Last Days of Ice & Snow
February 1 - 29, 2020
Art in the Commons – Great Expectations
by Ingrid Mayrhofer
Since 2017, Red Tree Artists’ Collective has been working with the Hamilton Dialogues on the design and production of the deLight festival in late-winter. For the 2020 rendition, we applied for arts funding in order to take the experience into a new direction by commissioning professional artists from different disciplines, spreading their installations out over the month of February, and bridging two East Hamilton neighbourhoods. We intended to respect the festival’s established connections between light and environmental awareness, and to work with materials and imagery that resonated with current discourse on climate change.
For the Last Days of Ice and Snow, we invited two visual artists, one dubpoet, two sound artists, a community arts team and a dance group, to create works that would make ephemeral post-commodity artist statements. Ideally, the installations would be produced in sub-zero temperatures, and they would remain on site until they melted or sublimated. Envisioned as access-to-the-process, participatory and site-specific along the Pipeline Trail in Hamilton’s east end, we expected to reach a neighbourhood audience and engage people in a conversation about art and climate change. Of course, both of our expectations – of the weather and of the audience – were thwarted. Snow fell only during the last week of February; by the end of the first week two pieces had been vandalized, and during the third week parts of another installation started to disappear. However, a significant number of (female) neighbours did participate in two crochet workshops to create plastic snowflakes with Surprise!Hamilton.
In addition to a curatorial essay, we invited a community audience perspective for this publication. In her essay, Crown Point resident Anne Vallentin comments on the joy of experiencing art along the trail – especially the playful fun inherent to Dave Gould’s Sno-Thro, but she also reflects on the anger underlying its vandalism. Anne’s response to the damage inflicted upon some of the artworks hints at larger social determinants of frustration in a neighbourhood that struggles with inequality, and lacks opportunities for a creative outlet for anger. Neighbours identified a small group of youth who directed their social pain against the artwork. One of the neighbours even went to gather pieces of Donna’s installation, and returned them to us.
Curator Rita Camacho Lomeli, who places much of her creative work in public space, poses the question of a dynamic encounter between the artworks and the neighbourhood “frame.” By far the greatest challenge for the collective and for the artists was our expectation of 100% audience buy-in, perhaps led on by the enthusiastic reception of Red Tree’s earlier presentations along the trail – a mural based on Leonard Hutchinson’s print of Webster Falls (near Fairfield Av), a series of workshops, and community art prints on a planter (near Strathearne Av). That the vandalism was not a response to contemporary art per se is confirmed by the later attack on a display of ceramic tiles created by youth as part of our Water Works community art project and installed at Andrew Warburton Park. The artwork just happened to provide an available target.
The vandalism attracted some response from our mainstream media – although we would have preferred a review of the installations – and from a local Facebook group, whose members debated opinions on explicit imagery, graffiti, commercialism, beauty, and propaganda in art. To quote Tommy Lundrigan from the East Hamilton neighbourhood Facebook group, “No art sounds pretty boring to me. The beauty of art is everyone is free to interpret it how they wish.”
Despite the odds, or perhaps because of them, we are currently in the planning stages of deLight 2021. A heartfelt “thank you” to all the artists, neighbours and funders, as well as our organizing partners and hosts who share our vision of art in the community.
Ingrid Mayrhofer, October 2020
Ingrid Mayrhofer is a member of Red Tree and part of the festival organizing team.
From Art to Life Experience, Interventions in Hamilton's East End
by Rita Camacho Lomeli
During February of 2020, five artists of various backgrounds participated in the public art event, the Last Days of Ice and Snow, in the Crown Point and Homeside neighbourhoods in Hamilton’s East End. The setting for their commissioned temporary art projects, which included installations, performances, and interventions, was an urban walking path along an original pipeline that distributes clean water to the City of Hamilton. These artistic creations were not part of some urban revitalization plan, however. Instead of favouring some conventional civic agenda, these pieces disrupted rather than embellished their particular location.
