Paul Walde: Centennial Swim
Curated By: Arin Fay
On July 8th 1917, Tom Thomson set out on a canoe trip on Canoe Lake. He did not return. That same day, what turned out to be his canoe was spotted floating upside down. Eight days later his body was discovered floating in the lake.
On July 8th 2017, Paul Walde swam the length of Canoe Lake in Algonquin Park on the 100th Anniversary of Canadian Painter Tom Thomson’s death. The swim, a site-specific and temporally specific event, was used as an opportunity for exploring and understanding this landscape and history through performative experience. The duration of the piece was determined by the length of the lake (3kms) and the artist’s ability to navigate it. The swim was accompanied by a series of interconnected events: a brass band with a mandolin soloist performing a new long form music composition by Walde , three synchronized swimming routines at various points along the route, and a flotilla of canoes carrying the band. The work primarily exists in two forms, that of the event itself and an audio/video work based on the footage of the event.
Tom Thomson Centennial Swim is an audio/video installation based in part on documentation of the site and temporally specific event. The work features footage taken from multiple points of view including underwater cameras, body-cams, mobile units from boats, drones, and stationary positions along the route, combined with shots of the lake and locations featured in Thomson’s paintings. Synchronized swimmers who signal the passage of time, provide connection between the swim and Thomson’s death through a choreographed routine that was performed at several locations along the swim route. The soundtrack features recordings of the brass ensemble from the performance, combined with additional studio recordings, as well as underwater recordings taken during the performance, binaural audio from the swimmer’s perspective, field recordings of the site, and a mysterious hydrophonic recording made at the bottom of the Canoe Lake. The duration of the piece mirrors the length of the event which was approximately 50 minutes.
The score was written to accompany the 3km swim of the length of Canoe Lake in Algonquin Park on July 8th 2017, the centenary of the death of Canadian Painter Tom Thomson. The meter and time signatures are adapted from my stroke rate, and the relationship to my kick and strokes, which alternate from a 6/4 in the first half to a 4/4 in the second half. I wanted the score to be something that could have been created at anytime in the past 100 years. Erik Satie’s timeless work was an inspiration for this undertaking, particularly Vexations and the Gnossiennes (both c.1893). Distance swimming is a very repetitious, rhythmic, and meditative activity so this score attempts to create a work that is at once dirge-like, hypnotic, yet transformative. One of the limitations of the piece was to compose a work over 45 minutes long that could fit on marching band lyres, miniature portable music stands that clip to instruments, so that musicians could perform from canoes, this was accomplished by writing a modular score in which repeated sections and elements are interleaved sonically.
Paul Walde is an artist, composer, and curator. Walde’s body of work suggests unexpected interconnections between landscape, identity, and technology. Over the past 25 years he has become recognized as one of Canada’s leading artists addressing issues of climate change and the environment.
Select international exhibitions of his work include: Au Loin Une Île at Mains d’Œuvres in Paris, France (2018), Records and Wireframes at Dundee Contemporary Arts as part of the NEoN Festival of Digital Media in Dundee, Scotland (2017) and The View from Up Here at the Anchorage Museum and the Nordnorsk Kunstmuseum in Tromsø, Norway (2016 and 2017). In 2013, he completed Requiem for a Glacier, a site-specific sound performance featuring a fifty-five-piece choir and orchestra live on the Farnham Glacier in the Purcell Mountains. Requiem for a Glacier was subsequently developed into a multichannel sound and video installation which has been the basis of solo exhibitions at WKP Kennedy Gallery in North Bay, On (2017); L’ Université Laval Art Gallery in Quebec City, QC; Art Gallery at Evergreen, Coquitlam, BC; Oxygen Art Centre in Nelson, BC, (2014) and The Langham Cultural Centre in Kaslo, BC (2013). Walde’s work can be found in public and private collections in the Canada and the US including the Musée des Beaux-arts de Montréal, The Anchorage Museum, and Museum London.
Walde is a graduate of the University of Western Ontario (BFA) and New York University (MA). In addition to recent grants from the Canada Council for the Arts and the BC Arts Council, he is the winner of The Prescott Fund Award from the National Arts Club in New York City and the Kenny Doran Award from ED Video in Guelph. In addition to his studio practice, Walde is an active lecturer, curator, teacher and writer and has attended residencies at Pouch Cove, Newfoundland, the Banff Centre for the Arts and the Anchorage Museum. From 2007 to 2010 he was the Artistic Director and Visual Arts curator of LOLA, the London Ontario Live Arts Festival during which time he presented projects by such international artists as Brian Eno (UK), blackhole factory (DE), Yoko Ono (US) and Paul D. Miller aka DJ Spooky (US). Often blurring the lines between producer and curator he has also presented the work of such Canadian artists as: Michael Snow, Kelly Mark, Dave Dyment, Gordon Monahan, and Michelle Gay.
In 2012 he relocated to Victoria, British Columbia, where he is an Associate Professor of Visual Arts at the University of Victoria and was the Chair of the department from 2014- 2019, In 2018, he was the recipient of the UVic REACH Award for Creativity and Artistic Expression. Walde is also a founding member of Audio Lodge, a Canadian sound art collective and EMU Experimental Music Unit a Victoria-based sound ensemble.