Author Archives: Beth Shepherd

Just Another Derecho Day

Beth Shepherd, Just Another Derecho Day, 2022, Etching

This artist proof is my submission to the Ottawa-Gatineau Printmakers Connective Gallery Exhition called Climate Change — A Pressing Matter. The exhibition runs at the Nepean Creative Arts Center, 35 Stafford Rd., Ottawa, from October 20 to February 23, 2023. An edition of 10 have been submitted to the Saskatchewan Printmakers’ 2022 International Print Exchange (SKIPE).

The image depicts the aftermath of Ottawa’s May 2022 derecho when trees were toppled into the artist’s daughter’s pool, destroying the new fence and lawn furniture. I wonder whether living with more frequent extreme weather events will become yet another “new normal,” as signified by the awaiting chaise longue and cocktail beside the tree-strewn pool.  

Ottawa Hydro described the Derecho as Ottawa’s biggest storm yet. “With winds up to 190 km/h, the powerful derecho storm that devastated Ottawa on Saturday, May 21, left a trail of destruction like nothing Ottawa has ever seen or experienced before. From severe damage to property and Ottawa’s urban forest, the harm to our electrical infrastructure makes this storm our biggest yet; significantly worse than the 1998 Ice Storm and the 2018 tornadoes.” (B. Morgan, June 29, 2022, https://hydroottawa.com/en/blog/derecho-our-biggest-storm-yet.)

Much of the city experienced power outages, ranging in length from hours to more than a week in some sections of the city. Stittsville and areas in Ottawa’s south were particularly hard hit in terms of damage. My daughter and her partner were watching the storm whip their backyard. All of a sudden two neighbouring trees came uprooted and toppled into their pool, crushing their newly constructed metal fencing and their lawn furniture.

As quick as it came, the storm was gone leaving in its wake so much destruction. In Just Another Derecho Day, I imagine a backyard pool with a fallen tree; a pool-side recliner and a cocktail sit ready for the homeowner. Will climate change make severe weather events more everyday – something we learn to take in stride? Of course, I am being ironic. As severe weather, fires, floods, heat domes, droughts, food and water shortages, pandemics, wars, mass migrations, loss of species, and myriad anthropogenic calamities overtake our lives, it will be harder – even for the privileged – to just sit by the pool.

A first step is considering our own emergency preparedness to cope with the inevitable. We must also demand that authorities invest in “hardening” the infrastructure. After the ice storm I was terrified of being without power. It was winter and we feared frozen pipes bursting. Afterwards we converted our wood fireplace to gas. Other storms generally have come in warm weather. Power outages mean food loss. In May, I was glad to have my natural gas barbecue to boil water and cook food. We are being encouraged to eliminate fossil fuels but in the case of emergencies it has been a life saver. As we become more dependent on “green energy,” governments and utilities have to ensure those systems are as robust as natural gas. 

Shooting Double-crested Cormorants in Ontario

Regressive hunting legislation and barbaric population management practices put cormorants in the cross-hairs

Beth Shepherd, Cormorant 1/1 (2022), Monotype

In June 2021 while kayaking along the eastern shore of the Ottawa River, I stopped to watch the elegant beauty of a flock of double-crested cormorants flying effortlessly above the river along the shoreline. Just a month later on July 31, 2020, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry announced a province-wide fall hunting season for cormorants from September 15th to December 31st with a daily bag limit is 15 birds under the authority of a small game licence. (1) I wondered why anyone would want to hunt cormorants which are not considered game animals.

I have created two prints to draw attention to the plight of the double-crested cormorant in Ontario in light of the new legislation. Cormorant 1/1 (2022) is a monotype of a bird with its back to the viewer looking out along the shoreline. Dead Cormorant 1/1 (2022) is a monotype with ink and collaged plastic. Using a stencil, the blank space signifies the absence of the dead cormorant surrounded by shotgun shells – the evidence of the carnage.

Beth Shepherd, Dead Cormorant 1/1 (2022), Monotype with collaged plastic (shoot gun shells)

They pieces are on display until October 23, 2022 as part of the Painterly Printmaking exhibition at the Connective Gallery at the Nepean Creative Arts Centre.