These artworks both celebrated and scrutinized the critical condition and distribution of water. For this dual purpose Hamilton artists Donna Akrey, Edgardo Moreno, Klyde Brooks, Dave Gould and Trisha Leigh Lavoie blurred the boundaries among traditional media, fusing craft, video, music, sculpture and language. As public art, these works invited public opinion and reaction.
Following the pioneering ideas of the philosopher John Dewey about bringing art to life experience, these interventions were placed in a community in which art is not usually accessible. The presence of the installations in the recreational space of a trail and a playground made visible the dilemma of art’s enormous potential for changing both artists and audiences. Resistance and conflict have always been factors of these transformations. 
The problem of the frame is one of the most critical issues in traditional aesthetics. For this reason my curatorial query for this project questions its frame, that is, the limitations of public art projects. Recent theories contend that the border in relation to space should be considered dynamic, anything but static, with the surrounding space. The outline is “the repose” “in the fullness of motion.” In this regard, the art projects implied a dialectical process of experience, whereby the artist and the active observer encountered each other, their material and mental environments and their culture at large. Thus considering the frame as an open process of interaction with the environment, the question is, to what extent were nondescript objects, quotidian events, the randomness of the streets and the encounters and confrontations with the audience part of the meaning of the Last Days of Ice and Snow project?
Donna Akrey set up Tip of the Iceberg (The Last Icebergs) at the Andrew Warburton Park on Tragina Av. N. She invited the audience to make their own iceberg with a casting apparatus. While a few neighbours took up the challenge, the piece was repeatedly damaged, and the artist had to dismantle it. The community’s response to this work raised some profound questions and illustrates the challenges that interventionist artists can encounter in the public space. Akrey installed another work on the same site to engage the audience differently. This second piece consisted of a foam sculpture with the word SORRY in big letters. This second phase of Akrey’s project acknowledges her piece as dialogical negotiation and exchange with the neighbourhood. The organizing collective solicited community responses to the exhibition by means of posters and flyers and social media in community groups. These tactics were employed to prepare and educate an audience for involvement and dialogue, strategies that could be an entirely separate project beyond the reach of this exhibition.
Trisha Leigh Lavoie installed her Iced Fishing piece as a sort of yarn bombing environment in the neighbourhood near the corner of Park Row N and Dunsmure Road. She reclaimed and personalized this spot on the trail by building a fishing hut in white quilt batting, set up against a backyard fence. She used the materiality of crocheting as a feminist tool to bring objects made in the privacy of her studio into public space. Making crochet art objects to create small narratives, Lavoie’s installation functioned as a portrait of an ice fishing hut. Inside the structure, through peepholes cut into the fabric of the hut, the audience could see these crocheted items on the floor: an ice hole blanket, a radio, a beef jerky bag, two cans of beer, a thermos, a fishing rod, a cooler and on top of it a box of donuts and an actual catch- – a green-white fish! Lavoie shared profound and illuminating comments about her participation in the exhibition in her on-site artist talk and in her public posts on social media. She was aware of the hazard of leaving her work unattended in a neighbourhood that was not her own. Lavoie’s original intention was to display her pieces for the duration of the festival, not to have them taken away by the audience. In effect, her beautiful crocheted works were accidental gifts to this community.
Edgardo Moreno’s time-based installation, Melt, was first set up at the junction of Britannia Avenue and Cannon, and later on Fairfield Avenue. The work consisted of a sound piece of his own composition and of found internet videos of melting glaciers and rising waters, which he sampled, spliced, and diced in light and sound vibrations. These elements were intertwined with unnoticed events in the footpath’s everyday life and the performative aspect of an engaging audience. The sound of Moreno’s piece was available online, but to appreciate it in his entirety, one had to go to that stretch of the path where he projected the striking images on the white siding façade of a one-story house (and later a second story window), that perfectly fit the proportions of his protection. On the first site, he showed the entire projection apparatus: the projector, the sound system, cables that connected these devices and headphones. All these elements were part of the aesthetic experience, along with the cars and pedestrians passing by and the regular noises of a winter night in the neighbourhood. Despite the reproducibility of these images, which we can access from the comfort of our homes, the materiality of Melt offered the opportunity to have an experience of proximity and presence, allowing the audience to move freely within the installation, making them conscious of their actions on the scene.
