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Amalie Atkins: Questionnaire

Like many museums around the world, Remai Modern has closed as part of a broad response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Although our program has been suspended, artists remain at the forefront of our thoughts. The museum has reached out to artists involved in our programming to gather their perspectives on the experience of these unprecedented times.

Amalie Atkins

Wednesday, April 29, 2020. 2:56 PM

1. Where are you? What can you tell us about your current living situation, or the conditions in your neighbourhood/city?

We live in a core neighbourhood—Riversdale, Saskatoon which is a lively, active neighbourhood. There is always something going on. I have a studio in the backyard and work from home. My husband was laid off and is home too. We have two very energetic boys, age six and ten. We have settled into a new routine where my husband works the morning in the studio, and I work in the afternoon. We take sanity nature walks daily. For home school, our approach is to do at least one assignment a day from the Google classroom and the rest is unschooling. We try to keep them engaged with imaginative hands-on learning. A few weeks ago, we built multiple snow forts, one enclosed with a roof, and this week they built two catapults: one for outdoor use and a mini for indoor use.

In our neighbourhood we have witnessed the lack of social distancing by the drug dealers, which makes me feel concerned about the physical and emotional health of kids who would otherwise get some respite from these situations while in school. On the upside, we do have very supportive and friendly neighbours and we watch out for each other. The kids have found distance games they can play across the street—like catapulting acorns!

2. How are you continuing your practice during this time?

When my kids were in school, I had longer stretches of studio time and could supplement busy times with childcare. Since childcare is no longer an option, we have to schedule our time differently. I do feel that I have some breathing room because all upcoming exhibitions suddenly shifted into the unknown future. I was planning a trip to Ukraine in May for a solo exhibition, which is now postponed by at least one year, maybe longer.

On the bright side, this has freed up time to work on a new 16 mm film! I am working on a documentary about my 86-year old aunt called Agatha’s Almanac. Last fall I shot footage of her during the harvest season. The doc is meant to follow her through one year of how she survives on the farm.

There are a few struggles with the project since my aunt lives in Manitoba and is currently in the hospital. When she is out of the hospital, she won’t be allowed any visitors because she will be in a senior’s home. Because of new restrictions and her health, she may not make it to the farm this summer in time to plant anything.

On the upside—Rhayne Vermette is my camera person and she lives in Winnipeg. She was able to go alone to Aunt Agatha’s farm to shoot exterior shots before the snow melted. I have been recording my telephone conversations with Auntie Agatha as I get updates from her about hospital life (she has been in for over a month with double pneumonia). Now I am editing the audio down into shorter pieces.

3. What things or ideas are you finding comfort in right now?

Editing! Listening to Aunt Agatha’s voice all day is soothing. She has funny stories about surviving hospital life.

I am into simple things, preparing food, baking, reading, walking, podcasts (Laurie Brown has a series of “groundings” on her Pondercast). I find her voice is exquisitely calm. I limit my news intake. Sometimes I look for happy news. Music helps. We have a dance parties to mark the arrival of the weekend. I read to my kids every day and try keep our screen time light (The Enchanted Hour is a book I recommend to make anyone feel good about reading aloud at any age). I planted a window garden and am working on vertical garden plans!

4. What work of art has been in your mind during this time?

I recently just watched the documentary Honeyland about a beekeeper living in the Macedonian mountains. The main character Hatidze lives with her dying mother in an abandoned village without running water, electricity, or a vehicle. She walks four hours to the nearest city to sell her honey which is her only source of income. A nomadic family with many children moves in next door to her, bringing chaos to her calm world and worst of all, threaten the life of her bees and her livelihood.

I connected with this film because my grandfather also had honeybees and believed strongly in the medicinal quality of honey. Hatidze reminds me of my Aunt Agatha who has many similar traits. Honeyland was made before the pandemic, but if feels so timely. I feel like the world has been given a chance to pause, rest, and think about how we are living (and dying).

It can feel overwhelming when there is so much wrong in the world. I think focusing on the microcosm can help. Taking small, simple actions like planting food and supporting local producers is achievable. And now a shout out to my Riversdale food favourites!! @bulkbasket (package free and many locally sourced goods) and @littlemarketbox (all local farmers and producers) and @floatinggardens.

Over the last few years, I have been too busy shooting films to plant a garden, but this year it feels like an important action to take. Even a small garden will help my kids understand what it means to appreciate and grow food. My dad was a farmer and he believed that growing food is a healing act. My mom always planted a huge garden and made everything from scratch. This time feels like an opportunity for me to reconnect with some of the ways I was brought up. Right now, I am reading Eating on the Wild Side. In a way, it is research for my film project, but also applicable to my day-to-day. I am also watching YouTube videos on how to propagate fruit trees. I am eyeing up our boulevard since our yard is small. Currently the city doesn’t allow fruit trees, but maybe that will change. Rumour has it, we may be getting a food forest in Victoria Park!

I am re-reading The Little Book of Lykke which seems to help fuel a better night’s sleep.

5. What are you letting go of? What are you holding on to?

I am letting go of definitive deadlines.

I am holding onto living day to day.

6. What are you looking forward to?

Summer. Planting a garden, being outside longer, riding my bike, having picnics, working on my film. I am really looking forward to the day I can travel to Manitoba again to shoot some more footage and visit my sister and my aunt! I am looking forward to hugging friends again. In the near future, I am looking forward to going to the forest this weekend for a hike. I am looking forward to tomorrow when we will eat the last piece of Opera cake given to us by our neighbours. Every few days I slice one piece into four and we share these tiny pieces sitting outside in the sunshine. A strange thing happens when you ration food—it multiplies in your mind to twice the amount!


Amalie Atkins is a Saskatoon-based multidisciplinary artist with a growing reputation for her films and video installations. In 2019, Remai Modern debuted The Diamond Eye Assembly, a series of three 16-mm films. Her work can be seen in the online exhibition, A maze of collapsing lines, curated by Tarin Dehod and is included in the recently published book, Making Believe by Magdalene Redekop. In celebration of the 97th birthday of Julie Philips and Joan Chorney, she has made her film Embrace available for public viewing with additional films available for professors by request.