A Slow Unfolding

“Landscape’s most crucial condition is considered to be space, but its deepest theme is time.”

Rebecca Solnit, As Eve Said to the Serpent: On Landscape, Gender, and Art

The landscape carries clockwork that puts the clock to shame. Its second hand peels away, to be replaced by clouds of tiny flies; its minute hand runs skittering into the bushes, and minutes are instead measured in the sound of small animal rummaging for food, or a Robin yelling at a Magpie disturbing her nest; the hour hand fades and is taken by bright and dappled light, as the sun arches through the sky overhead. Even the face of the clock melts – not as a Dali clock would, but like ice melts into a river at night, so slowly you hardly realize it’s happening, and yet it’s gone in the morning.

A site visit with Kablusiak & Lane Shordee in Winter 2018
Stone seats by Lane Shordee, stepping stones by Kablusiak in Autumn 2021
A perfect morning on Elbow Island in Summer 2022

To work on a project like The Wandering Island feels like holding your breath underwater, slowing your heart rate, and counting to 30. Parts of this project are impossibly time consuming and complicated to describe, primarily because of timing. The more structural artworks of The Wandering Island are complete, but the second half – temporary site-specific artworks envisioned long ago – are caught in a spiderweb of careful transitions between Calgary Public Art and the newly minted municipal arts program at CADA. Everything is uncertain except that this is a time of great transition, complicated by the mechanisms of change. We are in the tedious process of re-forming.

Summer 2019

Sunrise over the Elbow in Winter 2020. Photo by Mike Tan

But tedium is only gauged in human time. In island time, this beautiful little park has been healing. Walking there today, I felt (for the first time since construction onsite in 2019/2020) that the lushness is returning. We are watching grass grow, bushes balloon with new leaves and flowers, willow stakes root into willows, and trees stretch their canopies towards the sun.

This is the strange dichotomy of Elbow Island. It balances precariously between a version of time measured by its human observers (in this case, me) and the intrinsic non-time time of all that unfolds there – floral, faunal, geological, spiritual, aquatic, and more. These are not separate, really. They are entwined. How can we possibly measure entwined time?

Water rising on Elbow Island in Spring 2022
Susan Clarahan & Joel Staples Sun Chairs, dipping into the river at the tip of Elbow Island

If time is measured in floods, this year marked a kind of time – according to our River Engineer colleague – between 1:2 year and 1:5 year river water levels. We held our breath for the artworks onsite, glad to have engineered footings and an awareness of floodways, care of foresightful municipal experts.

The water rose and fell without significant incident. The artworks survived with only minor wear-and-tear. We felt lucky, this time.


“If a landscape is a way of seeing, there are potentially as many landscapes as individual ways of seeing…”

Lucy Lippard, The Lure of the Local: senses of place in a multicentered society

Time, like anything, can only be measured in relation to perspective. The time of art, or the time of grandmothers, or the time of bureaucracy, or the time of wood rot, or the time of larval development, or the time of daylight, or the time of galaxies, or the time of you, or the time of me, or the time of….

Each exists from its own perspective, in its own time zone. But this isn’t how life works. In order to exist, together, in a world shared between so many entities, with competing desires, needs, and responsibilities, we must forge an understanding: overlapping time. Superimposed.

A view from another time

Or maybe…. we should think about time shifting in and out of focus. Maybe there are moments of shared clarity between entities. Maybe we find the centre of the venn diagram, or a common focal point, or a mutual moment of yearning, and our hearts synch. Things begin to happen. Maybe this is how we can experience time together. Maybe this is where the feeling of “forward” comes from.

Bubbles trapped in ice. Photo by Mike Tan. Winter 2020

Written by Caitlind Brown, Co-Guiding Artist, The Wandering Island

Photos: Caitlind Brown (except those attributed to Mike Tan)

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