From a protected species to a target of wanton hunting

The population of cormorants has been growing in Ontario for decades and so has a call for management by property owners and the Ontario Federation for Hunters and Anglers (OFAH) (1). Cormorants are colony nesters and the sites of colonies can be alarming since their acidic waste and ungainly nests cause some die-back of trees at the water’s edge where they make their nests. Once near extinction before the ban of DDT and protected under the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act of 1997, the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Amendment Act (Double-Crested Cormorants) was enacted in 2016 to permit the hunting and trapping of double-crested cormorants (2). Since then many environmental and animal advocacy voices have spoken up in protest on grounds that the population of this native species is not excessive and still in rebound from near-extinction; that the claim of decimating sport fish populations is false, and that in areas where the population is heaviest, alternative more humane ways of management could be used (3). Legal experts also advise that precedents set in the legislation — allowing shooting from boats and leaving dead carcasses — present dangers for both wildlife and humans in the affected areas (4).

A reminder of the larger cultural context of “pristine nature”

With the continued loss of habitat, it is no wonder that humans and cormorants are coming into conflict and rather than letting nature take its course, humans want to manage nature. This has been particularly poignant at Pelee Island National Park where Parks Canada has been undertaking culls of cormorants on Middle Island from 2008 to 2021 to preserve a Carolinian forest ecosystem (5 & 6). The culling occurs in the spring during breeding season with sharp-shooters aiming at the nesting cormorants reluctant to leave their eggs and chicks (7). See the video showing the inhuman methods of population management within what is supposed to be a bird sanctuary.

The debate is ongoing whether population management is indeed needed. If it is, can’t people charged on our behalf with protecting the environment find less regressive and violent ways than shooting and maiming birds on the nest? How we are treating double-crested cormorants calls to mind how colonizers treated indigenous peoples when governments first decided to set aside portions of “pristine nature” in perpetuity as conservation areas and parks.

I am ending this post with an image of the double-crested cormorant from John James Audubon’s Birds of America, printed between 1827 and 1838. Although beautiful, these works are tainted with past and present cultural concerns about racism and exclusion in conservation movements (8).

John James Audubon, Double-crested Cormorant, from The Birds of America

References:
(1) https://www.ofah.org/issues/cormorants/.

(2) Bill 205, Fish and Wildlife Conservation Amendment Act (Double-Crested Cormorants), 2016, https://www.ola.org/en/legislative-business/bills/parliament-41/session-1/bill-205.

(3) For examples, Ontario Nature https://ontarionature.org/ontarios-cormorants-blog/, https://www.animalalliance.ca/new-cormorant-video-exposes-cruelty/; Nature Canada, https://ottawacitizen.com/opinion/cheskey-ontarios-cormorant-hunt-is-based-on-pandering-rather-than-science; Animal Alliance of Canada, https://www.animalalliance.ca/campaigns/other-campaigns/double-crested-cormorant-slaughter/.

(4) https://ontarionature.org/cormorant-legal-blog/

(5) https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/windsor/cull-parks-canada-point-pelee-1.6001841

(6) https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/windsor/cormorant-culls-stabilizing-middle-island-parks-canada-says-1.3753614.

(7) https://www.animalalliance.ca/new-cormorant-video-exposes-cruelty/.

(8) https://www.audubon.org/birds-of-america.

Flow: The loss of the American Eel in the Ottawa River

In 2021 The Ottawa Riverkeeper made an appeal to help save the American eels that were facing extirpation from the Ottawa River Watershed. In addition to a donation I decided to make eels a subject of my practice. The image is monotype where the swirls of white in black ink capture the movement of eels caught in a net or weir.

Beth Shepherd, Eels Caught Up, Monotype

This spring, a group of Ottawa-Gatineau Printmakers Connective printmakers began work on a ‘Migration in Print’ project. Migration is timely as political, economic, and social conditions, exacerbated by climate change, disrupt long-standing animal movements and force ever more people to flee their homes. Since American Eels exhibit a reproductive pattern of migration inked to their spawning cycles, I decided my work would fit right in.

Wanting to do something for Culture Days (September 23 to October 16, 2022), three of us decided to make some videos taking a behind-the-scenes look at our creative processes in making new migration-themed works. Wanting to also put on an in-person Culture Days event, we approached Carleton University’s Book Arts Lab. Larry Thompson, generously provided space for an exhibition and an in-person event on October 14 (1-4pm). Here is the link to our Cultures Day Hub with descriptions for our three online and two in-person events.

