The Great Artwork

This is what the present looks like. You can see how a 100,000,000 year old seabed, lifted into the sky by a collision with North America and silted up with the drift of a river running alongside a melting glacier is covered with life, the present state of the earth, and gathering rain to feed it.

The following is what time looks like. This is 10,000 years ago. You can see that the land has been scraped down to post-glacial rubble, contemporary life-giving water is piped across the land’s ancient face, the life is exclusively immigrant weeds, and houses have been erected on shelves of gravel taken from this slope and dumped on the hill. The goal is to re-create the moment when European cultures first stepped onto this human space, and claimed it as an art installation re-creating the moment when Homo sapiens first colonized post-glacial Europe.

It was an attempt to get past history. It is, as you can see, a fortress culture. This is the hill above my house. Millions of dollars were spent to create this bittersweet romantic artwork. Not a penny was spent to maintain the earth it relies on for its illusions.

That’s because the “wildness” of that space is one of the illusions of the artwork called time. What if we stopped looking?

Matisse and the Nez Perce

Reading the sky, I’ve just realized, is not a matter of translating the dramatic movements of clouds and light into words or ideas, but reacting to them in the manner of responding to art. This moment, in other words…

P1960203 … is like this one …

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Henri Matisse (1869–1954), Open Window, Collioure, 1905. © 2014 Succession H. Matisse / Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York.

The differences are ones of culture, not differences in kind. Translating this kind of knowledge into words is not going to lead to understanding, but it does lead to windows, which can be opened. However, they’re not the only ones. In the Matisse, the contrast between the two-dimensionality of the canvas, the scene that is rendered on it, the three-dimensional techniques of the painter and the three-dimensional brush work opens up entire universes of body-mind-spirit experience. You don’t have to translate it. You just have to enter the edge of those brush strokes. There’s life there. The same with the image below, from the Snake River in Idaho.

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Note the depth of the palette of the dune forms in this ancient medicine plant field, from the sand dunes on the hill (brought to view by light-coloured weeds brought on by over-grazing) to the bunch forms of the wheat grass in the foreground, to the domed form of this sacred rock (like a sweat lodge with a mouth). The patterning opens many doors which can be apprehended and read without language. It was this presence in the earth that was one of the things that made it so hard for the Nimíipuu to accept agriculture when Henry Spalding, the missionary who tried to lead them to a gentle image of Christianity by whipping them, tried to bring them to in 1836. Putting a plow to this would have been like slashing this …

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André Derain (1880 – 1954), Mountains at Collioure,1905. The Hermitage, St. Petersburg. © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.

… with this…

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It is an incredible degree of violence, that Henry David Thoreau equated with slavery. It was industrial agriculture which he saw as the threat to the success of democracy in the United States. In the image below, we are on the Fort Bethold Agency in North Dakota in 1941, just months before the United States entered the Second World War after pushing the Japanese into a corner with sanctions.

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Source.

The image below, also from the Snake, which shows the moon trapped by a road cut (inhabited by swallows), an abandoned fence and a community of weeds, is the view from one of those windows I mentioned. This one is the window of history.

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Walking back is not possible. Walking forward is. Art is a path with great potential. Hey, it might lead us here…

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… to Buffalo Eddy, where Matisse would feel at home.

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I do.

The Problem With Canada

Welcome to Canada. The Wild West. Tumbleweeds. Sagebrush.p1240495

Wild animals in the forests.

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Beautiful nature.

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Hi-technology showplace.

dishWorld class highways.

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Exciting Street Life.

P1220105World Class Architecture.

P1210123 Outdoor Recreation.P1190855

Beautiful! And now, in all her glory …

Canada_map-4Yup, that’s her. She’s a great big sprawling map that covers half a continent. Notice that she’s made out of a little more than a dozen cities, mostly strung along a rail line. What’s going on outside of them? This …

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Well, this too:

big2Now, Canada is not one of those countries that rises from its people and asserts itself in the world. It didn’t come about like that. It came together out of some people in Central and Eastern North America deciding to make common cause, and then tying a few million square miles of British controlled industrial (Hudson Bay Company lands) and colonial  (The metis-British colony of British Columbia and the asian-British colony of Vancouver Island) space to that with a railroad.

