Processes of Remediation: art, relationships, nature
This website shares the research and process of Alberta-based artist Alana Bartol as she developed a new body of work through an online residency with University of Lethbridge Art Gallery in the spring and summer of 2020. Curated by Josephine Mills, the resulting artworks were presented in a solo exhibition from January 31 through September 25, 2021 at University of Lethbridge Art Gallery. Visit the Gallery section to view the final artworks and the Blog to learn about their development.
Bartol’s research included using the Galt Museum Archives in Lethbridge, Alberta to study relationships with the coal deposits and mining history around Lethbridge. The gardeners at the Coutts Centre, particularly Kara Matthews and John Stoll, have provided extensive knowledge about local plants and soil health as well as her long-time collaborator, artist, educator, botanist, and herbalist Latifa Pelletier-Ahmed, co-owner of ALCLA Native Plants. Elders and Knowledge Keepers Mary Fox, Bruce Wolf Child, Monte Little Plume, Andrea Fox, and Melissa Shouting have shared knowledge about Blackfoot protocols with the land and plants. Bartol has been mentoring emerging artists Kylie Fineday and Angeline Simon, who developed solo projects for the uLethbridge Art Gallery.
In a time of ecological crisis, when we have choices to make about protecting wildlife, lands and watersheds, how can we envision and help secure a future for this place where the coal stays inside the earth? How do we imagine ways forward that are not predicated on the continued destruction of the environment rooted in resource extraction and ongoing settler colonial violence? How can art play a role in this process?
Processes of Remediation takes the concept of environmental remediation as a starting point to explore the past, present, and future of coal mining in the province colonially defined and named Alberta. Although the province of Alberta is set to phase out coal-fired electricity by 2030, it continues to see coal in its future. On June 1st, 2020, the Kenney government rescinded The Coal Policy established in 1976 without public consultation. The Policy restricted open-pit coal mining in ecologically sensitive areas including Alberta’s Rocky Mountains and Foothills. After public backlash and protest against the policy removal, The Coal Policy was reinstated in February of 2021 but only temporarily as a new coal policy is developed. In 2021, a Coal Policy Committee was created to develop recommendations for Alberta’s new coal policy and engage the public in the process. While the Committee's reports were submitted to Energy Minister Sonya Savage, the reports have yet to be released to the public.
Many of Bartol's research and resulting artworks centre around areas in the Crowsnest Pass, in Southern Alberta including the proposed Grassy Mountain Coal Project (which has since been denied), as well as the Greenhill Mining Complex, and the ghost towns of Burmis and Lille, once coal mining communities. Through engagements with past and possible future sites of coal mining, Bartol examines the impacts of coal mining on wildlife, watersheds, ecosystems, and plants. The resulting site-responsive artworks including drawing, video, sculpture, participatory art, and installation.
The project draws on Bartol’s work with dowsing and the history of dowsing in connection to mining/resource extraction. Specifically, Bartol researched Martine de Bertereau, one of the first (recognized) female mineralogists and mining engineers in 17th century France who traveled Europe in search of mineral deposits utilizing specialized divining instruments and other techniques including botany. She was accused of witchcraft and died in France while in prison. The story of de Bertereau is a complex one that points to the violence of resource extraction and the development of capitalism that she both participated in and was killed by. In her artwork, Bartol uses dowsing and the figure of the witch to ask us to reconsider consumption-driven relationships to the earth and what are known as ‘natural resources.’
Workshop participants learn about dowsing and digging with artist Alana Bartol and Head Horticulturalist Kara Matthews at the Coutts Centre for Western Canadian Heritage. Photos: blkarts.ca.
I want to express my gratitude and thanks to my collaborators Bryce Krynski and Latifa Pelletier-Ahmed, Josephine Mills and the staff at uLethbridge Art Gallery, and everyone that has made this work possible by sharing their time, knowledge and insights including Elders and Knowledge Keepers Mary Fox, Bruce Wolf Child, Monte Little Plume, Andrea Fox, and Melissa Shouting. Thank you also to Kara Matthews, John Stoll and the staff at the Coutts Centre. Thank you to Kylie Fineday and Angeline Simon for the generative conversations and the opportunity to get to know them and work with them as they developed new artwork. Thank you to Canada Council for the Arts, Alberta Foundation for the Arts, and Calgary Arts Development for their support for this work.
About the artist
Alana Bartol comes from a long line of water witches. Her site-responsive works explore divination as a way to question consumption-driven relationships to land, water, and what are colonially named 'natural resources'. Through her work, she creates relationships between the personal sphere and the landscape, particular to this time of ecological crisis. She is a member of Fathom Sounds, a collective of artists that have come together to think long-term about the health of water and the role artists play in responding to urgent ecological, political, and social issues that collect around water.
A n interdisciplinary artist with a B.F.A. from the University of Windsor and an M.F.A. from Detroit’s Wayne State University, her work has been presented in festivals and galleries nationally and internationally. In 2019 and 2021, she was longlisted for Canada's prestigious Sobey Art Award representing Prairies and North. Of Scottish, German, English, French, Irish, and Danish ancestry, Bartol is a white settler Canadian currently living and working as an uninvited guest in Treaty 7 territory in Mohkínstsis (Calgary), Alberta where she is a sessional instructor at Alberta University of the Arts. Photo: blkarts.ca.