Leaving a permanent life-sized water mark on Alberta

(Edmonton) Liz Ingram has a curious fascination with water. Her interest in our relationship with the element, its healing values and importance to our being, influences much of her artwork. Perhaps in keeping with that inquisitiveness, her latest work, Confluence Through the Looking Glass, sees water at its core.

“At our youthful age, we understand more our connection with water, that we’re made of water, but as we grow and mature, we lose that connection,” said Ingram. “I’m trying to bring that experience back, using imagery of our interconnectedness with water.”

The University of Alberta printmaking professor says the 30-foot-wide by 17-foot-high piece, unveiled April 15 at the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium in Calgary, is the largest piece she has ever created and represents an historical cornerstone in her career.

For Confluence Through the Looking Glass Ingram photographed bodies in water in all forms imaginable. She also took a team of dancers and two canoes to a lake. With the boats anchored, the dancers began leaping into the air, splashing the surface of the water while Ingram, perched atop a ladder planted in the shallow waters of the lake, direct and photograph the dancers.

“I’ve been shooting figures in water for years, in bathtubs and underwater, for example. But this was like choreographing, it was an unusual situation,” Ingram said. “The dancers are not professional and I chose ordinary people because I did not want it to be a performance in the ordinary sense of the word. I want people to connect and relate with these figures in water.”

The result is a towering, layered artwork of water, air and sky covering an entire wall space. The foreground depicts the dancers suspended in air, with water droplets dotting their floating bodies, against a background of turbulent waters, at the top and quieting towards the bottom. Although the size of the piece dwarfs the viewer, Ingram says the work should empower. 

“I want the experience of being in front of the images to be uplifting and about the human spirit, to celebrate the human spirit,” she said. “But at the same time bring to the fore the context of nature—the elements, beauty, power and wonder—of what we’re part of, which is water and air.”

Ingram won a province-wide competition by the Alberta Foundation for the Arts and Alberta Jubilee Auditoria Society to create the work. This is her second permanent piece prominently displayed in an Alberta landmark. Touching Water: Anticipation and Memory, was the first and is on permanent display at the Edmonton International Airport. Water is also the main theme of that piece.

“I really believe that water is something we need to protect, respect and love, and I don’t think we do so,” she says. “When we protect water, we protect ourselves. Water is the source of our being.”

She says most people may recall the joy water brings them, from playing in puddles in spring, at the lake or in a bath. “It is a people piece, and in some ways, it is more of a public piece than much of my usual works,” said Ingram. “Without watering down the content, I have tried to create a piece that’s accessible to a broad audience.” 

Many will see the piece in coming years, and Ingram says it is suitably placed to allow patrons to the auditorium an opportunity to reflect water and walk away inspired. “I hope that people take away a feeling of connection to water and our environment, and that the exhibit provides an uplifting experience,” she said.

“There’s incredible power in the human spirit. Sometimes we forget about that, and water helps bring that power out.”