Georges Island is a tiny island in the Halifax harbour. At its summit is a fort. A small lighthouse faces the city of Halifax, giving a picturesque view for boardwalk pedestrians. This was the subject of my first Nocturne project, our annual city nighttime arts event. The theme for Nocturne this year, in its tenth anniversary year, was Vanish.
The significance of Georges Island to the immigration experience at Pier 21 is that of first impressions. As new immigrants arrived by boat, their processional led them off their vessel onto the second-storey platform. Looking over their shoulders to the land where they had just arrived, a view of Georges Island and its lighthouse was the first sight beheld in their new country. During the years between that initial mental snapshot to a pilgrimage back to Pier 21, an immigrant may forget or cover over that moment with the realities of building a new life, but a revisiting of the site brings a momentary pause — to remember that moment of arrival. The most recent architectural iteration of Pier 21 frames this vista with grand windows in the Hall of Tribute at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21.
Georges Island Quilted Over erases the view by installing a temporary structure in front of the centre window. The frame mimics the existing window in scale and proportion, but with backlit translucent vellum panes – a screen of sorts, hiding what lies behind.
With precut coloured paper, visitors were invited to create a “paper quilt” that was illuminated to the effect of a stained glass window. The modular precuts are units used in traditional quilting, cut from single-sided coloured origami paper.
Counterintuitively, visitors were asked to tape their pieces with the colour side facing away from them. The coloured pieces transform the new window over the course of the evening.
When Nocturne ended at midnight, the backlights were turned off one at a time, and house lights illuminated only a white paper quilt. All colour vanished from the piece, leaving an opaque window frame. Georges Island, still hidden from view as it was at the beginning of the project or over the decades of a new life in Canada, remains as it was.