Nadia Belerique at Castle Frank bus station

A picture doesn’t always tell the whole story.

I first came across Nadia Belerique‘s artwork above and below and so on forever in the Contact website and catalog. It’s a single image, an elegant composition of objects floating in water: bottles, flowers, leaves, string and bits of paper. It recalls 17th century Dutch still-lives, with their dark backgrounds, flattened perspective, and flowers a little beyond their prime.

above and below and so on forever as it appears in the CONTACT catalog

But the picture in the catalogue is a by-product: a means to an end. This image is part of a series of five photographic murals designed with a specific site in mind. The finished pieces are installed as a set of translucent images applied over the glass dividers at the Castle Frank bus station.

above and below and so on forever as it appeared for a moment at Castle Frank Station

The Castle Frank bus platform is, as far as bus stations go, a nice one. It’s a low-slung pavilion from the 60’s. It’s generous in scale with an abundance of green space. A wall of windows encloses one side of the arcade that protects passengers as they wait for their buses. It’s on these windows that the artwork is installed. 

The Castle Frank Station bus terminal showing the installation of above and below and so on forever

The photos are applied to the glass as translucent overlays. Their appearance is dependent on the light, the weather, and time of day. In the shade, the images almost disappear but when the light goes through them, they glow with warm colour. These transparencies are clear in areas that are white in the photographs and dark and opaque in the shadows. The background view appears hazily through the images and reflections add yet another visual layer.

Detail view. Reflections, shadows and the background blend into a single image

The station sits at the edge of the Don Valley, a verdant ravine that carves through the city with the Don River at its centre. For this project, Belerique used the river as the source of ideas and images. Her aim was to make the river’s presence felt by bringing it up to the station. The work evolved through her exploration of the river from both the shoreline and from a canoe. Along with filmmaker Seth Scriver, she fished through the mud to uncover various objects and trash that she then arranged as props along with leaves and flowers in the water. These arrangements were the subjects of her initial photos which also captured the reflection of the sky and structures above.

One of five murals from above and below and so on forever

Later in the studio, Belerique expanded on the idea of reflection by re-shooting her photographs. She printed the river pictures and mounted them on the wall with a sheet of glass a few inches in front. Stickers and leaves were then placed on this glass. Sunlight, and the shadows cast by these applied objects, played across the surface of the photos and became part of an integrated image that Belerique captured in a set of new photos.

This second iteration of manipulation is what is published online and in print. These are already complex, layered photographs. When they are mounted on the glass wall of the bus station, further complexity occurs. Light and shadow from the front and back changes them. The background bleeds through and, along with reflections, blend with the image. 

The Castle Frank Station bus terminal showing the installation from outside the station

In her recent body of work, Belerique encourages us to think about how we look at images by making our experience a little complicated. At first, we perceive the images horizontally as a view through a window.But then we’re flipped around: the orientation of the view in the image is vertical: down through the ambiguous depth of water and up into the sky. There is no ‘front’ or ‘back’ because the images work equally well from either side of the pavilion. And due to the semi-transparent and reflective qualities of the images, the background and surrounding environment are brought into the experience as well.

These days, so much art is first experienced through media. Often it’s enough. The only difference between the screen and gallery versions might be the size.  But that’s not the case here. The location within the city and the interaction with the local environment make the experience of this art installation very different from just seeing the source images. It’s well worth a visit to Castle Frank before the installation comes down on June 9. 

Belerique’s above and below and so on forever is a temporary artwork and will only be on display until June 9, 2019. It’s part of the Don River Valley Park Art Program, which is a series of temporary, site-specific public art projects sited along the Lower Don River, curated by Kari Cwynar.

Mikael Sandblom

Photo: Marc Crabtree

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