Marlene Creates: An Interest in Place

June 4 - September 10 2022

During the Convergent Program – An Interest in Place – the art practice and work of artist Marlene Creates will be featured.

‘Underlying all my work has been an interest in place – not as a geographical location but as a process that involves memory, multiple narratives, ecology, language, and both scientific and vernacular knowledge.’ – Marlene Creates (1)

Over the months upcoming, the Comox Valley Art Gallery continues it’s place-based programming, moving it’s focus on water, to the presentation of the land/lens/text-based practice of artist Marlene Creates. When writing about her four decades of creative interest in place, Creates talks about her work as intentionally ‘simple gesture[s] that left no permanent mark’ and are ‘non-monumental interventions in deliberate opposition to large-scale earthworks.’ (2) The artist’s evolving process over her years of practice has been one of going outside to be on the land and to encounter a place through physical experience – lying down, sleeping, interacting, ‘listening’ to the land and those who live there. Drawing on these phenomenological encounters, Creates has structured images and words to communicate her experiences through photographs, hand drawn maps, tracings, text, and performative acts. In these ways, the artist offers an opportunity for “seeing” places with a new perspective. (3)

During her time in the Comox Valley, Marlene Creates will undertake an artist residency, engage with local schools and the wider community through artist talks + artist led activities, and be present for the opening of a solo exhibition of her work:
Marlene Creates: Works from Blast Hole Pond Road, Newfoundland 2002–2021
Œuvres réalisées au chemin Blast Hole Pond, Terre-Neuve 2002–2021

These activities provide the artist with an opportunity to experience this place and for the local community to engage with Marlene Creates to consider their own ‘gestures and marks’ upon place:

June 4 – 26
CVAG Artist-in-Residence 2022
At the McLoughlin Gardens Residence

June 15
Artist Engagement + Make Art Project with School District 71
Private webinar — email to request access

June 16
Public Art Opening + Artist Talk
Public, in-person at CVAG + online

June 18 
Artist Led Walk
Site Specific Artist Led Walk + Make Art Project
11AM – 4PM
Brian & Sarah McLoughlin Park
Pre-registration required

June 22
Artist Talk / Poetry Readings
Marlene Creates + Don McKay / The Boreal Poetry Garden
5 – 7PM (coinciding with downtown summer Farmer’s Market series)
Public, in-person at CVAG + online

June 30
Poetry Reading
Don McKay
Public, in-person at CVAG + online

June 15 – September 10
Marlene Creates: Works from Blast Hole Pond Road, Newfoundland 2002–2021
Œuvres réalisées au chemin Blast Hole Pond, Terre-Neuve 2002–2021

Solo Exhibition at CVAG
10AM – 6PM, Wednesdays to Saturdays

Marlene Creates (pronounced “Kreets”) is an environmental artist and poet who works with photography, video, scientific and vernacular knowledge, walking and collaborative site-specific performance in the six-acre patch of old-growth boreal forest where she lives—at the edge of the 920-acre Blast Hole Pond Conservation Area—in Portugal Cove, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada.

Born in Montreal in 1952, she studied visual arts at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario (Bachelor of Art Education, Honours, 1974), and then lived and worked in Ottawa for twelve years. In 1985 she moved to Newfoundland—the home of her maternal ancestors, who were from Lewisporte and Fogo Island.

For over 40 years her work has been an exploration of the relationship between human experience, memory, language and the land, and the impact they have on each other. In the late 1970s she started creating temporary landworks which she photographed (as in the series Paper, Stones and Water, 1979–1985). This led to several years of working with what she called ‘memory maps,’ which were drawn for her by other people (as in the series The Distance Between Two Points is Measured in Memories, 1986–1988, and Places of Presence: Newfoundland kin and ancestral land, Newfoundland 1989–1991).

Hearing elderly people’s stories as they drew memory maps for her, and sensing a relationship between language and the land, she spent a decade photographing found public signs in the landscape. She has also been commissioned to create signs and markers that incorporate other people’s stories about specific places.

Since 2002 her work has focused on the six acres of boreal forest where she lives in a ‘relational aesthetic’ to the land. This oeuvre includes Water Flowing to the Sea Captured at the Speed of Light, Blast Hole Pond River, Newfoundland 2002–2003, and several ongoing projects:

—The Boreal Poetry Garden (2005–) which uses words in situ, many inspired by Newfoundland vernacular. This work takes the form of photo-landworks, an interactive web-based Virtual Walk of The Boreal Poetry Garden, documentary video-poems, and site-specific, multidisciplinary events, which are crossings between the arts and sciences as a way to look at both the ecological and the experiential foundations of place;

—Larch, Spruce, Fir, Birch, Hand, Blast Hole Pond Road, Newfoundland (2007–) which concerns the inter-relationship of individual native trees, their context in the collective of the forest system, and the human perceiver;

—What Came to Light at Blast Hole Pond River (2015–), based on photographs taken by a trail camera that is triggered by the movement of wildlife at ground level, and the concurrent movement of celestial bodies overhead. Heaven and Earth, if you like.