The artwork I made for Culture Days is called Flow: Recruitment and Escapement.

Flow: Recruitment and Escapement, 244 X 91.5 cm, Mixed media collagraph print

Yellow eels enter freshwater habitats making their way upstream (“recruitment”) where they remain feeding and hibernating until they reach sexual maturity decades later. Sexually mature females, now blackish and silver, head downstream towards the ocean (“escapement”). To render the existential fragility of this species I employ the ephemeral qualities of Japanese mulberry paper.

In my video I talk about the plight of the American eel and present the behind-the-scenes steps in the production of Flow: Recruitment and Escapement.

Culture Days Video

Call of the Turtle and the Exotic Turtle Trade

In the spring of 2022, Cheryl Beillard, fellow printmaker and the new president of Art Pontiac, announced her vision for a special show to be held at the Stone School Gallery during the summer.  Combining science, the environment and art, Call of the Turtle is an exhibition aimed at drawing attention to the plight of the turtles and to protect local wetland habitats. 

Poster for Call of the T
urtle exhibition at Stone School Gallery July 29-August 21, 2022

Cheryl asked me if I ever featured turtles in my art projects, and I said I had. In the early summer of 2021, while on the grounds of the Britannia Water Filtration Plant, I observed lots of excitement when a couple of fairly large (8-10 inch long) painted turtles scurried across the lawn weaving their way among Canada Geese with their goslings and people of all ages enjoying the sunshine. Amazed at how fast the turtles moved, I guessed they were females ready to lay their eggs off to find nesting sites on the gravelly shoreline of the Ottawa River nearby.  

Although turtles weren’t my usual subject matter, I decided to make some prints.  I made a two-layer stencil of a turtle mimicking the turtle’s scutes. I inked a simple drypoint plate in bright colours and superimposed the inked turtle stencil and printed it on my brand new mini-etching press.  I printed the monotype in a small variable edition, which I called Turtle on the Move (monoprint, 8X10 inches). 

Beth Shepherd, Turtle on the Move (monoprint, 8X10 inches. The image shows a green turtle on a burnt orange ground.
Beth Shepherd, Turtle on the Move, Monoprint, 8X10 inches, 2021

I reused the turtle stencil to imprint turtles on eco-print paper I had made using a trace monotype technique. (Eco prints are prints made by transferring the pigments in plants, especially flowers, to paper using steam and a mordant like alum). I particularly like how Two Turtles on the Move (monotype on eco print, 11X14 inches) captures the impression of the animals scampering through wildflowers. 

Beth Shepherd, Two Turtles on the Move (monotype on eco print, 11X14 inches). The image is of two shadowy turtlers in dark blue moving through a landscape of wild flowers..
Beth Shepherd, Two Turtles on the Move, Monotype on eco print paper, 11X14 inches, 2021

When first thinking about my contribution to the Call of the Turtle exhibition, my first action was to check iNaturalist to see which of Ontario’s eight turtle species were located at Mud Lake near where I live in Ottawa. Mud Lake is home to only two native species — the Midland Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta) and the Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina). I was surprised to find a sighting of the Red-eared Slider (Trachemys scripta elegans) – an “alien species” in this neck of the woods. On doing research, I learned that the sighting of the red-eared slider was most likely of an escaped pet. Native to the southeastern U.S., the red-eared slider does not successfully breed in the area because their offspring cannot survive the cold Ottawa winters; nevertheless, these robust turtles can compete for scarce habitat and resources and transmit diseases to our native turtle populations. 

The pet turtle trade has a long history. As a child I remember having a number of baby turtles that spent their short lives basking under the green and brown palm tree in their little plastic turtle bowls. Thanks to the exotic pet trade, baby turtles (red-eared sliders, painted turtles, and other species) became a craze in the 1950s. Sold in pet stores and through mail order promotions, as in the British advertisement, these little critters made their way around the world. (1) In the 1980s and 90s demand for pet turtles, red eared sliders in particular, exploded again in response to the comic franchise Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles, four red-masked anthropomorphic crime-fighting turtle brothers trained in ninjutsu.(2)

A 1950s advertisement for a Turtle Bowl Kit and the cover of a 1984 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic
A 1950s advertisement for a Turtle Bowl Kit and the cover of a 1984 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic.