Dave Gould’s Sno-Thro was a joyful piece set up in the basketball court of the Andrew Warburton Park. Play as a methodology was at the core of this interactive work. Sno-Thro invited the public to throw snowballs at sound targets framed by a wooden board structure. The box offered six sounds from a variety of objects: a set of three stainless steel bottles, a big metal platter, two cymbal drums, a tambourine, and a cowbell. Play is an unsettling element that brings possibilities to everyday life and could be employed as a manner of resistance. In his studies of play, Juan Huizinga wrote that play, of which art is an integral part, is one of the main bases of civilization. Art is the realm where we are allowed to play — we need to play, adapt and evolve, the historian argued. In his artist statement, Gould says he is “addicted to improvising and live moments of discovery” — such as when we are playing. Visitors lined up at the Sno-Thro site, taking turns to throw a snowball provided by the artist and make a joyful sound, or not, depending on their aim. Incidentally, this was another piece that was partially damaged.
Klyde Broox’s The Revolution has changed! consisted of four paragraphs from one of his dub poems. In this rather discreet piece, the white text was laid out on four wooden panels and installed on the Geraldine Copps Parkette parking lot fence at Kenilworth Av N, facing the trail. The piece engaged the audience through reading, prompting visitors to ponder Broox’s ideas about how the revolution has changed, as the title implies. The audience was the actor who custom-tailored the elements of the text by contrasting them with their own experience and reading tempo, spontaneously reverberating and actualizing the poet’s words. Like the dub poet, the reader employs improvisation tactics that foster discoveries in meaning and rhythm. The fortuitous reader and the poet create a space where writing is dispersed and unfolds in time by the reading. Broox’s wordplays make a denouncement that reclaims the climate of the place, perhaps resonating with how we support change now, that “…involves machine” by digitally supporting a cause or a political campaign.
This essay was written in the shadow of the Covid-19 outbreak and police encounters that prompted protests in many cities in the U.S. and Canada. During this time, art world leaders were talking about the importance of public art during and after the pandemic. They discussed how galleries and museums could reach a wider audience beyond their walls while providing income and employment for artists. Months later, Confederation monuments were toppled and Black Lives Matter was painted in yellow capitals on the pavement in several cities. Such an initiative was even commissioned by the mayor of Washington DC. The Last Days of Ice and Snow projects expose and respond to the encroachment of corporate and governmental interests in public space. In so doing, these artworks remained a point of dialogue, confrontation and transformation.
 Clement, Alexis. “Reconsidering John Dewey’s Art as Experience.” Hyperallergic. Mar 25, 2013.
 Rebentisch, Juliane, et al. Aesthetics of Installation Art. Sternberg Press, 2012.
Rita Camacho Lomeli is a curator, educator and artist based in Toronto.
Piping Art along the Trail in Crown Point
by Anne Vallentin
February 2020 brought East Hamilton’s Last Days of Ice and Snow deLight Fest to a community that would soon be in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Festival brought the community together not only to celebrate art but also to ponder some urgent public concerns. In retrospect, the Festival was transformative and helped me consider the role of installation art, and the importance of a sense of play in public art. The seven art installations along Hamilton’s Water Pipeline Trail highlighted the history and importance of this Trail as a public space while addressing major themes of water, plastic, environmental impacts, use of public space and climate change. These themes echoed those of previous deLight Festivals, as did the incorporation of a sense of play.
The art on view was a reminder of the importance of play as part of the creative process and a prompt to action. The words of Margaret Wheatley and Deborah Frieze answer the question: “Why is play important?”
When we play, we’re in a constant process of discovery, experimentation, risk-taking, and creation. We tinker. We invent. We dream and we imagine and we make believe until it’s time to go out there and build the world we dream of.” [Walk Out, Walk On: A Learning Journey Into Communities Daring to Live the Future Now. (Barrett-Koehler, San Francisco, 2011) 59.]
The planners and artists of Last Days of Ice and Snow directed viewers/participants to focus on, and play with, aspects of climate change, challenging the Crown Point and Homeside neighbours to envision winters without ice and snow as our climate warms. Moving eastward along the trail and cued by small signs at each installation, people could view, participate and see what was at play.
