Tag Archives: environment

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.


State of the Arts

Victoria Ward

Destiny beside a bronze cow

If you are not Canadian you do not know that our current federal government is in the midst of scandals growing so numerous and complex that an app might be worth developing in order for us regular folk to keep tabs on who knew what, when they knew it and what is being done to rectify it.

Frankly, it doesn’t surprise me that there are nefarious things at work in our political upper classes. It can’t be easy to do the right thing all the time. In the case of this current pack it seems it isn’t even an option to do the right thing at the best of times. Like most people I am appalled but I am also not sure that outrage even works anymore. In any case I am far more troubled by the growing campaign touting the oil sands.

I watch TV. If you don’t then you have no idea about this however if you do, then you are also seeing many, many ads every evening during prime time touting the benefits of our petroleum producers. The ads are clever, bright and cheery with real people conveying a comfortable and casual style. Our resources are friendly, happy businesses that white people really enjoy and they make our economy, our lives and our souls better! the ads seem to say. The overall tone is folksy and sunny as if resource extraction consisted of making apple pies and iced lemonade on a hot day.

Are these ads trying to make us feel like fools? Environmental destruction can be caused by resource extraction and without regulations or protections, our water and air can be poisoned. This isn’t a belief, these are known facts. But the opposite is proclaimed. Oil producers are saving the earth from climate change you idiots! How would you couch potatoes know anyway? You all live in Toronto!

Marcus Kucey-Jones & Ryan Lotecki's fire hydrants in Hintonburg, Ottawa.
Marcus Kucey-Jones & Ryan Lotecki’s funny and sublime fire hydrants in Hintonburg, Ottawa.

This past weekend I was in Ottawa taking a personal tour of the many newish public sculptures when I continually stumbled upon bus shelters and the like that announced the magnificence of our future because of the oil sands. These ads remind me of something really sinister; they seem expensive, well placed and very well supported as they are sandwiched between the federal government’s action plan ads. The whole thing definitely has an Orwellian “double plus good” feel to them.

Because I am who I am I found that looking away from the ad that told me the oil sands would create 830,000 jobs in the next twenty years and toward art bathed me in relief. It seemed to me that the artist’s work was a real tactile thing, an interactive object lovingly created in order to stop a harried pedestrian for a moment and let them wander in thought. The oil sands ad was a hostile (and somewhat defensive) proclamation that told you how the future will be. The public square had room for both, it is up to us to choose which defines us more.

Kettle's on!  Noel Harding's teapot, Slater & Kent, Ottawa
Kettle’s on! Noel Harding’s teapot, Slater & Kent, Ottawa

I am very familiar with the necessity of resource use. My partner is a geologist and reminds me of where the substance comes from that makes the thing I am using a lot. And I live in the real world and know that we can’t just stop using fossil fuels suddenly and use wind. But, I do think that there is a big difference between educating us about the importance of our energy use and how we should be managing it and the message these petroleum producers are selling us. One makes you think about yourself, one gives you no choice but to believe.

Good art chooses the earlier route toward understanding. It can make you think about life in unexpected ways. Being told what is good for you is propaganda, plain and simple. I wish that art was given the same amount of money and support the energy community is given. Our contribution is no less important and really, way more sustainable. Though we do need energy to drive places, we need culture to make those places exist. Without culture, we might as well stay home and eat from our gardens – which isn’t such a bad idea now that I think about it.

Public art is a gift in our distracted and stressful lives. When I was younger and lived in Toronto I used to make plans with people by saying things like “I’ll be next to the Henry Moore” or “It’s where that big chair is…”. Come to think of it, my hubby arranged our first date by meeting near a bronze cow that once stood in Union Station. Yes, I met my destiny beside a piece of art, how great is that?