Global Protests a Dangerous Spark in Oil Country

There were 150,000 in Montreal, 20,000 in Berlin, 10,000 in Lausanne, and 500 in Edmonton. A total of 1.4 million youth across 123 countries absent from the classroom. As a general rule of thumb, many parents do not condone truancy. Skipping school only hurts a student’s future. But what if the student believes that the only way to save their future is to sabotage their present?

 

On Friday, March 15, a larger number of desks than usual sat empty; a significantly larger amount, as students from across the world took to the streets as part of the global #FridaysforFuture movement, started by 16-year-old Nobel Peace Prize nominee Greta Thunberg. In an inspiring display of the youth taking the future into their hands, the world took notice (if only for moment), an incredible feat in the time of hyper news cycles.

 

Despite all the fervour, excitement, and empowerment many other youths across the world seemed to feel as they took the future into their own hand, Edmonton did not feel the global repercussions. We live in a city with a population of about 900,000. According to the 2016 City Census, 82,000 people are ages 15-24, the target demographic for these compendious demonstrations. The turnout in the legislature? A decidedly pale 500 when compared with the rest of the world. Was it mere apathy and differing beliefs that kept students from attending, or was an external factor what caused the event’s local anonymity?

 

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Where were the MacEwan #FridaysforFuture protests? The issue may not lie with the student themselves, but rather their cultural environments and the school’s policies, said AJ Trussler, a MacEwan student who attended the protest. When initially hearing about the movement, AJ said they had assumed- because of Edmonton’s and Alberta’s culture around oil- that there would not even be an offshoot of the protest happening here. “I think that one of the major factors that kept our protest from achieving wider success was simply the fact that we live in a city where many young people probably share their parents’ conservative views,” said Trussler. Trussler’s pronounced opinion on Alberta’s hegemony may ring true for many students attending the oft-liberal MacEwan. “We know the kind of people and corporations that we are living under, and we know our neighbours.”

The spare coverage at MacEwan may also have also left a gap in awareness in the student body. “None. I didn’t see anything at all actually,” said Trussler, who discussed attendance policies and heavy workloads as potential major barriers for MacEwan students getting out of the classroom: “students are afraid to skip, because they don’t want to fail just because they were already sick twice this semester.” The Office of Sustainability at MacEwan may seem like the perfect avenue for which protests like this can be supported, but Kerstyn Lane, Engagement and Outreach Advisor for the Office of Sustainability, says that the Office is put into a sensitive position by being part of a publicly funded institution.

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Being an environmental office of a liberal public institution in an oil-heavy province can lead to being squeezed politically and financially, said Lane. Students like Trussler seeing absolutely no coverage at MacEwan was deliberate and had several reasons behind it. “As a nonpartisan unit, part of a post-secondary institution, we have zero role to play in organizing protests against government, businesses, or other organizations,” said Lane. “Oil production is diametrically opposed to climate action, and with public climate institutions, we rely on funding from major donors, and those donors may or may not have investments in oil.” There is a clear conflict of values and finances occurring at the Office. And, according to Lane, the protest wasn’t a total failure. “The turnout for that strike is probably 25 times the size of what they used to be. When I looked at the Instagram stories and posts, all I could think was ‘look how many people are there.’”

 

To a student who helped organize it, the protest was a total success. Caylie Ganam, a Victoria School student, helped organize the protest with Student Strike YEG. “Every single person there was so passionate about being there, and they all cared so much.” What was the difference between MacEwan students and Victoria High School students? Support. “They made it understood that although they could not publicly endorse it, that no one was going to be in trouble. They gave us the freedom to support something that we believed in.”

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Change happens from within, but this change may not be something Alberta is ready for yet. As long as institutions within Alberta are funded by oil money, the protests will always be a partisan issue. To Ganam, there is only so long that Alberta can ignore the momentum of a global change, even if it may seem small now. “We are making our mark, no matter how small, and that is what I think is important.”

 

 

Asia Revisited

Revisiting the photos from my three-month excursion to Asia has reminded me of how our beliefs, attitudes, worldviews, and (most importantly) our North American pessimism is nothing more than that: North American. Our mental architecture is- and I am in no way an expert in this manner- dictated by our Canadian environment, in which we have a tendency to both intentionally and unintentionally bombard ourselves with negative concepts, ideas, and attitudes towards everything. We believe in pessimism because we are taught to be cynical of everything. We can be unhealthily cynical, and, while visiting different places, the stories of those I got to know were devastating accounts of corrupt governments or neglected children who had to push their own way in the world; the people whose lives I was a part of for merely an hour were, to me, devastating. And yet, these people were happier than I am despite the struggles they have gone through that I could never imagine.

