Engage with Nature-Based Solutions

Kirstie McCallum: Cloudwell

Kirstie McCallum is an interdisciplinary artist who is based in Charlottetown, PEI, and teaches at the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD). Kirstie’s work draws on craft practices, organic gardening, and DIY science to explore cycles of growth and decay, material agency, and environmental sustainability. 

“At a macro level my work serves an important philosophical position in the age of climate emergency: driven by capitalist notions of unchecked growth, extractive approaches to the natural world (like the privatization and sale of community groundwater reservoirs) negate life, push civilization towards resource collapse, and catalyze acute social and environmental crises. I strive to counteract these trends in small ways, by offering respite and contemplation through dynamic, functional public sculptures. Often including living or biomimetic components, my sculptures invite audiences to a somatic experience of calm presence and groundedness. They are meant to counteract the stress of crisis and reorient us towards a necessary, if cautious, optimism for the future, through the adoption of sustainable and integrated relationships with the more-than-human world.”

The Artwork

Kirstie produced Cloudwell, a multi-media sculpture, for her commission with Engage with Nature-Based Solutions. Cloudwell is a locally-sourced clay vessel that mimics water gathering and purifying containers from traditional societies. The vessel’s unglazed, porous surface allows water to percolate through its form; the water that collects on the underside has been purified and is drinkable.

Cloudwell expresses my interest in the flux of natural phenomena. By creating drinking water out of ‘nothing’, I raise awareness about atmospheric cycles and the balance between living things and natural systems. The delicate mechanics of the sculpture emphasize this balance aesthetically as well as literally: the sculpture was suspended in the air ‘waiting’ for water to condense on its surfaces, in a gesture that is receptive to the slowness of hydrological cycles, rather than extractive of a resource. In this way Cloudwell describes a position towards the natural world that is patient and open to inter-relations. It harmonises with notions of ‘appropriate technology’ and ‘nature-based solutions’ by demonstrating how simple interventions in a landscape can be lifesaving and life-affirming.”

The Workshop

Kirstie held a workshop and mapping session at the Beaconsfield Carriage House, in Charlottetown, in August 2023. The workshop included presentations about island ecosystems and waterways by local experts Charlotte Large, PEI Watershed Alliance, and Krystal Pyke, UPEI School of Climate Change & Adaptation, and a mapping and drawing workshop with community-engaged researcher Maleea Acker, Engage with Nature-Based Solutions.

Natural systems — such as wetlands, estuaries, forests, and prairie — provide immense benefits to people and nature. They clean water, absorb floods, cool climate, and remove carbon from the atmosphere. “Nature-based solutions” support planetary health and address societal challenges. Through games, discussions, drawings, and the creative use of maps, participants shared stories and made connections between human and non-human communities and the life-giving freshwater sources on the island. They learned about strategies that community groups and home-owners can use to encourage a sustainable water cycle in their backyards, neighbourhoods, and community green spaces. And they talked about how to foster healthy and sustainable water relationships as well as celebrating the important contribution art can make to discussions about climate change.

The Reach

Kirstie participated in Charlottetown’s 2023 Art in the Open festival, and leveraged her funding to obtain a PEI Arts Grant. She will also show her work in the Spring 2024 Living with Climate Change exhibition at the University of Victoria’s McPherson Library.

Connections made at the Cloudwell workshop have led to collaborations between Engage with Nature-Based Solutions and the PEI Watershed Alliance, the Yukon Conservation Society, and Nature Canada.

#various landscapes
#water filtration