Artist: Alison McCreesh
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What medium(s) do you work in? How did you choose that medium?
I work in a variety of mediums.
I have a fibre arts practice where I develop large hangings out of felted wool. It's a medium I love for many reasons, most notably because it has a strong cultural connection to the north around the world.
I also work as a cartoonist, drawing and writing graphic novels and comics. I publish short pieces in magazines and my two full-length books are 'Ramshackle, A Yellowknife Story' (2015) that explores the reality in living off grid in what is otherwise a modern government town and Norths, Two suitcases and a Stroller around the Circumpolar World (2018) that is based on six months of travel North of 60 with my partner and small child.
Finally, I run a business in Yellowknife that offers illustration and graphic recordings services. In that capacity, I work with clients to create visuals to communicate information in ways that are engaging and wide-reaching.
Though my work varies in mediums, there are clearly common threads. Contemporary day-to-day life in the north, in all its complexity, is a theme that carries through the vast majority of my projects. I generally try to combine the anecdotal and the documentary to present an intimate and relatable picture of the northern parts of the globe.
How and why did you decide to focus on the polar regions in your work?
Ever since falling in love with the north and subsequently moving to Yellowknife over a decade ago, this part of the globe has been the focus of my creative work. The themes I have been interested in have shifted over the years, but the north is a constant. When I first arrived, I thought a lot about the "Idea of North". I was interested in the romantic frontier imagining and how it contrasted with reality. In that spirit, I became interested in what could and should be considered heritage in a young town like Yellowknife. Over time, I became more interested in the Circumpolar North as a whole. These days, I am looking at this global north with a focus on some of the shared history of the past century - mining, militarization, economic development, colonialism, etc. At this moment, where a lot of climate related decisions will directly impact the north, I want people to help people learn about, and therefore hopefully care about, this part of the world.
What polar themes or imagery do you typically focus on?
Throughout my different projects, my main focus is the people. I'm interested in the contemporary day-to-day life in the north, in what people have experienced and on what lies ahead. I'm interested in all the rapid changes the populations have seen, willingly or otherwise, over the past few generations.
Do you have any advice for polar scientists and researchers who might like to engage more with using art to share their results and research?
I think art and visuals are a crucial and often underestimated tool when it comes to communicating and engaging. When I do graphic recordings or create fully illustrated infographics, I find it reaches a broad audience. It's not a case of "dumbing it down", rather it makes often dense materials more palatable and more alive. It draws people in and it piques their interest. It also helps reduce barriers when it comes to languages and terminology. I'm always pleased too at how much scientists also like seeing theirs and others' work rendered visually!
What reactions do you often receive to your art?
Throughout my work, the human aspect is what seems to speak to people most. I dwell on small details to make my pieces real and relatable and the audience always enjoy that. When I exhibited work about Nunavut in northern Russia, people grinned when they saw jerry cans and snowmobiles. Likewise, when I exhibited in Iceland, locals liked my depictions of a "super jeep". In some of my work, I try to prompt thought or discussion about more serious issues relating to the North, but even then I find it important to make some space for humour and smiles.
What do you think are the biggest challenges facing the polar regions today?
From my perspective, climate change is probably the biggest challenge. As we all know, it's happening faster in the north and the impacts are very tangible. I think a lot about how it affects the people, especially those who live in small isolated communities that are already strained and struggling on several fronts. Access to the land is such a crucial part of wellness - for hunting, for culture, for transportation, for food - and having unpredictable ice and weather conditions impacts this directly. I also think a lot about development in the north, be it resource extraction or large scale tourism, and wonder about the challenges and struggles of balancing economic opportunities with protecting the land and culture.
Do you have a favourite fellow polar (or nature) artist?
I really like the work of Casey Koyczan, who is a Tlicho Dene interdisciplinary artist from Yellowknife. He creates really thought provoking and immersive installations. Nature and indigenous culture are in the forefront of his pieces.
© Pictures created by Alison McCreesh