White Out

Text by Chauntelle Trinh
Photographs courtesy of Darren Onyskiw

Decoder Ring – 100 Suns
They Blind the Stars, and the Wild Team (2009)

It is a clear spring day in early March, a fresh layer of snow covers the rugged terrain of Mount Seymour, British Columbia, Canada. Around this time of year snow is abundant, frosting the mountain peaks with a pristine coat of white. Forty-five minutes from the city of Vancouver is the apex of Brockton Point, which overlooks the city from 1300 meters above sea level. Off-trail, the region is regarded as backcountry, a harsh wilderness marked by towering rock faces and old growth firs and cedars.

On a crisp, subzero morning, Darren Onyskiw treks upwards into the mountains through snow and ice, the load on his back heavy with equipment. Each step is a feat. Snowshoes weigh down his feet but are necessary to forge through snow, steel crampons he must also bring to navigate ice. The possible threat of an avalanche and alpine weather makes the task all the more difficult. Mother Nature is unpredictable and fatalities are not uncommon. Except for a few distant birds, Darren is utterly alone.

white out darren onyskiw snow negatives

After hiking more than three kilometers, he arrives at Brockton Point, settling on a spot near a gullet just off the main trail. In the silent midst of white and wilderness, he throws down his gear and gets ready. In diligent form, his mind is on auto-pilot and his body follows, surveying, measuring and marking out a shape in the snow. Then, he begins to dig.

This is his fourth return to the mountains since the winter began. Each time has been like a quest, a mission to create what he refers to as Snow Negatives.

white out darren onyskiw snow negatives

For almost three decades, Darren has worked as an architect, designing and constructing houses and interiors for private clients. The son of a self-taught builder and landscaper, Darren continued this tradition of constructivism in his life and work. Architectural practice, generally satisfying for those with a natural aptitude and ardor for design, demands long working hours, and the practicalities of running a business can leave the imaginative spirit weary. Architecture itself has its own distinct set of limitations.

To counterbalance this, he has committed himself to also producing art. Art allows him to investigate his theories and delve into territory outside of the pragmatic sphere of architecture and design. Artistic ideas manifested into form and installations manipulated by light, form and materials. Despite the many struggles he has had to endure through the years, his love for creation sustains his faith, giving him the strength to persevere. “Some of us are born with a resonant desire to create. It drives us. There’s a passion from within, a mechanism that is not necessarily mechanical.” He says, “We are born to execute, to make.”

Read more in N˚3: Fight.