forward to seeing her more than the status quo — which is once or twice a year.

As is the case with gold coins and pizza slices, two Jickling siblings are better than one.

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