CRITIPEG: Littoral Landscapes

Tracy Peters show runs until April 7 at Gallery 1C03

Winnipeg artist Tracy Peters’ Littoral Landscapes, a video-based installation running at Gallery 1C03 until April 7, uses a minimalist approach to explore local concerns about shores, water and time. While Peters’ bare-bones aesthetic doesn’t always work in the show’s favour, her visual austerity is itself a powerful statement, forcing the viewer to wholly consider what is in front of them.

The video works in Littoral Landscapes were recorded along the western edge of Lake Winnipeg. The show is comprised of three video pieces. The most prominent, Shoreline, is projected in an extremely wide aspect ratio against the back wall of the gallery. Waves crash against a facsimile of a rocky beach, constructed of sandbags with water-smoothed stones digitally printed on their fabric.

The smaller videos, CHOKE and Shallow Deep, examine the same beach in winter and summer, respectively.

The pairing of CHOKE and Shallow Deep is the most interesting aspect of the show. Both utilize sound to great effect.

The wintery beach in CHOKE focuses on the thin sheet of ice covering the stony shore like a tiny, fragile skating rink as gentle waves lap below its surface. The ice crackles as it strains against the force, but, otherwise, the soundscape is made mostly of the swelling boom of water beneath ice. It’s an almost microscopic perspective, but isolated from all other surroundings, this tiny patch of shore takes on galactic proportions.

Shallow Deep plays with sound in a more expressive way. As the water rises and falls with each lazy sway of the water, the noise of lapping waves is replaced with human breathing. As the water rises, inhale. As it’s carried out, exhale.

It’s a simple idea, but one that takes on more significance the longer it’s watched and heard. The movement of the waves aren’t nearly as steady or consistent as calm breathing. Since the breath mimics the water exactly, it is often jagged and irregular. It shifts from eliciting calm in the viewer to provoking anxiety from moment to moment, underscoring the idea of a lake as a living thing.

That emphasis on lakes as living isn’t just a naturalist cliché. When Littoral Landscapes places itself firmly at Lake Winnipeg, it takes itself from being about “lakes” in the abstract to something much more specific. The show never addresses the environmental crises in Lake Winnipeg directly, wisely leaving them as part of the subtext.

The blue-green algae that has been devastating Lake Winnipeg for decades has made it the most algae-threatened lake on Earth, and the more recent infestation of zebra mussels has made the situation even more dire.

That sense of dread is amplified by Littoral Landscapes’ emphasis on the passage of time. While the seasonal shift between CHOKE and Shallow Deep serves a visual and conceptual purpose, it also embeds in the show the sense of a ticking clock. The ideas of shoreline erosion, of time wearing away at the lake itself, further accelerate that anxiety.

These ideas are so potent, one wishes there were more to Littoral Landscapes. With only these three videos and a minimal sculptural element, it will leave viewers wanting.

Published in Volume 72, Number 22 of The Uniter (March 22, 2018)

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