Styrofoam mountains rise in northern town

DAWSON CITY Like a child who shuns the toy in favour of the box it came in, Carin Mincemoyer likes to play around with packaging.


Like a child who shuns the toy in favour of the box it came in, Carin Mincemoyer likes to play around with packaging.

Specifically — those strange Styrofoam shapes left behind after a brand new computer or toaster has been extricated from its box.

The “crappy” material has been a key medium in Mincemoyer’s artwork for years.

It’s easy to make art out of a beautiful piece of wood, she said. “But can you make art out of this really crappy, bad-for-the-environment material?”

“It starts to challenge what high-art is.”

As one of the Klondike Institute of Arts and Culture’s artists in residence, Mincemoyer has been working on constructing an installation for the Odd Gallery.

Both she and co-artist in residence Jefferson Campbell-Cooper have been working toward the same theme while in Dawson — The Natural and the Manufactured.

And Mincemoyer has taken that theme literally.

In her show, slated to open on August 17, she will combine the re-used Styrofoam with living plants and trees, snake a boardwalk through the middle and create an artificial nature park.

The idea came from examining the gaps and holes left in the Styrofoam from the computers and toasters it was made to protect.

“I like the fact that the patterns moulded in to the Styrofoam are completely designed around a consumer product,” she said.

And she noticed that the patterns in the Styrofoam looked like little landscapes.

So she decided to put little pieces of the landscape into the patterns.

She will plant small trees, flowers and shrubs in the holes so the Styrofoam packing material acts as a planter box.

“It’s a symbol for what goes on in the larger environment,” she said.

Money influences the landscape by determining things like the location of new roads, the appearance of new housing developments and the designation of park areas.

“They’re all defined by what we spend money on, so I liked how the material acts as a symbol for that.”

Scale is important to Mincemoyer — the tallest plants in the installation will be 15 centimetres high.

“It’s really to give the viewer a God-like experience of looking down on the land.”

The boardwalk will stop viewers from treading on the landscape.

“I like the fact that it keeps you off the ground so you’re not actually in contact with the ground. It keeps you and nature apart,” said Mincemoyer.

“We’re used to having this proscribed experience with the landscape where somebody leads you through.”

Mincemoyer, who was raised in Pennsylvania, remembers the moment she decided to come to Dawson distinctly.

“I was sitting on the couch and I thought, ‘I want my art to take me places I’ve never been before.’”

She was flipping through Sculpture magazine and found the listing for the KIAC residency.

“I said, ‘Wow, the Yukon — that’s a place I’d never go otherwise,’” said Mincemoyer.

She pulled together an application and soon heard she was accepted.

Then she had to figure out where the Yukon was.

“I had this concept that Canada was north,” said Mincemoyer. “But then I pulled out this map and found out where the Yukon was and I was like, ‘Holy crap.’”

Her first impressions of Dawson?

“It’s like living on the set of a Wild West movie — there’s the wooden sidewalks and the dirt streets, the saloons and the building facades.”

While Mincemoyer will install her work in the Odd Gallery, Campbell-Cooper envisions a much different site for his sculptures, which he’ll install by the river in other parts of town.

In a corner studio of KIAC’s house, Campbell-Cooper has planned out sketches for the handmade buckets, scoopers, scrapers and dredges that he will construct out of found materials.

“In some ways I want to be the humble gatherer and collector,” he said.

“Can I make a scoop out of a pile of old rusted cans?”

Currently he’s working on weaving together pieces of bark and willow to form a life-sized front-end loader scoop.

Outside on the lawn there’s a canoe he’s used to soak the bark into a malleable material.

“People laugh because I’m in the canoe with water in the canoe and I sit there and weave,” said the Kitchener-based artist.

“I prepared for a challenge and I knew that whatever I planned in Ontario would be out the window.”

Mincemoyer will talk about her work at 7 p.m. on August 16. Following the talk there will be an opening reception at the Dawson Odd Fellows Hall.

Campbell-Cooper’s will also give a talk on the 17th at 3 p.m. at the Odd Fellows Hall followed by a reception on site at 3:45 p.m.