This is not a judgement of these processes. Mining is as natural to us as our Neolithic chipping tools from stone. However it is a reflection of the true weight of all materials around us in our manufactured world. What other “truths” lie invisibly in the land?

A set of stairs takes us to a vantage point for a different sort of vista. Using anaglyph stereo photography, the illusion is created of looking through the surface of the manufactured floor, to a collage on the boreal ground underneath it. Caribou antlers are intertwined with an industrial artifact, a reflection how below the surface of our manufactured world, our industrial nature is inextricably intertwined with other life.

Another panel is a heap of compressed scrap metal, the summary statement of impermanence of all things we create. How does the short lifespan of the objects we create and consume compare to the lifespan of our impact on the land?

The final stereo print creates the illusion of looking through the floor at a pregnant woman lying on the ground in the northern boreal forest. The irrefutable and delicate fecundity of the earth, ever more remote and invisible to us from the vantage point of our manufactured spaces.

True North, or Untrue North?

I am very grateful for the support offered by the Canada Council for the Arts and the Yukon Advanced Artists Award.


m a r t e n   b e r k m a n

the ecology of perception


Walk through of print component of installation “Remote Sensibility VI”. Stereo 3D options available after play started.

Duo Lakes, Snake River, Peel Watershed, Yukon. Cross view stereo photograph

Remote Sensibility VI: “Untrue North”

(Piles of Trees/Overburden/Pile of Stones )

Installation featured in:

Untrue North (YAC),

Cascadia (REACH gallery)

“The idea of “the great white north” has long shaped Canadian identity. And one thing contemporary art in our nation has often helpfully done is to identify this (among other issues) as problematic. Now, “Untrue North” at the Yukon Arts Centre gathers works by nine Canadian artists in order to ask whether the north can ever be fully represented in art.

In a catalog essay, the curator of the show, Toronto’s Earl Miller, argues that the image of Canada’s north as a pure, unspoiled Eden is a fiction both old and new, seen in Group of Seven paintings and current Yukon tourism ads alike.”

  1. -Mariam Nader, Canadian Art

As an artist living in the north, the first inspiration for my work has been the reality of my own experience of this place. This includes the physical relationship of my industrial culture with the land, in the energy and materials we use. It is also our emotive and spiritual relationship with what may be described as “nature”.

Neither romance or fiction, the minimal human footprint on much of the land here reflects the state of the world most of our ancestors knew: huge interconnected vibrant living communities, shaped by the larger theatre of geology, geomorphology and climate. While these are our roots, contemporary human nature is largely defined by the world we manufacture.

But human consciousness occupies both the “natural” and the “manufactured”. And the land becomes a theatre where many world views overlap. The “truths” of the land are as diverse as we are. The conflicts this has led to are as ancient and typical as the legacies of migration, territorial conflict, colonialism. I am interested in the parallel “realities” today, world views which lead to prejudice, discrimination, conflict, suffering. It begs me to investigate our perception of remote geographies, consciousness of invisible relationships, and selective perception to maintain our world views.

What do we select or avoid, to maintain our idea of truth? Is truth as concrete, and limited, as the wavelengths we monitor in remote sensing? Is the truth somewhere to be found between the hands, the head, and the heart? What is the “truth” of the north?

Gandhi, Martin Luther King and many others have explored “truth” in their life experiences, challenging our conditioned views of the world to arrive at a deeper understanding for humanity. They challenged the inequalities they saw, until they became self-evident.

How does truth hold up in the north?

Here, the land is the stage for the many versions of “truth”. This land is the source of raw materials for the global economy. Its biological and ecological qualities are the foundation for life itself, and subsidiary subsistence and sustainable economic activities, as well as being the vessel for social, cultural and spiritual values.  But, like the vision conditioned by private interests now unravelling Canadian environmental science and law, “truth” in the north appears to be a malleable commodity.

