Kristen Hutchinson, Prairie Landscape (Alberta), circa 1994. Photo.
Photo Courtesy of the artist.
It took me a really long time to truly appreciate the beauty of the prairies. The low horizon line, the big sky, the seemingly endless flat land. But now whenever I go on a road trip through that prairie flatness, I feel a sense of awe at the majesty of its seeming simplicity.
Unlike the Rocky Mountains that leave you thunderstruck by their sheer monumentality or the thrill of seeing orcas cavorting in the Active Pass between BC’s Mayne and Galiano Islands, the prairies ask you to take time to consider where the beauty lies. For someone who grew up in the rolling hills of rural Quebec (they do call them mountains but after living in BC and Alberta for so long I have a hard time calling them that anymore), the flatness of the prairies was unsettling to me when I first moved to Edmonton. And to be honest, I found the prairie landscape to be kind of boring. (Insert a “How dare you!” gasp from prairie dwellers here)
I was scouring my old photograph albums to see if I could find a photo of the prairies from my first ever road trip in Alberta. I think it was 1994 and I had been living in Vancouver for only a year at that point. While I had numerous photos of the Rockies and the Badlands from that trip, I had only one photograph of the prairie fields. Did I think at the time that this land was not worthy of photographing? Or was this just the only image I decided to keep? I had travelled across the prairies only once before on a cross Canada train from Montreal to Vancouver and I remember thinking, “When will this flatness end?”
We boarded the rented school bus that left from the extra old school motel in Nanton, Alberta to head to the Coutts Centre for Western Heritage,1about a 15 minute drive outside of town. My close friends and I sat at the back of the bus, like high school rebels. On this short drive to the location of the Alberta Media Arts Alliance Society (AMAAS) On Sound Media Arts Conference,2I was struck by how much I have come to love these prairie vistas. The greens and yellows of the never ending fields, the meandering horses and cows, spotting a large grouping of bee hive boxes, and most striking, the constantly shifting clouds in the overly large sky.
The Coutts Centre in itself is a stunning and special place, a garden oasis in the middle of wheat fields, with small farm buildings transformed into spaces for discussion, art making, and contemplation. Typically held in beautiful places throughout Alberta, AMAAS conferences have always been my favourite. Going to an AMAAS conference always feels like a joyous reunion of like-minded artists and a chance to meet incredible people I don't yet know. In my experience, Alberta media artists are a fun, kind, generous, and friendly people. (Maybe this is true of many media artists since we frequently need to work together to bring our projects to fruition.) However, there was something especially magical about this weekend nestled in a treed large garden amidst the prairie fields. We certainly had lots of first-hand experience of seeing storm clouds roll towards us from a distance across that huge expanse of sky. I found myself reflecting on the land that surrounded us, appreciating the individual splendors of the prairies, and thinking about the resilience of the indigenous peoples and settlers who have lived on this land.
The authors in this issue examine the importance of place and how it intersects with creativity. Having lived in Edmonton for 11 years now, I am often struck by the distinct, DIY, collaborative, “yes, we can do that” attitude of Edmonton’s artistic communities. I think it has to do with isolation. We are, from my perspective, far removed from other large cities and we thus need to rely on ourselves and each other to get things done. “Well if no one is going to do it for us, let’s do it for ourselves,” we say. Maybe that is a prairie trait?
One day my art partner and I were running errands in Edmonton for fast & dirty, our artist and curatorial collective. I said as we drove down a hill towards the river valley, “Wow, look at those trees in the light!” The trees were bare and it was, what is referred to here, as the golden hour. The time shortly before sunset where, on a good day, everything is bathed in an amazing glow. It is a particular kind of light that I have never seen anywhere else. She agreed and then we both laughed at how we were finding beauty in things we wouldn't even have noticed when living in BC. Maybe that is why the prairies foster such amazing creativity and lovely media artists. In the vastness of the prairie landscape, we come to notice the beauty of small things.
Issue 017 Header Image: Sandi Tan, Shirkers, 2018. Still. Courtesy of Netflix.