Overworlds

Fabulous architecture and rising seas inspire artist Cory Collins
 

The work of Newfoundland-based Cory Collins has been published in Australia's Cordite Poetry Review, was specially commended in the Welsh Poetry Competition and received a Newfoundland and Labrador Arts and Letters Award in 2013. In this series of drawings, titled 'Overworlds', Collins speculates on the impact of climate change on architecture. Some of these works were produced with the support of the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council.

Here, the artist tells us more about the project, and about life in Newfoundland.

TIR: Where did 'Overworlds' begin and how did it progress?

In video game design, an 'overworld' is the representation of an area, often shown as an illustrated map, that connects the locations where gameplay occurs. I chose the title partly because I feel like I have always been chasing this ideal of a fantastic, fictional world shown in video games and other media that often draw upon speculative art. It's also appropriate because my drawing style and subject matter have some similarity to games that have 'overworlds', typically role-playing games (RPGs).

However, my thematic intent was also to speculate on impacts of climate change on architecture, political geography and urban design. In many of these works, settlements are cluttered and composed of many different architectural styles, suggesting a lack of planning, the absence of cars, and significant cultural change. The hulking towers in 'Colossus at Baccalieu', for instance, suggest an anticipated rise in sea level, while other pieces, such as 'Free University of Iqaluit' and 'College at Gjoa Haven', are utopian reimaginings of Canada's north. In this vision of climate change, humanity has somehow managed to continue learned civilization, even if the technological level is premodern.

TIR: There's something at once familiar and dislocating about the perspective and content of these images. I'm reminded of satellite images, all kinds of maps, and graphic computer images, such as you get in video games. What can you tell me about your sources, the types of reference material were you working with?

Sometimes my subjects for architecture are imagined as I draw, while others take great forethought to compose, especially if they incorporate styles that are uncommonly shown in Western art. Some are more familiar, such as Chinese architecture in 'Kurdish Taipei East', and this inevitably drew upon the masterpiece 'All Along the River During the Qingming Festival', especially its remarkable Qing Dynasty remake.

Others, such as the subjects shown in the above work's companion piece, were new discoveries for me that are unfortunately absent, I think, from the popular imagination. These include a large number of varieties of Indonesian and Malagasy architecture. And still others are mostly lost to history. The green-roofed building flanked by thick trees and bright green bushes, for instance, is modelled after the royal palace complex in Madagascar, before it was encased in stone in 1867.

My style of composition is definitely influenced by maps, and in some ways I think I am attempting to reimagine and expand upon locations I connected with during childhood, which include examples from fantasy literature as much as from video games.

TIR: Tell us more about life in Newfoundland?

Newfoundland is experiencing an oil boom that is rapidly transforming and in some ways challenging its 'islandness.' Many coastal and island communities are depopulating. The community of Little Bay Islands, for instance, recently applied for government 'resettlement', meaning residents will be paid to move away and have utilities and services cut off for good. Other communities, such as Fogo Island, are consciously attempting to revitalise, while money and people continue to concentrate in the provincial capital region.

Newfoundland is still a place of rare natural beauty and large swaths of it remain entirely unspoilt. But I fear the local appetite for North American amenities, long absent here, is weakening our traditional love of the water and land. Attempts at fracking and running power lines through Gros Morne National Park have been scuppered for now, but only after public outcry that, in my mind, should have been much stronger. A local sociologist has speculated that Newfoundlanders' desires for 'catch-up modernisation', common in post-Soviet states, makes them more willing to tolerate risky projects, and other research has suggested that local environmental groups do not perceive many opportunities to challenge dominant ideas about development.

Despite all this, thankfully, Newfoundland's coastlines, icebergs, weather and vast wilderness continue to enchant visitors, and seabird colonies, whales, moose, and easy daytrips to unexplored woods are easy to take for granted when living here. Far from being a tourism cliche, being at the edge of the continent, Cape Spear, on a stormy day really can leave you, well, speechless.


Cory Collins is an artist, poet and behaviour therpiast. He has also written for People's World, Aslan Media, and rabble.ca, Canada's leading independent news site. He lives in St. John's.