Tag Archives: climate change

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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Proudly Canadian, again

Victoria Ward
Victoria Ward

It’s a new day in Canada

The cliché is apt since on October 19 we ousted the worst Prime Minister in Canadian history from office by giving the third place Liberals an overwhelming majority. Much debate has been hashed out over and over on social media and in the press as to why the electorate went centrist and not progressively left. If we wanted an alternative people cry, why did we go with the corporate minded Liberals? We don’t really have a left leaning party in Canada that could form a government, well, not any more.  The NDP relinquished their socialist leaning policies a long time ago and the version of them that ran slowly shrunk like a balloon letting air out as the Liberal platform announced an anti-austerity stance and ran with the idea of keeping deficits in check, not eliminating them while spending money all over the place. The corporate Liberals also want to legalize cannabis which I am assuming should pay for their promises.

What has all this got to do with the arts? A lot. I have long thought that good jobs with security and benefits, ones that pay well enough to give people a peace of mind was the only way to help the arts. People with money and security buy/support the arts. Not just rich people; in fact wealth ususally contributes to false inflated and unsustainable markets. I am talking about people who have good incomes due to the fact they worked very hard to get where they are. Hard working people with a job in academia or technology or finance or medicine or the government or in a factory or entrepreneurial types etc. are people who are the section of the public that chooses consistently to agree with supporting the arts through taxes, buys an art gallery membership, puts their kids in art programs and purchases art work when they are able.

The Liberals ran on a razor thin idea that they were the party that would help the middle class; the people I describe above.  And that is why they won not just because we had to get rid of that miscreant who had driven our wonderful country into a dark hole of military and oil sanctity. That their leader is the scion of our most cherished PM, Pierre Elliot Trudeau might have played a role in hopes of what is happening now: a kind of Canuck Camelot with the glamourous, pot loving, feminist Justin front and centre. We are all walking a little more upright now and ever so slightly chuffed; we have a leader who is going to the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris with all the premiers and Elizabeth May. As we say in rural Canada ‘f*kin’ eh!’

JT left, Pic Island by Harris right. Canada does have iconic imagery galore and much of it is unabashedly gorgeous.
JT left, Pic Island by Harris right. Canada does have iconic imagery galore and much of it is unabashedly gorgeous.

Such a backdrop plays nicely into that other Canadian icon generating excitement: the Group of Seven’s great benefactor and motivational leader, Lawren Harris. Harris’ work has been in the news recently because actor/musician Steve Martin has co-curated a traveling exhibition of Harris’ paintings in the United States. This almost never happens to a Canadian, let alone a Canadian visual artist. There is a marginal backlash from careerist curators and museum directors decrying that a celebrity is soiling their precious world with ‘personal taste’ but it is a tempest in a tea pot compared to what I believe will be a very popular art exhibition. Americans will love Harris’ austere, majestic works that emanate a glowing spiritual core, as if the landscape were praying.  We love him and guess why? Because we have taste and good artists too. Thank you Steve Martin for recognizing a 20th century artist who is long overdue for the reverence shown toward O’Keefe and Wyeth.

Am I making too much of both events by placing our new PM in the same blog as Harris? I think not. Canada has long been of little interest in the world since we have the lopsided problem of being a huge land mass with a population similar to Algeria. Our resources have always overshadowed our culture. I feel that what is a foundational aspect of who we are is a unique sense of beauty which is illuminated wonderfully in Harris’ work.  Harris was the real thing, born into wealth, studied abroad, fiddled with theosophy but then spent his money traipsing through northern Ontario and into the Arctic to observe and paint the Canadian landscape.  The results are profound, as they also inspired generations of Canadians to get out into the woods and think long and hard about the natural world. As John Muir had done through advocacy in the US, Harris would do through visual art in Canada.

I am the product of Harris’ inspirational work; I come to my art practice through a deep and thoughtful relationship with the natural world.  I can’t even imagine who I would have been if my mother hadn’t marched us into art galleries at a young age and made us learn the names of each Group of Seven member (including Tom Thomspon) and how to recognize each of their styles.

Canada is now a place that celebrates cultures from all over the world. Blended into our hoser-esque humility and rugged outdoorsy ways, we have become a nation of people who can as easily dance to bhangra as well as handle canoeing down a river. If you don’t think so just take a look at this new PM of ours, you’ll see he too is a product of this great, beautiful place called Canada.