Tag Archives: art making

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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Ode to a Jackdaw, the sequel

Victoria Ward
Victoria Ward

When I started this blog I innocently thought, hey, no one is discussing some things in the Canadian art world. Where are the public conversations about money? Are the arts councils working for us? Are artists treated fairly? How come rural artists are treated like crap? And why does no one know how to use Twitter in the art world?

Moving forward in time I found that there were lots of people who felt the same way I did and we were able to share some of the things I was writing about. I still naively believed that the art world needed a good dose of social justice and that artists would unite to recognize this. Has this happened? I am uncertain. I still maintain that these issues are relevant but social media has become a place for fighting and fighting is not what I signed up for.

I did not begin this blogging gig so that I could ‘change the world’ or ‘help people’ or get ‘popular’ or even just get some notice. I honestly thought that I was doing something constructive for myself and my friends. I thought I was helping change the channel on how art is discussed.

from ‘To Walk Invisible’, Sally Wainright’s astounding drama about the Brontes. Herself a former Yorkshire bus driver, Wainright knows better than anyone about being invisible.

It all began in Yorkshire and my discovery of the Jackdaw. This zine publishes a few times a year and is written by artists and art supporters in the north who see an unfair advantage to how the arts is funded and promoted by London. I’ve written about this before but the Turner Prize is but one example of this. The prize is often awarded to artists who are pet projects of curators and arts investors who need the prize to uptick the art’s value creating a situation where money flows like confetti all over the place but not in the coffers of arts organizations that need it. This is a huge paraphrasing of the corruption – you really need to read about it in the Jackdaw – but it’s a circle of life that has been normalized which in turn has essentially killed off funding and interest in any kind of art making not associated with the Westminster zone. Austerity and now Brexit in that country has ruined not one but perhaps two generations of artists not living below the midlands. When I got back to my rural log cabin in the central Ontario I looked at the world very differently. Was this kind of thing happening here?

In a very different way it was. Money was flowing then to Luminato, Nuit Blanche and all sorts of southern Ontario artistry while most of the galleries I show in had a hard time coming up with a per diem so that we could eat while visiting their community. For awhile conversation and community sprung up around these issues and I actually thought things might be getting better but… while we wait and wait and wait for the Canada Council and Canadian Heritage to dole out money to supposedly ‘a more diverse’ amount of art the talk of art making has switched to the discussion of who should be making art. This may or may not be a discussion that will have happy consequences; all I know is that it probably stems from a community’s desperation more than anything.

If you take food away from animals they starve or eat each other. It’s just what happens.

The Brontes and Elizabeth Gaskell brought international attention to the plight of northern people and the lives of those who worked and lived in the heart of the Industrial Revolution. They were northerners (Gaskell was born in London but lived for a time in the north, the sisters were Yorkshire rural), even today they are perceived as writers from a genre, or a time and a place. But they helped pave the way for Karl Marx and George Orwell. They are world famous now and beloved but their contribution is far more reaching. Books such as Jane Eyre and Mary Barton helped bring about a labour revolution – one that we are still fighting today. I mention these writers, these artists because I think it’s folly to think that art needs to have a time and place or be of somewhere or be popular. Art has no ‘dominion’ really – it just exists and sometimes in the unlikeliest places made by the unlikeliest people.  I have hope we return to these conversations at some point.