The scent of savoury gets left behind as you enter the trails around Mount Scio farm to witness the deep greens of foliage become interwoven with blue fabric, and decorations of painted rubber boots, umbrellas, mirrors and sinks, scattered in the trees.
“…float…” is a multi-media art installation taking place on July 1 at Mount Scio farm and puts sets, actors and choirs on the trail along the perimeter of the farm. It involves a moving audience, of up to 100 people at a time.
Kellie Walsh is one of the co-chairs of Podium, a biennial choral concert conference in Canada, taking place in St. John’s this year. Knowing that there were going to be so many choirs in town for the conference, she called Jillian Keiley, a local theatre director with an extensive list of credits, to ask about collaborating on a project.
“I said to (Walsh), ‘if we’re gonna do it, we gotta do it… we can’t do it halfway,’” Keiley, artistic director of “…float…”, said.
Together with Shawn Kerwin, Keiley soon set about designing the pieces.
Functionally, it’s like walking through a movie, the scenes changing at the pace of your feet. Visually, it’s like an inverted haunted house, where the objects and people that pop out to surprise you are meant to invoke a wider array of emotions, rather than just fear.
The only time the audience is asked to stop moving is at the six locations where the choirs are placed.
The choirs will be singing six different pieces, all commissioned for this project, about water and our relationship with it — how we use it, how it affects us, changes us, grounds us, pours distance between us and brings us together.
Though the project is lighter in tone, the seed of its inspiration was a little more macabre.
“On a highway when you see a roadside cross, here’s this kind of random space in the world that is suddenly made sacred,” Keiley said. “If you had to go jump out of your car and have a pee, you wouldn’t go there… If you were going to build something, you probably wouldn’t build something there.”
Keiley began thinking about the idea of space, what it can mean, and how changing a space can change how we think about it, when she noticed how much the demolishing of Mount Cashel affected the community in 1992.
“That space, as grotesque as it is, was a sacred place to our history and it can’t be replaced by a shopping mall, it can’t be replaced by a plaque,” Keiley said. “Not that we should have ever kept Mount Cashel up, but it is a sacred place.
“Ground zero for 9/11, also a sacred place. These are spaces that are in the world that are sacred because something tragic has happened on them.”
Keiley also drew inspiration from an art installation she witnessed during the ’90s at Sound Symposium, a festival that takes place in St. John’s every two years.
“A musician they had brought in had put a piano on top of Gibbet Hill,” Keiley said.
Gibbet Hill is place near Signal Hill. Though they are close, they were used for very different things.
Signal Hill, used historically as a lookout during wartime, is also notable for being the place where the first transatlantic wireless was received by Guglielmo Marconi in 1901, and is a popular tourist destination.
Gibbet Hill is where they hanged people. The area was chosen because, being visible from Signal Hill, the hanging bodies served as a reminder of what happens to people who break the laws of the colony.
“They took this piano, took all the strings out of the piano, nailed the piano to the top of the rocks, pulled the strings down over the side of the cliff face and let the wind play the piano strings,” Keiley said. “It was the most beautiful, haunting sound you can imagine — just absolutely magic. Ever since that time, that space that used to be a grotesque space about death… now is actually this beautiful space that meant something different.”
These thoughts may have served as the jumping-off point, but it’s not Keiley’s intended goal to make anyone second-guess stuffing a turkey.
“I didn’t particularly want people to change their opinion about Mount Scio,” Keiley said, laughing. “It’s just a heavenly place in itself and… I loves me a bit of savoury.”
Keiley simply wanted to take sound and music, put it in an unfamiliar spot, and give other people the opportunity to enjoy the area surrounding the farm, which is usually not open to the public.
At the end of the walk, the last choir will sing a new composition by Andrew Staniland. The audience will sit around in a circle and, with the help of a phone application specifically designed for the installation, can participate in the music by striking their iPhones at the air. Each mimed mallet hit will let out a series of vibrating tones from the tiny speaker, similar to the sound of the standing bell, a bowl-shaped musical instrument often used in Buddhist religious rituals.
“…float…” will be performed twice on July 1, at 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
Tickets for “…float…” can be purchased at http://choralcanadafloat.ca.