sandarchy, graphite on paper, 10

A story from the corner store…all the way into a Mongolian sand storm.

At the platform created for passengers to wait and be picked up by buses, they have no bathrooms. Not anywhere that I have seen do they have bathrooms on the ttc (not like in the UK where you pay 50p to take a pee). After waiting for what seemed like 30min but was probably 8, I had to pee so badly that all I could do was image getting off the bus 10min later and running to the house over the ice. The bus finally came, loaded and disembarked north along Broadview ave, and I was bursting by the time I was dropped off beside the corner store. For an inexplicable reason I chose to go in, instead of running home. George was particularly talkative, and began unwinding what he remembered of strong winds blowing all through his childhood in China. I was fascinated, but had to run and told him why.

The next day I went back, and asked, what were you saying about Mongolia?

“It was china but bordering on Mongolia in the north. In the winter, nevermind the wind-chill, it was normally -50c. But the wind was always blowing, it would blow you over. We had summer storms as well, but instead of snow it was sand. Sunglasses would do nothing, we would have to wear goggles just to walk, nevermind riding a bike. ”

George was looking out the window at the chilly winter wind.

“When I visited the small town I grew up in, equal distance from Mongolia and Korea, there were these old walls I remember from being a kid. It was wall after wall built to hold trees to protect the city from the ever-approaching sand, trying to wash away our town. These trees were not so big though you see, maybe up to here, ”

Indicating with his hand about 5′ tall.

“They were not tall but they were old right? Like the trees I saw by the tree-line in the arctic.” I broke in.

“Yes, yes, incredibly old, 40-50 years, but they would not grow bigger than me.” George continued, “when I was visiting this town in the 70’s I found, horribly that the fences we built to keep the crops alive had decayed, since by the fourth tier of trees you can dig a foot and find water for the new saplings. That was the saddest part, that every 5-10 years the dead trees would have to be replaced, and were then used to rebuild the fences, but people had forgotten that this was our responsibility. The fence used to run through the whole north, northeast and northwest of the city. It was immense. I cannot imagine how it must be on the interior plain, where the wind is much worse, and they have larger cities like Shanghai.”

When I arrived home the image was so strongly drawn in my mind, I put it on paper.

‘elements of green design’ – four films from Evergreen Brick Works green design exhibit 2010-2012.

it is a bit odd to compress the four films into one frame, when originally they were mounted separately 1 1/2′ apart. some of the audio which served to fill the space and compliment the busy flow through of traffic in the ground floor hallway of the center for green cities, now are competing in this 9 minute film. the footage includes years of environmental documentary footage, with compelling statements by key green leaders in toronto (the founders of auto-share and bullfrog power….) as well as architects and designers involved in the evergreen brickworks project.



tar sands training camp

In 2009, from January 16th-18th, a group of activists, environmentalists and students gathered in the University of Saskatchewan, for the first of many conferences created to educate and create plans to oppose tar sands development in the province. workshops about direct action and the media, creativity and environmental justice, were punctuated by panel discussions with experts and first nations people with first hand knowledge. A healthy example of what a small group of dedicated people can begin to do to oppose the policy and destruction of established industry.

Wind Birds: part of a true tail of wind turbines, hitch-hikers, and how they effect the local birds of central France.

These paintings were made both as emblems for the 30 day journey spanning the northern half of France and into Holland back in 2007, and as sweetener to the deal proposed to those who had hired us to stand in for avian experts and create an environmental impact study to interpret how wind turbines effect birds. This task we did diligently, not fully understanding the implications to the health of the bioregion, crafting a study littered with fully articulated impacts on birds as well as lofty goals for mitigating impact-peppered with a strong disclaimer-we are artists, not biologists (see excerpts here). I exchanged the ten paintings, plus the environmental impact report for transit back to montreal on a cargo ship, and funding for my friends project in India kick-starting traditional craft economies.

each bird portrait was made half from memory, half imagination, then the closest relative identified in the field guide to birds we were seeing in the farms and fields proposed for the wind turbine project. each work is titled for this bird, and the descriptions on the back are like the game, two truths and a lie, each one holding two true facts and one imagined one.

this method of painting from imagination and memory relies on  spending weeks in the field observing birds behavior and identifying them in a field guide. this sourcing of imagery for painting relies on first hand knowledge to be able to then use the strongest memories and impressions from the physical experience of being close to actual birds to paint from. this is an important distinction to me since it relies on drawing people into connection with the natural world, going out to observe and eventually find empathy with the winged sentinels of the forest.

each work is ink and watercolor, 9″ x 11″ and stitched to cardboard, as these were the most efficient materials i have found to use while camping and hitch-hiking.

