My recent installation Flood and Fire Fugue for Five Tubas was created after a year of fires and floods, orange skies and sodden landscapes, bringing home the reality of climate change. It concerns itself with recalibration; the adjustment needed to survive in the altered reality of a world in crisis.

The installation is composed of five battered brass instruments from the tuba family suspended over a charred wooden table and two burnt chairs. A fire-scorched tree sprouts out of a tuba hovering over one of the blackened chairs. A fountain gurgles gently from the bell of another suspended tuba. The bells of two other tubas join each other (a shouting match or a union) over the table. The third valve of the tuba in mid-air behind the table has been replaced with a lit beeswax candle. A lit stick of sandalwood incense wafts from one of the slides as well.

I’ve used Yakisugi or Shou Sugi Ban, the Japanese art of charring wood, and applied it to the table and chairs. It is an ancient technique used for weatherproofing and preserving wood. I am captivated by the opposing forces of this method, as well as its symbolic potential and beauty. 

This also relates to the buddhist idea that all things arise co-dependently; they take meaning from each other and their context. As do the five elements. Fire can be devastatingly destructive or it can keep us warm in winter. Water can be catastrophic or a nourishing source of healing and calm. And, in a seeming contradiction, a destructive force can act to preserve under the right conditions.

Last summer I had the opportunity to see the damage caused by the largest forest fire in Nova Scotia’s history. The velvety black silhouettes of trees scorched by fires were both horrifying and strangely beautiful. 

While there, I also encountered an oven bird flitting about close by, which led me to read Robert Frost’s famous poem about the bird. It is about a time, past the peak of spring flowers, in which one needs to recalibrate, and about the need to continue despite having entered a period of decline. In particular, Frost talks about the need to continue to create. 

I used the spit valves and tuning slides as sculptural elements jutting out of the installation's wall drawings. They are there to relieve excess (water) and to retune/recalibrate. The gestural drawings on the walls are done with charcoal, one the oldest art materials, and one of the first tools one uses when learning to draw. Charcoal is simply burnt wood— a transformed material and subject.

Finally, this work is inspired by music. “At tuba terrible sonata taratantara dixit (The tuba, a terrible sound, said taratantara” —Quintus Ennius (239-169BC). The tuba functions as a bass note (the lowest register note from which a chord is formed; its notes extend a full octave below the bottom of a piano keyboard). Tubas exude bombast and puffery, or evoke military music, yet they are also perceived as clumsy or “oom-pah pah” funny. Their deep growl is like the hum of the universe. 

As an artist, I enjoy working with a few elements and allowing them to create different resonances much in the way that a fugue introduces a theme developed contrapuntally— voices entering successively in a continuous interweaving of parts. This musical form allows one to revisit familiar themes with new voices and fresh eyes, counterbalanced and attuned.