Holly Small & Oriah Wiersma

a drowning emerged from Holly Small’s piece Radiant, which investigates notions of death and speculates on a possible afterlife. In 2010 Holly and Johanna Bergfelt developed it into a stand alone work as a meditation on a possible death by drowning.

“The impulse to create a drowning comes from my lifelong fear of open water that began on Christmas Eve 1955 when I was two years old. We were in a horse drawn sleigh on a routine crossing of the frozen St. Lawrence River. The evening became suddenly mild; the ice broke; we all plunged into the dark frigid water. My father saved me; my mother saved my father and sister. No one drowned except the horse, pulled to the river bottom by the heavy sleigh before anyone could unhitch him. This is my earliest childhood memory.” – Holly Small

Holly first approached me with this solo in my final year at York University. It came to me as a gift, at a point of transition as I was ending a seven-year relationship with my first love. The feeling of drowning was ever present in my life. I could relate to a woman’s feeling of slipping away out of reach, stripped down to the core, struggling for breath. In the process of trying to discover myself as an individual I also was discovering this drowning woman. I was left with questions; did she give up her life for someone else, was it a suicide, or how would she have dealt with the moment of panic? Experiencing pain and loss on a scale I had never yet known gave me strength to dive into the piece truthfully.

Since graduation I have had the privilege of performing this solo a few times. On each occasion I have noticed how it shifts as I discover more of its many layers. In order for me to deliver the message I need to access my most true and vulnerable self; allowing space for discovery in the moment. The stage disappears and I see the depths of the waters and feel the currents on my skin.

Working with Holly throughout school and as an emerging artist is such a gift. I am excited to show you the result of our collaboration, which is this current iteration of a drowning.



Oriah Wiersma, Photo by: David Hou