Take a second to remember how lucky we are, and talk to someone else. Learn their outlook, hear their story! It might change your lookout on how you feel about your own. 52999973_573982759735905_2035091380430176256_n.jpg

Story: Paco

Paco and his art gallery, in Jiufen, Taiwan. Paco is an artist, originally a photographer, who decided late in life to move into painting. His wife passed away several years back, and none of his kids still live in Taiwan. He currently resides in the small mountain town of Jiufen. We stumbled upon his art gallery by accident, as there are no signs that directly point you to it; rather his gallery is simply an open door in a narrow alley, above which someone lives. The open door policy that they had in Jiufen was refreshing. We were told, even encouraged to simply walk into someone’s house if we wanted to see them. If they weren’t there, we left and came back later. The community and trust was stronger than anything I have ever seen here.

Protests, and Doing Anything You Can

The devastating invasion of Wet’suwet’en by CoastalGasLink and the expansion of their pipeline to the coast has largely been forgotten by the media, it seems. That doesn’t come as much of a surprise, based on the speed of the news cycle. Now we have our friend and fantastic councillor Jon Dziadyk to worry about, among other things. Despite these massive infractions on a sovereign and autonomous part of Canada, and the fact that Alberta churns out both thinly-veiled racist and anti-environment protests in the form of our own bastardized Yellow Vest Movement, Alberta hasn’t really done their (our) part. Our part being taking action alongside the rest of the world, akin to what is happening in Europe with the prodigious Greta Thunberg; she is the de facto leader of the revolution to save the planet happening across the continent currently.

So what do we do about it? What do we, as students, as young people, as people who have to live on this planet for the rest of our new lives, and who, frankly, have to shoulder the responsibility that the Boomer Throwaway generation decided was too much work for them, do? Good question. Anything. I know that most of us are overworked, overtired, underpaid and underfed, but something has to be done. After all, we only have 12 years.

So a friend and I have decided to organize a protest. A protest that seeks to call out the new pipeline, the violation of consent, the rise of anti-immigration and persistence of ignorant anti-environmentalism in Alberta, among other things. The tentative date is Wednesday, February 13th, at around 4:00 pm. The location will be the Legislature. And everyone is welcome and invited! More details to come soon.

That mountain in the photo ain’t gonna be covered in snow for too much longer if things keep heating up (also summer is coming soon.)

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Overcoming Artistic Barriers Through Self-Action: ᐋᒋᒧᐃᐧᐣ – Acimowin

Indigenous art show to run in Edmonton this weekend

Two Edmonton artists are hoping to create equal representation for Indigenous artists through the best way they know how: doing it themselves. Marcus Thunder and Allysa Pierre are the curators of an Indigenous art show happening in Edmonton entitled ᐋᒋᒧᐃᐧᐣ – Âcimowin. Âcimowin (pronounced “a-chi-mO-win”), which according to the two means ‘story’ in Cree, is an attempt to encapsulate the intentionally theme-less show.

Pierre went in-depth to describe the process of naming the event. “We were trying to find something that would tie a bunch of works of art together, and what we figured when we were first starting off with the show was not to have a theme, because having a theme creates barriers, which is the opposite of what we wanted to do with this. Story just kind of grouped everything together an umbrella term for it, because we are creating a story for the art through what we’re doing.”

At the last show Pierre curated, the two noticed a severe lack of Indigenous representation, and felt a responsibility to further the destruction of barriers in the art world by calling upon Indigenous artists to create a representative show with them.

Thunder discussed the underrepresentation within Edmonton’s arts community. “I think it’s important because being an Indigenous person, I’ve never really seen an art show that is exclusive to Indigenous artists.”

Pierre elaborated on the significance of Thunder’s idea. “It kind of came to our attention that there isn’t a lot of Indigenous representation at shows that we have been to or been a part of, that’s kind of what brought us to this. There are so many Indigenous artists in Edmonton itself, all over Canada, all over the world, but for some reason people aren’t doing the work to have them equally represented. The show could’ve happened a really long time ago by somebody else, but it hasn’t. Working to make more events inclusive like this because inclusivity isn’t a one time deal, it’s something that should work towards constantly, until it becomes the norm. Because if it’s not, then what are we doing?”

