m a r t e n   b e r k m a n

the ecology of perception

sensibility viiirsviii.html

I feel this work must begin with gratitude, and is an expression of gratitude. First to the earth, air, water, light, all essential to life. Then to life itself, and the relationships between all living beings, relationships which are vast exchanges, sacrifices, gifts...  almost all life survives on other life.

Then to the fellow participants in this work. This is a very experimental piece, trusting my intuition to explore new parameters. My deep gratitude to my collaborators, contributors, supporters, for joining me on this adventure. 

As the explorer and writer Kate Harris wrote, “…wasn’t that the most meaningful outcome of any exploration? To reveal the old world – and ourselves - anew?”

Elders, Scientists, Astronauts

Jimmy Johnny

Elder, Na-Cho Nyäk Dun First Nation

When I was invited with other creators to explore tributaries of the Peel since 2003, I had the honour of meeting and travelling with elders of the communities whose traditional territories include this watershed. It was humbling, sobering and inspiring to hear words and stories from generations living intimately with this very water and land. Jimmy Johnny has been a consistent and articulate voice for the Peel watershed through the long journey of land use planning, consultations, public demonstrations and final adoption of the recommended Peel Watershed Land Use Plan, and water has always been his top concern. Water has always struck me as being the blood of the Earth. When I asked Jimmy if he could share words in his Northern Tuchone language for water, earth, air and life, he made sure water was first.

May Hume

Image coming in 2020

Elder, Kwanlin Dun First Nation

It was when I was filming habitat at Annie Lake that Janet Hume stopped by and asked “do you like moose meat?”. And so began meeting her family and joining them for delicacies of moose tongue and tripe. It was the first time I met her mother May Hume, who was brought up on the land with the skills and stories of her ancestors. May inspires me with her light heartedness and resilience in her 92 years. The stories she shares evoke vivid pictures of time and places she and her people have journeyed through. Janet asked if I could record May’s stories, for her children, and to be archived for all people and future generations. This is a profound honour, as is the opportunity to share the words May has kindly contributed to Remote Sensibility: the ecology of perception. When I asked her if she would like to share the words for water, earth, air, light and life in her languages for this project, she also shared traditional knowledge about respecting and caring for the land. This knowledge, born of eons in intimate relationship with the land, strikes me as the wisdom which is essential medicine in our age of hubris.

David Suzuki

Elder, genetic scientist and conservationist

In Canada, David needs no introduction. I grew up with the Nature of Things on CBC television, where David fanned the fire of curiousity, wonder, with questions and answers about the world which was my playground. What a surprise and delight when many years later, he and his family house sat for us when they needed a place to stay enroute to a river trip in the Yukon’s Peel watershed! And a couple years later, I was invited to join his family with my friend and guide Jill Pangman on the Hart River. We spent two weeks journeying through and talking about the land and our relationship with it. David’s insights are expressed though many scenes in Remote Sensibility  VIII. While we were paddling he also suggested I contact astronaut Julie Payette. 

Julie Payette


Now Governor-General of Canada, when I interviewed Julie Payette in 2016, she was director of Montreal Science Centre. A person of incredible talent, knowledge, intelligence, and ambition, it was a privilege to converse with her about the vantage point she gained from space. Like another lens on the Earth, to compliment the lens born of eons living in close relationship with the land, her vantage point was the fruit of the pinnacle of our industrious nature. Our curiosity, creativity in problem solving, incredible cumulative and collective skills and knowledge, made it possible for the seemingly impossible: for organic beings to float beyond the Earth’s life-sustaining envelope, and gaze back on where we are from. Like the view of earth from the Apollo mission that inspired  her career, her vantage point from the International Space Station provided a view of Earth that made it impossible to take this planet for granted. With the pragmatism of an engineer and a scientist, she could see that this thin, thin film of atmosphere enveloping the planet “like the peel of an onion”, was what made life possible on Earth.  The vigour she and her colleagues applied to the ISS’s life support systems, is an essential responsibility of all inhabitants of spaceship Earth.


Doug Smarch

Sculpture: “Into the Forest”
Site installation, Yukon Arts Centre grounds, 2000

Since first seeing his new media works, to discovering his sculpture in the forest, Doug’s work has spoken directly to me about the land. His sculpture  inspires me as a tangible interface between our inner and outer worlds. The theme of these sculptures, located in the forest near Yukon Arts Centre, strike me as a metaphor for our collective journey, as our old paradigms shift for what we are aching to become.

