New project to champion environment through art

illustrated Beaufort scale
Friday, May 5, 2017 - 2:26pm
Sharon Aschaiek

An ambitious community art initiative on environmental devastation will be mounted by U of T Mississauga’s Blackwood Gallery, thanks to a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts.

The gallery’s proposal, The Work of Wind: Air, Land, Sea, was one of 200 chosen from a pool of 2,000 to receive a one-time grant of $375,000 through the council’s New Chapter program, which supports the creation and sharing of exceptional artistic and literary works. The three-part project will feature a multi-site exhibition, two books and a multifaceted knowledge dissemination strategy, and include contributors from the arts, sciences and several other disciplines. The goal, says curator Christine Shaw, is to challenge Canadians’ thinking about how human excess contributes to violence against the earth and threatens future generations.

“I really believe in art’s potential to ask questions and encourage people to think otherwise about how we live in the world, especially when done in collaboration with thinkers and practitioners in other fields,” says Shaw, assistant professor of curatorial studies and contemporary art at UTM and director and curator of the Blackwood Gallery.

The organizing structure for the entire initiative is the Beaufort Scale, a system developed in 1805 by British Royal Navy admiral Sir Francis Beaufort to measure wind speeds at 13 different forces by observing wind’s impact on water and land. Shaw will apply aspects of the scale to The Work of Wind by featuring contemporary artworks by 13 artists displayed at 13 sites, and literary contributions by 13 artists and 13 thinkers and researchers in other fields from UTM faculties and the broader community.

Shaw says the goal for the artwork component, called The Work of Wind: Air, is to exhibit them both on UTM’s campus and throughout the city of Mississauga in the fall of 2018. Shaw and her team of three at the gallery will soon begin the process of choosing artists to participate, selecting appropriate sites, and building partnerships with the city and various community organizations. She hopes the artwork will provoke reflection and action regarding the consequences of global warming, the increasing volatility and vulnerability of earth’s ecosystems, and the human impact on the planet.

The two books will be The Work of Wind: Land, which will publish at the same time as the art exhibit; and The Work of Wind: Sea, which will publish in the spring or summer of 2019. Shaw will co-edit the books with Anna-Sophie Springer, a Berlin-based independent curator, writer and editor, and Etienne Turpin, a research scientist and philosopher based in Toronto and Jakarta. As extensions of the exhibition, the books will feature responses to the art from artists, atmospheric scientists, poets, oceanographers, architects, sociologists, economists, geographers and others. Both books will be part of intercalations: paginated exhibition, an internationally acclaimed book series published by K. Verlag, an independent publishing company and curatorial-editorial platform in Germany.

Finally, following in the tradition of Sir Francis Beaufort, who belonged to a non-profit society to spread important knowledge to the working class, The Work of Wind will publish and distribute free content on themes such as environmental degradation, economic exploitation, rapid urbanization and climate change. This content will take the form of a 16-page broadsheet that will publish monthly for six months before and six months after the art exhibition and be made available in libraries, bookstores, coffee shops and malls across the GTA. There will also be an innovative digital platform, and various interactive events such as local choir performances, life-sized board games and film screenings at Celebration Square.

“By connecting atmospheric scientists, historians, artists and others…new knowledge can be produced,” Shaw says. “The collaborative model increases our capacity to think and act.”