What are Thunder and Pierre aiming for in the long run? Thunder said they hope to “inspire more local artists to put their work out there,” to take the risk regardless of the exclusive atmosphere living in a  “pretty conservative city” can put on an artistic scene. Thunder went on: “[Indigenous peoples] already face a lot of barriers in this society, so I would just hope to inspire more Indigenous artists to get out there and work hard.”

The event, which includes music, film, photography, painting, starts at 6:30 p.m. on this Saturday, Jan. 26. It is being held at Coral Plaza, 6768 99 Street, $15 admission. Tickets can be purchased from their Eventbrite page, or at the door (cash only).

Nuit Blanche: Bringing new light and humanization to downtown

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By Ben Hollihan

There was a strong reinfusion of non-hockey goer life in Edmonton’s downtown this weekend. Nuit Blanche, Edmonton’s version of the all-night art festival that began in Paris during 2002, was on Saturday night. Well, Saturday night to Sunday morning. This year’s festival went on from 7pm-7am, with thirty projects divided into ten large installations in the theme of Light and Illumination, focussing on gentrification, and the cost of beauty in our city. The festival spanned a large portion of central downtown, from 96th Street in Chinatown to the EPCOR tower. The projects ranged from giant interactive projections to spinning lights, a tunnel of spiral glow to experimental electroacoustic music. Another installation was titled Vignettes, a series of different spaces filled with art inspired by Jay-Z to Alice in Wonderland.

I had a chance to sit down with the Board, Chair, and President of Nuit Blanche Edmonton, Todd Janes, to talk about the festival last Friday. If you do not know Todd’s name yet, you will soon. Over the past 3 years, Nuit Blanche Edmonton, under the guide of Janes, has been involved with Edmonton Design Week, Edmonton Culture Week, and their own separate festivals, which have attracted thousands of people cumulatively. Over the phone, we discussed the history of Nuit Blanche in Edmonton, the inception of the festival stemming from Todd, his two friends, and a late night of drinking- as good ideas often do- in 2013. The idea behind bringing Nuit Blanche to Edmonton was in part due to a feeling that many of the larger festivals had grown stale and lost their charm, it having been replaced with dollar signs. (looking at you, Folk Festival). Why name it after a pre-existing French festival though? Ideally, for recognition of the similarities between the two. An independent, globally interconnected grassroots festival. And a festival based on filling the night with light fits perfectly into Edmonton’s long dark winters.

There is something about Edmonton art that never fails to bring the city together. Janes recalled how even the first year brought out over 50,000 people. In the past there was always a large number of new families and new Canadians alongside the young (and old) hip, art-going crowd.  Janes talked about “quintessential moments” of the festival, moments when the magic of being present in a large crowd, all flocking to observe and absorb the art, brought Edmontonians closer together, such as the seizing of the street by pedestrians in 2015.

One of the issues that Janes wanted the festival to address was that of gentrification that is currently occurring in our downtown core. Janes mentioned how people are often suspect of contemporary art, and for good reason. Artists are so often viewed as a detached and privileged folk who become more concerned with fame and fortune than creating authentic art. It is ensured to be free. The idea is that these installations allowed us to view our downtown core differently, to examine the cost and meaning of developing (or forcing) beauty in our downtown core. Ideally, Janes hoped that we could learn more from our city by walking it, to humanize what is now becoming a downtown flooded with corporate glass giants.Janes mentioned one of the most important aspects of this festival for him, is to create accessible art that brings everyone together. This art is as much something to enjoy as it is something to make you think. Free through grants and sponsors, meant for everyone, and intended to be without pretention, this is more of the art that Edmonton needs if we wish to keep the spirit of our city alive during a time of immense change to our architecture and core.

 

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Live Review: Bring Your Headphones at the Bleeding Heart Art Space

Bleeding Heart Art Space (Photo by Kali Wells)

by Ben Hollihan

The concept of a bring your own headphones show was a strange and almost comic one for me. It conjures up images of headphone discos, glow sticks and the sound of heavy breathing and squeaking shoes for anyone not plugged in. Bring Your Headphones, an event put on by record label Mangled Tapes, in tandem with a show promotion and curation organization Sweaty Palms, both based in Edmonton, was nothing like that. It could hardly be called a music performance at all, but rather a live and spontaneous art installation.

With my photographer, Kali Wells, I showed up at Bleeding Heart Art Space in the heart of Edmonton’s downtown a few hours before the show began and to much dismay, we could not locate the venue. Feeling suddenly like an alien in my hometown, we wandered around for twenty minutes, checking between Google Maps and the street signs, before noticing the small bleeding heart logo in a otherwise nondescript doorway. Unbeknownst to us, Bleeding Heart Art Space was literally that, a small art gallery, not exactly ideal for live performances, but as we were shown, it was the perfect venue for an event like this.

We ascended the stairs into a tiny room, one in which forty people would have at capacity. Hanging on the bleach white walls, illuminated by a low winter sun, was an art installation, Contemporary Relics, by Dominika Koziak. There were four or five long tables, each with their own amp heads that were all hooked-up to a master, providing plenty of opportunities to plug in and listen. Shuffling about the room, setting up chairs, projector, and ensuring all the amps were connected and working were Matthew Belton (Westfalia) and Mustafa Rafiq (Family Injera), the organizers and performers of the event.

https://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/v=2/album=276402371/size=large/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=0687f5/tracklist=false/artwork=small/While Belton and Rafiq paced around the room, plugging in equipment and testing gear, I chatted a bit with them about who they are and their music and the idea behind putting on this show. Rafiq spoke about his history of being involved with theatre before being fully converted—following an experience with the Japanese band Mono at a psychedelia festival in Austin—to a life dedicated to promoting and performing experimental music.

“[They] completely changed the way I thought about music,” said Rafiq.

For Rafiq and Belton, ambient music shifts from a perfectly rehearsed package in which performers follow a set structure and have total knowledge of what comes next, to a more visceral one, where the music comes alive through total improvisation. Both of these musicians also work heavily in the music industry outside of performing, by producing, tracking, and curating events for things like Found Festival, Nextfest, or for their own companies, Sweaty Palms and Mangled Tapes.

https://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/v=2/track=791132445/size=large/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=0687f5/tracklist=false/artwork=small/With show time approaching, the performers made final adjustments, and the projectionist, Courteney Morin, ensured that all presets were in place to have creative freedom with projection. The mish-mash of cords and technical instruments slowly found their way into a configuration with chairs surrounding the circumference of the room, water provided for all, and at the head of the room a table full of gear and laptops. As the chatter in the room died down, everyone ensured that their headphones were plugged in (despite clearing out every Long and McQuade in the city for amp heads, we still had to make more inputs using splitters), volume was adjusted, the room breathed in anticipation, and the music begun.

Rafiq’s (Family Injera) set was guitar-based which he then processed live. The music had a distinct post-rock feel as his songs started from nothing but, by layering guitar and synths, slowly built to a climax. Belton’s (Westfalia) was more digitally focused and included a standout use of distinguished percussion, mostly comprised of what sounded like a Roland 808 or 909.

https://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/v=2/album=3802738877/size=large/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=0687f5/tracklist=false/artwork=small/Matthew Cardinal and Kris Burwash (aka K. Burwash) were the night’s other two performers. Cardinal’s set was more edgy, with less building and more repetition. The tones were smooth in timbre, but the shifts from tone to tone had a quicker, sharper quality to them, punctuated to an abrupt end to the set. It shifted the feel of the music from drone to a more groove based electronic sound. K. Burwash, who was up last, had a set comprised of clean, cool tones that modulated frequently, not seeming to stay on any one pitch for too long.

https://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/v=2/album=592621704/size=large/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=0687f5/tracklist=false/artwork=small/Altogether the sets were haunting and hypnotic with sounds and tones that ranged from crystal clear pitches to muddy noise, played over one another, cycled again and again, and with no clear start or end to any track. Working hand in hand with Morin’s projections, the performances created a relaxed, meditative state in the room as all eyes and ears were taken over.

Morin’s mesmerizing projections were cast on a large blank wall directly behind each performer. What initially began as a small spectacle art space, grey laminate floors boxed in by four white walls, had become an intriguing and unusual performance space, cables snaking around tables and everyone watching seated people create art. The projections varied from looped textured grids of hills to mirror images of clouds, incurring a feel of hypnotic transcendence, or perhaps a feeling of connection with true reality.

Seeing the sounds on screen (Photo by Kali Wells)

Before the show began, Rafiq told me that too often shows become more about being seen and about how he had to take a step back from some Edmonton shows. “These shows should be about the music, not about who is there. The community was getting too exclusive, too much,” he said.

Bring Your Headphones was a night celebrating art. It had a familiar DIY punk tinge of many Edmonton based shows, yet everyone there felt more comfortable about being there, allowing themselves to solely focus on letting everything go through the means of drone and projection. Everyone was there to have their own, separate but connected experiences with the music. A refreshing take on building a music community for all ages, something that Sweaty Palms very strongly encourages.