Ice Follies is an ad-hoc collective that presents a biennial festival of contemporary and community engaged art on frozen lake Nipissing. Audiences are invited to engage with works situated off shore from the North Bay waterfront and along the shores of Nipissing First Nation. The Ice Follies Committee includes representation from the three artist-run centres in the Nipissing area spanning contemporary visual arts, aboriginal arts, performance, media arts, and community engaged artistic practices.
Ice Follies Biennial aims to encourage audiences to experience art outside the context of the institution and engages a visceral interaction with the local landscape. The installations, performances and interventions shape a dialogue between art and site.
Lake Nipissing sits at the heart of our communities and becomes an accessible site for a short period of time in winter. A canvas as tranquil as it is volatile, the works are placed in direct harmony with light, water, wind, ice and snow. In 2004, the W.K.P. Kennedy public art gallery coordinated the first Ice Follies exhibition featuring the work of Canadian and local contemporary artists under curator and gallery director Dermot Wilson. Following the inaugural exhibition, artist Kim Adam’s piece Minnow Lure,was acquired by the National Gallery’s permanent collection. Other artists from the inaugural year included Keith Campbell, Ernest Daetwyler, Susan Detwiler, Dan Elzinga, Ivan Jurakic, and Catherine Kozyra. The shows success prompted an arrangement to present the exhibition in a biennial cycle. In the words of it’s catalogue, in 2006, Ice Follies began to stretch our of its first skin. New media artists such as Lisa Beaudry, and performance based work by FASTWÜRMS began to bring a different element of art making to frozen landscape. In 2008, the exhibition continued to grow and gain support both from the community and acknowledgement on a national scale. Local born and nationally cherished artist Jeannie Thib was among the participants that year. Nicole Dextra’s Resource became an iconic image of the event, made of tower ice letters that melted and morphed with Lake Nipissing’s the elements. 2010 once again expanded the possibilities of art-making and viewing on ice – including
architectural installations and sound art.
In 2012, the event changed hands from the public gallery to a collective of artist-run groups with representation from White Water Gallery, Aanmitaagzi and the Near North Mobile Media Lab. This new direction expanded the focus of the show beyond contemporary visual art installation to community engaged practice. In 2014, Aanmitaagzi presented the first large scale performance at Ice Follies titled Chi Odjig (Anishinaabe mowin for Great Fisher) choreographed by Penny Couchie with international guest artists, internationally acclaimed Columbian indigenous dancer Alejandro Ronceria and acclaimed choreographer and dancer Rulan Tangen. Also in 2014, the tenth anniversary of Ice Follies coincided with a national conference titled The Affects of Site focusing on site-specific art practice in Canada. In 2016, Ice Follies opened to temperatures reaching into the minus 40s, with a crowd of over 50 community members braving the elements to see work by Caitlind R.C. Brown & Wayne Garrett, sound art by Edgardo Moreno, and experience the story of the Serpent People by over 30 performers from Aanmitaagzi. With each passing event, Ice Follies celebrates our sense of place in the vast, open expanse of winter.