Suzanne Paleczny

Sculpture: Human / Nature, driftwood and ceramic, 2017

Suzanne’s Human / Nature series thrills me in acknowledging the level where we struggle and ache to grow: our own nature… the place where we need to cast a deep and honest gaze.  Her sculpture made of materials shaped by the natural world, with our faces and hands in clay, use scale to impart powerful presence of our nature in any environment. What a delight to bring this presence, albeit virtually, into both wild and urban spaces, like our natural avatar exploring our own being.

In Suzanne’s words:
Walking along the shores of Sucker Bay, I saw in the piles of driftwood, reflections of our own anatomy mirrored in the wood. My work Human/Nature contemplates our shared place on this earth….have we forgotten that we are nature too?"

Cornelia Osztovits


ace in the Heartfield,  mixed media ink print on wood (2005); 

sacred Boundaries, mixed media ink print on wood (2005); 

navel as centre of creation – Life Line, mixed media (2002); 

Locket of Love – the key is within, mixed media (2005)

In Remote Sensibility, I feel the heart is essential to understanding and acknowledging  our relationship with all of life… that mysterious vessel of knowing which is not heeded enough. What a gift to discover that next door, Cornelia has created these complex and sensitive depictions of the heart… a fitting expression for the journey into Remote Sensibility. And that one of the pieces is of a key … to the heart, is exactly what this project explores. What is the key to our hearts, to open our sensibility to what we are actually connected to?

Joyce Majiski

(composited with Michelle Olson and Casey Koyczan)

Monoprints, mixed media (including drawing and painting): Into the Blue; Land Shadows; Traces Left Behind, and others

Whether she is wilderness guiding or creating art about the land, I have witnessed Joyce’s passion first hand for almost thirty years. Trained as a scientist, I am so grateful she also fulfilled her calling as an artist… the very lines she renders on paper, wood, stone, are like song lines of the earth. My eyes course over lines she draws, as they do over the lines born of life in the world. But they seem to belie the contours of an inner map, our inner geography, that is connected to all life. 

Sandra Storey

gallery photo by Mark Kelly
"Mother had Alzheimer's" - A Long Goodbye.

“I am a mountain, I shimmer in the lake below me.”

clay sculptures fired with oxides. (2019)

I became familiar with Sandra’s work through the Yukon Artists @ Work gallery co-operative where we are both members. Her work has always struck me for its acute expression of the natural world, interpreted by feeling, and turned into form. When I saw “I am a mountain…” inspired by the mountains around Carcross, I saw a powerful and important maternal figure representing and reminding us to be present and conscious of the land. In her series inspired by her mother’s end of life journey through Alzheimer’s, I see the circle of our life cycle that we all participate in, whether we are conscious of it or not: we all come from the earth, and return to it. I also see the dissolving of our duality with the land, the lifting of our conditioning to see the foundation of our reality. While recounting the tragic journey of Alzheimers that many elders including my own mother suffered from, she expresses this with profound tenderness and grace. Let us be this tender and graceful with each other, that our hearts can be open to the relationship we all share… with each other and all life on the earth.

Meshell Melvin

(composited with monoprints by Joyce Majiski)

Visual art: Invocation to the Chinook of Chu Niikwan, textile and embroidery installation (2019)

Water, which I see as “the blood of the earth”, is an important part of RSVIII. When I saw Meshell’s installation, I had to ask if she would like to participate. The body of the school of fish, their relationship in three dimensional space that she so carefully created, are full of the flow, and fecundity, of aquatic life. And bringing attention to each fish, we find complexity and beauty down to the smallest parts. What a reflection of the life supported by waters, which in turn supports us.

In Meshell’s words:
This instillation of miniatures is an invocation to the Chinook of Chu Niikwan (Yukon River); to return to the waters of their birth. Their population once so very plentiful has fallen drastically. Despite fishing restrictions, and the efforts and sacrifices of our First Nation peoples, the numbers have failed to recover. There are 183, recorded spawning sites throughout the Yukon watershed. Each of these sites is represented here with a mating pair. Dozens more of the bravest, of the strongest swimmers, are sharing in this run. May their journey guide the Chinook home.

