QUESTIONS OF SUSTAINABILITY STATEMENT

In June, 2010, first nations municipalities in Haida Gwaii, an ecologically unique group of islands located off the northwest coast of British Columbia, made an unanimous statement in opposition to the coastal tanker traffic that will result if Enbridge’s proposed 1,170 km ‘Northern Gateway’ pipeline is realized. The proposed pipeline will flow more than half a million barrels of crude oil a day from Alberta’s oil sands to the Great Bear Rainforest area, crossing through the sensitive watersheds of the upper Fraser, Skeena, and Kitimat. From Kitimat, super-tankers will then navigate the Douglas Channel and around the coastal archipelago and islands known as Haida Gwaii to the open sea. Proponents of the project cite the benefits of job creation and growth in an economically depressed region. Detractors see these as short-term gains not worth the long-term ecological costs of a potential oil disaster along this sensitive coastline.

The economic scope of the project and the environmental repercussions are enormous, so why was it that I didn’t learn about the scale of the oil issues facing the northern coast of my province until I moved out of my home country? How can I highlight these issues to my friends back home who are working in one capacity or another for the oil sands? Is it possible to engage with a new place without being a tourist? Can I open a conversation with limited personal knowledge of the topic at hand, creating work broadens my own understanding while enabling others to imagine new ways of relating to the environment?

Questions of Sustainability is my response to these, and other questions, that formed far from home. I was interested in several things before I left London to visit Haida Gwaii. What, for instance, did local communities really think about the proposed tanker traffic along their coast? How correct was the media? Over the course of my M.A. in Social Sculpture, I had become increasingly interested in dialogue as an expanded art practice and had committed myself to exploring the transformative potential of questions. In filmmaking one needs to build a story in advance, but in order to document an honest impression of place, I abandoned preconceived ideas and structures and tried to suspend judgment on the people and place and the issues they were facing. I was concerned with facilitating a film that had the potential to touch on sensitive cultural issues in a place where I was practically an outsider, despite it being within my own province.

While in Haida Gwaii, I followed a Skype conference with Enbridge—a press call about an oil spill that had happened only a few days before with one of their pipelines. At the same time, I was looking at their website and press releases saying that the chance of an oil spill with them in Haida Gwaii was next to zero. And then I could see this pristine coastline through the window. I felt like I was in many places at once. I tried to embody that feeling in the film, by editing the audio of the recorded conference call with the visual speed of trees filmed from my passing car. I mixed what could be seen during my own physical journey, with a local face and voice, with what could be seen and heard via media and the Internet. My own feeling of disembodiment was reflected in the connections and disconnections between these juxtaposed sounds and images. I wanted to invent another kind of space, one that gave the viewer room for their own questions. Why this? Why that? I intercut the film with darkness, “spaceless darkness”, allowing for a kind of contemplation for the viewer. In the end, I hope the form and process behind Questions of Sustainability leaves the viewer craving more, compelling them to pursue their own journey of research and questioning after it ends.

This work was first shown at the 10 Afoot Festival of Interdisciplianary Arts-Oxford Brookes University. www.10afoot.org