Three Sask. artists collaborate on multimedia exhibit exploring different meanings of migration

Cecile Miller's “No Boundaries” shows the globe's COVID-19 hotspots. (Jayda Taylor/Daily Herald)

From animals, to humans, viruses, spacecrafts and nature, three artists are hoping to convey that nothing is truly sedentary.

Prince Albert’s Lynn Salo and Rich and Cecile Miller—who are originally from Prince Albert but recently moved to Saskatoon—now have their Migration and Transformation exhibit on display in the Mann Art Gallery.

The exhibit contains paintings from Lynn, audio from Rich and multimedia works from Cecile. Combined, the pieces transport viewers back to when they were children, closing their eyes to make a wish before blowing away the seeds of a dandelion, or on to a boat as they embark on a journey to new territory.

The artists and the gallery’s Acting Director/Curator Lana Wilson had a lot of uncertainties for summer exhibits due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ironically, though, the theme of Migration and Transformation could cause the public to delve deeper into the meaning of movement in light of the rapid spread of the virus.

Most of the artworks have been in the making long before COVID-19 struck in China late last year, but some of the pieces are inspired by the pandemic.

One is called “No Boundaries.” It’s an all black globe with red screws popping out of its surface, marking the hot spots of COVID-19 such as Florida, New York and Italy.

Screws that stick out of the globe more than others represent places that have been hit the hardest.

“I was thinking about how you see that molecule on TV and in the news all of the time, and so it’s in everybody’s minds,” explained Cecile in an interview.

“It was about that there are no boundaries in terms of these things in the natural world.”

Cecile has also transformed two other globes.

“Common Threads,” which has interlocking gold lines, portrays that “man-made borders don’t really exist in nature.” The other globe, titled “Imagine” is inspired by the song of the same name by John Lennon, with the words glowing from a light inside.

“I had so many components to my pieces that I didn’t really even get to see them (completed) until they were set up in the gallery,” she said.

“They were all sort of pieces here and there and just that vision that I had for them, so it was really fun to see them suspended from the high ceilings.”

“The Journey,” for example, has hundreds of butterflies emerging from suitcases. According to Cecile’s written description of the piece, a rotational light gives the butterflies the illusion of movement.

Cecile Miller’s “The Journey” is enhanced with audio by Rich Miller. The piece intends to juxtapose the change and hope in butterflies and humans. (Jayda Taylor/Daily Herald)

An audio piece by Rich adds to the experience and meaning behind the art.

“It took a long time to try and actually work with (Cecile’s vision) to try and find some sounds that would evoke that sense of floating, perhaps,” he said.

“In some ways it’s like a parallel, the music kind of parallels the action.”

Butterflies represent hope, life, rebirth, change and transformation. That same idea is juxtaposed with humans using suitcases.

“The bottom suitcase is actually from post WWII migration of Rich’s mom, and the crocheted tablecloth, from where butterflies emerge, is from my mother and her heritage. After my mother’s passing in 2019, the butterfly became my family’s symbol for her ‘presence’— so very personal,” wrote Cecile in her description.

Rich uses a digital workstation to record, edit and manipulate audio. After discussing the message of the physical piece with its artist, he combines environment sounds with other audio clips to reflect the mood of the artwork.

“That was important for me, to transcend that physical space in the gallery and make sort of the music reflect not only the work, but create an immersive environment for the viewer,” he said.

Whether you’re watching TV or shopping at the mall, he said there’s always music around you.

“I wanted to make it more than just part of the space in the background and I wanted live music to compliment the pieces there,” he said.

To listen to the audio, visitors can bring their own smartphone or tablets and headphones and scan the artworks’ QR codes. To prevent the spread of COVID-19, it wasn’t feasible to have multiple people using one headset.

Cecile and Rich were friends with Lynn while they lived in Prince Albert for decades. They continued to work on the project together when the couple moved to Saskatoon.

One of Lynn’s pieces is called “Poetry to Ebola.” It explores a variety of migrations—both the beautiful movements of whales, butterflies and puppy paws and the deadly spread of viruses like COVID-19 or Ebola.

“Poetry to Ebola” is by Prince Albert artist Lynn Salo, with accompanying music from Rich Miller. The painting contrasts both beautiful and deadly movement. (Jayda Taylor/Daily Herald)

Both Cecile and Rich said that regardless of the beautiful or deadly transformations depicted in the exhibit, they hope viewers take away a sense of hope.

“There’s so much negativity, I hope that my music provides a positive inspiration,” said Rich.

“And (I hope) it makes them think, too, about the connections between us and the huge world and the micro world, those things we don’t see, those little bacteria and bugs and viruses that migrate and they’re all connected in so many different ways.”

“A lot of it we don’t have control of, but we can just try to work together on it instead of being divisive about it,” added Cecile about the exhibit’s themes.

Migration and Transformation is on display in the Mann Art Gallery from July 14—the first day of the gallery reopening its doors to the public—to August 22.

The gallery is open from noon to 5 p.m. from Tuesday to Saturday. Visitors are encouraged to wear a mask, either by purchasing a disposable one at the gallery or bringing your own, and must sign a waiver form when entering the building.

For more on the gallery’s COVID-19 safety galleries, visit its website.