Video artist melts Klondike horizons

The video installation the space between here and there (the yukon river) is the work of an artist hungry for the outdoors after 10 productive years of making short film and video work in Toronto.

The video installation the space between here and there (the yukon river) is the work of an artist hungry for the outdoors after 10 productive years of making short film and video work in Toronto.

Christina Battle came to Dawson City in March 2013 for an artist residency at the Klondike Institute of Art and Culture (KIAC), and footage she shot during that visit became the basis for the work currently on at the ODD Gallery.

“When I left Toronto I really realized how the geography had dictated the way I worked – in a dark basement by myself,” Battle says. “Moving out west again I suddenly was out in the landscape shooting the real world, instead of solely appropriating or generating images by hand. I got excited by sunlight again. Something I began with when I first started making work but which I felt like I had lost being trapped in such an overwhelming urban environment.”

The afternoon Battle chose to walk the Yukon River with her camera was sunny and vivid, frigid at -42 degrees. The landscape was new to the multimedia artist. She took a steady shot of the hillside across from Dawson City and worked with the footage when she was back in her current home of Denver, Colorado.

The installation is made of two videos streaming against the gallery wall, stretching almost to the ceiling. Battle has cut her hillside view into rectangles and wedges, and the film moves the geometric shapes against each other atop copies of their own surfaces. Two treelines melt into a thin horizon between gorgeous blue sky at one moment, and the next moment a triangular spike of snow-covered stone dives across the white river. The movements are playful, and clearly manipulated by hand.

In the early 2000s, Battle was working with film. She would emphasize the surfaces of the celluloid by exposing, scratching, layering and processing it all by hand. When HD video came along, she switched. “I wanted to quicken my process in a way, to really be able to hone in on the conceptual – something I felt wasn’t always fully considered since I’d get so bogged down with process,” she says. “I think not having to rely on a darkroom and all that it implies really freed me up in a lot of ways.”

The movements in “the space between” are about the geometry of the image instead of its surface, but the similarity is the artist’s decision to leave evidence of hands at work, not machines.

On one level, the installation is a complement to Battle’s ongoing series Mapping the Prairies Through Disaster (started in 2012). In both, she replaces the rapid pace of the 24/7 news cycle with landscape images that are deliberately slowed down to allow individual perspectives to emerge.

For example, in “The people in this picture are standing on all that remained of a handsome residence” (2014), Battle looks back to the deadly 1987 tornado that bashed through her then-hometown of Edmonton, destroying more than 300 homes and killing 27 people. She uses archival photos, but instead of showing distraught faces – a visual cue for assumptions that the images reveal “what it was really like” – she presents a disorienting swell of colours. After all, a familiar, stable image would not be the view that appears after a home is flattened beyond recognition.

Another work, “dearfield, colorado” (2012) is visually calm, but its sunlit rural buildings and lush greenery hold the history of natural disaster. Dearfield was an African-American settlement founded in Colorado in 1910, but as drought expanded in the 1930s, dust storms ravaged the area’s agriculture.

As the video progresses, Battle layers the view with quotes from former residents who suffered the effects of the Dust Bowl. The site of “dearfield, colorado” appears neutral now, but experiences from other times remain in the survivors’ relationships with the land.

In Battle’s hands, documentary comes from combinations of many first-hand accounts, not from one source alone. The third presence in the ODD Gallery work is a smaller video monitor running a subtly animated Google Maps image of the same hillside. The contrast is clear. Battle is not creating maps for landscapes, but locations where experiences can be told. the space between here and there (the yukon river) expresses one person’s immersion in finger-numbing Klondike beauty as a voice in a conversation, a contribution rather than a guide.

Battle travels frequently to make art and gather footage. At a home base, she co-curates a monthly contemporary art series called “Nothing To See Here” with artist Adan de la Garza. She has a robust creative life, making work, promoting and enjoying time-based art (video, performance, sound art), teaching on occasion and working as a digital technician in the Art Department at the Metropolitan State University of Denver. The ODD Gallery hosts her work until Nov. 1, and after that it’s back to the Internet for discovering what Christina Battle will do next.

Meg Walker is a writer and visual artist based in Dawson City.