In my etching Alien Encounter, I imagine these two world-travelling aliens encountering each other in Mud Lake. 

Beth Shepherd, Alien Encounters, etching with hand colouring, 6 X 9 inches, 2022

With fond memories of my own turtle pets, in the 1990s I decided to buy my now-adult children a turtle too. I bought a spiny softshell turtle (Apalone spinifera) at a local pet store. Brown and leathery with a sharp proboscis, we named the turtle Snort.  Snort lived in a large aquarium for a number of years and we even took him with us on vacations to our cottage. When he wasn’t amusing the kids, we left Snort in his dishpan vacation home in a shady spot on the back deck. One night, a heavy rain caused the dishpan to overflow, allowing Snort to make his great escape, as depicted in my second print, Snort-The Great Escape. With Calabogie Lake only a short distance away, I imagined him growing to a large size and nipping at the toes of unsuspecting swimmers.

Beth Shepherd, Snort: The Great Escape, etching with hand colouring, 6 X 9 inches, 2022. The image shows a spiny soft-shell turtle escaping from a dish pan and heading to a lake.
Beth Shepherd, Snort: The Great Escape, etching with hand colouring, 6 X 9 inches, 2022

These nostalgic stories aside, turtles are not suitable as pets and generally suffer greatly. They are also the source of zoonotic disease. People think of turtles as low maintenance amusements for their kids but they can live for 20-40 years and grow quite big. According to the World Animal Protection’s 2019 report called “Risky Business – The Unregulated Exotic Pet Trade in Canada,” 50,550 red-eared sliders and 22,169 painted turtles were identified as pets in Canada. “Exotic” pets are non-domesticated wild animals, that unlike domesticated animals, maintain their complex social, physical and behavioural needs. The report stresses that the basic needs of the captive animals are not being met and a high number die within one year of becoming a pet. Those that do survive often end up in shelters while others are released into the local environment. (3) For those released or as in the case of Snort, that escape into the wild, face the travails of being an alien creature, alone in an alien world.

The continued importation and illegal collection and trade of wild turtles is a major threat to turtle populations in Ontario and globally. Although many exotic animals are imported, the illegal collection and trade of wild turtles is among the major threats to turtle populations in Ontario. According to Ontario Turtle Conservation, too little attention has been given to poaching – the removal of turtles from the wild on a large scale, for profit. These turtles may be sold as pets in Canada but are often then illegally exported to other countries for sale. Poaching is having a negative impact on Ontario’s turtle species such as the spotted, wood, and Blanding’s turtles. (4)

(1) 1950s Madness: The ‘Turtle Bowl’, https://waicblog.wordpress.com/2015/03/02/1950s-madness-the-turtle-bowl/.

(2) How Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Devastated the World’s Turtle Population,

https://www.inverse.com/entertainment/teenage-mutant-ninja-turtles-red-eared-sliders-ecology.

Image at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teenage_Mutant_Ninja_Turtles_(Mirage_Studios).

(3) World Animal Protection, “Risky business – The unregulated exotic pet trade in Canada”, 

https://www.worldanimalprotection.ca/sites/default/files/media/ca_-_en_files/wap_exotic_pets_in_canada_report_final_forweb_oct_3_2019.pdf.

(4) Ontario Turtle Conservation, Poaching Brochure, https://ontarioturtle.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/OTCC-Brochure-Poaching.pdf.

Shoreline Lost and Found

Shoreline Lost and Found is a time-lapse video made with fifteen months of daily
photographs of the Ottawa River shoreline across Britannia Bay. Using the horizon as the through-line, the video integrates my personal anxieties as an artist, the visible variation in the daily weather, and the imperceptible changes in the climate, within a repetitive landscape composition.

The daily routine of picture-taking was an important part of my pandemic ritual but as we entered the second COVID summer, the lowered water levels, heat and smoke from forest fires were reminders that while we were held in suspension by the pandemic, climate change was advancing upon us.

The soundtrack for the video is a digital rendition of concrete prose I wrote incorporating the various meanings and uses of the term “horizon” in common speech and across various disciplines. In its visual form, the text turned on its side mimics an imaginary cross-section of the river. The individual lines of text are arranged to examine the use of the word horizon with the latter half more directly referring to climate change, conveying a growing sense of impending crises.

