Remai Modern is showcasing a new project by Saskatoon artist Amalie Atkins — considered to be Atkins’ most expansive film project to date.
On April 5, the modern art museum debuted Amalie Atkins and The Diamond Eye Assembly, a trilogy of films that explore ancestral connectivity and the retrieval of distant memories. The work, shot on 16 mm film, is set in the rural community of Petrofka in the North Saskatchewan River valley.
The installation at Remai Modern, which is shown on 16 mm and 35 mm projectors, will remain on view in the museum’s free Connect Gallery until June 9.
“Amalie’s work is marked by a spirit of invention, which has been recognized widely throughout Canada and beyond,” Remai Modern curator Sandra Fraser said in a news release. “Her handmade aesthetic may look effortless but there’s an incredible amount of complexity in her work, where every detail is carefully considered. Remai Modern is thrilled to debut this project, which has been nearly a decade in the making, and to support the vision of an artist whose work showcases our region in ways that resonate both at home and much further afield.”
The Saskatoon Express asked Atkins a series of questions about her project and what inspires her. The interview has been edited for length.
Express: How does it feel to have your work showcased at Remai Modern?
Atkins: Having my work (shown) at Remai Modern is a dream come true. I live close to the Remai and have biked by it year after year as it was going up. Long ago, when I was still shooting the film, I imagined how amazing it would be to show the finished film in the new gallery one day. My film took so many years to make and involves many local people, so premiering it at the Remai was an absolute joy. The Remai team is exceptional to work with. . . . . Setting up the exhibition at the Remai gave me a chance to see many of the behind-the-scenes people who work diligently and thoughtfully to bring exhibitions to life and share them with our community.
Express: You are a Saskatoon-based artist and your films highlight the Petrofka area of the province. How does a sense of place inform your work?
Atkins: Living in Saskatchewan has changed the way I make work. I grew up on a farm in Manitoba and the landscape here feels familiar. I have access to open space here and I feel connected to the place. After I moved to Saskatoon, I found out that both of my grandparents first lived in Saskatchewan when they immigrated to Canada. My grandmother lived in Rosthern and my grandfather lived in Herbert. Both of them eventually settled in Manitoba and lived the majority of their lives there, so the Saskatchewan connection was unknown to me for most of my life. There is space and freedom to think creatively here. The locations in the film give the story its backbone.
Express: Why is film your medium of choice?
Atkins: I prefer analogue tools like film cameras, wind-up Bolex cameras and medium- and large-format field cameras. I like to reach back in time. Using an old camera makes me feel connected to an older world. Film is embedded with emotive power. Film gives a feeling of timelessness. Film offers a both a sense of stability — very heavy equipment — and sense of precariousness. You never know what the image will look like until it gets back from the lab and sometimes the very stable camera eats the film, creating free special effects — like lines and scratches that serendipitously enhance the scene. I don’t know who said this, but I agree that “everything comes alive when we are conscious of contrast.” Shooting film makes me feel alive.
Express: What sort of message are you trying to relay through your work?
Atkins: I am not trying to directly relay any messages. Filmmaking is more of a problem-solving adventure for me. I start with an image I don’t understand and making the film helps me to discover its meaning. I don’t always find out its meaning, but I do find out many other meanings along the way. I ask myself many questions while making a film. I wonder what will happen . . . and then, along the way, parts of the story connect and I find clues, which lead me to one possible story line or multiple story lines. The film is made up of many chapters and it took a long time to figure out how they all connect. It was not a straightforward path. This approach creates a dream-like narrative. If I were trying to relay a certain message, it would be to pay attention to your family’s stories. For this project, I was influenced by stories as told by my mother and grandmother.