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Home » Music

Cry Cree: A burning spiritual mandate

Submitted by on March 4, 2010 – 5:37 amNo Comment

Entertainment-Unarthodox-4These days, it isn’t easy for artists to find a place to exhibit their work in the community, let alone a space that embraces the spiritual connection formed between art and artist, artist and environment, and environment and message.

For Donna Legault, her sculptural installation, Cry Cree, is not only exhibited as a cry to raise awareness of the forest fires ravishing Canada’s beautiful natural landscapes each spring and summer, but also a cry for the reawakening of the spirituality behind art crafted in a contemporary culture.

A block off Bank Street in downtown Ottawa, at the corner of 5th and Monk, stands a small church called Ecclesiax. Inside Ecclesiax, Box Gallery, a non-profit gallery is found.

Box Gallery has been transformed from an old worshipping hall to a space dedicated to the arts. With its 15-foot-tall ceilings, stone fireplace, arched windows and resident Grand piano, the room is a breeding ground for spiritual creativity and connectivity. It is in this space that Legault, Box’s art minister and curator, hangs a collection of charred trees brought back from the Cree community of Nemaska, located on the shores of Lake Champion in Quebec.

Cry Cree was created in response to Legault’s experience visiting the forests of Nemaska after it was ravaged by fire. The exhibit is made up of thin, long, brittle trees which populated the Newmaskan landscape before the blaze.

Each tree hung from the ceiling of Ecclesiax’s gallery has been carefully placed so as to recreate a walking path through a natural scene. With every step, by the twist and turns of the swaying trunks, one is aware of the hidden dangers of every brittle spike or sharp branch marking the path. Some spaces are dense with trees, while others leave open areas in which to stand back and take in the lines created on the backdrop of the sun-filled arched windows of the gallery. As one walks, the trees rock freely, reflecting the delicate balance in which the environment now hangs.

When asked what inspired her to create Cry Cree, Legault describes the image of the desolate Nemaskan landscape haunting her.

“As my time there passed, the thought tugged at my mind and heart that I could share a piece of this experience with the community back home,” she says.

The time Legault spent in the Cree community inspired her to draw attention to the threat of forest fires. Not only are the seasonal fires a threat to Canadian forests, but also a threat to the economic stability of people like the Cree.

With the help of volunteers, Legault cut the dead trees and shipped them to Ottawa, where they now hang in Box Gallery. By bringing back visual evidence of the destruction, says Legault, she is able to reach a broader audience with a message meant to build bridges.

Cry Cree is a reminder of nature’s dire situation. It is, in part, a reconstruction of a destroyed forest and, also, a deconstruction of the issues plaguing Canada’s countryside. Just as Cry Cree’s burned and uprooted tree trunks give insight into the ever-changing landscape, it also stimulates thought about the future of one of the country’s richest natural resources – its vast forests.

Shanna Steals

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