From The Tyee, 23 Jan 2014
By Andrew Nikiforuk
|Image Source: Kate Warren, The Tyee|
Reviewers alternatively call the Washington, D.C. exhibit dystopian, eerily beautiful, or a "nightmarish manifestation" of environmental ruin.
Others are awed by a giant (40-feet by 40-ft. by 30-ft.) sculpture that hangs over the rink. Composed of a riot of suspended trees, oil field junk, tar paper and black birds, it resembles some strange, Harry Potter-like hallucination.
Winnipeg-born sculptor Mia Feuer [from Winnipeg's North End] calls her bitumen-inspired creation "An Unkindness," after a gathering of ravens. She says that artists have a duty to respond and reflect upon the times we live in.
"We just can't all be making beautiful things," Feuer says.
[Feuer toured some of the tarsands in Alberta in preparation for her exhibit.] During her tour, Feuer got a glimpse of so-called reclaimed sites.
After digging up low-lying peat lands, fens and rivers to mine bitumen, industry replaces complex boreal landscapes with artificial, man-made hills made with layers of mining waste, including petroleum coke and salt-laden sands.
The process also includes dumping toxic mining waste into pits and then capping the pits with freshwater: an untested form of reclamation.
Because peatlands, which occupy 65 per cent of the mineable area, take 10,000 years to make, there is no requirement for industry to restore them. Nor is there any legal requirement to replace wetlands with wetlands, as most industrial nations now mandate, because of the high cost to industry -- up to $12 billion.
After building sandy uplands, industry then attempts to grow salt-tolerant plants on engineered soils. Scientists calculate that it may take 200 years to determine if the man-made sculptures can survive droughts, forest fires, erosion, insects, pathogens, or bitumen pollutants.
The reclamation sites gobsmacked Feuer. "I stood in a land that was once boreal forest, that was now a bunch of toxic wheat grown in toxic earth," she says.
The wheat, an attempt to build some vegetation cover, invited a mice plague. One company, in turn, sought to control the rodent epidemic by planting trees upside down, with their roots sticking in the air. The trees gave mice-hunting ravens a place to perch. (Since 1977, industry has blamed meadow voles and deer mice for slowing reclamation efforts.)
It all looked like some "twisted-demented nursery rhyme," says Feuer. And it inspired a huge sculpture that now greets visitors at [the exhibit in Washington DC].
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-Submitted by Kathleen