David Jacob Harder, the Neighbourhood Time Exchange | Downtown Prince George January artist-in-residence, is approaching Prince George’s frigid cold-snap as an unusual opportunity to further develop his art practice. Based just a short drive away from Prince George in Wells, British Columbia, Harder is no stranger to the climatic conditions in the Central Region of the province. Harder’s immediate environment has long been an influence on his art practice, which often incorporates natural materials such as logs, soil and rocks into sculptural installations. Recently, Harder has expanded the realm of natural resources he uses to include ice- in large part enabled by the seasonal abundance of that material in Prince George over the past few weeks.
Since mid-December, the City of Prince George has been dealing with major ice clogging the rivers, which includes managing the ongoing associated risks of flooding and infrastructural damage to bridges and shorelines. At the confluence of the Fraser and Nechako, parks and trails have been closed off, diverting people away from the hazards they present. Harder has been collecting some of the ice floes that have beached inland and transports them to other parts of the city, providing moments where residents can encounter the ice safely and more personally. On a downtown bench commemorating Bridget Moran, which features a bronze of the women by sculptor Nathan Scott, Harder placed a human-scaled, mini-glacier of river ice. Bridget Moran in Conversation with the River provides a speculative example of human-environment relations, a subject Harder is personally invested in. As a grandson whose inheritance is tethered to his grandfather’s countercultural participation in the Back-to-the-Land movement, and the son of a logger, Harder is attuned to the terrestrial elements of human life.
While much of Harder’s work is reminiscent of the pioneering Land Art experiments that began to emerge in the 1960s, what differs in Harder’s re-interpretation of the genre is his figurative approach. Whereas Land Art at that time was often conceived on a geologic scale, or one where the human figure was present only in order to be lost in a sublime experience of the landscape, for Harder, the human figure is not so inconsequential. The human body repeatedly appears in many of his works, whether as a silhouette, a contour, or a reference of scale. In the studio, Harder has been recently conducting tests that include freezing logs. The artist noted his interest in using the elements (water and organic material) that can be found in the human body. Using small cross-sections of fallen trees, the prone experiments are vertebral in their appearance.
Alongside the pointed interest in the relationship between the body and the environment is also a reflection on the character of that relationship. Ephemeral and transitory compositions are something that have piqued the curiosity of the artist. Harder draws inspiration from the qualities of the elements he finds himself working with. Things like soil and water are constantly in flux, a pile of rocks will eventually fall, and leaves or bark will turn brittle. The impermanence of much of the world that surrounds us allows for a meditation on presence in the midst of continuous transformation. Rather than building solid and enduring artworks, Harder’s interest in natural materials allows space for the question: “How can you commit to something that will eventually fall apart?”
The thawing weather forecasted for the upcoming week in Prince George will have a major impact on the work Harder has been doing with ice. The difficulties this sudden change in temperature will present only further compels the artist. Ice has an ephemeral quality that is particularly complex. Harder notes it can be destructive, unwieldy, (and in the case of the piece for Bridget Moran in Conversation with the River… incredibly heavy), but it is also remarkably vulnerable and easily destroyed. When working with ice, time is a medium that shapes the work in untold ways. Like the most skilled conversationalist, the ice will shift, change, and slowly shrink away at an imperceptible pace until you realize that somehow, suddenly, they have made a graceful exit.
For the month of January, Harder will be working with Community Partner, Downtown Prince George, working on an ice-based installation for the 2017 Winter Carnival which will be taking place on February 12th. In the meantime, Harder’s works in progress can be seen on display in the Neighbourhood Time Exchange | Downtown Prince George studio.