Brian Ladue and Ross River Drummers (with Robby Dick and Josh Barichello)

Music and song: The Destiny Song

When I first worked with Ross River Drummers in the 90’s, and specifically with Brian when he and others performed at the Winter Olympics in 2010, I was always struck how this powerful music is like a heartbeat for the Earth. It is an honour and a privilege to include Brian and his companions Robby Dick and Josh Baricello. Brian has described the music as healing for his community. May this be medicine for everyone.

Jordy Walker

Music: boreal forest and scrap metal improvised percussion (2019)

Since I first saw Jordy perform percussion outdoors with found objects perhaps twenty years ago, I have wanted to collaborate… where music is made from the materials that we and the rest of life create. What a pleasure to embark together in pure experimentation sonically and visually… and reflecting the spectrum of our nature in the process. 

Casey Koyczan

(composited with Michelle Olson performance and monoprints by Joyce Majiski)

Music: Sweetgrass (2016) Indigenous Instrumental

I discovered Casey and his music when I was asked to create visuals for the From the North concert tour. I love the sonic journey of Sweetgrass, where sound carves lines and textures like the land. The land cradles energy, and life, and supports us... the land is raw and vast, yet fragile and complex. This is what I feel in this music and I am grateful Casey has shared it here. 

In Casey’s words:
Sweetgrass is something that's been around for my entire life. I remember smudging when I was a kid and growing up; my father letting me know that it is used to cleanse the body, mind, and soul in order to surround myself with healthy energy throughout the year. As I got older I started smudging more often, and began being gifted with sweetgrass from all over Canada on my visits; from friends, family, and loved ones.

This song is meant to be an appreciation for sweetgrass and the practice of smudging; the health benefits of it and the energy that surrounds it. I wanted to create a composition that was uplifting, energetic, and engaging in order to communicate how it makes me feel. It is also meant to remember and respect our elders and those that have passed on; that their journey is filled with peace and euphoria.

Jo Tito

Karakia (incantation)

3D videography also by Jo.

I met Jo at ISEA (International Symposium for Electronic Arts) in 2015, and was deeply moved by a Maori waiata (song) she sang about water: “Ko Wai Au?” (Who Am I?). Her vision is to inspire, uplift and heal through creativity and the natural world. It has been fascinating and exciting to collaborate across the globe, letting art dissolve the physical distance between us. As she shares the meanings of Maori words with me, I am awed by the breadth of perception they reflect. And that is where Remote Sensibility’s aspiration lies… to have a deeper perception from the manufactured spaces it is our nature to create, and to cultivate the language to express it.

Jo filmed the sacred springs and forest depicted behind her words. These are Waikoropūpū springs in the South Island of New Zealand. They are the largest fresh water springs in Aotearoa and contain some of the clearest water in the world.

In Jo’s words:
The incantation generally (because Māori is not a word for word translation) is honouring Papatūānuku our earth mother and other atua wāhine (Māori female deities) that are important to us. It speaks of our mortality that came about through Hinenuitepō the goddess of the night / death. But also about life through the female element and the weaving together of people and place.

Our word for water is WAI
WAI is such a beautiful word as it contains many things. It is the essence of life.
When we say Ko WAI au? We are asking, who am I? Central to that is WAI - water, the essence of life. Without it, we will not exist.
WAI - also contains the word WĀ - time, space - WĀ I - is present time and space.

Our ancestors were so amazing. When I listen to our language, all words and sounds connect back to nature. Every word tells a story.
Often there is never a direct english translation.

Māori words
for water, air, light, earth, life. All of these words in Māori are stories in themselves.

WAI - water, present time, space Ko wai au? Who am I?
HAU - air, also our word for breath, the breath of life, the vital essence of a person
EARTH - Papaūānuku is our earth mother. We also use the word WHENUA for land which is also our word for placenta, makes perfect sense doesn't it. That which nurtures a baby inside a mother's womb is also the land which nurtures us :)
TE AO MĀRAMA - light - also a state of understanding. When we say we've come into te ao mārama, we have come into the light or into a space of understanding. When Rangi and Papa - skyfather and earth mother were still in their embrace, then they were separated, we say that they came into the world of light including their children and all of us that exist today.
MAURI / MOURI - we have many words for life. These words talk about the life essence, that energy which exists, the unseen energy of life.

