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Musings about the environment and all it touches, from education to city planning

Archive for February 2019

How to understand BC

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Recently, my friend Anne posted this request on her Facebook page:

Hello Community

It’s been 5 years that we were welcomed in Canada, on the unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tseil-Wahtut Nations also known as Vancouver. Today, I’m shyly and clumsily asking on the resources (people, books, websites and more) to learn more about this country and province as a whole. To be able to feel that I may have my place here without being a dumbass new century colonialist (actively or passively). Thank you for your support and tolerance.

It got me thinking. I may be an eight-generation Canadian, but I also am an immigrant to BC.  What do I know about this place?  How do I know what I know?

As a new arrival, a UBC student, I found a copy of Jean Barman’s The West Beyond The West, still considered the definite history of the province. But what informed my insight into First Nations perspective are two books borrowed at random from VPL, books that have stayed with me.  Early on I read Occupied Canada, by Robert Calihoo and Robert Hunter, because the title grabbed me.  But it wasn’t one of these fiction books about, say, Nazis having won the war and occupying our country; rather, it is a first nations perspective on the European settlers occupying native land.  This is now a commonplace; 30 years ago, it wasn’t, and it changed my perspective.  This was not something I had ever learned at school.

More recently I read Up Ghost River, Edmund Metatawabin’s harrowing account of his residential school experience.  Hard to read (because of the content), hard to put down – a must.

The third edition of Barman’s book has a reproduction of an Emily Carr painting on its cover. Maybe art is a better vehicle than history to get a feel for a place. Emily Carr is a classic, of course; she was the first to translate to canvas how magnificent the coastal forests are.  She also painted reproductions of First Nations totems and buildings, working partly from photographs. Critics noted that she carefully removed any humans from her canvasses, ceding to romanticism and creating an impression of a long-departed civilization.

The first indigenous works I saw were by Bill Reid (Haida) and Norval Morrisseau (Anishinaabe Cree).  They are gorgeous and now iconic.  But they lack the bite of younger artists like Kent Monkman (Cree) or Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun (Coast Salish).  Gorgeous, surrealistic, unsettling.

Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun’s Canada is not a pretty place

Much of what I know about First Nations issues I’ve learned from environmental news and events.  There are tons of material, of course.  I’ll just mention the movie Fractured Land, about gas in the Peace; the Winona LaDuke Chronicles, a collection of articles written by the Odjibwe activist on a number of issues across North America; and Andrew MacLeod’s That How We See It: Land, Trauma, and Indigenous Resistance, a chapter in Wendy Holm’s Damming the Peace.

Last week I was browsing VPL’s new books collection, and saw Elizabeth Hoover’s The River Is In Us: Fighting Toxins in a Mohawk Community.  One of the activists profiled in the book is Henry Lickers.  That brought back memories.  In the 70s, a group of McGill students (we had picked the corny name “ecolifestyles” – sigh!) had invited him to give a public talk about fluoride contamination issues in the Saint Regis Reserve, south west of Montreal.  He gave a straight, factual, eloquent lecture that was well appreciated.  But after the lecture we were in for a treat: Henry kept the organisers for a “chat”, as he called it.  We all sat in a circle as he explained his life trajectory, conditions when he grew up, how he decided to go all the way to New Zealand to escape prejudice while he completed his environmental science PhD, how the Mohawks look at pollution and social issues.  He was mesmerizing.

Kent Monkman’s The Daddies (of confederation)

As I was looking at the catalog I saw that Jane Barman wrote a recent book, called French Canadians, Furs, and Indigenous Women in the Making of the Pacific Northwest.  (I gotta get that book.)  Like most French Canadians, I have some indigenous roots.  Eight generations ago (if not more), one of mom’s ancestors, a Menard from Poitou, married a Marie Metawetshawet, a Cree, according to our family tree.  I remember mom telling me, as a kid, that of course we have “du sang Indien” (native blood); when she was a girl, that was something of a family secret, not to be talked about – but for my generation, she said, that should be a point of pride.

I learned that a long time ago, as a little boy (she would have used a different wording nowadays).  I dunno about pride.  I certainly can’t claim that this gives me any particular insight into indigenous culture.  But, if anything, this makes it clear that dividing people into “us and them” is problematic.  I’m one of us, sure – I just don’t know what that means.