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For awhile, the railroad carried people around from place to place — mostly immigrants from Europe to fill up space cleared of indigenous peoples on the Prairies. Then the railroad started carrying grain over the mountains to the sea, then coal and sulphur, some forests stacked up on their sides as lumber, and now petroleum. The railroad above exists today to carry away the trees that have filled in the grasslands of the intermountain west.

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No, This is Not a Forest. These are Weeds.

How can a country built out of industry but not out of its people or its land survive? It has to sell what it can. In the image below, we can witness Canada selling itself for all its worth.

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Well, what do I mean? I mean, don’t confuse Canada with the geographical space it occupies or the people who live on it. They are not the same thing. The image below, for example, is not Canada. It’s actually the Okanagan River at Gallagher Canyon, south of McIntyre Bluff above Vaseaux Lake. This is Syilx land, and the greatest surviving salmon spawning bed of the vast Columbia River system… all two miles of it.

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If you look on a map, though, you’ll find it, in Canada, with a bit of searching. X marks the spot.

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OK, indigenous land is not Canada, yet it is within Canada … weird, isn’t it. Don’t worry. It gets weirder. When I said that the image below was a picture of Canada…

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… I was leaving out some details. The grassland that this road was imposed upon nine years ago is not  Canada. It is an ancient Syilx medicine grassland. Okanagan Lake in the background is not Canada. It is an ancient post-glacial lake 135 kilometres long. The mountain across the lake is not Canada. It’s part of a mid-Pacific volcanic island chain that drifted across the seabed a centimetre a year and eventually rode up for 100 kilometres over the other (Eastern) shore of the lake (including the dark peninsula in the photo above), in a great volcanic conflagration, before being turned eastward with the slowly advancing continent. As for that dark peninsula and the ridge behind it, that’s not Canada either. That’s an in-grown Syilx grassland. What then is Canada here? Physically, it’s a tumbleweed (an invasive species), a road, a sidewalk, some streetlights, buried power, sewer and water lines, a retaining wall, a strip of grass, a couple half-dead hawthorn trees, and a group of houses and vacation rentals and boat jetties down on the lake. Less noticeably, it’s a collection of weeds and overgrown sagebrush in the over-grazed and nearly extinct grassland, the infilled trees in the grassland across the way, and the clear cut forest (white) on the mountains across the lake. Canada is, in other words, an administrative concept. It is a social thing. It’s a human arrangement for dealing with other humans. It is not, however, the land. It is, as it always was out here in the west beyond the West, something imposed upon the land, and what is imposed upon the land is what it always was: a railroad and the industrial products it was meant to carry, plus the new immigrants it has brought here from around the world, to further the development of those industrial products. Now, by industrial products, we mean stuff like this:

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That’s right, a Secwepemc Douglas fir in an overgrown savanna in the upper Cariboo grassland at 150 Mile House. That is what the forests were here before Canada filled them in with weed trees (such as those skirting the trees in the image above), which it now harvests and ships to the other social arrangement, called Germany, as wood pellets, so the forest people living in that industrial arrangement can heat their houses without using Russian natural gas. Now, Canada, Germany and Russia are not about to disappear in the next few years, but it’s good to recognize them for what they are. Still, even though millions of people come to Canada every year, they don’t come to see the real Canada, which looks like this…

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… or even the hectares of abandoned log haul trucks in Williams Lake, at the heart of Secwepemc Territory, after most of the Secwepemc and Tsilhqot’in trees (in an area the size of Belgium) have been cut down, with the profits invested in New York and Toronto, cities in the Eastern administrative districts of the social organizational projects called the United States and Canada respectfully.

