Maybe it was as a tourist visiting Halifax for the first time or that moment when napping on a grassy field seemed like a perfect idea, but chances are you’ve explored Citadel Hill.
The historic site, home to a star-shaped stone fortress built to defend the Halifax harbour against American attacks during the 19th century, has become the subject of a new performance art series presented by Eyelevel Gallery, fittingly titled Over the Hill. “It’s almost like a grand big stage,” gallery director Katie Belcher explains. “None of us actually know the site very well. It’s such a mysterious part of our city.”
She said the fortress was chosen as this year’s off-site performance location as a cheeky commemoration to the artist-run centre’s over-the-hill 40th anniversary. But also, she says, because of the site’s enduring legacy as a cultural icon, both in Halifax’s past and present. And what better way to bring a place to life than through performance?
“One of the main components of performance art is the audience,” Belcher said, saying the series will transform the hundreds of people who visit the citadel any given day into an accidental audience. “We’re playing with the unexpected.”
As of Wednesday, visitors will have begun to notice some strange happenings around the historic stronghold.
Sounds of snare drums playing music inspired by a letter penned by Leo Trotsky during his speculated internment in Nova Scotia, while a field maintenance worker marks lines of a sports field and a tourist clad in khaki shorts and an orange hat asks for direction—hardly your ordinary historical reenactment.
Each piece asks audiences to question the different layers of meaning held in the more than 150 year-old citadel, from its role as a military garrison to present day tourist attraction, Belcher says.
Halifax-based William Robinson, Kyle Martens and Becky Welter-Nolan are the participating artists.
Martens, who will be donning the guise of a field maintenance worker, described his piece will literally draw parallels between a sports field as a space that anticipates action, to the citadel's design as a piece of military architecture that never saw its purpose fulfilled. “I’m interested in having people seeing what I’m doing and then questioning the actions that would have happened in the citadel," he said, adding that as an emerging artist he was thrilled to see the citadel opened up as an art space.
“It’s a monument, it’s a landscape, it’s a part of a military history and it’s a park," Welter-Nolan says of the site. But for her, the citadel’s importance extends far beyond the historical.
In her performance as a wandering tourist, Welter-Nolan explores the site for its unique human landscape that she says acts as a gathering place where local mythology meets tourism. “There are sites of real significance in a city that you may never really access because you live there and because it kind of just becomes a part of your geography," she said.
Over the Hill Performance Series
Becky Welter-Nolan, Kyle Alden Martens, William Robinson
To September 27 at Halifax Citadel National Historic Site of Canada
Daytime entrance fees to the site apply.
Free admission on Thursday 27 September from 5 to 7pm