At the Inuvik Satellite Station Facility, a group of people hold on to a blanket and toss someone high into the air to scan the horizon.

In a unique blending of traditional and modern technologies, this is just one of the scenes depicted in a colourful art installation mounted on one of the facility’s five antennas.

“In a way, [the scene] mirrors modern remote sensing practices as they used to use the blanket toss to scout for game,” said station manager Jiri Raska.

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The recently decorated 20-metre tall antennas connect with satellites orbiting the Earth to collect data.

Local artwork has been installed on three antennas this summer, with the final two scheduled to be completed next year.

“This project started out as a Canada 150 project in 2017 [though was not funded with a Canada 150 grant], and has since evolved into a project focused on engagement of … Inuvik through art,” he said.

“We wanted to honour the cultures and deep history of Indigenous people living in Inuvik as well as acknowledge the diversity of people in Inuvik.”

Contributors to the project include East Three Secondary School art club, Ronnie Simon, Ron English, Anick Jerks, and Sheree McLeod – the artist behind the blanket toss antenna.

Raska said Inuvialuit, Métis, and Gwich’in peoples, as well as the community of Inuvik, will all be represented when the installation is complete.

Special film

Getting the project to completion has not been without challenges.

This summer has been exceptionally rainy, and installation can only be done when the weather is favourable – and when antennas are not at work tracking satellites across the sky.

This gave K6Media, the company tasked with installation, short, hour-long windows of time in which to add artwork piece by piece.

Following a satellite pass, Raska would point the antenna to the sky and lock it in place. K6Media would then climb into the dish, which is 13 metres in diameter, and apply a section of the decal before the antenna was scheduled to connect with a satellite again.

If conditions allowed, said Raska, one art installation could be completed in “one long day.”

Raska said the decals will survive harsh NWT winters, explaining the artwork was printed on a special film used to wrap vehicles.

K6Media also consulted with the antenna manufacturer to ensure the artwork would not interfere with satellite connections.

The facility, which is home to antennas owned by Canada, France, Germany, and Sweden, hopes more local artwork will be added as it expands and more satellites are added.

Raska said the reception from the community has been positive. Since the artwork was added, he has seen an increase in visitors attending his twice-weekly tours of the facility.