Local artist featured at Joggins Fossil Institute

Image from Andrew Godsalve
Godsalve working on images from his Sigillaria project done at the Joggins Fossil Cliffs this fall.

Masha Scheele

A visual artist originally from Hinton is taking part in the artist-in-residence program at the Joggins Fossil Institute in Nova Scotia, this fall.

Andrew Godsalve is using his residency to work with photographic photomontages to show the geological structures and processes of the Joggins Fossil Cliffs of the area.

Godsalve initially found an interest in mixing geology and art through photography when he was studying for his undergrad in fine arts in Victoria.

“I just decided to go to the beach and photograph the rocks there, just taking these detailed images of the rock material, just pure geology. I found those photographs really exciting. Something about them really struck me and stuck with me,” Godsalve explained.

He worked with those images in digital software to transform them and connect art and geology.

While studying for his masters of fine arts at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD) University, he developed the idea of connecting fossils and photographs.

“I had a few residencies on the Bay of Fundy before, in 2015, and in those sites I was able to work with outdoor photo installations,” he said.

He made photomontages on weather resistant print material that was able to be placed outside in areas where fossils would normally be found.

In each of his residencies, Godsalve responds to the environment through his art, and at Joggins, he is responding to the geological and paleontological history of the Joggins Fossil Cliffs.

“My work is all about geology and the past and connecting fossils to photography and the exploration of that,” Godsalve said.

He explained that most of the earth’s coal reserves come from the carboniferous period, a geologic period that spans 60 million years, starting 358.9 million years ago.

This period saw the appearance of the first extensive forests on Earth, and one of the key fossils at Joggins is the “Lycopod tree”, as Godsalve explained.

In the carboniferous period, these trees grew to be about 30 metres tall and today their living relatives are tiny club mosses.

These ancient giant trees would grow in dense swamp forests and when they died, a rotting hollow stump would be left over, Godsalve explained.

“The first reptile in the fossil record, that we know of, was found inside one of these stumps. So, that’s a really interesting history there that I wanted to respond to with photography and photomontage,” he said.

To do this, Godsalve photographed clubmosses, the living relatives of these ancient “lycopod trees.” 

He then manipulated and transformed the images in ways that are influenced by the geological structures and patterns of the Joggins Fossil Cliffs.

“Hopefully allowing people to see the fossils in a different way, not just rock. They can see the story the rock contains,” Godsalve said.

The photos he took of the club mosses were taken while he travelled from Hinton to Joggins.

“The way I’m kind of transforming the photographs is related to how the fossils are formed and look and the fossil forms you would find at Joggins,” he said.

Diagenesis study no.1: Carbonization – digital photomontage by Andrew Godsalve
This work is part of Godsalve’s Camera Sigillaria project done at the Joggins Fossil Cliffs and Parrsboro’s Main & Station in fall 2020.

One key area Godsalve wanted to explore was the connection between fossils and photographs and how they both capture evidence of past life.

“I’m interested in these hollow tree trunks as being kind of analogous to the camera lens, how a camera kind of fossilizes a slice of time by taking a photo, the way that actual fossils are formed,” Godsalve added. 

The public will be able to view his work while it is still in progress during an open studio day on Oct. 10. The main feature of the open studio is a photomontage series of large prints he developed that shows the process of coal formation.

There will be other pieces to see in the studio that are still a work in-progress.

“I will have prints that I’m starting to cut into into new shapes that will be going out onto the beach later in October,” he said.

On Oct. 24, Godsalve will lead a beach tour at low tide and show his audience the work that will be installed there.

That work will consist of photomontage prints lying among the beach, rocks, and sand, just as any other fossil would be found.

After his residency comes to an end at Joggins Fossil Institute, Godsalve will continue this project into November through his residency at the Main and Station Nonesuch Kickshaws Art Gallery in Parrsboro, also located along the Bay of Fundy with the same geologic history.

To follow along, find his instagram at @andrewgodsalve or view his website at andrew-godsalve.com.

Godsalve obtained a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Victoria in 2012 and a Master of Fine Arts from NSCAD University in 2018. 

While at NSCAD, Godsalve developed his Master’s thesis project studying the common geological origins of rocks in Newfoundland and Scotland, and the interbedding of human and geologic agency within and across both regions, according to his website.