CLICK HERE to see my Youtube video.

Here is an image of the text. You can turn it to the left to read.

Littorally Speaking: A Coffee Table Book

As part of Culture Days, viewers are welcome to flip through an imagined coffee table book that takes a tongue-in-cheek look at the urban water system infrastructure in the Ottawa River littoral zone (shoreline areas between high and low water levels). Recalling childhood memories of oversized books filled with images of pristine nature and unspoilt landscapes, the video recreates the sensation of flipping through such a book. The scenic images depict the City of Ottawa’s water systems–the water purification plants and selected wastewater and stormwater infrastructural elements that interface with the Ottawa River.

You can get the effect of flipping through the pages of a coffee table book in the video version. To stop to read a page just pause the video, then restart when you are ready to proceed.

CLICK HERE TO LAUNCH THE VIDEO.

For those wanting a more static view, CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD PDF VERSION.

For the kids, download an Ottawa Water System Maze Puzzle HERE.

ASLE Emergence/Y Conference

Problematized Shorelines: Is Everything Still OK Here?

I am a presenter at the ASLE* Emergence/Y Conference July 26 to August 6, 2021. Partly because of COVID but mostly because ASLE is concerned about the carbon footprint and accessibility limitations associated with in-person conferences, the conference is virtual so participants made videos of their presentations, which will be online for the duration of the conference.

My presentation is entitled Problematized Shorelines: Is Everything Still OK Here? Using my recent art projects to illustrate, I explore the constructs of “landscape” and “nature,” reflecting on how art can both hide and reveal environmental truths. My talk is an ecocritical commentary on the landscape and nature genres of art, which have been used to mask the damaging environmental impacts of extractive colonialism in the past, which continues today in urban expansion, industrialization, resource extraction, overconsumption and waste, and our continued dependence on fossil fuels.

If you decide to register you will find hundreds of presentations available online for the duration of the conference. If you would rather forgo the conference but would like to watch my presentation, here is the link to my Youtube video.

Please feel free to send me your thoughts by email.

*ASLE — the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment is an inclusive international community of scholars, practicing writers and artists, environmental educators, activists, and environmentally concerned citizens committed to environmental research, education, literature, art, environmental justice, and ecological sustainability. Through its networks and programs, it seeks to inspire and promote intellectual work in the environmental humanities and arts.

Plastic Art — Untitled (Plastic film balls)

On National Cleanup Day last September, I became aware of the amount of plastic in the environment, including discarded masks and gloves, as I picked up litter in my neighbourhood and along the shoreline. Also exacerbated by the pandemic, I observed that more food and other household products were being packaged in excessive amounts of plastic. Plastic wrapping and packaging is ubiquitous and is largely not recyclable. Instead, it goes to landfills or escapes into the environment.

I concluded that as we used less oil as fuel, petroleum was still flowing and being manufactured into cheap plastic. Plastic waste is indeed a climate change issue!

Untitled (Plastic film balls) (2021-ongoing) is a mass of plastic balls inspired by a 2012 installation by American artist, Tara Donovan, called Untitled (Mylar). I appropriate Donovan’s aesthetic of plastic balls heaped in piles, but instead of new mylar, I transform plastic film from household bags and packaging into art. The balls are presented in an amorphous circular floor installation signifying the growing mounds of plastic waste accumulating in landfills and the environment.

To make the balls in three different sizes, I cut plastic film from household waste into 4, 6 or 8 inch circles, then fold the circles to make irregular cone shapes which I ten sew together using old nylon fishing line. The work is very labour intensive and done entirely by me. The growing number of balls can be reconfigured in site-specific installations. The variable mixture of translucent, metallicized and coloured film plastic renders a shimmering surreal effect.

Untitled (Plastic film balls) (2021-ongoing)

Without critiquing the conservation and disposability of material used in the art world, my work questions the use of petroleum-based plastics with indefinite life spans for throw-away applications.

My Emerging Eco Art Practice — Exploring the interrelationships between urban ecology, climate change and COVID-19

Quadrat Project 1

While doing my master’s program in Art History, I wanted to take a different slant on art revealing the harms of industrial animal agriculture – my long-term art and writing focus (see artthatmakesadifference.ca). Formulating my thesis statement for my major research project (sort of like a thesis but without the defence), I discovered ecocriticism and eco-art.