And of course all of these are connected through our language, through nature, through life.

Dhawa Gyanjen Lama Tsumpa

Om Tare Tuttare Ture Soha
Dhawa describes this song as the Green Tārā, one of 21 Tārās in Tibetan Buddhism.  Tārā is regarded as a bodhisattva of compassion and action. Dhawa describes the Green Tārā as belonging to nature and the mountain spirit. 

I was very moved by this gentle and reverent song Dhawa sang on the land, in mist and gently falling snow, that seemed to dissolve the space between the Yukon mountains and his home in the Himalayas on the other side of the planet. It is testament to how compassion and reverence know no borders, nor does the planet, or our connection with it. 

While he sings in the Yukon mountains, two images appear from the Himalaya: Dhawa’s home, the Tsum Valley in Nepal, generously filmed in 3D by Jill Pangman.

Lydia Adams and Elmer Iseler Singers

Choral performance:
Remote Sensibility: the ecology of perception
Part 1,2,3,4,5

I think it was 1982, when  I heard Elmer Iseler Singers perform Murray Shaeffer’s Epitaph for Moonlight on CBC’s Two New Hours.  I was transformed by a musical form which stepped outside of my musical conditioning. To my profound surprise and delight, EIS performed the same, live, at Yukon Arts Center with its opening in 1992. When EIS returned to YAC for its 25th anniversary, I had to share that story with Jessie Iseler. I spoke to her about my current project, and how I would love to create a piece inspired by the land while challenging our current paradigm. Her enthusiasm was immediate, and she and Lydia have been champions of the collaboration that has led to the work in RS VIII.

Barbara Chamberlin and Whitehorse Chamber Choir

Choral composition by Barbara Chamberlin and marten berkman, conducted by Barbara Chamberlin, performed by Whitehorse Chamber Choir:
Remote Sensibility: the ecology of perception
Part 1,2,3,4,5

Members of the Whitehorse Community Choir performed my first compositions of sound design for voice for my film Cascade of Light in 2007. When Jessie Iseler and Lydia Adams described their working relationship with Barb Chamberlin and the Whitehorse Chamber Choir, I asked Barb whether she would be interested in composing and arranging the choral pieces for RSVIII. I have known Barb and profoundly enjoyed her music since 1991, and have been amazed at her diverse musical skill set and hard work. Barb has been keen to participate in what has been a challenging (create compositions to be performed in synchrony by two choirs located 5000 km apart) and rewarding compositional journey, where some of the materials I provided for inspiration were drawings of Yukon river forms and topographical lines to be translated directly into voice. The two choirs perform in their respective locations to reflect how our nature is found in the heart of the boreal/subarctic/natural and in the heart of our urban/manufactured spaces. Barb and WCC, and Lydia and EIS, have helped me realise a sonic dream.

The ecology of perception, parts 1-5:

#1 breath
#2 voice as sonic sculpture for wind, water, river forms, topography

“water, earth, air, light, life; water is the blood of the earth; the air is its breath”, sung in:

#3 english, french
#4 dutch
#5 latin

In Barb’s words:
The Ecology of Perception has been a pleasure to write. It was also a challenge to combine all of the influences from Marten to what I wanted to do artistically. The artwork that went in to doing parts 1 and 2 was probably the most challenge for me. It was also fun to widen my composition chops and have some influences that I hadn’t been around since my college days. I’ve always loved experimental music, but there is rarely a chance to showcase it. Marten had some great ideas and music to listen to to get a feel for what he wanted. I really love some of it and to make my own version of it was an extension of what I want to do with choral music in the future. 

The Whitehorse Chamber Choir is a choir that loves challenges. They were brave to take this on and they did a great job! They have put extra time in to learn them and spent a few nights in Old Crow Studios getting them down. It’s a challenge to have 17 pairs of headphones and 8 mics strung around the room for people of different heights and comfort levels with the whole procedure. They stuck it out and I’m so proud of what we have all created!

