All good art makes us see the world around us in a new light. Over the last few years, I’ve been increasingly interested in the function of science fiction, which allows us to experience what life might be like in the future. Scientists and futurologists can speculate, but artists are capable of visualizing those futures, making them tangible.
All good art makes us see the world around us in a new light. Over the last few years, I’ve been increasingly interested in the function of science fiction, which allows us to experience what life might be like in the future. Scientists and futurologists can speculate, but artists are capable of visualizing those futures, making them tangible. If hindsight is always 20/20, experiencing these potential futures offers us a window through which we can view our present time and the direction we are headed with a measure of clarity, making explicit what we stand to lose. I’d like to change the conversation to being about humans and what we face if we fail to prioritize the protection of our incredibly fragile environment.
I create large, immersive video art installations that present alternate landscapes. These are more or less set extensions that act like another time or place, wherein viewers are invited to imagine themselves. Mariner 9 is a life-sized panoramic video installation that presents a highly detailed, photorealistic Martian landscape several centuries into the future, littered with the rusting remains from various missions to the planet. Despite its suggested abandoned state, several of the spacecraft continue to partially function, attempting to do their intended jobs, to ultimately find signs of life while possibly transmitting the data back to no one.
That search for alien life – to know that we’re not alone in the universe – is fascinating on many levels, but it’s also a beautiful, endearing endeavour, particularly because our species is destroying life on this planet at a truly alarming rate. I’m interested in that contradiction at this critical time in human history when current predictions for our future are not just unsettling, but terrifying.
I have a memory, or collection of memories. I am standing on Pebble Beach, located in Marathon, Ontario, midway between Thunder Bay and Sault Ste Marie. The beach of tumbled stone varies in colour: reds, whites, blacks, grays, with a smattering of green. It extends out for what looks to be a kilometre in both directions. I watch as the foam dances on the surface of the water between the crashing waves. Through the roar of water and wind, I hear the subtle clink, clink, clinking sounds of rocks as the water recedes.
It is this action of water continually pressing against the shore that has informed the place where I stand. Rounded and worked together over the millennia, these stones bear witness to the persistence
As an artist I am often left standing in a landscape that overwhelms. The sheer physical world which we – as people – inhabit is at times humbling. I feel art is an expression of the human body, the human mind, and that it is fruitless to attempt to contextualize our relationship to nature on a grand scale.
What the artist can offer is a glimpse into how we affect, and are affected by, our environment. Environmental art offers perspectives that engender a profound connection between the artist, their use of materials and the wider community.
Left: There is Hope if we Rise by Sonny Assu (2013)
Right: Delineated Territories by Michael Belmore (2012)
Julie is an urban planning graduate student at the University of Waterloo, focusing on sustainable transportation.