Ecocriticism is a relatively new discipline within the humanities and is an umbrella term for a range of critical approaches that explore the representation of the relationship between the human and the non-human or the human and ‘nature.’ Although ecocriticism took form at the beginning of the 1990s in the arts and literature, it is still not widely acknowledged in contemporary visual art and art history.

The term “Eco Art” was first used in 1989 by Felix Guattari to describe the new practice of revealing environmental concerns of the planet to society, drawing on the root of eco from Oikos, Greek meaning “house, domestic property, habitat, natural milieu.” Some artists were actually making eco-art since the 1960s. According to Mark Cheetham in Landscape to Eco Art, eco-art has become a way of structuring a wide variety of contemporary art practices that engage the conundrum of what individuals can do in responding to ecological and environmental issues in the Anthropocene.

In light of the growing environmental concerns and the climate crises, many academics and artists, myself included, may indeed be working ecocritically without knowing much, if anything, about it. When I finished writing my MRP — “Mishka Henner’s Feedlots: New Perspectives on the Contemporary Ecocritical Landscape” — I felt like I had found my niche. While I remain an animal advocate, I have shifted my art practice towards ecology.

While the apprehension of COVID-19 was growing, it was not until mid-March that the lock-down took effect. As art galleries, art classes and even my printmaking studio closed down, I decided to begin an eco-art project at home. I launched the “Quadrat Journal: An eco-art project that will (somehow) integrate ecology, geospatial representation, pandemics and social/ physical distancing” on March 27, 2020.

Wanting to refresh and update my knowledge of ecology for my new eco-art practice, I came across the “quadrat,” an ecological tool for measuring population densities of species in a given area. My original idea was to carry my newly constructed quadrat around and take pictures through it to add a spatial lens. I did this for a couple of days but it was awkward so I decided just to photograph my backyard. I started taking five square iPhone pics everyday—two of my garden, one of the lawn and two of the Ottawa River at the end of my backyard. At the same time, as I come across interesting ecological news item or other things I want to research, I would make a new slide in my journal. In it I cover a range of topics from pandemic movies, alien species, biological and viral classification systems, to herd immunity and personality factors in social distancing. I also talk a lot about critters in the backyard.

SOAP-POOP Meets the Urban Water System

Inspired by artist Maria Gomez Umana’s foray into soap-making that resembled poop, I decided to extend my current project on urban ecology to take a closer look at Ottawa’s water purification and wastewater treatment systems.

We partnered with the Unstuck Collective, who were curating a Culture Days event outdoors at NECTAR — the New Edinburgh Community and Arts Centre, 255 MacKay Street, on Saturday, September 26, 2:00 PM to 5:00 PM. See An Unexpected Intersection: Soap Meets Poop for more details.

Unlike Maria, who made her soap-poop from scratch, I reworked some old soap, candle wax and the ends of tubes of acrylic paint from which I modelled my soap-poop. 

Beth Shepherd, Soap-Poop Sculptures, 2020 (Soap (oils, lye, fragrance), wax, acrylic paint)

Then soap-poop in hand, I headed off to the Britannia Water Filtration Plant to take some pictures. A few days later I went to the Robert O. Pickard Environmental Centre where all Ottawa’s wastewater is treated. Finally I biked to the Lemieux Island Water Purification Plant and took some more pictures with my soap-poop. The map shows the three facilities located on the Ottawa River.

Beth Shepherd, Ottawa Urban Hydrologic System Map (Composite rendition of screenshots from Google Earth, 24 X 36 inches, ink on paper encased in plastic

In keeping with a theme a conversations in a relaxed outdoor living room setting, I decided to present my work in the form of a “coffee table book” to inspire conversation. My coffee table book contains the photographs I took, an Ottawa Urban Hydrologic System map and a related article I wrote on the relationships between water, soap, poop, COVID-19 and climate change. Visitors could sit and flip through the COVID-friendly pages (all in plastic and wipeable) while we had very interesting conversations.

Unexpected Intersections: SOAP-POOP Meets the Urban Water System, A Coffee Table Book, by Beth Shepherd (Photo: Karina Simpatico)

The event went very well and the weather was great.