Michelle Olson

Dance: Frost

Since I first saw Michelle’s choreography, I felt the land through the incredible sensitivity in her work. She bridges the depth of traditional relationship with the land to our contemporary vocabulary of movement. I have wanted to collaborate with her for years, and we had the first chance to work together recently in Gwandaak Theatre’s collaborative work “Map of the Land, Map of the Stars”. What a delight to collaborate here, where her sensitivity brings the land back to where it can be forgotten…into the heart of manufactured spaces.

Talia Woodland, Grace Simpson-Fowler, Karyin Qiu

(with Jordy Walker)

Dance: hip hop
Choreography has always struck me as a powerful vocabulary for the ineffable. I first explored incorporating this medium in 2007, to reflect the inner journey of a paddle down the Firth River in the film Cascade of Light. I felt it was essential to RSVIII, and worked with Talia, Grace and Karyin in 2015. What amazing dancers. It is uncanny how this works with Jordy’s percussion created four years later in the same locations. 

Michaëla St-Pierre, Ben Robinson, Val Herdes, Grace Simpson-Fowler, of Borealis Soul

(Micha improv at Salé Salvage)

(Micha improv with “Into the Forest” by Doug Smarch)

Micha: dance improvisation
Micha, Ben, Val, Grace: dance excerpt from “Wake” - image coming in 2020

When dance is about the land, I feel the ideal place to see it performed… is on the land. Hence why I am inspired to bring dancers in the land virtually into the exhibition space. My first chance to work with Micha was when Nicole Edwards asked me to collaborate with her and Micha in creating the music video for her song “Can You See the Beauty”… out on the land. 

When Borealis Soul were preparing for their performance of “Wake”, I had a chance to join them and capture their intense work in the water of the Yukon River. “Wake” resonates profoundly with Remote Sensibility. As the dancers describe the work: “…it is dangerous to play God in a world that owns us”. 

Kate Harris

gallery photo by Mark Kelly

Writer: excerpts from “Lands of Lost Borders”

I first met Kate when she and her partner visited my 3D installation at the Atlin Arts Festival artist residency. Oh my, what a delight to share with Kate and her family, they were keen and curious and enchanted, the very winds that fill my own sails.  When Kate’s book came out, she gave us the pleasure of being able to enter her world, see life through her eyes and heart. Hah! What resonance found in her explorer’s vantage points, whether the Tibetan Plateau, the tomes of other explorers, or her own inner geography. I could include her as one of the “astronauts” in this piece, she gazes on the earth without a shred of complacency, but brimming with joy, reverence and wonder… life manifesting life.

Willow Berkman

(with “Locket of Love – the key is within” by Cornelia Osztovits)

Dance, performance, digital compositing

My daughter Willow, like her older sister Sya, has always been keen and generous to participate in creations. What a gift to receive! Willow’s natural talent for dance, drawing and digital imaging skills were applied in several scenes of EOP.

Jayden Soroka

Image coming in 2020

3D VR filming, editing, compositing

Jayden has captured VR on the Snake River in the Peel watershed, and provided expertise and equipment for my VR filming of Jordy and his performing environment. Digital animator/artist/film maker extraordinaire, Jayden is a comrade in exercising the tremendous creative plasticity of the digital medium. We are working on a 3D VR component of RSVIII EOP. 

Baptiste Bohelay

Image coming in 2020

Interactive design

Stereo imagery is a powerful medium for the sense of presence I wish to share. However I have yearned to transcend the passive nature of appreciating this work by incorporating interactivity. What good fortune to meet Baptiste from France, who happened to be living in a cabin a twenty minute ski from our home. Baptiste is an artist, a playful experimenter, and very conversant with coding. Since we first collaborated in 2014, his work has made my interactive pieces possible.

Mitali Nath, Casey Fernandes (India), Gwen Van Riel (Netherlands), Francoise LaRoche (Yukon), Jaap Verhoeven (Canada/Netherlands) and Jimmy, May, Dhawa, Jo, Baptiste mentioned above


My friends near and far who have shared translation for water, earth, air, light and life. Sharing these words, in the beautiful sounds of many languages, strikes me as essential acknowledgement and mindfulness of them. In the process, I have learned of the multiple meanings these words have in different languages, meanings which reflect the diverse and deep perspectives of different cultures, all reflecting inseparable relationship between life and the earth.