So, mostly, I’m as ignorant as a recent immigrant.  Still, Anne, here’s my contribution; I hope it helps.

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Written by enviropaul

February 13, 2019 at 6:27 pm

Friedensreich Hundertwasser, environmental artist

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Hundertwasser’s Spittelau plant

The more I read about Hundertwasser, the more I’m fascinated.

Hundertwasser, born Friedrich Stowasser in 1928 Vienna, died in the Pacific Ocean in 2000.  He was a visual artist and environmental activist who incorporated nature in his art in the most unique way. His art could be summarized in the belief that nature, where straight lines don’t exist, is the guide.  As an environmental activist, he was involved in the protest against the proposed Hainburger Au hydro-electric plant in Austria.  The protest, which led to the cancellation of the project and the creation of a large natural park near Vienna, is considered a landmark in the development of environmental awareness in German speaking Europe.  He created several posters and won a variety of environmental awards, spoke at conferences, wrote manifestos.

Here are a few quotes to get an idea.

The straight line leads to the downfall of our civilization.

With German madness and German thoroughness everything is made monochrome again the minute the slightest irregularity in the colour manifests itself.  [After patching a wall] the difference in colour is an enrichment, the monotonous uniform colour an impoverishment.  You have to be grateful for every spot on the wall.  Unfortunately, now people like to do the wrong thing: if there is a spot or a hole in the wall somewhere, the whole wall, the whole house has to be repainted!  This is a typical pathological symptom of the perversity our civilization has come to…if we let nature paint the walls, the walls will become natural, the walls will become humane, and then we can live again.  We need beauty impediments.  Beauty impediments are non-regulated irregularities.  We must conclude a peace treaty with nature.  We must give territories back to nature which we misappropriated long ago.  Spontaneous vegetation, spontaneous weathering must be reinstated in their old rights, particularly on the walls of our houses

We say grace before and after our meal.  Nobody prays when they shit.  We thank God for our daily bread, which comes from the earth.  But we don’t pray that our shit be retransformed into earth.  Refuse is beautiful.  Sorting and making new use of refuse is a beautiful and joyous activity…we don’t keep our shit.  Our refuse, our waste, is washed far away.  We poison rivers with, lakes and oceans.

I have a bicycle.  Paris is big.  I want to say that the lines I draw with my bicycle through this great city are extraordinary…these lines, for which I need many hours and which form an enormous circle by the time I come back and which make me tired, are more beautiful, more genuine and more justified than those I could draw on paper.

Two years ago, there was still a nice little bomb crater on Obere Donaustrasse [in Vienna].  It had water in it, and you went around it…the bombings of 1943 were perfect automatic formalistic teachings: the straight line and its empty spaces were to be smashed and pulverised, and they were.

The absolutely straight, dead skyline is an ignominious heirloom of the Bauhaus.

The Hamburg Line

In 1959 Hundertwasser was a fine arts teacher at the Lerchenfeld Art Institute in Hamburg, where he rebelled against the rigid curriculum. With his students he started the Hamburg Line, a never-ending spiral that would “climb horizontally up the walls like sedimentary layers of rock.” This was meant to be a sort of happening event where people would witness the process.  But the deputy rector was furious, blocked access to the public, forbade (in vain) photographs from being taken, with the result that whole thing became highly mediatized.  Hundertwasser relented half way through after the authorities threatened to bring in the police.

But the artist may be best remembered for his buildings. He won a first commission for a residential complex in Vienna, which led to a number of other residential buildings such as the Green Citadel in Magdeburg or the Waldspirale in Darmstadt. He is also famous for the Kawakawa toilets in New Zealand.  What first led me to him, though, is the famous garbage incinerator in Spittelau, Vienna, which I have described elsewhere.  This was such a landmark of industrial architecture that he did an encore, so to speak, in Maishima, Japan, for an incinerator as well as a sludge processing plant.

Hundertwasser Haus, Vienna

The Green Citadel, Magdeburg

Waldspirale, Darmstadt

Kunsthaus, Vienna

Written by enviropaul

February 12, 2019 at 8:24 pm