Exhibition Opening + Act Now! Grassy Mountain Coal Project
Westslope Cutthroat Trout (canary in the coalmine), Alana Bartol. Participatory artwork, 2020-ongoing, milk on paper, 22.86 x 30.48 cm, 300+ drawings, Photo: blkarts.ca
I am excited to announce that my exhibition Processes of Remediation: art, relationships, nature will open next week at University of Lethbridge Art Gallery. Due to COVID, the exhibition will not be open to the public but you can join me and curator Josephine Mills for a live conversation on Zoom about the exhibition on Thursday, Jan 21 7pm MST. Link to register here: https://uleth.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJItd-mpqTIiGNaBdEjkMM3jnvrYSh-rPXtT
The exhibition will run from Jan 21 - Aug 26, 2021. While the galley may not be open to visitors for some time, I will be updating this website and blog with documentation of the artworks, including links to view video works. I will also be working with the uLethbridge Art Gallery to create videos of the exhibition and keep you updated on when you can visit the gallery in-person and how to safely do so. You can learn more about the exhibition and gallery here. If you have questions, please feel free to contact uLethbridge Art Gallery.
I would like to thank all of the people that have made this project possible including uLethbridge Art Gallery curator/director Josephine Mills, all of the staff at the gallery with special thanks to Jon Oxley, Kirsten Meiszinger, Juliet Graham, David Smith, and Chad Patterson. The gardeners at the Coutts Centre, particularly Kara Matthews and John Stoll, who have provided extensive knowledge about local plants and soil health. 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. Kylie Fineday and Angeline Simon, emerging artists that I have been working with who are each developing solo projects for the uLethbridge Art Gallery for 2021. I will be sharing more about their work soon. A big thank you to my partner Bryce Krynski who has worked with me to document and create many of the artworks and supported me in so many ways throughout this project.
Act Now! Update on Grassy Mountain Coal Project
I look forward to sharing the final artworks (some ongoing) with the world. In the meantime, I have written the post below but before you read it, please go to the Grassy Mountain Coal Project website and scroll down to submit a comment to the Joint Review Panel before January 15th, 2021 at 4pm. If you have been following this blog, you know that the proposed open-pit coal mine on Grassy Mountain, as well as the past mining on the Grassy Mountain and in the Crowsnest Pass have inspired the artworks in my exhibition. You can read the comments to the Panel, including mine, many like me saying 'no' to the proposed open-pit coal mine here.
Creating Grassy Mountain Road, Rubbing #2, Alana Bartol, 2020. Found charcoal on vellum, 73.66 x 45.72 cm. Photo: blkarts.ca.
How do we build and repair our relationships with damaged or contaminated lands? What can the plant and the more-than-human worlds teach us about repairing damaged landscapes?
Photo taken on a tour of a Teck Resources' open-pit coal mine in Elk Valley, BC. Courtesy Natasha Chaykowski. While the violence of resource extraction occurs on massive scales, it can still be hidden from view or presented in ways that aim to impress and mesmerize us.
Contaminated lands and waters show us warning signs but if we are not paying attention, the damage can remain invisible to us. Selenium levels have been rising in the Elk River since the 1990s due to leaching from Teck Resources' open-pit coal mines, creating what is now considered a contamination crisis that has crossed international borders. With contamination often invisible or kept out of sight, it can be easy to keep out of mind. How does this change when we come face to face with those landscapes? And if we can't access these sites, how do we build relationships with them?
Canaries were taken into coal mines to alert miners of dangerous gases, invisible to human senses until it was too late. We already know about the devastating impacts of open-pit coal mine projects like the one proposed on Grassy Mountain. The westslope cutthroat trout are said to be the new canary in the coal mine, a warning sign that our destructive impacts on the environment are already being felt by the more-than-human world. Industry justifies projects that destroy lands, water, and life with remediation and reclamation plans that greenwash the realities of those processes. The reality is that those landscapes will never be the same. How can soil, water, and wildlife not be detrimentally affected by the fragmentation, alteration and loss of habitats?
Hag's Taper, 2020. Alana Bartol. Photo: Bryce Krynski.
In her book, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants, Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer writes that "restoring land without restoring relationship is an empty exercise" (336). The restoration she writes about is not the so-called remediation or reclamation sanctioned by industry and government. If ecosystems are understood through a settler-colonial capitalist viewpoint, they are a resource for human consumption and use, whether that is for recreation, exploitation, production, or enjoyment. Kimmerer, a mother, plant ecologist, writer and SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor at the SUNY College of Environmental Science, and a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, asks her readers to see ecosystems through an indigenous worldview, as "communities of sovereign beings, subjects rather than objects" (331). For Kimmerer, processes of restoration require "restoring a relationship of respect, responsibility, respect and reciprocity. And love" (336). What does it mean to love damaged or polluted lands and waters or mountains scarred by strip mining? Is it enough to say we love a place if our actions and the systems that we live within demonstrate otherwise?
Crowsnest River Watershed, 2020. Alana Bartol. 50.8 x 76.2 cm charcoal and milk on paper. Photo: blkarts.ca
In an interview with Amy Nelson, Kimmerer discusses how settlers and immigrant societies might look at indigenous relationships to place as inspiration for building their own authentic relationships to place, "Not to copy or borrow from indigenous people, but to be inspired to generate an authentic relationship to place, a feeling of being indigenous to place." Becoming naturalized to a place is another way that Kimmerer talks about an approach for non-indigenous people to develop and maintain relationships with the lands on which they live. In becoming naturalized to place, does this shift responsibilities to the land and the indigenous peoples whose lands on which settlers and immigrants reside? What does restoring relations mean for each of us individually and collectively?
As a white settler with (to the best of my knowledge) Danish, British, Scottish, French, Irish, and German ancestry, I have benefitted from generations of colonization on stolen indigenous lands. As I participate in conversations about resource extraction in Alberta, part of my interest is in how settler Canadians (and in particular white settlers like me) develop authentic relationships to this land. During this project, I have been thinking about how those relationships can inform approaches to restoration and repair so that settler-colonial violence is not perpetuated through these processes.
Through the art I have been making, I have been re-evaluating and learning about my relationship with this land and what my responsibilities are to it as well as the indigenous peoples whose land I reside on. This is something I am taking with me as I continue this artwork and look at developing future work that will attempt to address restoration in a literal sense.
Cattle grazing on Bluff (Goat) Mountain in the Municipality of Crowsnest Pass, AB. Video still. Work In Progress: Processes of Remediation. 2020. By: blkarts.ca.
Kimmerer, Robin Wall. Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants. Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed Editions, 2013.
Nelson, Amy, "Leaf Litter Talks with Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer." Traditional Ecological Knowledge. Biohabitats Inc. Fall Equinox Vol X Ed. 3. 2012.