Nancy Baele and Petra Halkes, of the Unstuck Connective, in conversation
The Soap Meets Poop event at NECTAR September 26, 2020 (Photo: Karina Simpatico)

A number of people took the opportunity to browse though my coffee table book. Ian Allen read the whole thing and even caught some typos, which hopefully I have corrected in the posted version (below).

Ian Allen reading the coffee table book, September 26, 2020 (Photo: Beth Shepherd)

Maria began making her own soap to try to reduce consumer plastic. I found it ironic that in making my eco-art exhibition suitable for the out-of-doors and COVID-friendly, everything was covered in plastic! After visitors flipped through one copy of the coffee table book, I disinfected it by wiping the cover and each page with an alcohol cleaner.

Wiping down the coffee table books between uses (Photo: Rene Price)

All the images I took for this project are imbedded in the revised document.

Richard Hamilton’s Kent State (1970)

50th anniversary of the Kent State shooting

May 4, 2020 was the 50th anniversary of the Kent State University shooting of thirteen students by the U.S. National Guard. This is a good time to remember both the event and Richard Hamilton’s haunting Kent State print (1970).

On that bright May day in 1970 students and activists were protesting the expansion of the Vietnam War into Cambodia. The National Guard were on campus to keep the protestors in line. While some students and faculty were actually protesting, others were curiously looking on; others still were just cutting across the campus on their way to class. Shots ring out. Nearly 70 shots in 13 seconds. The soldiers shot into the crowd and thirteen people were hit. In the aftermath, four students lie dead and nine wounded. Twenty-year-old Dean Kahler, was shot in the back and his paralysis from the waist down would be a constant reminder of that day. (1)

This was not the era of cell phones but there are cameras. Photos were snapped and even some video was captured by journalism students. News of the event spreads like wildfire. Within hours images of the event find their way to Richard Hamilton’s living room in London, England, showing up on his new colour TV in the form of a BBC news broadcast. Hamilton just happened to have a camera set up in front of the television hoping for some interesting images to use in an upcoming printmaking project. As a picture of the wounded Dean Kahler appeared on screen, Hamilton captured the image on his camera.

Dan Kahler being attended to by fellow students

When asked how he came to make his print series, Hamilton responded, “I felt that maybe it was necessary to look at the issues of our time and use the images that aroused questions. The things I began to do were usually the result of experiencing some image with a very strong impact. (2) He contemplated not using it because “It was too terrible an incident in American history to submit to arty treatment. Yet there it was in my hand, by chance!! It seemed right, too, that art could help to keep the shame in our minds.” (3)

He decided to use this image in a collaborative project with publisher Dorothea Leonhart of Munich and printer Dietz Offizin, Lengmoos, Bavaria, which would result in a series of 5000 silkscreen prints. This was a very big undertaking in those days. The complex printing process involved making thirteen screens, two of which were used twice, for the application of a total of fifteen layers of transparent inks in various shades and combinations of blue, red, yellow, violet and black. (4) Hamilton visited the print shop many times and verified and signed each work. Later he indicated that this work of art was the most difficult he ever undertook.

Most of the screens used in making the complex print

His idea was to make a large series so the image would remain in public view and would remain accessible to the average person – in fact, today you can buy one of these prints for between $1000-$2000. Kent State is in the collections of many prestigious art institutions across the world, including the National Gallery of Canada—which by the way, was the first place the image, most probably an artist proof, was shown in 1971. (5) The actual edition of 5000 premiered in Milan later that same year.

This print shares a blend of the indexicality of a photography (i.e., the sense of representing something real), mediated by many aesthetic decisions made in the printmaking process—the layers, the offsets, the colours, etc. The image is of Dean Kahler lying on the ground, legs truncated. He is tended by one person with another near by. We see the sun on his skin, the blue of his jeans… and the red blood. The black boarder – rectangular on its outer edge and rounded on the inner, we know is an old television screen. If we look closely we can see the pixilation and the horizontal scan lines typical of cathode ray technology of the time.

It is strange that the image is not centred on the paper. Hamilton wrote that it is printed off-centre to the sheet to express that “this was not just an image captured on TV, but a work about the mediation of this image by television.” In highlighting the televisual nature, the image embodies his concern that media transmits information indifferent to its content or meaning into the living rooms of the world, and the constant display of violence is desensitizing viewers. (6)

About Richard Hamilton (1922-2011)

Richard Hamilton and his Television, in his Living Room, London, 1970

In the 1950s Hamilton was a founding member of the Independent Group. Their exhibition, This is tomorrow (1956), for which Hamilton made the now iconic, Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing? signalled the beginning of British Pop Art.