Since the mid-1970s her work has been presented in over 350 solo and group exhibitions and screenings across Canada and in Austria, China, Denmark, England, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Korea, Scotland, and the United States. Since 2005 she has held over 40 site-specific, multidisciplinary public events in The Boreal Poetry Garden, which have been attended by over 900 people.

She has been a guest lecturer at over 200 institutions and conferences across Canada and abroad, including Chile, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States, among them the National Gallery of Canada, the Glasgow School of Art, the University of Oxford, the University of Plymouth, the University of Hartford, the Edinburgh College of Art, and the Universities of Turin, Venice, and Siena. She was an invited panelist at the Fifth National Women in Photography conference, held in Boston in 1997; the keynote presenter at the symposium Art, Rural Life and Environmental Concern at the Bristol School of Art, Media and Design at the University of the West of England in 2008; a plenary speaker at the  conference Space + Memory = Place of the Association for Literature, Environment, and Culture in Canada (ALECC) at the University of British Columbia Okanagan in Kelowna in 2012; and a keynote speaker at the conference Trees In/And/Around Literature in the Anthropocene at the University of Turin, Italy, (via Skype) in 2019.

She has been the curator of several exhibitions, has worked in artist-run centres (SAW Gallery in Ottawa and Eastern Edge Gallery in St. John’s) and has taught visual arts at Algonquin College (1975–82), the University of Ottawa (1982–85), and the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design (1998). She was a director of the Photography Program at the Banff Centre (1991) and an invited academic visitor for the Art, Space + Nature MFA program at the Edinburgh College of Art (fall term, 2015). She has also led multidisciplinary environmental and place-based art projects with about 3,000 school children in Newfoundland.

Her volunteer and community work includes positions with the Board of Eastern Edge Gallery, the Arts and Letters Committee of the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the National Council of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts, the Board of VANL-CARFAC working for artists’ rights, and co-founding both the Advisory Committee on the Environment (ACE) and the arts association, Partners for the Arts, for the Town of Portugal Cove–St. Philip’s.

Her work is in numerous public collections across Canada, including The Rooms Provincial Art Gallery in St. John’s, the Canada Council Art Bank, and the National Gallery of Canada.

Marlene Creates received a 2019 Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts for “Lifetime Artistic Achievement”. In 2021 she was invested into The Order of Newfoundland and Labrador, “the highest honour that the Province can bestow” and recognizes “individuals who have demonstrated excellence and achievement in any field of endeavour benefiting, in an outstanding manner, Newfoundland and Labrador and its residents.”

She has also received the following honours and awards:
–The inaugural Artist of the Year award, a Best of Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s Community Award, 2021.
– The Mary MacDonald Award for Excellence in Visual Arts (EVAs) from VANL-CARFAC, which “thanks an individual or organization whose efforts have helped to sustain and build the visual arts sector,” 2019.
– Grand Jury Award at the Yosemite International Film Festival, 2014.
– BMW Exhibition Prize, which acknowledges “an outstanding Open or Featured exhibition” in the Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival in Toronto, 2013.
– CARFAC National Visual Arts Advocate Award “for an outstanding contribution to visual arts advocacy,” 2009.
– The Long Haul Award for Excellence in Visual Arts (EVAs) from VANL-CARFAC, which “recognizes a substantial contribution to the visual culture of Newfoundland and Labrador by a senior artist,” 2009.
– Artist of the Year Award from the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council, the first visual artist to receive this award, 1996.

Marlene Creates was elected to the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts in 2001.


1: excerpt from Larch, Spruce, Fir, Birch, Hand, Blast Hole Pond Road, Newfoundland 2007–ongoing (2007) black-and-white silver photographic print on fibre-based paper

2: excerpt from Larch, Spruce, Fir, Birch, Hand, Blast Hole Pond Road, Newfoundland 2007–ongoing (reprise in 2018) colour pigment digital print

(1) pg 13, (2) pg 13, (3) pg 142 +143 – Garvey, Susan Gibson  and Andrea Kunard, ed. Marlene Creates: Places, Paths, and Pauses, Goose Lane Editions, 2017

The Comox Valley Art Gallery is honoured and privileged to be present on the Unceded Territory of the K’ómoks First Nation. CVAG recognizes the enduring presence of First Nations people on this land.

CVAG is grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with artists, guest curators, writers, cultural advisors, community partners, our volunteers, donors + members. CVAG’s convergent programming is made possible through the support of our funders: Canada Council for the Arts, BC Arts Council, Government of Canada, Province of BC, City of Courtenay, Town of Comox, Village of Cumberland, Comox Valley Regional District, BC Gaming, The Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council / local support: ABC Printing, SD71 Print Shop, Sherwin-Williams Paint Store, Muir Engineering Ltd., Izco Technology Solutions, Shine-Eze, Cumberland Village Works, Sid Williams Theatre Society, School District 71 Indigenous Education, McLoughlin Gardens Society.