Installed near Edgemont Street North, Trisha Leigh LaVoie’s Iced Fishing juxtaposed crochet, a conventional female activity, and ice-fishing, a customary male winter activity. She recreated various objects found in a fishing hut and invited viewers to peer into the structure. There was evidence of viewer interaction such as tagging, and items disappeared from the hut. To everyone’s amazement, however, the piece mostly survived for the month.
For Let’s Make Snowflakes, members of Surprise!Hamilton taught neighbours how to crochet snowflakes using cut-up and repurposed plastic bags. There was no real snow in the Crown Point Parkette this year, but at least there were the plastic replicas to tickle our fancy. With some repair and reinforcement, the fanciful addition to the play area remained for the duration of the month.
Dub poet Klyde Broox installed The Revolution Has Changed in an area designed for play and interaction. Klyde mounted wooden panels inscribed with his poetry on the fence alongside the first Parkette developed along the Pipeline Trail as part of Hamilton’s Pipeline Trail Master Plan. The poet wasn’t available to perform live, but his choice of lettering, use of weathered wooden panels, and the gradual colouring gradient from dark to light spoke volumes about the pain our young generation feels about climate change and how the Revolution is moving from Red to Green.
In his installation, Melt, Edgardo Moreno played with the feeling of ice and snow. A master of multimedia, he projected a loop of movie images of melting, crumbling glaciers and rising water onto the front of a white, urban dwelling. An audio soundscape loop enhanced the intensity of the experience. Part of the delight of the piece was the unintended participation of the home’s inhabitants going in and out of the house to the onlookers’ cheers.
Dave Gould installed his interactive sound sculpture, Sno-Thro, in the basketball court at Andrew Warburton Memorial Park. This was a delightful piece reminiscent of carnivalesque fun. Over the course of the month there was some damage to the piece but the throw balls seemed to return and most of the soundscape items remained as neighbours stood guard. Visitors had fun pitching, making a hit, creating musical notes, cheering for each other and laughing in the sheer joy of releasing frustration with a February lacking in snow.
Donna Akrey’s Tip of the Iceberg (The Last Icebergs) invited participants to create their own iceberg. Unfortunately, February wasn’t cold enough for the ice to form. Moreover, the community was horrified to learn that Donna’s hard work was vandalized and destroyed. Installation art being designed to elicit a response, the vandalism, probably rooted in anger and frustration, might have been a healthy reaction to evidence of our warming climate and perhaps a call to action to deal successfully with it.
On February 29, another deLight Fest participant, the renowned Hamilton Aerial Group, brought visitors a reminder of Hamilton’s history. The group created dramatic costumes and performed the story of Hamilton’s handling of the deadly cholera epidemic of the 1850s. That event had spurred the determination of the city’s authorities to invest in a pipeline to bring fresh and healthy water from Lake Ontario to the citizens of a rapidly growing Hamilton. The relevance of this story to today is obvious, as public officials and health care providers everywhere scramble to find appropriate measures to curb COVID-19.
At this desperate time not only do we need wisdom and community building more than ever, but we need the energy, enthusiasm, creativity and play of the young break-dance performers of Defining Movement Dance who wowed the audience on February 29, the finale of the Last Days of Ice and Snow Festival.
Thanks to deLight Fest, Surprise!Hamilton, Red Tree Artists’ Collective and the Hamilton Dialogues, Pipeline Trail Hamilton and the Canada Council for the Arts for investing in and providing this community of East Hamilton with an opportunity to interact with thoughtful and skilled artists. We had a chance to play, puzzle over, build, throw, listen, watch, collaborate, tear stuff down, and witness the story of the powerful impact of an investment in public health. It is this sense of community building, play, creativity and sense of urgency that may empower us find our way through this time and help make the world we dream of.
Anne has lived in the Crown Point neighbourhood for six years. Her background is nursing and many different levels of community engagement. When not supporting and enjoying family and friends, she delights in joining others who are ‘activists with a gardening weakness