‘Unearthed’ reveals and imagines stories of Belle Park

Belle Park is the main host of ‘Unearthed,’ a series of art installations, conversations, and experiments seeking to reveal the stories behind the land. Photo by Cris Vilela/Kingstonist.

From August 26 to 30, 2023, Kingston area residents can take “a walk in the park with a twist” by attending Unearthed, a series of artistic installations, conversations, and experiments seeking to reveal or imagine some of the stories of Kingston’s Belle Park.

Six artists will bring diverse perspectives to connect the history of the park with contemporary social and environmental concerns and experiences. The events and exhibits will take place in Kingston both at Belle Park, located at 731 Montreal Street, and at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts, located at 390 King Street West.

The exhibits and events “will help us think about way-finding, home, identity, play, plants, and the land we stand on. Unearthed is a walk in the park with a twist,” according to a news release from the Belle Park Project, which was conceived by lead researchers Dr. Dorit Naaman (Film & Media, Queen’s University), Dr. Erin Sutherland (Art, University of Calgary), and Dr. Laura Murray (English, Queen’s University). The project works closely with graduate students and community members from a range of backgrounds to approach the space through various scientific, management, legal, and social policy frameworks, recognizing toxic histories and ongoing challenges.

Murray took time to discuss the reasons behind the research project with Kingstonist, saying, “We’re interested in it as a kind of microcosm of what humans and the colonial mindset have done to natural spaces. This area was a wetland, and it got filled with garbage, and then later turned into a park – and then some folks got mad when people moved in. It shows all the competing demands on land – that it has to be useful, or beautiful, made useful, or made beautiful, or wrecked, or serve some particular function or other – rather than just being itself.”

“We are doing the art exhibit because it is part of our ethos to share our research publicly,” she explained. “Also, we think that art is a good mode of trying to think about really complex problems or situations, and this is one.”

The project draws from many disciplinary and community pieces of knowledge, giving a special place to multisensory experience and artistic or research-creation modes of thinking and doing. “We are committed to developing and sharing high-quality research and art through the life of the project, and doing so with and for people who care for and about this place,” the website for the project states.

Belle Park was a wetland for thousands of years. Archeological studies of the area show that during the Middle Woodland period (300CE to 900CE), it was used as grounds for hunting and fishing by Indigenous peoples. Eventually, the place was used as a landfill from 1954 to 1974, and was then converted to a golf course, which operated until 2017. The land holds many stories: from its existence as a sanctuary for living things, to the poison buried not so deep below the surface.

Jung-Ah Kim’s ‘Tiny Universe’ examines Belle Park’s history and nature by cultivating and visualizing microbial ecosystems from its mud. This study aligns with the broader Belle Park Project’s goal of illuminating environmental resistance, resilience, and land re-naturalization, revealing a vibrant life despite the site’s toxicity.
‘Tiny Universe’ will be installed at the Isabel’s Art and Media Lab between August 28 and 30 as part of ‘Unearthed.’ Submitted photo.

More recently, the park has become well-known for the encampments of unhoused people who have used the land as a makeshift village. Murray said that although the homelessness crisis isn’t a main focus of the event because the curators and artists do not feel they are the ones to tell those stories, “we are very aware of the fact that the park is home to quite a number of humans. It is, after all, the largest green space in downtown Kingston, so that’s not surprising. One of the art pieces, by Vince Ha, is partly reflecting on the fragility of shelter.”

On the opening day of Unearthed, Dave Mowat, former Chief of the Alderville First Nation and member of the Belle Park Project research team, will join the curators. Murray said the group is fortunate to have Mowat as part of their team: “He’s a rice harvester and has been a big part of my learning about Anishinaabe histories of this area. He is interested in the history and futures of wetlands and of treaty relationships, and also in the nature of the totem pole in the park. We’re super lucky to have him working with us.”

According to event organizers, despite its sometimes toxic histories, the Belle Park Project seeks to see the space as a generator of questions, relationships, and life. “We hope that our work with Belle Park is not only of significance for people in Kingston/Ka’tarohkwi, but also for those seeking to understand or inhabit similarly complex sites in other cities,” Murray shared. 

Unearthed will take place at two sites: Belle Park itself, and the Art and Media Lab in the Isabel Bader Centre at Queen’s.

“It is challenging to set up an art show in a park, but we wanted to help people see its layers and dimensions,” Murray explained.

In the park itself, Murray noted, “Noah Scheinman is trying to help us imagine the golf course, not closed for that long but already entirely obscured as the tall grasses and weeds grow. Evalyn Parry is a fabulous songwriter and singer and will be singing to, in, and about the park. Elyse Longair will be doing geocaching. Next Wednesday evening, artist Cheryl L’Hirondelle will be singing to the totem pole in the park.”

An exhibition at the Art and Media Lab in the Isabel Bader Centre will be running concurrently with the Belle Park events, showing work by Jung-Ah Kim, Elyse Longair, and Vince Ha. Together, the art in the gallery and in the park seek to suggest ways of engaging with a rich space with an uncertain future.

Vince Ha’s piece at the Art and Media Lab, in the process of installation Thursday, Aug. 24, is called ‘Can I Rest in Your Shade?’ He will have another component of it in the park, as well. Submitted photo by Erin Sutherland.

Schedule of events for Unearthed:

August 26 at Belle Park (731 Montreal Street) 

  • 3-6 p.m. – Exhibit opening with Dave Mowat (Alderville First Nation) and curators
  • Spoken word performance by Billie the Kid
  • Artist introductions (Evalyn Parry, Vince Ha, Elyse Longair, and Noah Scheinman)
  • Guided tour to artistic sites including live music

August 27 at Belle Park (731 Montreal Street) 

  • 3-6 p.m. – Information available at parking lot tent; informal tours with artists, curators, and volunteers.
  • 4 p.m. – Evalyn Parry performance. Arrive at 3:30 to walk to the site.

August 28 at The Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts (390 King Street West) 

  • 12-4 p.m. – Art and Media Lab – Exhibition open
  • 3-5 p.m. – Room 222 – Panel Discussion with all artists and curators
  • 5-6:30 p.m. – Art and Media Lab – Reception

August 29 at The Isabel Centre for the Performing Arts (390 King Street West) 

  • 12-4 p.m. – Art and Media Lab – Exhibition Open

August 29 at Belle Park (731 Montreal Street) 

  • 3-6 p.m. – Information available at parking lot tent; independent touring of artworks

August 30 at Isabel Centre for the Performing Arts (390 King Street West) 

  • 12-4 p.m. – Art and Media Lab – Exhibition Open

August 30 at Belle Park (731 Montreal Street) 

  • 3-6 p.m. -–Information available at parking lot tent; independent touring of artworks
  • 7-8:30 p.m. – Performance by Cheryl L’Hirondelle

Visit the Unearthed page of the Belle Park Project website for details and updated information.

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