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Keystone Pipeline Draws Support- research done by Pew Research Center
Last weekend we had the great honour of participating in the Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition (TOAE). The TOAE takes place each year on the grounds of Toronto City Hall and allows artists and designers the chance to sell their work and keep all the profits. For the past two years the exhibition has included a curated selection of non-commercial artists to display work as a part of their Art Now series. (This is where we come in!)
The Tar Sands Exploration Station rolled the van into Nathan Phillip’s Square on the Thursday evening before the show. We got a prime spot, right at the corner of Queen and Dundas, just a stones throw from the financial sector of Toronto, and within viewing distance of the mall. We came back the next day with all the rest of the exhibitors and opened up shop. The Canadian playlist was on, the maple cookies were free and the tourists were out.
Conversations began immeditaly and continued almost without pause for the next three days. The people who came to visit the van arrived with every possible combination of thoughts on oil, finance, the environment, art, protest, cookies, the weather, investing, public space and Indigenous rights. I am not sure if it was the snacks, the weather or the general friendliness of Canadians but amongst all these perspectives, nary an argument emerged. In fact the exact opposite thing happened.
A small segue… Do you remember the amazing book, How the Grinch Stole Christmas? At the climax of the story the grinch discovers that even though he stole all the gifts and decorations, the town has gathered together despite their loss and are singing. The Grinch, is completely aghast - he thought the loss of Christmas would result in emotional pandemonium but instead it brought the Whos down in Whoville together.
Now, the Tar Sands Exploration Station has never attempted to steal Christmas, but, like the Grinch’s actions, the contents of the project inherently invite tension and possess the power to divide people, even create fights. However, this weekend the people of Toronto chose to come together (like the Whos) instead of breaking apart under the weight of the complex issues that surround Canadian oil sand production. Despite their different perspectives people sat down and spoke with one another. I heard the parent of a rig worker an a teacher discuss the impacts of the tar sands on youth. An investment banker came by and explained how deeply interwoven all Canadian investments are with the contined growth of resource industries. An 80 year old woman inquired about how to learn more about relational art, a suburban construction worker informed us of his concerns about the building techniques used in fabrication pipelines. All the project volunteers learnt and shared a lot of knowledge too.
Some might say the visitors to the van all just happened to posses the gift of diplomacy, but I would argue something bigger is at work here. Even though popular media continues to fabricate a battle around tar sand where “the economy” is perpetually fighting “the environment” people everywhere realize that this conversation is actually incredibly nuanced. More importantly, people are interested in using this issue to come together, build something and figure this thing out!
On Friday April 27 at 8:00 am the TSES crept onto the Ryerson campus and paid for three hours of parking. During the day different TSES volunteers stopped by and casually dropped money in the meter, hoping not to call too much attention to the giant van that had been illegally parked all day. Somehow we managed to avoid the angry arms of parking enforcement and contently opened up at 5:00 pm.
The evening began slowly. The wind was chilly and the campus was busy. Bundled masses moved quickly through the streets, many carrying a suspiciously large amount of boxes. As luck would have it, it was residence move out day! The day when the seeming freedom that one year of living outside of the family home has provided to university freshman comes to a mutually exciting and depressing close. From time to time a busy family was lured into the van for a moment or two. Usually parents asked questions while their offspring rolled their eyes ate cookies and awkwardly looked at something. Others acted the part of their new adult selves, informing their parents that “this kind of thing” happens all the time at university. It did however seem that parents and young adults alike were in complete agreement about the uncertainty of the future. They asked us at the TSES what the best thing we could hope for was, how we thought Canada would deal with the challenges to come, and how we would suggest the country create a sustainable economy. Wildly unprepared to lead the country, we answered with the honest truth that it seems right now, Canada’s future is up in the air.
After some much needed beverages and rest we rolled the van quietly into Kensington Market the following morning. The delivery trucks grudging made room for us and didn’t even complain when we spent the day taking up a valuable parking spot. At 6:00 we nervously edged the doors open into the narrow and busy street. Directly across from the van the rest of the participants in the Crossections exhibition were putting the finishing touches on their installations in Double Double Land.
As usual, we had incorrectly anticipated the crowd. Kensington Market in Toronto is a rather notorious hot spot for hippies, punks and youth- the TSES’s most consistent audience. We had imagined that after we made it clear that people could come and hang out in the van that we would be overrun with new companions and conversations. In reality, people continued along on their routes, apparently uninterested in a camper van full of music and free food. The crowd creep was slow, but then as the dusk became evening and music became louder a steady stream of people came not just to look around but rather to sit down and engage in long conversations. The visitors were not just from the nearby drum circle but rather all different walks of life. Researchers, teachers, musicians, bankers and artists all sat in the van. People came and life but the dialogues passed from one group to another. We debated the role of education and the environment, the international visibility of Canadian issues and or course oil. We also talked about our families, pregnancy, day jobs, and our friends. To try and summarize these conversations would be foolish. The fluidity of our dialogue, from the personal to the political, epitomizes the core ambition of the TSES. These issues are not just abstract ethical questions but rather tangible, tactile things that interweave into our lives in ways we cannot anticipate.
Image from a great article on the CCA MFA Exhibition from SF Gate.
On Saturday October 1 we at the TSES participated in Culture Days at the Richview location of the Toronto Public Library. Culture Days is a “collaborative pan-Canadian volunteer mouvement to raise the awareness, accessibility and engagement of all Canadians in the arts and cultural life of their communities.” We were thrilled to be a part of this national event and to open our doors to our neighbours in Toronto.
When we arrived at the library is the morning the wind was cool and the sun was doing little to warm the air. None the less, we were hopeful that many visitors would stop by the van and enjoy some cookies and conversation on their way to get books. The Library staff closed a portion of the parking lot for us to ensure if we had a large number of guests, that they would be safe hanging around outside the van. Though the space was a little roomy, we settled in quickly, turned on the music and opened our doors. What followed was one of the most exciting days ever in TSES history.
Visitors came steadily but slowly through out the day. Our new installation on the Keystone Pipeline expansion was hotly debated. One ten year old boy pointed at the map and explained that the oil seemed to be traveling too far while a man from Nigeria spoke of his desire to have more tar sand refined in Canada to create jobs. A young chemist spoke about the complexity of refining oil while an artist wanted to know if there was any practical use for the sand left over after extraction.
However the most interesting visitors to the TSES were not those who came into the van but rather those who did not. These visitors were rather simply infuriated by the way the van utilized and changed the traversing of the parking lot.
As we mentioned before, the Library Staff at Richview had blocked off a section of the parking lot for the TSES. Typically visitors enter the library parking lot through one driveway and exit through another. To accommodate the van, the usual entrance had been closed so patrons had to enter the parking lot via what was usually the exit. This subsequently caused the typical system of vehicular navigation of the parking lot to crumble. Cars and SUVs were forced to wait in lines, do three point turns and occasionally back into a space. On average the changes in the parking lot resulted in people spending two to three extra minutes in their vehicles. This minor shift in navigation, expectation and transit caused seemingly normal adults to shout, yell, curse and glare. They hurled accusations at the TSES, demanding to know who had allowed us to alter the flow of traffic for art. They bemoaned our existence to one another and refused to acknowledge placating offers of Canadian music and baked goods. Their frustration with change and their expectations of vehicular mobility mirrors much of the thinking that is so pervasive in the greater global dialogue about the future of fossil fuels.