by Kari Cwynar
In the months leading up to the issue, the gravity of “land” has been unbearably present: the increasingly barbaric and racist policing taking place along colonial borders; water protectors at Standing Rock risking their lives in the face of capitalist and colonial interests on Indigenous land. Alarming weather patterns have become the norm. Trudeau, meanwhile, has been named a “stunning hypocrite” for espousing environmental actions in the media while supporting and continuing violent resource extraction in Canada and abroad. As printed in the Guardian in April: “Canada, which represents one half of 1% of the planet’s population, is claiming the right to sell the oil that will use up a third of the earth’s remaining carbon budget.”1 All of this takes place amidst the “celebrations” of Canada’s 150th anniversary of settler colonialism.
Landscape is a longstanding subject for artists and writers, perhaps the most universal or ubiquitous, but this issue does not romanticize it, or ruminate on its depictions. Instead it looks at how land shapes lived experience today. With Canada 150 as an implicit background, this issue aims to consider the land upon which we are living and working, from the perspectives of artists. The texts included here make connections between land-based issues here in Canada and those stemming from ecological and political matters around the world; they consider the role art may play in provoking much-needed conversation.
The featured writers and artists address the ways in which Indigenous land has been altered through resource extraction and colonialism, and the effects of environmental degradation and of gentrification in urban areas; topics range from border issues to the relationship between immigration and language to Canada’s incarceration system. Many of the texts tell stories that are not often discussed in public forums.
The issue opens with environmental historian Mary E. Mendoza’s account of the history of border fences as tools of racial discrimination – with roots in colonial notions of property ownership, border fences transformed with attempts to stop the passage of purportedly infected cattle; only in the postwar period did they become a primary means of staying human immigration. While not explicitly art related, Mendoza’s text offers important historical context for the ways in which North American land has been divided along racial lines. Artist Nicole Kelly Westman writes a travel narrative – peppered with her images – of a journey to the Northwest Territories mining town where her family once lived. In interview, New Mexico-based collective Postcommodity and Sadia Shirazi discuss Postcommodity’s recent projects addressing the USA-Mexico border. Other interviews include an account of the art and activist work of the Brooklyn-based collective Mare Liberum, whose boat-building and performance projects focus on New York state’s polluted and gentrified waterways and the lives thus affected; and a conversation with artist Kelly Jazvac, whose recent Plastiglomerates series emerged from ongoing work with researchers and locals in Hawaii around the ecological impact of garbage in the Pacific Ocean.
In the issue’s Artist Project, Olivia Whetung presents a new body of beadworks asserting Nishinaabeg presence in the Trent-Severn Waterway. Lisa Myers’ accompanying words suggest an “emotional geography” or mapping of place, parsing Whetung’s engagement with the physical and linguistic transformation of Indigenous land.
The built environment plays a role in this issue as well: Montreal-based artist and writer jake moore profiles Sheena Hoszko’s installations and frottage drawings, which represent the physical and psychological space of carceral institutions, while the issue’s two book reviews both look closely at the relationship of art to gentrification – of rave culture in industrial urban landscapes and more specifically at Toronto’s rapid subsumption of communities into condolands, rendered in Eric Kostiuk Williams’ new graphic novel, Condo Heartbreak Disco. The issue closes with Pamela Edmonds looking back at three of Camille Turner’s performance projects, considering Turner’s work through the concept of “not-forgetting.” In these performances, Turner engages participants in walking as a means of activating the often-ignored histories and geographies of Black Canadians, and of slavery, in both Windsor and Toronto.
While this editorial may paint a dire picture, in many ways this issue is a celebration of the land – it is a gathering of voices who care deeply, and who are taking risks in both their personal and professional lives and practices towards imagining a different future.