Saltus Illuminati by Arlene Wasylynchuk on exhibit at the Art Gallery of Alberta in spring 2012.
A visit to an Alberta forest devastated by the mountain pine beetle inspired Arlene Wasylynchuk (Hannochko), ’68 BA, ’70 BEd, ’91 BFA, to give the forest a new life in her series Saltus Illuminati—Latin for “the forest illuminated”—which appeared as a solo exhibit at the Art Gallery of Alberta last spring.
Eschewing her traditional painter’s tools, Arlene collected twigs, moss and other debris from the forest floor and dripped and dragged them across the surface of translucent Lexan sheets, up to four metres long. “When I’m painting with the debris, I’m not just pouring my energy into painting but the forest is transferring its energy, too,” explains Wasylynchuk.
A real breakthrough in the work came when Wasylynchuk decided to roll up her paintings and stand them on end. “Traditionally, I’ve worked two-dimensionally,” she says of her 20-year career. “But I thought, ‘What if I rolled these translucent sheets and actually made trees?’” Then, using LED light ropes, she lit the trees from within, creating a glowing, seemingly enchanted forest that illuminated the stages of devastation wrought by the mountain pine beetle: some healthy, white trunks and other decaying, rust-coloured ones.
“The work is multi-layered,” explains Wasylynchuk. “It is about the enchanting energy and magic of forests. It is about growth, death and regeneration. It is about our relationship to our natural forest environments and the threats to their existence. BC lost the fight for their forests, but Alberta Sustainable Resources is trying very hard to prevent the pine beetle from taking hold here.”
This past June, Wasylynchuk won the inaugural Eldon & Anne Foote Edmonton Visual Arts Prize, a $10,000 cash award for an Edmonton-area artist. She has exhibited extensively across Alberta, as well as in Europe, Asia and South America and is represented by the Scott Gallery in Edmonton.
Take a video tour of Saltus Illuminati: