A Day of Dissonance; Music, Mental Health and Private Public Space
On Saturday the Tar Sands Exploration Station found itself parked in the heart of Yonge and Dundas square at the Intersection festival for contemporary music. Beautiful and complex contemporary/experimental music served as the perfect backdrop for the cacophony of sounds and experiences that dominated the day.
Modeled after Time Square in New York, Yonge and Dundas Square is a privately owed “public space” located across the street from Toronto’s largest shopping mall, the Eaton Centre. When I first moved to Toronto in 2002, the square was non-existent. It was a regular urban intersection with a few sketchy stores, some nicer chain operations and $1 hot dog stands. Today the square is a carefully crafted attempt at a park that is actually just a frame for an inordinate amount of advertising. TVs, billboards, flashing signage, promo teens and flyers fill the area with impossible amounts of imagery. It feels a little bit like Vegas without the camp, like an Adam Smith dream sequence in a 50s era movie about the possibilities of a capitalist future. The public programming in the space is often invigorated but consumed by the advertising which surrounds it.
Perhaps the most curious aspect of the square is the combination of people who are present on any given day. Tourists are dropped off every 20 minutes by a flashy “hop on, hop off” tour bus. They are eager to see, to pose and to document, but few stay more than the obligatory 20 minutes, jumping onto the next bus that rolls in. They are entertained by street performers located just outside the square, careful not to cross into the closely monitored space where uninvited performances are strictly forbidden and often shut down by security.People who are in the space specifically for the programming of the day are also present, usually congregated near the stage, awaiting the action. Aside from a few weary shoppers the vast majority of other people in the square are transient and under housed adults. Many of them appeared to be regulars, greeting each other and settling into familiar seats, some even calling to security guards by name. Of this population at least half presented as though they were in an altered state, many more of them exhibited outwards signs of mental health issues. During the most interesting moments of the day, the multiple actors in the space came together, narrated by the complex music, on an endless backdrop of advertisements. The conversations we had that day were quite different than those we have is most places we open our doors. Though most discussions began by addressing tar sand, they last longer and drifted onto other topics. We discussed hunger, transit, addiction, the real, comedy and Indigenous history. We spent a lot of time listening to people who seemed to need much more support than our brief chat could provide. The tones of the music shifted with each performance, creating a whole new atmosphere, scoring our conversations with staccato insistence, peaceful meandering soundscapes and dozens of other technical and trippy sounds that our uneducated ears cannot describe. The changing music mimicked the unpredictable turns our discussions kept taking. The day was challenging, informative and amazing.
Intersection- Music from Every Direction Festival Saturday September 6
Are you in Toronto tomorrow? Come out to Yonge and Dundas Square where the Tar Sands Exploration Station will be participating in the Intersection music festival. Bands will be playing throughout the day and performances and installations will be scattered throughout the square. Hope to see you there
This past weekend we at the Tar Sands Exploration Station were lucky enough to participate in the Big on Bloor Festival- a local street fair in our west end Toronto neighbourhood. We got a ideal parking spot, right at Bloor and Dufferin, beside the ice cream truck and across from the Churro stand. We were just steps away from all our favourite local haunts, surrounded by businesses, crafters and community organizations from our home town. The weather was apparently unaware of the amazing festival taking place below and drizzled a seemingly endless chilly rain for the entire weekend.
As we at the TSES has noticed in the past, poor weather often leads to wonderful conversations. Ever the hopeful host we were all too happy to house soggy travellers seeking a place to wait out the storm. Too many people came by to count, all eager to share their thoughts about oil sand and how it impacts our city. Many of our guests wanted to discuss Line 9, a proposed pipeline reversal that would transport tar sand “dilbit” (diluted bitumen) across the North end of Toronto, just metres away from Finch subway station. It was interesting to learn about the impacts that people predicted such a close relationship with tar sand would have on the city. Residents expressed concerns about breaks in the line, job safety for workers and the process by which the reversal of the over 30 year old line was approved. Others who stopped by talked to us about their experiences working on rigs and at mine sights in Alberta. We were wowed by the environmental and economic knowledge of even our youngest visitors. We tackled some pretty tough questions throughout the weekend and it left us at the TSES wondering if there are enough formalized opportunities for citizens in potentially impacted areas to speak and learn about oil sands. We want to encourage all of our Toronto neighbours to contact their city councillor and express their thoughts on this topic, as well as any suggestions that you might have about how the city, the province and the country can improve future consultations on energy proposals. You’ve got such great ideas and we think our governments would really benefit from your insights!
According to the poll, conducted by Environics and commissioned by Environmental Defence, 41 per cent of Canadians believe the importance of the oilsands to the economy is six to 24 times higher than it actually is. And a full 57 per cent of Canadians overestimate the value of oilsands to the country’s economy.
We at the TSES are delighted to be participating in the Big on Bloor Festival in our own west-end Toronto neighbourhood. Please stop by and join us anytime on July 19 or 20. We will be parked on Bloor near Dufferin St and the ice-cream truck.
The Northern Gateway Pipeline as Afterschool Special
With the recent approval of the Northern Gateway Pipeline the Canadian government opened the theoretical floodgates for bitumen to travel from the oil sands of Northern Alberta, through the Rocky mountains of British Columbia and then out to the coast were it will be transported by ship through a tight network of channels out to the ocean and onto Eastern markets. While some are disappointed and angry about the Canadian government’s decision, many others considered the approval to be a forgone conclusion months ago. Indigenous groups, the province of BC and a number of environmental organizations are now exploring their legal options for putting a halt to project before it even begins. These forthcoming challenges are further complexified by the 209 guidelines handed down to Enbridge (the company who are the masterminds behind the proposed line) earlier this year and which must also be met before construction can begin. While the left and the right seem to be unable to reach a consensus on the need, value and risks of the proposed project they all seem unanimous in their agreement that it will likely be years before the project can proceed, if it ever even happens at all.
Despite all the interesting debate about the project we at the TSES have found ourselves surprisingly sidelined by the linguistic landscape created by and around the Northern Gateway Pipeline. The implications of the word Northern seems clear- it is meant to illicit feelings of Canadian nationalism but is also a nod to the remoteness of the line, passively relying upon the fact that most Canadians live in the southern part of the country which will be largely unaffected by the pipeline, to garner support for the project. The word gateway however is an entirely different matter. A gateway if of course an entrance or passage. It is a point from which something is released, a point from which something could be contained. Like our van, the TSES and most of its creators were born during the 1980s during an era when children were subjected to a popular television format known as the afterschool special. Afterschool specials typically addressed a serious issue that impacted youth and was magically resolved in 60 minutes. By far the most popular afterschool special theme was drug use. In most specials about drug use, marijuana is depicted as the gateway drug that leads a seemingly normal kid from a life of recreational sport and family dinners to an existence dominated by rage, apathy and usually a revelatory stealing of money from a younger sibling. Perhaps like an afterschool special, the pipeline is the weed, the gateway drug, that we Canadians are faced with today. Like the confused youth of the afterschool special we are simultaneously terrified and intrigued. We want to be cool, to impress our older friends (America and China perhaps?) but we also have pretty traditional values (and some important Traditional Knowledge) that simply doesn’t line up with our new interest. And if the Northern Gateway Pipeline is really just a path, a door being opened to other pipelines, then that leads us to wonder what kind of things this will all lead to…
Today’s decision on whether to go ahead with the planned pipeline from Alberta through BC is the most momentous in Harper’s eight years in power. As we await the final word, take a look at this great brief article from the Star about the risks and benefits of approval. Also features lots of great video content generated about the proposed pipeline.
Trading Routes: Grease Trails, Oil Futures is a SSHRC-funded Research / Creation project focused on the intersecting geographies of aboriginal trade routes, Coast Salish “grease trails”, and proposed Alberta-British Columbia oil pipeline. Through collaboration between a multidisciplinary research team and the communities along the trading routes it aims to share and create knowledge about a specific geography and our relationships with it. Trading Routes’ multidisciplinary research team draws on expertise in artistic practice, cultural theory, and education to examine contemporary art as a platform for vital knowledge production and mobilization.
A barge carrying nearly a million gallons of oil collided with a ship in the Houston Ship Channel near Texas City Saturday afternoon.
The US Coast Guard believes some 160,000 gallons of heavy oil spilled into the channel.
“Calgary is a city built on this resource. Calgary is like a classic boom town; all of the skyscrapers in Calgary are named after the energy companies that are extracting the oil from the oil sands, or the banks that are funding them. There are construction cranes all over. And Canada … is defining itself as an energy superpower. I think it surprises a lot of people to hear they have the third-largest oil reserve in the world, behind Venezuela and Saudi Arabia.”— Reporter for the New Yorker Ryan Lizza speaks on Fresh Air about the Canadian oil industry and the Keystone Pipeline XL controversy (via nprfreshair)
“You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time.”—Angela Davis - from a lecture delivered at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. February 13th, 2014. (via ninjaruski)
March 7 is the last day the State Department will accept comments on the final Environmental Impact Statement on the Keystone XL pipeline. This is the last step before President Obama makes his decision in the next few months. If you are looking for a fast an easy way to send in your thoughts or comments why not make use of act350.org’s default message to President Obama
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Nebraska court on Wednesday invalidated the governor’s decision to allow the Keystone XL pipeline to pass through the Midwestern state, casting new uncertainty over the controversial
"For nearly a year now, more than 12,000 barrels of bitumen mixed with water have seeped through several long cracks (some as long as 100 metres) in the forest floor near four wells owned by Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. (CNRL) in the Cold Lake region."
From the tar sands of Alberta to the oil refineries of Texas, the Keystone XL pipeline poses an array of potential environmental and public health risks along with its advertised economic benefits. Farmers, Native Americans, city dwellers and small town residents — all living along the proposed path — shared with The Huffington Post why they oppose the project.
Bitumen in the tar sands being excavated to produce oil is the likely culprit of the mercury deposits
Scientists have found a nearly 7,500-square-mile ring of land and water contaminated by mercury surrounding the tar sands in Alberta, where energy companies are producing oil and shipping it throughout Canada and the U.S.
I highly recommend that anyone interested in the Northern Gateway Pipeline take a look at the Canadian government project review website to learn the details of the tentative approval of the project. We have highlighted a few revealing tidbits below:
"The Panel’s recommendation report has been submitted to the Minister of Natural Resources and the Governor in Council will make the decision on whether or not the project should proceed. The timeline for the Government’s decision statement is 180 days (approximately six months) from submission of the Joint Review Panel’s report and its Regulatory Recommendation. If the project is approved, the National Energy Board must issue its certificates of public convenience and necessity within seven days of the Government’s decision statement."
" The Panel also recommended that the Governor in Council determine that the construction and routine operation of the project would cause no significant adverse environmental effects, with the exception of cumulative effects for certain populations of woodland caribou and grizzly bear. In these two cases, the Panel found that cumulative effects as a result of this project and other projects, activities or actions are likely to be at the low end of the range of possible significance. The Panel recommended that these effects be found to be justified in the circumstances.
The Panel concluded that the environmental burdens associated with project construction and routine operation can generally be effectively mitigated and that continued monitoring, scientific research and adaptive management could further reduce adverse effects.
The Panel stated that “the environmental, societal and economic burdens of a large oil spill, while unlikely and not permanent, would be significant.” The Panel found that Northern Gateway had taken steps to minimize the likelihood of a large spill through its precautionary design approach and its commitments to use innovative and redundant safety systems. The Panel also found that, after mitigation, the likelihood of significant adverse environmental effects resulting from project malfunctions or accidents is very low.”
Canada has a complicated relationship to empire. On one level, Canada still maintains its formal attachment to Britain and its proximity to the US means that the country is deeply entangled in the project of American imperialism, in both its internal and external manifestations. Yet Canada is not simply a victim of US imperialism or puppet of the monarchy. Indigenous peoples rightfully speak of Canada as a colonising power. And Canada’s economic and political role in the Caribbean and its decade-long role in the war in Afghanistan recast this country as an imperial aggressor. Given its unique relationship to colonialism and colonisation, its close proximity to the world imperial centre, and its ‘quiet’ imperial designs, the stories housed within Canada offer unique insights into processes of nation-building, race, gender, class and the collision between histories of colonialism and imperialism.
Yet, for many readers who live outside Canada, we suspect it is probably counterintuitive to imagine that the histories of empire, colonialism, imperialism, decolonisation, and the current ramifications of the ‘war on terror’ and the destruction of Haiti, can be found here. For that matter, many Canadians do not realise this either. Perhaps this comes from both the internal and external images that often portray Canada as neither violent nor born of violence. The self-image that the country presents to the world is of itself as a western, democratic power that does deeds of global goodness. When your neighbour is the US, it is not hard to convince yourself of such an idyll.
”—Scott Rutherford, Sean Mills and David Austin, “Canada: colonial amnesia and the legacy of empire” (via hagereseb)
Fort McMoney, a documentary game by David Dufresne. Take control of Fort McMurray, Canada, the third largest oil reserve in the world, and make your worldview triumph. A TOXA/ONF production in association with Arte and with the financial participation of the CMF.