I always thought of Richard Hamilton as a British Bad Boy artist of the pop art era. He was very much part of the swinging London scene, associating with the Stones, Beatles and other celebrities. But he was so much more — an artist, designer, multi-media experimenter, teacher, writer, exhibition organizer and political activist. In his practice he drew upon and critiqued a wide range of popular culture media and current events, including imagery found in newspapers, magazines, television, film and advertising. He used collage, painting, sculpture, graphic design, photography and printmaking to create a vast array of work. In the mid-sixties Hamilton began working with Marcel Duchamp on a number of projects. Collaborations with Duchamp seemed to free him from the trends and constraints of the art world, facilitating him to take his own path. (7)

Always a technology buff, Hamilton’s innovations included the use of the computer in art. Even though a fan of technology, he raised importance questions about the authenticity of the image in society and especially how technology leaves us suspended between illusion and the real. (8)

In 1992 the Tate put on a major retrospective and Hamilton was Britain’s selection for the Venice Biennale in 1993. Still working right up to the end, Hamilton helped design a major retrospective at the Museo Nacional Reina Sofia in 2011, which was subsequently presented at the Tate Modern in 2014. The exhibition included over 200 pieces spanning the 1950s to work he completed in 2011 in a wide range of mediums and genres including paintings, prints, sculpture, photographs, designs, and Duchampian reconstructions. (9)

Notes
(1) Kathi Valeii, Kent State, “Jackson State Survivors Talk Student Activism,” 2018, Rolling Stone website.
(2) Hal Foster and Alex Bacon, eds., Richard Hamilton, October Files 10, Cambridge, Mass/London Eng: The MIT Press, 2010, 11.
(3) Tate Galley Label, 2004, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/hamilton-kent-state-p77043.
(4) Tate Gallery Catalogue Entry, 1988, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/hamilton-kent-state-p77043X.
(5) Mark Godfrey, Paul Schimmel and Vincente Todoli, Richard Hamilton. London: Tate Publishing, 2014,Godfrey – Tate catalog, 239.
(6) Godfrey Schimmel and Todoli, Richard Hamilton, 240.(7) Ibid., 17.
(8) Richard Hamilton: Modern Moral Matters exhibition was held at the Serpentine Gallery in 2010.
(9) Godfrey, Schimmel and Todoli, Richard Hamilton, 17.

Mishka Henner: a “Post-Photography” Photographer

For almost two years I have been working on my master’s degree in Art History at Carleton University. My major research project (MRP) –“Mishka Henner’s Feedlots: New Perspectives on the Contemporary Ecocritical Landscape”– is handed in, so I am just awaiting the virtual walk across the stage.

In my paper I question why industrial animal agriculture is not a more prominant subject in contemporary art and art historical discourse, and particularly, in art exhibitions on the Anthropocene, eco art and ecocriticism.

Henner’s series, Feedlots (2012-13), comprises seven high-resolution digital images of Texas feedlots made by stitching together hundreds of high-resolution screenshots from Google Earth. (See Henner’s website.) This series has received significant attention in exhibitions and in various publications, likely more on account of Henner’s innovative “post-photography” practices than its subject matter.

The term “post-photography” has been used since the late twentieth century in conjunction with the transformation from analogue to digital media; more recently it has come to mean the integration of the image, technology and the Internet. Camila Moreiras explains that the “age of post-photography can be understood as the age of the inorganic image: a composite of littered information – collected, ordered, layered, buried, stored and discarded.” (1) In contemporary photographic practice, images may be built, fabricated, altered, and/or systematically edited with or without the camera. Henner has rejected the camera, using his computer and the Internet for image-making, which he feels is better suited for the age in which we live. (2)

Since writing the original post, a shorter version of my MRP has been published in Render, the Carleton University Art History Graduate Journal. Here is the link.

References:

(1) Camila Moreiras, “Joan Fontcuberta: Post-Photography and the Spectral Image of Saturation,” Journal of Spanish Cultural Studies 18:1 (2017): 57 and FN3, 72.

(2) Mishka Henner, “Counter-Intelligence,” (Video Lecture).