Tag Archives: Arctic

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.

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the silence of sound

Victoria Ward
Victoria Ward

I love sound but I love silence more. Actually I love the area between the two the best. By this I mean the sounds that you hear when there isn’t supposed to be any sound. For instance where I live I can list all the sounds I hear: the fridge, the tertiary highway with intermittent cars, birds, rain or snow (yep, snow makes a sound), coyotes and wolves very occasionally, when the neighbours are up you can hear chainsaws and some talking, and at night when it is really, really cold you can hear trees cracking and snapping – sometimes making a low gong noise. So, people come to my place and always say, “Wow, it is so quiet here.” But I can hear things all the time. So, no, it isn’t quiet.

We have a hydro pole on our property. After moving here I read a Harper’s article about electro magnetic fields or EMFs. In the article it told the stories of different people who could swear they heard the lives of the people several kilometres away from them through the hydro wires. Some also mentioned the phone wires which are on the same pole. There was also terrifying things in the article like people getting neurological disorders from being so close to EMFs. I chose to ignore the latter stories. For several years I was convinced I could hear other lives coursing through those wires. I would lie awake at night listening to see if I could discern words from these transmissions. Was it my imagination? Possibly. For a time things and places and people would bounce around in my brain. Through this I came to appreciate sounds and the world of sounds and this between world of sound and silence.

Most sound artists are from cities which makes sense since cities are clusters of sound and energy. I always feel like a spark getting plugged into something when I visit. My lights come on and I ‘radiate’ while there. I usually come home exhausted from the experience. I find that city people need to unplug regularly and use places like where I live to do so. I get that. But city sounds never inspire me the way non-city sounds do. There is an ambience to the forest that you can barely verbalise. In the years I have lived where I do I have seen and heard trees falling in the forest. It’s an observation no longer funny but… it still resonates because sound in places where there isn’t supposed to be any seems very subversive.

I have become extremely sensitive to sounds over the years. I go to very few first run movies as the sound systems make me feel like I am having a heart attack. I have been this way long before the reality of a heart attack was something to consider. I also love silent films because they give me even more reasons to use my imagination. During a long talk with a film maker friend a few weeks ago, I realized the problem I have always had with film is that I don’t get to do any of the work. I gravitate to things where I can insert myself, or rather participate by figuring out what I am looking at and listening to. I think that if I went to hell it would have the kind of syrupy soundtrack that roars across the screen amplifying what I am supposed to feel. In fact I have turned off Netflix and other films right away if the soundtrack even hints of augmented emotion. I find it manipulative and condescending but mostly it just hurts my ears.

The thing about sound is that it is mysterious. Years ago 7/11 stores in the US played classical music outside to dissuade loitering teenagers. It sort of worked but lots of adults hated it too. Then there was that great and now campy scene in Jaws where Robert Shaw runs his nails down a chalkboard to get everyone’s attention – a very avant garde film moment in an otherwise extremely mainstream movie. Jaws is one of the few Spielberg movies with a soundtrack I can take. More recently comdedian Aziz Ansari mentioned how the minute you hear that Arabic maqam music in a movie you know that it’s a terrorist lair. In fact he went on to say if perhaps the movies didn’t use such music or motifs perhaps we wouldn’t be in the chaos we are in today. Sound matters which is why film makers that are lazy about using it do not make the kind of films I ever want to see.

Had I to do this all over again I would have gone into the creation of ambient sound and music. I like to think that my work is infiltrated by my being influenced by sound as much as the visual world around me. At night in the woods the trees take on a spiky silhouette pointing toward the very busy Milky Way that I am lucky to see often. There is a rustle in them, and if you listen really closely something even more intense – you hear yourself. The minute one is able to align their heartbeat and breathe with the universe in that way the noise of life is pushed into the background. Snow falling, rain, birds and even the questionable transmissions of EMFs become more of a reality. The tranquil act of experiencing this ‘silence’ makes the occasional nightmare of dealing with the world worth it.

The above YouTube clips are:

Charlie Chaplin in a scene from Modern Times. Chaplin wrote, directed and scored the music. If there had been dialogue in this scene it would not be one of the most effective and brilliant moments in any movie.

An Arctic ocean ice breaker idling in the ice. This video is an exact and wonderful example of a landscape based art work that merges nature and humans, all through sound. The visuals are great too but you will also enjoy this without looking at it.