CULTIVATING CREATIVITY: Ice lantern installation to light up the night this weekend

By Fiona Campbell/Quinte Arts Council

If you’ve wandered the Riverfront Trail in downtown Belleville lately, you may have noticed snow and ice sculptures dotting the walkway amidst a blanket of snow. Starting this weekend, once night falls, tealights placed inside the lanterns will transform the Trail into an illuminated and enchanted path – a magical synergy of fire and ice.

The project, dubbed Moira Magic by local artist Jeff Wildgen, is a way to help dispel winter darkness, made a little more shadowy by the latest COVID-19 lockdown.

“[Moira Magic] is perfect for COVID because folks are supposed to get exercise and the Riverfront Trail is where many go for that,” says Wildgen. “But there is no expectation that people will congregate. People simply have something more to look at while taking their usual walks. Hopefully it does help brighten their day (and night) during COVID.”

Wildgen, who lived in Japan for 19 years, has long been inspired by traditional Japanese art forms that embrace “the rustic, the natural, the impermanent” – something referred to as “wabi-sabi.” Japan is also famous for its snow and ice festivals, such as the Otaru Snow Light Path Festival along the canal.

“I wanted to make ice art that captures the spirit of Japan — simple, natural, less about me and my ego, more about the things that nature presents to us everyday,” says Wildgen. “I’m always drawn to anything unique or out of the ordinary. Light glowing under snow is beautiful and a perfect combination of the natural and unnatural…. So it’s kind of a statement of mankind and nature doing something together that brings out the best in both.”

Almost a year ago, Wildgen was awarded a grant from the City of Belleville’s Art and Culture Fund, with plans for a Belleville Winter Festival. And then COVID hit, and his original idea to build 750 lanterns from Victoria Park to the Pinnacle Street Bridge, with help from close to 100 volunteers had to change.

Fast forward to now, and Wildgen has partnered with the Quinte Arts Council, the Downtown District BIA, and local arts organizer Gary Magwood for a scaled-down but equally fanciful community-based and COVID-safe experiential public art installation that runs parallel to the Moira River, from the Bridge Street bridge to the parking garage.

“Creating a way for the community to get involved in this project, either by making their own snow lanterns and ice sculptures at home and then adding them to the Trail, or taking a socially-distance walk along the path this weekend when all the lanterns are lit is an incredible celebration of resilience and positivity, which is so needed during these challenging times,” says Janet Jarrell, Executive Director of the Quinte Arts Council. “Desmond Tutu said, ‘Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness ’- and Moira Magic embodies that!”

“We are proud to partner with Jeff and the downtown arts community on this initiative,” says Marijo Cuerrier, Downtown District BIA Executive Director. “Inviting people to create their own snow lantern or sculpture and place them as part of the installation makes it truly a community experience. We hope people come down this weekend to add to the installation with their own creations and see the lanterns illuminated at night.”

The first mass lighting of the lanterns will happen on Friday, February 12 around 5:00 pm, and will continue on Saturday and Sunday. Community members are encouraged to get involved by making lanterns on-site (there are pails and shovels left beside the trail), or at home. The lanterns, some decorated with stones, wood and moss, will eventually melt, but the changing forms over time will just add to the magic.

For more information and some DIY instructional videos, visit the Moira Magic Facebook page at: facebook.com/groups/moiramagic.