Know Flow

with Delwyn Higgens, and guest artists
Jasmine and Sofia Muruve
a collage installation at
M9 Contemporary Art Centre
August 18 – 19, 25 – 26, September 1 2, 2012
Open: 10 AM – 5 PM


“It doesn’t matter where you are coming from.  All that
matters is where you are going.”  Brian Tracy, motivational guru

In every sense, to ‘know flow’ seems like a really good idea.  ‘Flow’ has many meanings but writers and researchers on the subject seem to agree on a few basic things.  In the state of flow nothing stays the same.  And with that change and internal motion comes a mindset that is at its core very different from that associated with the somewhat related state of flux.  To be in flux implies indecision and a lack of personal control over outcomes.  Flow, on the other hand, only happens when we take charge of a given situation negotiating unfamiliar territory while at the same time making necessary adjustments as the process continues to get the result we want.  A good way to promote the state of flow is to be engaged in an activity that is challenging but not so difficult that you don’t have the skills to complete what it is you have set out to do.   Ideally, the activity should hover around the outer limits of your capabilities enticing you to take on and continue the project until it is resolved.  One of the best ways I know to initiate a state of flow is to engage in art making and a good way to enrich the process is to include children as your collaborators.

I began the Know Flow project by revisiting some old photographs I had taken from our car as we sped down Hwy. 1 towards Winnipeg in the summer of 2001.  My shots were of the landscape lining the road between Thunder Bay and Dryden and therefore included rocks and trees and more rocks and trees.  Finding myself on the side roads around Dyers Bay some years later I see much the same mix of rocks and trees  —  with variations.  Taking the place of the miles of spruce and poplar are large stands of white cedar and Canadian Shield granite has been replaced with the dolostone of the Niagara Escarpment.  It is this ancient form of limestone that lines the walls of our studio at M9 Contemporary Art Centre.  By placing my photos on and around the existing stone slabs I was making a connection between the environments of northern and southern Ontario as well as linking the past and the present on a personal level.  I was also beginning an entirely new work.

Digital cameras have improved over the years especially in the realm of action shots.  There are now excellent stabilizers within the camera that minimize the blur you get when documenting objects in motion.  My old camera did not have the latest version of this feature so that all my pictures of northern Ontario are blurred; the motion of the car in relation to the landscape is evident in each and every one.  Lemonade out of lemons?  Possibly, but it was this visual evidence of speed, movement and, by extension, the idea of time passing that I wanted to work with in Know Flow.

And so I began a new series of photographs of moving phenomena particular to the Dyers Bay region.  I was especially intrigued with water flow in the local streams and falls.  My new camera produces great stop action shots, but it had a hard time keeping up with the undulating, tumbling presence of the water as it made its way in various configurations toward Georgian Bay.  There are several things worth noting in these photos.   Plants and animals appear with clarity as long as they coexist with the water, but as soon as they are immersed in it, carried along with it or otherwise affected by it they take on aspects of a spectacular watery world that is totally influenced by and responsive to light.  The ever changing colours of light-filled water delight the eye and photography captures them all.  In looking at these shots you get a real sense of the soul of water when it is allowed to flow where it will.  I was fascinated and wondered whether in drawing some of these phenomena I would be able to capture the same kind of richness and depth.  I subsequently brought my drawing materials to various locales and recorded the flow inherent in the water I saw.  This resulted in several works on paper using chalk, watercolour markers and pastel that also found their way into the collage.

I wanted to include some wood in the work but didn’t feel good about using living trees in any form.   The municipality regularly cuts down saplings that impinge on the shoulders of Dyers Bay road and the connecting side roads.  These lie discarded as waste eventually rotting and adding to the meager soil that covers the large expanses of limestone in the area.  I decided to use branches and twigs from these refuse piles in the collage.  With hot glue I was able to place the wood at odd angles and in various formations to take the piece in new directions.  I had also accumulated several tiny stone fragments from a nearby quarry and these became part of the work. In essence, I was using random samplings of what presented itself to make the piece.  In the beginning,the placement of objects was largely by chance but,as more and more things were introduced into the collage their positioning became increasingly considered and deliberate.

This kind of specificity reflects the idea that to ‘know flow’ in an artistic sense is to solve problems as you go along, whether these be formal issues or those communicating a particular idea to some end result.  Thus, this work was made to reveal itself in each of the details which, in turn, inform the whole.  And so it goes.  As a medium, collage implies the layering of components and often meanings as well.  Visually, Know Flow incorporates objects that read as a continuous multifaceted narrative from one end of the piece to the other.  The wood provides a tangible linear link between sections, the separate vignettes that circle around and through the stationary rocks on the wall.  Natural materials soften the crisp borders and graphic details of the photographs.  The smallest inclusions may affect the largest response in the viewer since they are there as evocations of memory, both personal and collective. As this project neared its completion my tendency as the artist was to preface each addition to the collage with a thought toward providing emotional space for the creation of significance.

When my granddaughters Jasmine and Sofia arrived in Dyers Bay for their annual cottage visit I realized that Know Flow could enter another phase if they were willing to become part of the work.  They are consummate artists in their own right and were soon offering suggestions concerning the collage.  We agreed to collaborate and the project took off in a new direction.  The girls brought an energized focus and uninhibited joy to the work.  Their presence and the creative integrity of their drawings and mini-sculptures complete the piece.


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