Salt Water Skin Boats

Location: Abbotsford, B.C. Canada
Featured Work: Salt Water Skin Boats

Describe your featured work
Salt Water Skin Boats is a research-creation project that started in 2014. It crystalizes peer-evaluated research on ocean change into a soundscape and sculptural boat-like forms to create an immersive experience for the viewer. Illuminated from within, the fleshy, boat-like objects float overhead, submerging viewers in an imagined aqueous environment: a briny sea, a deep ocean channel, or perhaps something more elemental, like a womb. Circuitous branches of willow, dogwood, fig, and cedar form delicate armatures resembling river tributaries, prefiguring the vascular patterns echoed in the gut, skins, and bathymetric maps used to create their hulls. Shaped like coracles, ancient vessels used to traverse global waterways long before humans shifted the CO2 balance of the planet, these woven hulls are pre-colonial. The surfaces are at once flesh and ocean surface. They remind us of the surface cracks in ice, rivulets of light, or is it melting glacial water? Each vascular hull is covered with ocean prayers and provocations written in the voice of the ocean and scientific formulas. The extended-duration ambient ocean soundscape is composed as a sentient ecosystem that moves through the space in waves of sound. Ever-transforming constellations of voices—water, wind, creature, human, breath, and heartbeat—are intermittently interrupted by the voices of technology and science—sonar, submarine, ship, and plane. Created as a living, breathing entity intended to bring ocean life into the listener’s awareness, the soundscape asks what if that life could be heard?

Lifeboat 2 (Salted with fire), 2018, Fig branches, elk hide, cheesecloth, bathymetric ocean maps, beeswax, salt, ash, sinew, binder twine, LED lights. 472 cm x 132 cm x 65 cm
Lifeboat 6 (Listening in, ocean oracle), 2017, Dogwood+willow branches, cheesecloth, bathymetric ocean maps, red yarn, beeswax, twine, LED lights, woven in part during a knowledge-sharing workshop (Surrey Library)
Installation view of Grief Works/Hope Works in the O’Conner Gallery, Chilliwack Cultural Center, B.C.











Artist Statement
Fueled by environmental urgency, Erica draws on collaborative, interdisciplinary, and socially engaged practices to create large-scale installations. Her odd, sculptural, boat-like forms, called “material semiotic entanglements,” invite curiosity and draw connections between embodiment and environment. She interweaves all kinds of ordinary materials—branches, bathymetric ocean maps, ear-buds, hog-gut, plastics, yarn, elk skin, salt, sheepskin, airplane dacron, wax, cheesecloth, ash, binder twine, scientific and poetic texts, medical imagery, drawn fragments, video, ambient soundscapes—to try to make sense of things. Her material practice is rooted in a decades-long drawing practice, fascination with materials, and curiosity about liminal, phenomenological, saturated, or otherwise inexplicable but ordinary experiences. She continues to draw on paper, in research journals, and in space with branches, objects, and sound.

What are you making now?
At the moment I am making a murmuration of hand-held coracles for a small gallery in BC. Woven with sage branches, skinned with hog gut, each contains a cryptic note. These tiny objects suggest ancient boats, layer embodiment with environmental metaphors, and invite viewers to imagine what nature would whisper to us if we had ears to hear. What if we were to cultivate a new intimacy with the earth? What would this intimacy reveal?
I am also editing/rewriting my PhD dissertation The Aesthetics of Attentiveness for Wilfred Laurier University Press. They have invited me to wrap my dissertation, written from the vantage point of a maker, around the Salt Water Skin Boats Project, including the research I have done since 2012. It opens with being “stopped” by a heart attack, identifies recurrent phases of aesthetics acts and connects with the current global ecological crisis.

Why do you belong to CIVA?
I attended my first CIVA conference in 1991, roughly a year after the birth of my first child. Although, in all honesty, much of what I did at that first conference was sleep, I observed a remarkable group of people from every spectrum of the art world. Here was a conference that was not primarily about ego or competitive performance, but about inclusion, giving support, and facilitating growth. Over the years, CIVA has grown, deepened, changed, struggled, and helped an amazing number of people, myself included, become better artists. Laurel Gasque enlisted me to assist with the Montreal CIVA conference, after which I was hooked, and served on the board for a number of years. Numerous lifelong friendships are among the many things for which I am grateful to CIVA.

Erica Grimm is Professor of Art in the School of the Arts, Media, and Culture at Trinity Western University. Canada Council and SSHRC Grant holder, she was Campion College’s 2002 Distinguished Nash Lecturer, the recipient of the Imago National Juried Art Prize, and U of R Distinguished Alumnae. Widely exhibited, she is included in many private and public collections such as the Vatican, Canada Council Art Bank, and Richmond Art Gallery.