The Umbrella Final Agreement signed between Yukon First Nations and Government of Yukon acknowledges that there is a spectrum of values in the land, requiring land use planning in all Yukon regions. The Peel Watershed in central eastern Yukon has been under a land use planning process that started in 2004. After years of extensive research and consultation with First Nations, industries, scientists, economists, the general public, a plan was released in 2011 calling for 55% permanent protection, 20% wilderness open to review, and 20% open to development.

First Nations desire 100% protection, but compromised to find middle ground and agreed to leaving 20% open to development. The general public, scientists and sustainable industry groups in wilderness tourism and outfitting all overwhelmingly support the plan arrived at by the Peel Planning Commission. Victoria Gold Corp, which has entered into a benefit sharing agreement with Na Cho Nyak Dunn (one of the four First Nations involved in the planning process) on gold properties outside the watershed, respects the desires of the First Nation and will not pursue exploration activities within the planning region.

However the Government of Yukon in office at that time rejected the plan. Stating it will bankrupt the territory, it created its own plan to allow access to mining claims and mining development in the watershed. Though the government had the option to put a moratorium on staking during the planning process, it chose not to, and 6773 mining claims were staked after the land use planning process started.

It struck me how the government’s compromising a spectrum of values in the land for the sake of an industry group was profound and systemic discrimination. A spectrum of values are subordinate to one value set. The title of Earl’s exhibit “Untrue North” rang especially true: A northern reality is literally manufactured, at odds with the values and relationships that exist.

Curator Earl Miller was attracted to include my work because of the completely virtual representation of nature through stereoscopy…from digital anaglyph photography to stereoscopic 3D video installation. All art is in a sense artifice, a cultural creation, and by its nature subjective. Can an artist use such a subjective medium to distill our own perception, that we might discover our own “true north”?

My work plays with the layers of “truth” in our understanding of the land and our relationship with it. Stereoscopic vision provides us an almost tactile window into this landscape far beyond the manufactured walls of the gallery. Stereoscopic imaging also layers the many values and meanings of the landscape, from the quantifiable to the sublime.

Stereo 3D transparencies provide a window into the “beauty” and “wilderness” of the Peel watershed, the same watershed targeted for mineral, oil and gas exploration. An gram of gold reflects one of the commodities sought in this boreal landscape. Beneath the gold, a 7x7’ digital anaglyph stereoscopic 3D parallelogram floor print of a pile of rock depicts roughly one ton of ore, from which a gram of gold can be produced using the cyanide heap leach process. Either full screen projection or in a stereo viewer using an ipod screen, the stereo 3D video installation “Overburden / Piles of Trees” depicts boreal forest in many seasons, and its systemic removal and incineration for industrial purposes. This is the reality of a truth invisible to most of us, the piles of rocks and trees behind all the minerals and materials in our lives, from stocks in our investment portfolio, to jewelry, to contacts on the circuits of our digital devices.

Remote Sensibility VI at Yukon Arts Center 
(in Stereo 3D)
Remote Sensibility at IPY Montreal 2012
S3D video installation “Piles of Trees/Overburden”

Cross view still from S3D video installation “Piles of Trees/Overburden”

For a background to Remote Sensibility, visit herersbkgnd.htmlrsbkgnd.htmlshapeimage_14_link_0
sensibility vrs_v.html
remote sensibility ivrs_iv.html
remote sensibility iiirs_iii.html
remote sensibility iirs_ii.html
remote sensibility irs_i.html
apostrophes in timeapostrophes.html
trompe d’oeiltrompe.html
cascade of lightcascade.html
silence in the sea of cortezcortez.html
dancing shadowsafrica.html
chasms of silencechasms.html
two extremesextremes.html
early workearly_work.html
sensibility vi
chasms of silence/abîmes de silenceabimes.html
the easel/le chevaleteasel.html
projection intérieure projectionpip.html
murs intérieursmurs.html
Hart to Heart:
Erratic Silencees.html
remote sensibility viirsvii.html
sensibility viiirsviii.html