Don't miss these unforgettable images from Newfoundland's newest art festival

The Bonavista Biennale brought 23 exhibitions — and reflections on historical places — to Newfoundland's Bonavista Peninsula.

Bonavista Biennale ran for the first time on the province's Bonavista Peninsula

Pam Hall's Re-seeding The Dream East hangs near the water in Port Rexton as part of the Bonavista Biennale. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

Rex Chaulk has spent his 91 years living in the small community of Maberly, located right at the tip of Newfoundland's Bonavista Peninsula. He's split that time living in two homes, just a stone's throw away from one another. So naturally, he'd notice if he got a new neighbour. And he got one this past month, in the form of Will Gill's "The Green Chair," one of the 23 exhibition sites that dotted the Bonavista Peninsula during the first-ever running of the Bonavista Biennale.

Chaulk's front door is just a few feet away from the steel chair, sitting at the shoreline of the Atlantic Ocean. According to its inscription, the chair is a callback to a wooden chair common to Newfoundland kitchens — and a "collaboration" between Gill and the ocean, which will blast the chair with tide, light and changing weather.

For Chaulk?

"It don't speak to me about nothing," he says. "It's just nice to look at."

The Bonavista Biennale, curated by Catherine Beaudette — who calls herself "someone who tries to use art for social change" — and Patrician Grattan, has brought works from 26 artists to ten different communities in rural Newfoundland.

Catherine Beaudette is the co-curator of the Bonavista Biennale. She's also the director of the 2 Rooms Contemporary Art Projects, an exhibition space that transformed a hundred-year-old home in Duntara, in Newfoundland. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

The complement included long-time painter Frank Lapointe, from Port Rexton, and German-born artist Reinhard Reitzenstein, moving visitors up and down the Bonavista peninsula and bringing both money and unforgettable images to rural Newfoundland.

75-year-old Frank Lapointe has been painting in watercolour for the past 40 years. Some of his works were on exhibition this month in Trinity, as part of the Bonavista Biennale. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

Wrap your head around it

Beaudette said one of her aims was to put the pieces "in dialogue" with the physical locations where they are exhibited.

That was obvious in Bonavista, in the site which once was an old school — but will soon become a new health and wellness centre for the community. There, the geometry of Ned Pratt's chromogenic prints aligned squarely with the studded walls underneath.

Festival organizers aligned the geometric shapes in Ned Pratt's chromogenic prints with the studded wall underneath. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

Beaudette says lots of people have also come through to reminisce about their old grade school, which prompted the festival to display a replica classroom inside the site.

"At one end of this building, there are all the little things they made in shop — they're all left over from when the school was opened, so people have even come in and said, 'You know, I made this object in shop,'" she says.

The curators of the Bonavista Biennale have recreated the appearance of an old classroom, complete with physics equations and textbooks. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

The conversation continued at the Ye Matthew Legacy interpretation centre in Bonavista. The site houses a replica version of The Matthew, the 15th century ship that was believed to be used by John Cabot when he sailed from Europe to North America. During the Biennale, the site also hosted "Our Mother(s) Tounges," an exhibition by Catherine Blackburn.

Blackburn, an artist with roots in Saskatchewan's English River First Nation, says the tongue photos are hung in the shape of Dene syllables, and form out the word "mother." The piece is one of several in the exhibit that takes a look at the effects of colonization.

"This specific piece is based on the numeric labelling system used to identify children in residential schools," she says. "This system was one of many tactics used to further annihilate Aboriginal identity."

Get outside, go green

Many of the exhibitions were set outside, like Will Gill's "Green Chair" and Pam Hall's "Re-Seeding the Dream East." The latter project, first conceived in Alberta in 1997, features empty wheat bags sewn into the shape of codfish.

Pam Hall's Re-Seeding the Dream East overlooks Port Rexton. The installation is an "echo" of a version that was displayed in 1997 in Alberta, which explored the similarities between fishing and farming. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

"I think people have let loose on the idea of what art is supposed to be, which we tend to think of paintings hanging on the wall or photographs," says Beaudette.  "They've embraced a lot of these installations that are more objects in space."

Against impressive backdrops of the ocean, some of the exhibits took on a more environmental tone. Potterer Michael Flaherty, who lives in Catalina, on the Bonavista Peninsula, exhibited a solar-powered kiln. It focuses and reflects the reflection of the sun onto a small silver cube, where he fires small planet-shaped sculptures.

Mike Flaherty displays an unfinished ceramic sculpture that was fired by his solar kiln in Port Union. His solar kiln is featured as part of the Bonavista Biennale. (Danny Arsenault/CBC)

Using no electricity or other heat source, the kiln can reach 700 to 800 degrees celsius, according to Flaherty.

"I think there are a lot of interesting thematic things in this piece, somewhat to do with environmentalism and the way that the sun affects the earth, and how we're altering the earth so that the sun affects us differently," he said.

In Elliston, branded as the root cellar capital of the world, artists Laura St. Pierre & Jon Bath launched their own exploration of preservation. The pair took native plants —  tamarack, conifer, white spruce —  and dunked them into jars with water and alcohol.

"It's about how we relate to landscape, and memory, especially with a lot of global warming and climate change that might be coming our way. What does it mean to preserve what we have?"

More to Bonavista than the Biennale

The 23 exhibition sites are spread out along kilometres of road on the Bonavista Peninsula, and the tourists who completed the loop were treated to lots of beautiful sights on their drive.

It's not part of the art exhibition, but the mussel farm in Trinity packs beauty of its own. Mischievous locals have been known to tell tourists that the buoys actually mark underwater graves. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

Beaudette says she's seen people fall in love with the region on their trips — and the injection of life and activity into some aging towns has been just as important.

"It's kinda depressing when you've had a lot of businesses shut down, and the [commercial cod] fishery, to see a lot of empty buildings," she said.

"So I think it's actually been a real boost to a lot of people to see that you can give new life to these old buildings." 

Neil Shah is the owner of Neil's Yard in Bonavista, which is located just next to the Mockbeggar Plantation in the town. He boasts that he has the best coffee — and view of the sunset — in all town. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

The Bonavista Biennale ran August 17-September 17, 2017. To find out more, click here.


Garrett Barry


Garrett Barry is a CBC reporter, working primarily with The St. John's Morning Show.

With files from Melissa Tobin