Glass sculptor Ione Thorkelsson lives and works on the edge of an ancient escarpment, with the nearest cultural outpost lying somewhere over the far horizon. Like most Manitobans outside the Red River Valley, Ione does not think of her province as being flat. From the vantage point of her studio, visible history, or at least the visible past that stretches away beneath one's gaze, is vast if not to say vaguely monumental, and if the associated geological timescale could somehow be compressed, everything in the landscape before us would be seen to be on the move.
In 1959, the botanist Doris Löve attempted a recon- struction of the postglacial revegetation of the region. When this insightful and, certainly for its day, bold paper is read as narrative, we have laid out before us in exacting detail a drama of epic scale, a saga of migrations, of florescence and loss that is still being played out before our very eyes, albeit on a geological, which is to say un- apprehendably incremental, pace. From the point of view of the individual taxon, if such an idea is not too absurd to contemplate, what Löve has written is a grand biotic ex- ploration narrative, a biotic voyage of discovery that echoes and rhymes with past and present human occu- pation of this landscape stretching off to the horizon.
It should not be necessary to delve into the hotly con- tested nature of the relative interactions of what everyone agrees are the complex and poorly understood processes driving climate change (2xCO2 forcing, solar forcing, Milanko- vich cycles...) to concede that the narrative seems to have quickened somewhat, and the pace now may have become incrementally apprehendable. Much to our dismay, we think we are witnessing Burnam Wood come to Dunsinane.
The central figure of Löve's botanical dramatis personae, the tree, has equally been central to Ione's work, both as an inexhaustible source of sculptural elements (roots, bark, branches, trunks) which she has been able to incorporate using her finely developed surmoulage technique into more complex shapes, and as a cultural referent. Ione has returned to the tree re- peatedly, starting with Vessel: ostrich feet, branch (1996), then Nymph (1998) and in particular Arboreal fragments (2004) which became the central 'artifact' in a major in- stallation documenting a fictive epoch, the 'Tropocene'. This mischievous and highly suggestive temporal playfulness, this free thematic movement backwards and for- wards (hypothetical pasts, reconstructed futures) is an important part of her highly personal artistic vision.
Her most recent tree study, Acadia reconstruction: from memory (2007), alludes to another persistent theme in her work: the nature of utopias. Implicit in her work is the blurring of the notions of utopia and dystopia. Dystopia, in this schema, is not regarded as being the obverse of utopia, both being, rather, dif- fering expressions of the same entity, hence: utopia, that idyllic, shimmering point on the horizon; dystopia, what we discover when we get there. The opposite of utopia is not dystopia, but rather eden, being forever the place we have just vacated. If indeed we have entered an anthropogenic state of dynamic disequi- librium in which the adaptive responses of biota have been outstripped by climate forcing, then we can as- sume any possible utopia, at a minimum, will entail species loss. Weeds are going to prosper. Utopia will be at best a bit scruffy, with bare spots. And the pre- sent, looking in retrospect from a depauperate future, will seem lush, species-rich, edenic.
Arcadia reconstruction: from memory, 2007
This is not to say that Ione's vision is gloom-laden, or worse, misanthropic; hers is a much more sympathetic/empathetic view. There is great affection implicit in the cast of characters she has placed in this thicket, and the master of this imaginative universe is more Estragon than Thane of Cawdor. Unlike the scottish play, this world is not the product of overweening ambition. Rather, in this vitrified world the real always, by some sort of universal malicious error, falls short of (and defies) the ideal. It is a world populated by the flawed, the misconceived, the mistakes that have yet to be made, and these creatures are in a sense heroic, likeable, droll, and even, were the implications of their predicament not so dire, funny.
There are no moral certitudes here. We are persuaded the vitrified denizens of this world are simply doing the best they can within the limits of their abilities. The science they go by is ambi- guous, unreliable, a grimoire. Even though the science represents their best effort at mastering their own fate, it may amount to nothing more than bread crumbs they scatter behind themselves to find their way through the thickets of a world increasingly of their own making. And this is where Ione's work enters the realm of the mythic. Indeed, Baba Yaga is present in her very earliest cast works (the Two-footed bowl series, 1993).