Published October 12, 2013 - 12:00am
Last Updated October 12, 2013 - 7:02am
Holly Carr took the images in her mind of a safe place and turned them into a real retreat for all to seek refuge in Light in the Forest.Her full-scale installation at Acadia University Art Gallery has a central, circular tent. Through billowing silk doors, the viewer enters into a meditative space with a green floor cushion.The silk walls are alive with plant and wildlife. The colours pop; there is nostalgic music on headphones.“It’s like a children’s storybook,” says Carr, who lives in Woodside near Canning.“Everything is alive and living. The fish are jumping. There’s lots of green, there are berries to eat, hidden mice, the bees are in the flowers.“I kept it simple, big, simple shapes, I wanted it to be like a kids’ colouring book.”But to get to the refuge, the viewer has to walk, like a hero in the underworld, through a forest of giant lit trees and past scary mythological male figures with animal heads. They belong to narratives representing negative psychological moments in Carr’s life.
The tent’s outer shell is painted on transparent chiffon silk and depicts a frightening, fruitless world of wolves with bared teeth and thorny branches and a rabbit caught by hunters.The outer world broadcasts sombre classical music in a minor key, with singing by Paula Rockwell, an Acadia faculty member and Carr’s running partner. The music inside the tent is “light and beautiful, Pachelbel Canon and the Friendly Giant, and that nostalgic music that makes me feels happy and safe.”Light in the Forest explores myths, fears and safe places. It is rooted in Carr’s childhood experience.“I have these safe places I go to in my mind and they’re colourful and remind me of when I was happy and safe,” says the artist, whose long black dress is in stark contrast to her vibrant imagery.“It’s like my head is always like a picture book.”As a mother and a woman in her late 40s, Carr has a lot of worries, like most people. She also has family members who suffer from anxiety.“I started thinking of safe places. What if I created a literal space you could enter?“It wasn’t just for me. I thought of it as a public space. I’m trying to create a space where people can come in and feel comfortable.”The NSCAD University graduate grew up in Fall River surrounded by forests and fields.“That’s where I played and we foraged and ate and built forts. At night it was scary.”Bad things can happen in dark hidden spaces. Carr remembers when a little boy was lost in the woods and died “and that haunted me, that this place of enjoyment could be something so horrific.”This exhibit plays on the dichotomy of good and bad in one place.“Some of my happiest moments were in the forest and some of my most frightening.”She searched her childhood memories for what “shaped my fears and how I react as an adult and even as a parent.”Carr dreams big. To create Light in the Forest she used “close to 200 yards of silk.”An accompanying exhibit reveals her process of making drawings as preliminary sketched ideas.Carr paints freehand out of her imagination.“I want to feel free the way I work. I just jump in with paint.”The trees are “131/2 feet tall,” she says, and lit from within.“You know when you’re in a forest and the light shines though the trees? I love trees.”This work builds on The Terrarium, her 2003 interactive installation celebrating plant and insect life at the Museum of Natural History in Halifax.Poles were visible between panels in The Terrarium. For this show she worked with her husband, painter Alan Bateman, to design a structure to hide the poles.“There is a continuous loop of the world constructed with lots of help from my husband. I can create that continuous world so it swirls around you.”Laurie Dalton, the Acadia gallery’s director-curator, asked Carr to do a large-scale installation.“A lot of people have seen her paintings and performances,” she says. “I wanted to show her work in a new way to people in the Annapolis Valley.“I was also interested in creating an opportunity to celebrate good, exciting work happening in Nova Scotia and to push the envelope by pushing the boundaries of scale.”“I was thrilled,” says Carr.“We hope to get it in some other venues because it is such an amazing body of work,” says Dalton. “It’s important to celebrate Nova Scotia artists.”If Light In the Forest travels, Carr is already thinking of adding a moon, a ceiling piece, more trees.“I have another idea of building a whole other piece. I can see it, even if I don’t get to do it, just dreaming it is fun.“I want to build bigger. I want to build a silk building. I want to get inside and paint it from the inside out. My husband calls it magic beans.”Carr has upcoming live painting performances with the Hamilton Symphony and a new Christmas show she is premiering in Fall River on Nov. 30 at the LWF Community Hall.In the short term, she, her son and her daughter are going to give her husband space. Bateman is having his first exhibit in Halifax in 15 years at Secord Gallery.“Until Nov. 1 we won’t bug him so he can just paint the whole time.”Carr gives an artist’s talk on Oct. 18, 2 p.m., and a hands-on artists’ workshop on Nov. 3. School and community groups may book tours and workshops, facilitated by Dalton, by emailing email@example.com. The gallery is open Tuesday to Sunday, noon to 4 p.m.