Exploring ecological networks in a digital world

Samantha jumping in a field of scraggly grass

April 23, 2024 - 5:00pm

Getting to know Samantha Letourneau

By day, Samantha Letourneau is Vancouver Island University’s Canada Learning Bond project lead and Volunteer Tutor Coordinator. She’s also a musician and dancer and for the past two years, she’s been collaborating with Swedish artist Mårten Spångberg, thanks to funding obtained through Crimson Coast Dance, to create a digital art installation that goes live on Friday, April 26. A launch event takes place at Black Rabbit restaurant in the Old City Quarter that night. Samantha is also hosting a creative process workshop on April 27 and 28.

Can you share a bit about your background as an artist and how you got into it?

I have been working in art for a very long time, as a musician and dancer as well as an art administrator and program coordinator. I started music at the age of 11 and dance came later in my life in my early 20s. I always wanted to do dance, but I grew up in a small community in Yellowknife and at that time the only dance classes available were highland dancing, which I was not very interested in. 

In my early 20s while living in Vancouver, I took classes in contemporary dance and was fortunate to land a small part in the Karen Jameison Dance company for a piece called The River. The River was about rivers and connection between the reality of a real and physical outdoor river and the different reality of “the river within.” It was both a piece of art and outreach for the community. It included working with the S’pak’wus Slu’lum Dancers of the Squamish Nation. Somewhat ground-breaking for 1998.

From there I was hooked and wanted to do more in dance. I studied a lot and took many classes. Fast forward to now, I have been involved with productions and performances with Crimson Coast Dance for more than 15 years and greatly appreciate the talent and innovation that Artistic Director Holly Bright has brought to this community. She is amazing and very supportive of artists in Nanaimo.

How did this international exchange come about?

The Nordic/Nanaimo exchange is one of the innovative projects Holly created. At the height of the pandemic, funded by BC Arts Council and Made In BC, Crimson Coast Dance embarked on a project that explored the ways in which Nanaimo artists could participate in online exchanges. 

Two artists in Nanaimo – myself and Genevieve Johnson – were introduced to artists from Europe and supported through this international exchange. My collaborator, Mårten Spångberg, is a Swedish artist living and working in Berlin. An extension of that exchange is funded by Canada Council for the Arts – Digital Now.

What brought Mårten and myself together – and I quote Mårten here – is “questions around climate change, ecology and the influence contemporary society has on its environments. We are not interested in making art about the ecological crises or informing our audience about the urgency that climate change implies, but instead through our research develop work that in itself proposes, practices and engages in alternative ecologies.”

We share an understanding that art is a unique place, in the sense of practice, activation, performance and event, through which alternative ecologies can emerge and be probed and analyzed.

Tell us about the launch event.

We are launching the digital art installation that Mårten and I created on April 26 at The Attic at Black Rabbit Restaurant. The event is free to attend but people must sign up as seating is limited. I produced video art with soundscapes that I recorded mixing field recordings with voice and instrumentation. Marten explores text, imagery and AI.

My focus is on the evolving and ongoing process of how we communicate with each other and to nature within a digital context.

During our collaboration, Mårten and I talked about networks, though not just the expansive digital network of the internet but of nature. We shared thoughts on mycelium, a network of fungal threads or hyphae, that lately has received much attention on the importance of its function for the environment, including human beings.

Building off this concept, ideas of digital and ecological landscapes being connected emerged. From this we worked both collaboratively and individually to produce material for this digital project. Mårten will be there via Zoom as well and we will talk about this two-year process and the work we created together.

Tags: Teaching and Learning

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