All posts by blogcabinbyvic

artist, writer, sometimes poet, website/social media developer

the wind and the rain

Victoria Ward
Victoria Ward

The wind and rain hit the side of the house so relentlessly and powerfully all night that I assumed when I would wake the next morning everything would be blown away. But as the sun came up over the field, beyond the garden and work shed it was business as usual; Molly the dog running about, birds flitting about on empty trees and the southern Ontario sky moodily moving clouds back and forth – grey, lavender, white and grey again. Morning in farm country. It is an entirely different kind of morning than in the forest.

I am in southern Ontario installing an art exhibition that is the consequence of a residency. The landscape, with farms and hollows is completely different than where I live which is foresty, rugged with Precambrian shield rocks and has hundreds of lakes. Where I am now there is one, huge great lake. But as it always is when we embark and then embed ourselves in different landscapes, we feel comfortable in our relative discomfort. I admit to being a home body; I like being in my jammies and reading and hanging out on my property and wandering up my road. So, when I travel and even if it is only somewhere else in Ontario it has an impact on my psyche.

Winter is coming. A foreboding tag line if there ever was one. The turn onto our road last winter – yeah, we get snow.

Ontario used to be a place with fairly consistent weather; rain in in the shoulder months, snow in winter and heat in summer. The sun always around and appearing regularly. Ontario weather is now no longer that consistent. Our summers are a mixed bag, sometimes wet and cold, sometimes too hot, our winter starts later and later and when the snow comes it comes in heaps and there seems to be crazier and crazier rain storms. This past year I witnessed flooding I had never seen before in lots of places in the province. It is alarming for sure and with the fact that my life has been built around trekking across the landscape to make and exhibit art, I have to say I am not filled with the greatest of optimism that this will become easier, in fact I think these ventures will become harder. Secretly though I also think that perhaps we might have to stay home more (quiet little yeah!).

Being a landscape inspired artist in an era of accelerating climate change isn’t exactly what I bargained or readied myself for. Listening to the rain last night in that 19th century farm house with its huge wooden doors and big heavy windows – the kind you can sit in on a pillow and create poetry in – was exactly where I hoped I would be one day when I was young girl obsessed with Mary Shelley and the Brontes. Unfortunately loving stormy nights doesn’t fill me with Gothic ecstasy anymore, they come too fast, too hard and go beyond drama into something far scarier and foreboding. Climate change is ruining my love of Goth. Storms now cause power outages and we can’t use our water – this isn’t romantic, it’s boring. Dark foreboding skies are still beautiful, but they can also mean that a heavy rain will probably make the door jamb in my house leak. So, this is where I am now. I moved into a gorgeous log cabin in the woods, a romantic setting if there ever was one only to have all the sensuality of violent weather drummed out of me. Climate change you suck.

I WISH I thought climate change was a hoax, I would probably be more able to pretend that on a stormy night I am sitting with the ghosts of Shelley and Byron trying scare each other until it stops raining. No such luck. I listen to the wind howl in a way that seems completely psychotic, not eerie or evocative, just simply psychotic and try to distract my fear of our roof coming off by watching Netflix and praying that the internet holds. Ok, I may be waxing a bit dramatic here. These storms aren’t relentlessly ubiquitous yet.

The thing is I have always loved the weather in Ontario and in all parts of Ontario. One year we got stuck in a blizzard and had to stay in our hotel an extra couple of nights outside of Cobalt on Lake Temiskaming. It was amazing really. Our hotel had a fireplace so, if the power went out we’d still be warm (it didn’t) but watching the snow sweep across the lake, it’s power and beauty an almost ethereal and translucent spectral event – made for a very memorable couple of days.

The morning after, strange swirling forms of vapour rose off the lake spiraling to the blasting sun as though the very air was giving blessings to the universe. I could not possibly make art our of such an event – there was no need really. We drove slowly away toward home and of course I was happy and relieved however changed, because the landscape, the weather and the movement through time that others refer to as travel had made its mark upon my soul. A reliable sense of things in our atmosphere seems to be vanishing – I shall hold its poetic power as long as I am able.

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northern dreams

Victoria Ward
Victoria Ward

It’s been a long weird summer here in the forest. We’ve had so much rain that snakes, yes snakes are trying to get into our house and studio. But I don’t like to dwell on that cuz although I spent many a year wishing my life was an Edgar Allen Poe story I can’t have snakes in house. And it hasn’t been warm. For those of you who have never been to central Ontario, we get hot summers, usually heatwaves that last a few weeks and make things like swimming feel as though you discovered a new planet. This year we had maybe four days that were central Ontario hot and they weren’t even all together.

So is was kind of amazing that I embarked on a new chapter in my life which would have me spend a lot more time on the computer and indoors this summer. I didn’t have to sit inside feeling miserable for not being outside. This new chapter sees me working several days a week for a national organization that helps to support people, wildlife and the environment in the Arctic. While most people continued their obsession with American politics my world gradually moved into stories about hunting, fishing, climate change, ice, food security and caribou populations. And a lot of getting to understand governance in the north – very complicated, very sensitive and not for the faint of heart.

I must say it has given me a completely fresh perspective on what I am trying to do in my art. Survival being the singular issue for north of 60 (the latitude that marks the distinction between Canada and really northern Canada, unlike Canada and Boreal Canada or Canada and tundra Canada – I could go on, it’s a big, big country) it seems all too fitting to be working away in my studio on the other days of the week making art work that is a combination of locale, landscape, consciousness and its many transformations. My work has always been a bit existential and based on what isolation and wilderness teaches us or how it transforms us. Now I spend part of the week dealing with real time issues of a culture and species and a landscape which is transforming and making survival questionable. And then I work on art without having to make an intellectual or conceptual switch.

Balke’s Stetind, Norway’s famous peak and a northern mystical landscape.

Synchronicity seems to find me continually in my life (I don’t completely understand it as a thing) as friends of mine are travelling in Norway right now and sharing the most amazing imagery. I went back to my Norway file (yes, it is a lifelong dream to travel there and so I have file full of stuff on it) and looked through my Peder Balke imagery that I had been collecting from Google images. Balke lived in the far north of Norway, painted its landscape and helped foster socialism in that country. The fjords and mountains he depicts dissolve into the horizon as though they may have only been a dream to begin with.

I wonder, is our Arctic a dream too? Obviously not for the people who live there, far be it for me to objectify and romanticize the very effects of climate change that is creating catastrophic events but if I am honest with myself I need to realize that I am going to be parceling away things I learn to later be run through the mill in my brain and ground into some sort of artistic idea. I can’t help it, I am now wired this way.

For now, however I am struck by how Peder’s work touches on the very real idea that make our polar regions are so very, very fragile – the climate/water needs to stay cold to keep them stable. That stability is disappearing and ideas of transformation are now in flux.  In every way this stuff is at odds with my impulse to stay positive but it speaks also my deep sense of wonder about existence, and how art making can help me work through this new, scary reality.

Please follow the Canadian Arctic Resources Committee on Facebook as we try to support it’s people and environment.