Nanaimo Art Gallery curator Jesse Birch unveils the NAG’s latest publication, The Mill, at Wildwood Ecoforest on Feb. 23. (Josef Jacobson/The News Bulletin)

Nanaimo Art Gallery explores forest ecology and industry in new publication

Book launch for ‘The Mill’ at Wildwood Ecoforest concludes gallery’s Silva trilogy

A five-year Nanaimo Art Gallery project is came to its conclusion late last month with the release of the gallery’s newest publication.

On Feb. 23 the NAG held a book launch for The Mill at Wildwood Ecoforest in Ladysmith. The book concludes Silva, a three-part contemporary art project exploring the forest ecology and lumber industry of Vancouver Island.

On Sept 3, 2015, the NAG unveiled Silva with an exhibition entitled Silva Part I: O Horizon. The show was named for the scientific term for the forest floor, which NAG curator Jesse Birch describes as “the place where plant matter grows out into the light and where discarded plant matter falls onto the ground and turns into humus. So it’s this place of becoming.”

In November of that year, O Horizon was followed by the exhibition Silva Part II: Booming Grounds, which Birch said referred to the place where logs sit “in limbo” before being processed at the mill.

“That path was set out from the beginning that we were going to start from that place of becoming, then The Mill, which is the place where trees when they become commodities become processed, that’s the end of the story,” Birch said.

The Mill is also the second in a planned trilogy exploring the Island’s resource industries, which started with the 2016 mining-themed publication Black Diamond Dust and will conclude with a third book about ocean resources.

The Mill features poems, stories, essays, photographs and illustrations concerning humanity’s interactions with the forest. Birch said he and his co-editor, Brussels-based designer and past collaborator Will Holder, decided what to include in the book while reviewing “a whole bunch of readings” during a four-day hike on the Juan de Fuca Trail.

“The Juan de Fuca Trail is a place where there’s second growth, some old growth stumps, clearcuts and human and animals interacting,” Birch said. “The whole scope of this project is sort of summed up in that space so we were really in the space itself while we were thinking about what would work best in the publication so a lot of that initial editing happened on that trip.”

The book launch included a tour of Wildwood led by book contributor and ethnobotanist Nancy Turner ending at the homestead of Wildwood founder Merv Wilkinson, where Birch discussed The Mill.

Birch said Wildwood is an ideal site for the launch. He said two artists who were in Booming Grounds were artists-in-residence there at the time and the site has long been looked at as a way to consider sustainable forestry.

“There’s such a long history of the conversation around the value of forests and forestry, not purely from a ecological point of view, not purely from a resource extraction point of view, but a direct conversation happened on that site,” he said. “So for me, continuing the conversation in The Mill in the site of Wildwood is a perfect fit.”

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