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They come to see a nineteenth century image of the land (not Canada), which looks like this …

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That’s an image of a construction site at Banff, Alberta, at which an arts centre on Tunnel Mountain is being converted into a business management centre, under the name of ‘creativity’. Honest: what is being created out of these iconic Blackfoot mountains is Canada, which is precisely that business management program and the class of people serving it. It’s thus no accident that in place of the view that the artists at Banff once enjoyed, of those ancient uplifted seabeds, they now get new Canadian mountains, which look like this…

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In other words, the artists of Banff now have a view of the tall, mountain-like buildings of Canada (a business management organization.) Well, that’s the way things are in Canada. It gets more intriguing yet, though. For instance, in the most westerly portion of this social arrangement, the collection of British-Asian colonies on the Pacific coast (and the northern third of Oregon Territory) and, by their own definition, the land they are laid on top of …

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… a map of population densities makes for a more accurate map of Canada in this place …

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As you can see, most of the place doesn’t have all that many people living on it. Let’s concentrate for a moment on the densely populated areas. Here, I’ll blow that up a bit …

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The orange areas are also Canadian retirement communities. That’s one of the things Canada, the social organization laid over the land, does: it allows for, and even encourages, the treatment of half of a continent as one continuous social space, without regard for the land that lies beneath its own administrative and industrial concerns. In terms of the map above, it means that 80% of the population of British Columbia lives in area 3, Greater Vancouver. Most of those people are intimately tied to Canada, but only peripherally to the land, and most are here as new settlers. They have, understandably, quite specific dreams and concerns. Within area 4, the area which I live right beside, Greater Kelowna, similar issues are at play, except here the newcomers are from Ontario and the Canadian Prairies, but, still, they also have quite specific dreams and concerns. There are, however, many consequences to having a population built out of people foreign to the land. One, just one, is this…

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That’s a Eurasian Milfoil harvester, which is a machine that is operated to mow off an invasive water weed so that Canadians can swim in this post glacial lake in the summer without having to swim through an underwater forest. One water manager in the valley calls this “water triage” — the dedication of government resources to the appearance of water purity. In other words, it’s one way of maintaining an image of a pristine, nineteenth century land to serve an important Canadian industrial product: tourism. As you can see from the image, however, the land is anything but pristine. The Syilx grassland (under land claim since, shamefully, 1895) on the hill, for instance, has no native grasses left, but a big forestry seed nursery, to provide enhanced breeding stock for the forestry industry. Even the people who live here in Vernon, British Columbia, live around the edges of these industrial metaphors laid over the land, and that’s why I said earlier that Canada will sell whatever it can to survive …

p1120005… in this place, even when it comes to this cow, grazing a recently-burnt, long-overgrazed Syilx hillside (a teenager was playing with matches) for the last scrap of life left on it …

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That is one of the rights that Canada accords its citizens, to do this to the land as a “private landowner”, and is, in fact, one of the logical consequences of Canada and one of the demands that Canada makes on its citizens. If one doesn’t want to take part in that, one must forfeit no small part of one’s citizenship and live, as people have always done in whatever regime they find themselves in, including that of Cold War Era Soviet Russia, in the cracks between the social and administrative idea called the state and the land itself.

P1070131Community Theatre Parking Lot With Oil Cars, Kamloops, British Columbia

Either that, or one must retreat to fantasy, such as the image of Provence below …

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…instead of this image of Canada…

P1070136 … or this one, which reveals it as a construction project (remember, this is the training centre for Canada’s artists aka business managers) …P1070147

… while the people are living here, however they can, shooting at American cars:

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People get by. They’re very resilient. The land, however, and its ability to support those people and its other creatures, is not.

P1490114Vineyard with Weeds and Hunting Hawks

Trashed.

This is not romantic and not Provence, but you’re not going to see this from Canada, which needs to sell itself, and you’re not going to see this as a stranger. The gap this image represents, however, is so huge, that if Canada doesn’t somehow bridge it, it is doomed as a country at the same rate as is the earth, and it should have been so much more. It breaks my heart that to live on my own land I have to follow the same winding trails through Canada that the deer and coyotes do, such as the two mule deer bucks in the weed fields surrounding the barricaded vineyard below.

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But I do, because the alternative is to leave my land, and the earth, and become a Canadian, and, frankly, that’s not very attractive.

