On election day 2015, Corrina Keeling stands in front of her hand-lettered list of reasons to vote. Through her work, Keeling aims to encourage her audiences with messages of social consciousness, community engagement and hope. Photo credit Zack Embree

A\J: How do you describe yourself as an artist?

Corrina Keeling: My art is my life. I identify it as mine because I made it with my body or my hands. But also, to take ownership over it would not quite be honest. Sometimes, the making of a song is a slow and ongoing process that takes a lot of time, a lot of discipline, and it happens over a period of days, weeks, months, or sometimes years. That process is beautiful because it creates songs in and of itself as a practice, but it’s also a flexing of a specific kind of song-writing muscle. It’s like a work-out, so that when moments arrive when all of a sudden, I hear a song and I want to bring it into the world, my song-writing muscles are itching and ready, and that happened with that song. 

 

Do you have an example of that from your work or your songwriting?

CK: I am not separate from nature.  None of us are. We’ve operated for so long with this incomplete framework, whereby “here’s me, over here, and there’s nature, over in the woods, or over there in the ocean,” it’s really flawed. We are an integral part of this global ecosystem, and our own health depends on the health of all the parts, equally And nature is inherently creative. Even for someone to say “I make art with non-organic materials” or “materials that are not found in nature”- that also feeds into the illusion of the dichotomy. I think that’s a fundamental piece of why we’re in this whole mess, is because we see ourselves as outside of it, of being exempt from the rules that govern the natural world.

 

Does nature play a role in your art?

CK: Everything that I can think of that has ever moved me is about the human experience. Even art that’s about nature is about the human experience of nature. Art moves us, because we can see ourselves in it I would argue that nature informs my art because I am not separate from nature. We are an integral part of this global ecosystem I think everything that we ever say, the way that we love or feel or experience the world, has to do with nature because we are nature.

 

What role does hope play in your art?

CK: There has been a lot of death in my life this year. A lot of it has been other artists who operate from a place of caring and compassion and change for the environment. A lot of them have been suicides. I have a song called “Faith.” For a little while this summer, I couldn’t sing it, because it wasn’t true. There’s value in entertainment. I’m not going to argue that. But entertaining for the sake of entertaining doesn’t light
me up. 

The part that really feeds me is the space to be totally vulnerable, and real, and authentic, and say what I’m really thinking and feeling, in a space where it can actually be heard and held. So I couldn’t sing that song, because it wasn’t true for me. That was really important. I held a lot of judgement, and I didn’t even know that I did. For years, when I was confronted with people who didn’t have any faith, or people that didn’t have any hope, it seemed like such a no-brainer to me. It was never a choice, it was just my default state of being – being hopeful, and having faith, in us. 

After I lost a lot of people this year, I spent some time not having any hope and not having any faith. I had to dismantle my entire identity. Who am I if I don’t have faith? I really had to confront my own judgement around everyone being valuable, and everyone having a right to operate in the world in whatever way is authentic for them. Because if I didn’t have any hope, and I still felt that I had a right to be here, well then that had to be true of everyone. That was really confronting. I could never write another song, I could never paint anything else, never do another interview or speak at another rally, or make anything ever again. That possibility was present for me.It took losing hope to understand how valuable it is.

 

Stephen Bede Scharper, a columnist for the Toronto Star, is an associate professor with the Centre for Environment at the University of Toronto. He is author of Redeeming the Time: A Political Theology of the Environment and co-editor of The Natural City: Re-Envisioning the Built Environment.

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