Gratitude and Acknowledgements of Support

Gratitude to peoples of the Vuntut Gwich’in, Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in, Na-Cho Nyäk Dun, Ross River Dene, Carcross Tagish, Selkirk, Little Salmon-Carmacks, White River, Kluane, Champagne, Aishihik, Kwanlin Dun and Liard First Nations, Tetlit Gwich’in, Teslin Tlingit and Ta'an Kwach'an Councils, Kaska Dena and Inuvialuit, on whose traditional territories I live, explore and am inspired.
The Kwanlin Dün First Nation and Ta’an Kwächän Council, on whose traditional territory, Remote Sensibility VIII is presented for the first time in the Yukon Arts Centre Gallery.

Gratitude to the Musqueum, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations on whose unceded and ancestral territories Michelle performed “Frost”.

Plug In Institute of Contemporary Art in Winnipeg, for hosting filming of Casey on the roof top. Included in the location and filming is the installation piece by Dan Graham, Performance Café with Perforated Sides (2010); steel, mirror and glass. Gratitude to Dan. And gratitude to Anishinaabeg, Cree, Dakota, Dene, Métis, and Oji-Cree Nations, on whose traditional territories the institute is located.

Mary Bradshaw for inviting me to present this work, Michel Gignac, Mike Thomas, and all the staff at Yukon Arts Centre for helping with its presentation.

Bob Hamilton (Old Crow Recording, Yukon) and Robert DiVito (Society of Sound, Ontario) for choral recording. Matthew Lien for consultation on binaural and multichannel choral recording.

EastPorters for audio visual consulting and equipment.

TPH Vancouver for panorama printing.

Air North, for supporting the unforeseen expense of shipping prints from 1600 km away!

Wayne Salé, for unhesitating generosity in letting me photograph and film in his metal salvage facility. 

Francoise LaRoche for latin translations.

My late parents John and Anneke Berkman, who sowed the seeds of a life long connection to the land, and my late uncle and visual artist Henk Berkman who sowed the seeds of art,

Jimmy Johnny, May Hume, Elizabeth Hansen, Joanne Snowshoe, Robert Alexie Sr., Julie Payette, David Suzuki, Kim Hudson, the late Neil Colin, Juri Peepre, John Lammers, John Witham, who generously shared their time, their stories, and their wisdom,

Jill Pangman for the endless generous support to so many who have travelled so deep in the land thanks to her knowledge, skill, and passion… and especially for her patience with me when I disappear into the hills overnight… “following the light”…  and both Jill and Bruce McLean for helping with install!

Corinna Cook for great discussion, bio writing and shining light on the “understory” of my ideas. www.corinnacook.com

Troy Suzuki for sharing his humour, insights, paddling skills and patience with my filming as we paddled down the Blackstone River.

Remy Rodden, for such generosity in helping with art install… from helping us build horse fences, to art installations, to writing and performing songs to save the planet, Remy is a generous soul who just makes the planet a better place.

Dechenla Lodge for generously hosting artist retreat.

Vivian Belik and Max Fraser who believe in this work and have helped fill the sails for the cinema component of RSVIII.

Sandy Lamalle and Peter Stoett for their scholarly interest and support, doing the critical academic work in fostering multidisciplinary and cross cultural understanding of the land and our relationship with it.

David and Claire Staniforth for hosting me in the heart of Toronto, and providing an intimate perspective on the heart of our urban life.

Greg Van Riel for location advice and spontaneous enthusiasm in filming a scene in Toronto.

Stu and Chris Withers, Karen Baxter, Richard Mueller and Laura Wiebe for helping me paddle and film beaver habitat, above and below water.

My wife Jennifer, and daughters Sya and Willow, without whose patience, love, support, collaboration, and all the time together on the land and water, my creative work would not be possible. And Willow also, for acting, dancing, and doing digital work for this piece!

And for the financial support essential to making this creation possible:

Yukon Film Society, through support from Canada Council, for commissioning “Hart to Heart”, a stereo 3D installation created in 2015, which was the first wheel set in motion to realise RSVIII. 

Yukon Advanced Artist Award 

Yukon Culture Quest

Canada Council

Outcome Consulting

Air North - for generously helping with unforeseen shipping required in final days of the project!

marten berkman 2019