P1070156 Here, let’s zoom in on a couple citizens of that creative country.

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Biscuit Root Makes History

I found a rich community of biscuit root growing on a scree slope. They’re hard to harvest there (which is, likely, why they’re still there), but they love it.
star 2Beautiful Biscuit Root in Bloom, Vernon

Is this essential Syilx crop still present in this spot in abundance because people, pushed into extreme poverty and fenced off from most of their territory, just couldn’t dig these ones up? Or is it because no cow in its right mind, set to graze on Syilx gardens and grasslands, would clamber over the darned scree and risk breaking a leg to chew them off year after year until they just up and died? I dunno. It does suggest, though, that in the Okanagan we should inventory rocky spaces as refugia, like the mountaintops that carried exotic species through glaciation. In this case, though, the “glaciation” is social, political and racial. In a place in which history was erased by being turned into a collection of anthropologist’s notes, this  plant is history; it is alive.

 

Evolution: A Human Social Mirror

Bullock’s Oriole, blending in…

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This fellow divides his time between South America and this dry northern tip of his species’ range.

California Quail (introduced species, so humans would have something to hunt), blending in …

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Hoo-HoooO-u, Hoo-HooO-u, Hoo-HooO-u

So social, eh!

Beetle, blending in …

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Beautiful, isn’t she!

If I’m ever to have antennae, I hope they’re like that.

Those are all “natural” environments, in which the concept of camouflage does not seem to be at play. So much for the idea of evolution being a series of predator-prey capture-avoidance, eat-or-be-eaten relationships, as it is often displayed in popular culture (and racism.) Here is the lair of a top predator. Now, she is blending in:

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Incompleted Light Post Base, Vernon

Predator pretty much invisible.

For a view of the predator herself, take a look again …

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Black Widow Spider Blending In

Well, sort of. She flashes that red warning, after all. Note the very, very messy web. I have a few of those in my tomato patch, and another in my garden shed.

Now, to continue the theme, here is the lair of another predator, blending in …

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Back of Front Street, Penticton

Note the messy web. By the way, I think this is very beautiful, but not in the same way as the oriole, the quail, or the beetle above.

Humans, blending in some more…

P1010091Canadian Back Yard Art, Vernon

More beauty. Very popular with top predators. As you can see, the humans are blending in with social codes, not with the weeds in the foreground. They are up to their own thing.

Take a look again, for a guide to the finer details…

details2Dead Things and Romantic Things on Display

Body jewelry for predators. (With the lair being a body image requiring tattoos and other images of display in a complicated male-female dynamic.) Socially, many contemporary humans evolve within environments like this. In fact, you could say that they evolve to reproduce environments like this, or that the environments reproduce by imprinting themselves on the young humans at important environment-socialization windows. These are called cognitive windows, because, socially, human-environment social relationships are not accepted [ie they are invisible] in this particular culture. That doesn’t mean they are not there.

The weeds in the foreground of the above image are a series of individuals foreign to the balance of this landscape. They are in a dynamic process, which is a new balance, but the real story is not about individuals. It is about the collective. They are all in a relationship, the rules of which are not yet formalized. Intriguingly, they were brought here by human activity, and they represent an image of human conscious processes. Nature? Hardly.

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A Predator Has Been Here

By interpreting the landscape according to its own social codes of display and social coercion, this predator has turned at least a small part of the earth into an image of itself.

Now, that’s art! Of course, foreign plants such as the lavender above, once socialized within this human image, start to take on some human characteristics and become colonists of their own …

P1020612Escaped Lavender (Left, behind the curb.)

That is an entire community of previous escapees around it. The native plant community is gone. Even in escape, the plants carry human social information with them, and human attitudes to land. In other words, human social display and body decoration is part of the process of physically creating “Nature”.

