Peters Camani’s Field of Art
DAYTRIP How does where you grew up influence your work?
Peter Camani I was raised on the beach strip under the Skyway Bridge in Burlington. CIL Stucco, Dofasco - the fumes would come across the beach, especially at that time the particles would be all over the place, so I decided that when I went to University to leave Hamilton and head North. Basically the opportunity for a teaching job arose. I went to the University of Waterloo and to Althouse at Western University for my teaching certification. The ad was in the paper, there was a job in South River. I came up for the interview and got the job
DT How did you find your property?
PC This area at that time was basically considered isolated and that was forty years ago, 1973. And so I came up and I had this intention of building structures. But like everything else there was no money. I lived in a tar paper shack for 8 years and then in 1981 this piece of property became available.
DT When did you start building the screaming heads?
PC Robin Hood was being filmed with [Kevin] Costner. The local area thought this was a castle, so the local newspaper wanted to do an article. When that article was done, Wayne Rostad wanted to do an interview for On The Road Again. I only had the tower done, so we had the interview in the centre of it but I wanted to get some of what I considered art onto the field. I made the claw on the far side of the wall - I made the claw [especially] for the interview. [Then I could] iron out all the difficulties of using cement and getting a crane [onto the property]. I put the first [sculpture] on the field in 1985 and there are 84 on the field now. There are 27 in this particular spot and if you look from the air, [this area] forms an eye.
DT How do you build the heads?
PC [The heads are] all made separately by making a plastic wire form. They are done on the ground and then a crane comes and lifts them up. So in this particular instance I did them in two sessions. I did the inner eye first, stood everything up, and then the outer ring I did that next season, and then stood them up.
DT And why the screaming heads?
PC One of the reasons for the screaming heads is that a lot of us like to protest things, but we feel that we’re not. Nothing will get done, we can stand up and rave, we can march up and down the street; if the politician decides what’s on their agenda it’s very hard to sway them which way to go. So here I mean, in a sense, it’s like a protest, a screaming, it’s irony. Complete conflict. I mean they’re all screaming but there’s no sound. I’m away from everything, I still think on the far field, you will notice the screaming heads. They are with hands and when I first came here the hills were just rolling and in the winter time they struck me as waves. So what I did was put heads with hands coming out the side as if they were in an ocean. And they were still survivors, still screaming trying to be rescued or saved.
DT What did you want to be when you were a kid?
PC My family was not into art at all. In high school they wouldn’t allow me to take art, they stuck me in music, which I was not very good at. I worked for a Veterinarian and I was all programmed to go to [University of] Guelph. But the vet that I worked with passed away, and there was a mail strike and Guelph did not send an acceptance but Waterloo did.
I’d been painting and doing my own artwork since my teens and it was just houses and water, typical things that you paint, so I decided at Waterloo to take electives in art, and from that [I got] into more different types of media, printing, and various other things. I went into teaching with a double major in art and science. [The school] also wanted a cross country coach – I had run in the 1975 Olympic Trials in the marathon – so I fit all three of their categories. I was actually quite a different person.
DT Has anyone you taught over the past gone on to do anything notable? Do you keep in touch with any of them at this point?
PC A lot of people did leave the area and it’s surprising how many people have achieved international fame. That’s one of the reasons we started the movie. A lot of the students that wanted to go places would go to the Ontario College of Art in Toronto and get certified in the arts, or motion picture. They would get out, and [employers] would say, “Once you get experience, come back.” So we started the movie which actually gave [the students] a chance to work on jobs, but also they wouldn’t have to drop any job that they did get. One fellow, Dallas Boyes, is working right now. He’s got a job up in the Arctic doing these gold mining reality TV shows – he’s one of the sound men. That’s one of the reasons why we’re not editing on the movie right now.
DT It sounds like there’s a lot going on. Are you still able to produce new work?
PC It’s surprising, the bigger I get it seems the more I am doing custodial things than actually creating. The place is getting more, and more, and more, people through it. Plus the people want you as a tour guide, and that’s actually one of the reasons this place is open. I don’t mind it being open, but I don’t want to be locked in. So people say, “Well what hours?”. I don’t have hours. It does not bother me, as long as you’re not disturbing me you can come and wander around all you like. I think of us as custodians; you don’t OWN property even if you think you do.
