Project profile: “Soft Landing” with Carrie Phillips Kieser

Holly Fraughton
Posted on April 25th, 2024
by Holly Fraughton
Marriott Banner

When government officials decided to pave a little piece of urban paradise to put up a new parking garage next to the Museum of Natural History, they inadvertently inspired a new piece of public artwork entitled, “Soft Landing,” that will greet thousands of visitors who enter the Halifax Marriott Harbourfront hotel.

Carrie Phillips Kieser had just moved back from Calgary to Nova Scotia in 2019, and was volunteering at the museum when the trees that occupied the urban green space were cut down to make room for the structure.

“I was volunteering in their herbarium collection, with their botany curator, they kept a tree and he catalogued every single lichen, moss, liverwort – epiphyte – that was growing on this urban tree, as this way to say, ‘a tree in an urban space is more than just a tree, its an architecture and form for all of this other plant life to grow off of it,” Phillips Kieser recalls.

Photo by Carrie Phillips Kieser

Using the data that the curator passed along to her, Phillips Kieser’s artistic exploration of epiphytes – plants that grow on other plants, supported by the other lifeforms – began.

Soon, she was kayaking across the lake at her Hammonds Plains home and heading into the lush forest of the Blue Mountain Birch Cove Lake Wilderness Area to explore these tiny worlds within our world.

“You go into the forest and you look down, and there’s a forest within a forest. There are tiny trees and mosses and this whole world inside this bigger world. I also really love spending time with things that get overlooked. It’s all about the forest and trees, but there’s so much more going on in the forest than just the trees.”

Photo by Carrie Phillips Kieser

Her body of work grew from that space.

When Phillips Kieser saw the posting for Nocturne’s public art project partnership with the Halifax Marriott Harbourfront and began developing her proposal, then saw that the theme for Nocturne 2024 was “Microcosm,” she knew her work exploring worlds within our natural world would be the perfect fit.

Though Phillips Kieser holds a Fine Arts and Art History degree, she also has a background in graphic design and architectural drafting/design/technology, in which her training relies heavily on pens, paper, rulers. That materiality of working with very precise linework informs her practice today, which is primarily drawing and intaglio etching.

Photo by Carrie Phillips Kieser

Photo by Carrie Phillips Kieser

“My work is very line-based, even though now it’s very organic, flowing and plant-like, there is structure and precision underlying that,” she explains.

“I make work that is very tiny and delicate and hands-on, contemplative work that is about asking the viewer how they will negotiate their way through a space like that, or plant life, so when you hold it, you have to be very careful or thoughtful.”

In the case of her upcoming installation at the Halifax Marriott Harbourfront, rather than asking the viewer to hold the tiny worlds she has created in their hands, she is asking them to interact with her art in a different way: to be encased by it on a macro level.

Her intricate, ethereal and detailed artwork depicts imagery from local coastal boreal region and inland woodlands of Mi’kma’ki/Nova Scotia, drawing inspiration from the cloud-like structures of Cladonia stellaris (star tipped reindeer lichen), the feathery plumes of the Ptilium crista-castrensis (ostrich plume moss) or the meandering Gaultheria hispidula (creeping snowberry). Her drawings have been enlarged and overlay the glass front entryway and rotating doors that all visitors to the hotel will pass through when they enter or exit the building, creating what Phillips Kieser envisions as a “jewel case” that people can walk through, and be held within.

In that space, the tiny worlds of natural plant life that is native to Nova Scotia will take centre stage in the heart of downtown Halifax.

“To have these small plant life be the focus of attention, to say, ‘acknowledge us’, was really important to me.”

Phillips Kieser wants to start a dialogue with people about the ecological crisis we are in the midst of. But rather than focus on climate grief and the sadness or anger that can accompany those conversations, her approach is a bit quieter; a “Soft Landing,” if you will.

Photo by Narbir Sharma

“I feel like art can do more than just show that loss, but show the emotional empathy towards something. How can you use art to fall in love and then start the conversation about what’s happening, rather than just show the doom and gloom, and fire and brimstone, and fear? … How can I be more quiet and still invite people in, and have a moment of conversation about why I’m doing this.”

Phillips Kieser’s installation will be officially launched to the public on Thursday, May 9th, and the public is welcome to visit, contemplate her art and engage in this important conversation. Her work will remain on display until April 2025.

Photo by Narbir Sharma

This work is made possible thanks to a partnership between Nocturne and the Halifax Marriott Harbourfront to support local, emerging artists.