One could say that “Nature” itself is a human social display, the whole concept. One could also say that many humans obviously prefer the weedy thing called “Nature” or “wildness” over a more ordered and productive space full of species beautiful in their own right. They are certainly not walking the grasslands with me in anything other than tiny numbers. They are here instead:

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Farmer Killing Leafhoppers in His Grape Vine Body Jewelry

City of Vernon in behind. Excellently complex predator behaviour! It will result in a simplification of the landscape (fewer species) and some unexpected escapees (the poisons he uses will become part of the environment, where they will eventually work back to change human social relationships and even human bodies. Poison as body art. Beautiful!)

The key to “evolution” is to stop thinking of separateness. That is just a human social image. Here, for example, are some weeds interfacing with some plants that found a balance here after the last ice age, and which were maintained in a specific human image by thousands of years of human burning and harvesting…

P1020545 Evolution in Play

Evolution is not a battle for dominance. Sure, you can look at it that way, but I suggest that that’s only how a predator will see it. To the plants here, and the bumble bee, it’s about community. Together, they make a whole. For the moment, Syilx traditional human social rules have been removed from this landscape by colonization 150 years ago and replaced by the new social rules of that colonization. As a result, the weeds that the new colonists brought with them are now colonizing Syilx space. Rather than being “Nature”, in other words, this is a portrait of social relationships over time, which include human ones.

Far too often, evolution is portrayed as a conscious process, one that “favours” certain traits or one in which evolution has to “choose” between brain size, which is “expensive” and, say, “muscular efficiency.” I find it a deep and pleasurable irony that scientific thinking, which began by trying to separate itself from a concept of nature, is now deeply married to a kind of pop-culture goddess called Nature, which it calls Evolution. It leads to some odd effects. They are out there by the millions. Here is just one, in an article which, actually, otherwise is based on some sound principles…

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Evolution… favours? it’s as if it were a conscious process!

Note the lovely ad which MSN’s computers have placed there in order to prey upon you. Be careful around top predators, is all I can say. Source

There’s more. Take a look a little further down in the article:

hypothesizedSocial Display Posing as Learnèd Analysis

The intriguing phrase is “…found that shorter women are more likely to be in long-term, offspring-producing relationships [so far, so good] — perhaps, he hypothesized, because men evolved to disfavour tall women, who tend to reach puberty later.

Pure guesswork, or, rather, the writing of one certain, culturally-specific social display code upon the earth. I’m fairly certain that our scientist was also concerned about other types of favouring and the limitations of this (reported) hypothesis. Not so the databases created to insert advertisements in this material. These databases are inserted according to specific contemporary cultural rules, rather Darwinian and 19th century overall, which seek to prey upon any readers straying into their webs. There is no distinction between this process and any other process of art. Look what the database has chosen to go with this material…

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Could it just be that human technical (social and artistic) intervention in the “natural” process of birth is changing the dynamic of which women are having more successful babies than others, rather than birth being just a neutral “natural” process? Of course, but you wouldn’t know it from the article above. Here’s a case in which the database has proven smarter than the human journalist. Like evolution itself, though, it’s not on purpose. Now, one of the characteristics of evolution is duration in time. It’s another human social preference. Written into theories of “nature”, it allows the natural community to be viewed in certain ways. According to this preference for time-as-a-story and time-as-permanence, the view below is easily read as a competition for dominance by new plants (weeds) within an older landscape, just as the settler culture here …

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Land Sculpted to Be Viewed by Automobile and Real Estate Client with Oil Money in His Pocket. 

In this case, the agricultural and “natural” (ie de-Syilxed) images of the land are being sculpted just as strongly as is the physical earth and the social relationships within whatever humans live within or claim this space.

… has supposedly replaced the Syilx culture that preceded it, yet somehow has inhabited its forms and maintains a parallel relationship to “land”…

P1020521Bunch of Weeds Hanging Out, Bella Vista

You can read it that way, of course, and you would be right. But it’s the earth. It can be read in many ways. And it reads you, don’t doubt that. To read it in the way described above is to miss other stories and other versions of time. If their narrative could be told, the landscape would change socially to adapt to them. Tomorrow I’l sketch out some parts of that landscape. Here’s a hint: the plants above are not all the same age. The plants below are:

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Grape Vine Sculptural Display, Bella Vista