Afterglow set to burn brightly in Bridgewater

by Michael Lee

  • <p>MICHAEL LEE PHOTO</p><p>From left, Peggie Graham and Rita Lamontagne have both collaborated on Afterglow installations since 2013.</p>
  • <p>BETH MUNROE PHOTO</p><p>A 2013 Afterglow installation from Peggie Graham and Rita Lamontagne titled <em>In Her Empty Room</em>, a piece described as the shared interest between Graham and Lamontagne &#8220;in the DNA of maternal history and the influences that are creating a maternal genealogy.&#8221;</p>
  • <p>BETH MUNROE PHOTO</p><p>Peggie Graham and Rita Lamontagne&#8217;s 2015 Afterglow installation Food Shelter Love, which depicts a sleeping homeless woman &#8220;covered in a quilt of words, garbage and life&#8217;s losses.&#8221;</p>

When Rita Lamontagne and Peggie Graham get to work, it's often in isolation.

Lamontagne creates the art, while Graham writes the words to go with it.

The two work along different paths, but the pair have found a way to complement each other in a way that has worked for nearly five years.

"We never worry too much about it," said Lamontagne. "It seems to come together."

Lamontagne and Graham have collaborated since 2013 to create installations for Bridgewater's Afterglow Art Festival.

Founded in 2012, this will be the festival's sixth year in existence, which has seen everything from art, musical performances, fire dancers, film and theatre showcased on Bridgewater's King Street.

The festival takes place on September 29 and 30, with a record 41 projects set to go on display.

Lamontagne, a Nova Scotia College of Art and Design graduate who describes her art as "surrealism," is originally from Quebec City and runs her own studio at the Mahone Bay Centre.

She first met Graham, who lives in Dayspring, nearly 20 years ago in Mahone Bay and the two often talked about working together on an installation.

In 2013, they submitted their first collaboration - an encaustic monoprint, five feet high and four feet wide, called In Her Empty Room.

"Then we kept going," said Lamontagne. "Every year we got something going."

"It's a really interesting way to work," said Graham, who writes all of the poems that accompany Lamontagne's art.

"Because when you're writing a poem, you don't write it with anybody else usually, and when you're creating a piece of art, it's very solitary."

For this year's Afterglow, Graham has a poem called Where I Come From, which describes a river she knew growing up in Quebec and her connection to that river as part of a greater "mythical Canada."

Lamontagne, meanwhile, has used paper to create a natural landscape of sorts with trees, a river, a few canoes and 200 little people standing all around.

Across from the people are apartment buildings, with more people living inside them, a contrast between the "dream" of Canada, as Lamontagne describes it, to the reality most people live in, which is rooted in cities.

For Lamontagne, the appeal of Afterglow is it allows artists to be creative without having to worry about selling their art and to have a festival like Afterglow in Bridgewater "warms the heart," she said.

Graham credits Ashton Rodenhiser, the festival's founder, for having the vision to start Afterglow in the first place.

"She really values the artists who take part, she really, really does. Everybody, no matter whether they're somebody just starting out or somebody quite established, she's always looking for new people, always trying to encourage new people."

Rodenhiser says she started Afterglow in response to a lack of creativity and culture in Bridgewater.

The fledgling festival drew 500 people when it first began five years ago and has since grown to include a diverse array of artists.

Friday night's kick off at Pijinuiskaq Park, for example, will feature a headline act for the first time - Halifax drum and bagpipe band Squid.

Rodenhiser says Afterglow helped start the conversation for what would become Bridgewater's art space, Art Happening, in 2014, and she likes to think that the festival has helped change the sense of culture in town.

"Even if it's changing in a small way peoples' perceptions [and] mindsets around how people perceive Bridgewater, that's sort of the underlying goal of the whole thing."

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