French Toast: Mapping the People

The project, Mapping Inuvik, which is on display at the Yukon Art Centre until early next week, began with a virtual trip to Inuvik along the Mackenzie River.

In 2011, Marie-Hélène Comeau went to participate in the Great Northern Arts Festival in Inuvik. She took some inspiring and colourful aerial pictures with her of different parts of the Mackenzie from the Google Earth mapping program.

“With the creation of Google Earth, we also created a new type of travellers—people can now go on their computer and explore the different region of the globe without even leaving their living rooms,” Comeau says.

“They just have to admire the landscape from a satellite,” says Marie-Hélène.

The artist arrived in Whitehorse in 1992. Since then, she has developed her artistic career and become well known in the Yukon for her colourful and dynamic paintings full of dance, life and music.

With a master’s degree in anthropology as well as a degree in visual and media arts, Comeau attempts to include human/territorial relations, heritage and traditions in her creations.

“For this project, I brought aerial pictures of the Mackenzie River and I put them on a wall during my time at the Great Northern Arts Festival,” she explains.

“On the same wall I put white sheets of paper and I asked the people coming around [mostly people from the Mackenzie region and Inuvik] to come and share what kind of memories they have from these special photos of the Mackenzie.”

Comeau says people were curious to see the river and the surrounding areas where they had grown up from an aerial perspective.

“A lot of them wrote down some stories about their region. From all different kinds of testimony, I realized how the people are attached to the landscape and how they react and express their feelings about it.”

Comeau’s work explores the relation of humans to their geographic situation, and how people behave according to the according to the geo-morphology of the land around them.

“I believe you don’t behave the same as a person if you grew up in the desert or in the in the jungle. The relationship we have with the landscape is totally different,” Comeau says.

“At the art festival, I met some artists from a place like Baffin Island who were freaking out about the idea of having to do a drawing of a tree, because they don’t have any around them,” she adds.

“I remember this one man who considered himself not so far from the forest because he was at six hours by ski-doo from the tree line.”

From all the stories collected during the festival, Comeau selected a few in order to create images from the words.

Using acrylic on canvas and mixed media on vellum, the artist depicted a few of the stories by using joyful and symbolic images suggesting the form of maps. The texts of the stories are closely included in the paintings.

In contrast with the distant Google Earth pictures, the viewer can admire close-up macro pictures of Inuvik: elements of nature, artifacts and details from the landscape.

“By opposition to the virtual travelling by satellite, I wanted to show how we can travel and really get to know a region by listening and sharing some experiences with the people of this land,” Comeau says.

“I wanted to give the audience a real closeup of the region. This is a very fulfilling process for the audience and the artist.”

Mapping Inuvik is at the Community Gallery in the Yukon Arts Centre until July 30.

Virginie Hamel is a regular contributor to What’s Up Yukon who keeps tab on events in Yukon’s francophone community.

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