In 1857, John Palliser led an expedition to survey southern Saskatchewan and Alberta, and declared it unsuitable for settlement due to harsh winters, erratic rainfall and frequent droughts. Another settler, Wallace Stegner, had a very different impression of the area in 1914: "The drama of this landscape is in the sky, pouring with light always moving," he wrote.
Artist/filmmaker Kent Tate was drawn to the region for the same reasons as Stegner. "It's extraordinary. The southwest feels like a blank canvas, and the sky itself is the painter. People who are familiar with these landscapes have an understanding of the poetry inherent in them," he says.
In 2013, an artist residency at the Wallace Stegner House in Eastend gave Tate the opportunity to spend extended amounts of time on the land. He would set his camera up and leave it to film the earth and sky for hours, allowing the landscape to tell its story. He edited the long shots together into a series of single-channel, silent looping movies that will become an HDTV wall-mounted gallery installation called, Isolated Gestures - Landing Sites.
"The finished movies are reflections of my vision of southern Saskatchewan. A vision that reinforces, yet challenges, perceptions of this prairie landscape," Tate says." It may seem superficially flat, but it's undulating with all these textures."
He also created an accompanying single-channel movie, along with an original music composition that he scored, and submitted it to the 2015 Yorkton Film Festival. Isolated Gestures was nominated in two categories and took home the Ruth Shaw Award (Best of Saskatchewan).
Tate says the Independent Artists grant he received from the Arts Board was an important vote of confidence. "Living in such an isolated part of the province, it is a real affirmation that work that is investigative and experimental - that may never see the light of day or the marketplace - has value and is accepted and embraced. It encourages me to want to keep working," he says. "Because of the grant, I took the extra time on the movie and submitted it to the film festival. And it did see the light of day. One thing leads to another."
To watch the award-winning film, visit pulsingearth.ca.
Front page and top: Kent Tate, Isolated Gestures movie still, Transmissions on a thin line, Trans-Canada Highway, Saskatchewan during a period of heavy spring rains.
Middle: Kent Tate, Isolated Gestures movie still, Super cell, Hummocky Hills just outside the second largest low pressure cell that had been recorded in Saskatchewan.
Bottom: Kent Tate, Isolated Gestures movie still, Invisible tension, Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan in early fall.