This feature was originally published in Black Press Media’s Haida Gwaii Observer newspaper in May 2020.
There are many good reasons to know your tides on Haida Gwaii. Safe navigation, improving fish catch, and in the case of Natasha Lavdovsky, successfully filming a timelapse for a new, art-meets-apocalypse music video.
The Victoria-born, multidisciplinary artist came to the islands in June 2019, one of 10 trips to Haida Gwaii over the last nine years, to capture “a strong image that symbolized sea levels rising.”
Around summer solstice, she calculated what time of day the tidal flux would be the strongest and scoped out several beaches to find one with a slope to accommodate her tripod, settling on some coast around Deadtree Point.
Then, at midday, wearing a wetsuit and booties with a black cloak over top, as well as a gas mask “to portray that post-apocalyptic trope that you often see,” she stood in the surf. Over the period of about an hour-and-a-half, local friend Brittany Goff helped film the water rising up her body.
“Standing in the ocean for that long was a very soothing experience,” Lavdovsky told the Observer, adding that at one point, a sea lion swam by about 30 feet in the distance.
In retrospect, she just wishes she had weighed herself down sufficiently. Lavdovsky wanted the water to come up to her chin in the timelapse, but she started floating.
“I had to almost, near the end, sort of tread water in place,” she said.
After the timelapse was complete, she said goodbye to Goff and filmed herself struggling to climb up a rock in the water.
Though she had seen there were no other rocks in the immediate area when the tide was out, she said “it was still very unnerving to do that alone.”
She also filmed herself floating in the water to convey “a sense of feeling helpless, having to surrender to what’s happening.”
“I know there’s a certain amount we can do [about climate change],” Lavdovsky told the Observer. “But it’s really heartbreaking to think of all the people and animals, and other non-human beings that are going to have a really, really hard time with not being able to adapt quickly enough to the changing environmental conditions.”
The idea for the footage had originally come to Lavdovsky in 2018, when wildfires caused a thick smoke to blanket much of B.C.
“I had put on my gas mask … and I had stood out on this jetty in Victoria where I was living,” Lavdovsky remembers.
“I had this very apocalyptic feeling.”
She had a friend film her with the mask on, watering sloshing around her feet.
“I thought it was a very powerful image,” Lavdovsky said of the experiment. “I thought, maybe I should wear something similar and have the ocean rising up over my body, because I’m very concerned about climate change and it affecting sea level rise.
“The problem with the tides in Victoria is that they don’t have a very drastic change.
“I knew [Haida Gwaii] would be the place that the tides would have such a drastic change that I wouldn’t have to stand in the water for too long.”
Lavdovsky later showed the footage to friend Ora Cogan, a singer-songwriter based in Victoria, and the two decided it would work well as the music video for Cogan’s new song, “Sleeping,” which came out on May 1.
“It just felt like it fit so well,” Cogan said of Lavdovsky’s footage.
“For me, the song is hard to define,” Cogan added. “It’s up to people to experience it and interpret it how they want.”
The song is part of Cogan’s new album, “Bells in the Ruins,” which will be released on July 13.
In general, Cogan said the all-analog album, at times experimental, at times high-energy with drums, slide guitar, bass guitar and synth, is about reckoning with love and loss, and seeing beauty in struggle.
Cogan performed live on Haida Gwaii last year, and noted that she was on the islands while she was writing the new album.
“I’m excited to play these songs with the band when we can and I’m excited to come up to Haida Gwaii again, and play there when it’s safe,” she said.
In the meantime, she said “it feels nice to be able to share some music with people right now in these strange times.”