The text that the CCCC Study Group tackled at its second meeting, on November 22nd 2017, was Roy Scranton’s stimulating and beautifully written little book, Learning to Die in the Anthropocene – Reflections on the End of a Civilization. Relying on scientific evidence, Scranton accepts the death of our civilization, a death he sees as inevitable as our own. Effectively, this brings climate change down from an abstract, media level to a deeply personal one.
Diane Smith, who facilitated this CCCC session, attentively zeroed in on this intermingling of the personal with the large societal issue of climate change. She brought us some of her art works, in which she works through feeling overwhelmed and powerless in dealing with personal issues as much as in facing a rapidly changing world and the growing crisis of climate change.
Despite Scranton’s warnings of looming disasters, Diane found strength in his clear, honest vision that allows us to face what is coming. She said that: “this is why I think Roy Scranton’s book is so important, and somehow even comforting. He explains that learning how to die is really about learning to let go – especially of the fear of death – in order to see clearly and to make better choices and decisions informed by reality.”
I would like to thank Diane for her clear presentation that led to a discussion in which everyone got involved. One point on which many of us disagreed with Scranton, is his insistence on violence as a necessary response to conflict, which is the impetus to life and change. As a group, we may want to return to this argument, encapsulated in his quote from Heraclitus: “It should be understood that war is the common condition, that strife is justice, and that all things come to pass through the compulsion of strife”. Can anyone think of any sources, written or visual, that delves into this idea further?
I also thank Diane for showing us her artwork. As we had an empty wall in the RIA Project Room, we have put up the work until January 1, at which time it will make place for Bring Your Own Art. Diane will be present at RIA on Saturday, December 16, from 3:00PM to 5:00 PM. You are invited to visit or re-visit at that time.
One wall shows a detailed collection of photographs and drawings of mining equipment, as well as two photographs of her father, one overlooking an abandoned mining area and the other taken while he was surveying an area in Sudbury where to built a house in the 1990’s. There are also a few treasured family heirlooms, artifacts from the mining industry in Northern Ontario where both Diane’s grandfathers and her father were miners.
The other wall shows several drawings in which a cacophony of lines, colours and shapes around the head or body of the artist suggests her emotional response to the deluge of images, words, information and impressions that penetrate our brains every day. These days, many of the stories that reach us are tales of looming dangers, unprecedented horrors and
large-scale disasters, most of which eventually point to climate change and the inevitable death of civilization. In an attempt to live with such threats our response, more often than not, is denial.
In a triptych of drawings, Turning Away, Diane draws three stills from the Mike Leigh film, Life is Sweet, in which we see a woman avoiding to face something, or someone, squarely. She turns away and finally, in the third drawing, shows us the back of her head.
In addition to the mining artifacts, Diane displays photographs of a sculpture she made years ago. A curved patchwork of welded sheet metal scraps forms the shell of a body, a human back. It is as frayed and vulnerable as it is resilient: held upright by a spine that extends straight down into a base formed by a box of slag, the waste matter from refineries.
As she works through a rising personal conflict between a generations-long family pride in earning a living through mining in Northern Ontario, and the havoc the mining industry continues to create within our eco-system, she demonstrates through this process another valid reason why we need to continue to make art in our times. As she wrote in an email discussion: “Art can be a way of making/finding connections between impersonal, abstract, universal issues and personal concerns, connections that can lead to actions for change.”
Find more reasons for art in the Anthropocene HERE
-Petra Halkes December 1- 2017
Diane Smith writes:
Mining and my Heritage in Northern Ontario
The display on this wall represents mining in Northern Ontario, mainly in Cobalt, where my Dad and both of my grandfathers worked. I grew up in mining towns all over Northern Ontario, our family settling in Sudbury when I was 8 years old. Both of my grandfathers were uneducated miners, though my paternal grandfather educated himself by taking “courses” that he sent away for by mail. My Dad went to the Haileybury School of Mines in Northern Ontario and was a mine surveyor for approximately 15 years. He later taught high school for 26 years after obtaining a university degree in French and English literature.
The rush for cobalt in Cobalt, Ontario: Mining companies snap up land in the north… and the demand is for a special metal that is used in everything from smart phones to electric cars. More than half the world’s supply of cobalt is mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo in Africa, where child labour is reportedly used. Tech companies like Tesla and Apple have said they are looking elsewhere for the cobalt they need.”
Read a transcript of Diane Smith’s presentation HERE
Diane Smith, a francophone born and raised in Northern Ontario, currently lives and works in rural Ottawa. Following a university and college education in mathematics and computer science she worked for eight years as a computer programmer for the RCMP. When she left the workforce in order to raise her children she returned to her lifelong passion of drawing. Over the course of the next ten years she attended classes at the Ottawa School of Art and the University of Ottawa Fine Arts department. After completing a one year sculpture apprenticeship with local sculptor Bruce Garner, she set up a studio practice that was full-time for seven years and part-time during the last ten years. In 2015 she completed a one month residency at Stegner House in Saskatchewan in order to explore new directions in her work.
Diane’s art-related work experience includes being a founding member of VACO (Visual Arts Centre Orleans); teaching art classes to children and adults in her home, at VACO and in local schools; and working in an Ottawa municipal art gallery.
Diane has exhibited in municipal galleries in the provinces of Quebec and Ontario, and her works can be found in several private collections. She has also completed several private commissions and a public art commission for the city of Ottawa, and has received grants from the Ontario Arts Council and the City of Ottawa.