Since 2019, Blackwood Gallery has been collaborating with artist Sean Procyk on the development of Prototype of Lyfeboat—an art installation that consists of a floating pentagonal sculpture on a platform near the shore of Lakefront Marina Drive in Port Credit, Mississauga. Ambitious but minimal, Prototype of Lyfeboat is an invitation to question our relationship to and with nature and the earth. While the questions can be endless given the mystery of the sculpture, it’s important to consider them, as they can lead to wonderful conversations.
As Acting Director and Curator of the Blackwood Gallery, Ellyn Walker was directly involved in Prototype of Lyfeboat’s development which, in his own words, “pivoted and shifted over time”. Like any powerful artistic project, the process was an ever-evolving journey that prioritized flexibility and change over static planning.
One word to define the wafer development process is “collaboration”. During an interview, Walker explained to me that the Prototype of Lyfeboat is not just a typical partnership between an artist and a gallery, but rather a project involving many parties. “During the winter term, engagement and collaboration took place with engineering, arts, and biology students as well as staff, faculty, and Indigenous communities,” Walker said.
By participating in Prototype of Lyfeboat, the Blackwood Gallery has remained true to its spirit of collaboration, the most defining trait of the gallery. There were opportunities for anyone to engage in the research and production phase of Lyfeboat prototype, creating an environment of community development that drove the successes of the project. For Walker, the development of this generative floating platform was intended to “serve many communities, not just one community, given how social justice is at the heart of what we do as an art gallery and center for research”.
The end goal of the exhibit is to foster a relationship between humans and our intersecting ecosystems. Interestingly, the Prototype of Lyfeboat holds a Crimson Fire Oak in its center as a means of experimenting with living ecologies. Can a plant survive outside its natural habitat? Is the sculpture a simple artistic statement or can it be used for something other than art? Here, the idea of survival makes it possible to question the functionality of the shutter. Basically, a lifeboat is supposed to save us, but Prototype of Lyfeboat addresses the issue of functionality in a thought-provoking way. “The Prototypeby carrying an oak tree honors living beings, which, come to think of it, is the true meaning of a boat,” Walker explained.
Given the site of the exhibition on the shore of the Lakeside Marina, it is not surprising that community outreach is one of the central elements of the work. With his background in architecture, social practices and playground design, Procyk approached the installation in a careful and considerate manner, which would result in various educational experiences for tourists. Behind Prototype of Lyfeboat is a commitment to in-depth research on different subjects, my favorite being the research conducted on the black locust, a species whose nationality and origin remain highly controversial.
Research by Procyk and the Blackwood Gallery also considered Canada’s dark colonial history. When I asked Ellyn Walker if the racial and colonial connotations were intentional, she explained to me that the Prototype of Lyfeboat is “an impactful prompt that leads to bigger conversations about race, belonging, and land.” As a black person, I felt the need to continue this conversation about race. I wanted to understand the subtleties of the immobility of the sculpture: does it allude to sedentarization and consequently to colonialism? According to Walker, this stillness is just an illusion. “Water breaks the silence, but our responsibility is there all the time. Stillness is a colonial idea, and in fact, we are never still.
The Prototype of Lyfeboat addresses topics that encourage us to examine our interactions with the ecosystem we live in – a practice that Indigenous communities have practiced for millennia. For too long we have neglected the importance of water bodies and natural species, forgetting that it is our responsibility to care for them. However, thanks to the insight of Procyk and the unwavering support of Blackwood Gallery, Prototype of Lyfeboat gives us the opportunity to redeem nature and ultimately to redeem ourselves.
Prototype of Lyfeboat is available for free on Lakefront Promenade Marina until September 25, 2022.