(if you like these images, see some preliminary sketches, in public, here)

the following photographs and text contain a true story which unfolded through the fields, mountains and motor-ways of france in 2007. there is nothing more to describe. i love to create new experiments in how imagery and commentary can stand in for conventional dry storytelling, therefore, the story may connect to the images, or it may not. see what you can imagine through the visuals and text. enjoy. in a sense the paintings above are the conclusion, as they marked the end of this adventure, and were left in the executive offices of the wind turbine company who hired us, the ceo saying as i departed; “my wife will love these….”

making time for change; NGO’s non-profits vs. nature’s time

Have you ever tried to educate others in connecting to cycles of time older or slower than those occupying most of our schedules and visual space (checking your mobile for the time every 15 seconds) but find that the vehicles and models we use to teach about healthy culture are increasingly speeding up? Me too. I write this to advance some partial survival strategies for connecting the social/env dots as we speed along on the e-ngo train, in the hope that you will comment/improve and expand upon this strategy. But first: slow time…

Some partial examples of slower time could include those popularised by non-profit orgs, such as the life-cycles of plants or trees, how many generations have passed since toronto was covered in 2km of ice, geological events (past warming that could predict what a warmer climate would look like here), or even more extreme; the light in the night sky likely to already be extinct.

All of these are familiar concepts and are used to attempt to salve and create compassion for the natural world, to advocate for campaigns to save and protect both nature and the flow of capital into what I have recently heard named the non-profit industrial complex.

This is a rhetoric which I have embodied entirely in years past, and have based many workshops, programs, and education strategies upon: that if you can get someone in touch with nature and its rhythm, then they will slow down consumption, with slow food, cooperative social enterprises, and greener and more sustainable lifestyle decisions which will save the planet.

It should be apparent by now, since being toted as the ultimate and consummate moral guilt, that we must create change in society to reduce CO2 emissions and halt disasterous run away climate change.

With increasing exponential speed the number of e-ngo’s (environmental non governmental organisations) is growing, engaging multitudes of energised and emotionally charged youth, garnering funds from every sector and creating huge numbers of temporary stewardship events, gardens, services and spaces.
The distilled message reads: create change faster.

I write this to anyone who has first hand experience in trying to create systemic change in/with/through the non-profit sector to slow the consumer machine and put some sort of emotional leash on runaway climate change, but has encountered en-route that funding cycles, abstracted deliverables or more plainly the pace of e-ngo change moves much too quickly for plants and trees to come to maturity, or too fast for half a dozen students to watch a seedling sprout, mature and bear seed.

This ability to take the long view is learned in plant and animal husbandry through successive seasons, and if you are trying to educate people there are only so many places to plant perennials; to turn the compost, and with urban space constraints you are left with two strategic options: 1-increase the number of people participating to the max and shorten their exposure to each nature related participatory element to ensure reliable growth of the organisation or 2-observe the land for its potential curriculum already in the earth, including what is the responsibility of people to degraded land, and find a specific group who will yield greatest benefit carrying out the restoration/husbandry curriculum.

This second methodology ensures healthy linkages between education in participant’s lives and resilient restoration of the land which can only be nurtured by taking the appropriate time to allow people, plants, animals and plans to mature.

What are the principal hindrances to slowing down, elongating progress or taking the long view?
Some would say: funding cycles, the non-profit industrial complex, or the unfortunate disease of urbanity whose symptoms include the inability to understand and prioritise nature education as a strategic goal to creating change.

When I travelled back to ruskin mill educational trust in SW england to inquire about strategies for creating a curriculum based on cultivating a relationship with the land I was told: in researching the historical land use going back two thousand years, we selected activities which brought healing to the more recent industrial trauma, like coppicing or fish farming, and developed a four year immersion program for teens with special needs based on those activities.

For us to discover and deliver such depth, here in the don valley in Toronto, we would first have to address the colonial context of such work, ensuring we are not just the most recent people to see grand economic visions on land that is not ours, and then begin, slowly, to find how people in the valley’s past would create fertile soil, would steward the forest, and take care of its creatures. Despite the pace and trajectory of many e-ngo’s today, it is likely that through wilful and slow motion action, there is still room for the kind of progression towards healing that would characterize real change in my opinion. The trick is to pretend that you are participating in the cult of the deliverables enough to keep your job, but not so much that you forget the pace that projects, plants, people, and trees really grow.

P.s. Maple syrup time anyone???