DT Did the context of the work that you’re doing here and throughout your life develop before or after the work itself?
PC I like the idea of monoliths and I like the idea of the cement mainly because it’s so cheap. If you did something in brass, or bronze, or whatever, it’s vulnerable. [If] somebody wants the metal it can be melted down. There is no use for a cement structure, other than what it is. It’s not valuable; you’re going to be able to grind it down and make more cement from it, if you move it you have to place it somewhere. It’s going to take you more energy to do that then just to leave it where it is. And that’s basically why I use cement.
DT How exactly do you make the heads?
PC At one point [I] had thought about making a form and trying to pour the cement from the top - the pressure at the bottom would be so immense. So then suddenly one night I got a eureka moment and said, “well why not just make it on the ground, and get it craned in?” The crane costs about 1000 bucks a day but it can stand up 15 heads in one day. Less than 100 bucks just to stand them up, and besides that, you have a crane operator who is certified. Because I’m so safety conscious it’s always good to work with an expert. There’s a small head over on the far side [of the field] I was trying to put up with my backhoe. Some tourist came running from the side, leans under the head, and was attempting to push up a 14 tonne piece of concrete. My brakes aren’t necessarily very good on the tractor. I’m trying to push it up and screaming and screaming [for him] to move. If the head had come down, he would’ve be there forever.
DT Have you had anybody mix their ashes in with the concrete as you mention on your website?
PC There’s Justin who is the light stand - he’s down there on the corner [of the field], and DeSean’s we’re in the process of doing. [DeSean is] the one with the disc golf. If you look at some of the disc golf white ones, like the actual cages, the white ones, you’ll notice there are sayings all over them. He was a man of many words, well actually few words but he always had that little snap. I’m going to make the actual tower, he liked cardinals so we will put a cardinal in there; we’ll put the quotations in there and it will represent him well. Plus it will be the light stand over the dock. So he will light the way across the water.
DT Do you have anything planned for yourself, if that’s not too personal?
PC Once I go, I go. It doesn’t matter, that’s the whole thing, I have no belief past death. I think you’re born and you die, and the trouble is there are many many paths in between. You can sit and watch television, watch all the soccer; you can eat, and eat, and eat; you can even run and run and run. It doesn’t matter what you do, time is going by.
DT How did you like teaching?
PC You can only do so much. The pressure was really on when I was teaching. When you’re teaching, that’s the thing that comes first. Everything else was second, and with me, personal stuff came last. I sometimes wonder if I’ve actually missed that whole thing, but at this age I don’t think I did. But if I was going to have a family, I think it should have been started much earlier than so-called “66”, I have a number of students I try and pay attention to. So I mean, in a sense, they’re adopted children, in the sense that they even attempt to send me things on fathers day. It’s not really the way you want to look at things but it’s kinda cute. Anyway...
DT What were tourists’ reactions to the screaming heads?
PC I try not to encourage, if they want to come out they come out. Here a lot of property is actually up for sale. The highway actually, this place here, was only intended for my home, OK? That’s the only reason I was doing it. When they built the new highway all the trading posts, gas stations, and restaurants were gone. So at night, there are no gas station open between Huntsville and North Bay; there are day gas stations, but not night gas stations on the highways as there used to be. There are information booths in Emsdale, and in Burks Falls. They employ people and those people want to tell [tourists] where to go.
DT Would you consider the peacocks to be part of the work itself?
PC The peacocks are one of my nuisances, I mean, I am concerned about them but as soon as I get chicks, I try to give them away – although I do like the mothers taking care of them. I get complaints about [the peacocks] on the side of the road, and these two that have gone rogue. That one that’s in Burks Falls is a three year old, so for three years it’s lived on its own, in parallel with me. But I’m not there to protect it from foxes at night, I’m not there to protect the nest from raccoons. Although I do try to live-trap the raccoons and move them out. There is a responsibility to give them as much assistance as possible. But this bird is a rogue, it did the same thing last year – it took off at the same time last year. Wandering away...