m a r t e n   b e r k m a n

the ecology of perception

sensibility viiirsviii.html

Remote Sensibility VIII : the ecology of perception         


to our elders

our astronauts

our artists

As I walk outside early in the morning, I see the moon defined as a sharp crescent, and stars still visible through the curtain of atmosphere, peeled back by darkness. Life is stilled in winter’s vacuum of energy, and yet it awaits, fecund, ready to burst forth in spring.

How can we be arguing about whether we need to care for this delicate balance of elements which makes life possible, when every night a curtain lifts to show the beautiful—but mostly uninhabitable—universe around us, replete with forces of mass and energy that make us smaller than mites on a moose? It seems this happens when we are not aware, when the depth of life, and the universe, are beyond our perception, and our hearts.

When the future of the Yukon’s Peel watershed, and of the traditional territories and spectrum of values it cradles was being determined, a story unfolded: there was a safe place created for many voices to be heard, and the many layers of meaning in the land became tangible, loud and clear, like the sky this morning with twinkling light from distant suns.

The Peel Watershed brought us into alignment with the principle championed by Yukon First Nations, “together today for our children tomorrow”. I draw such inspiration from this. The only resilient solutions are inclusive ones, and this inclusivity ensures the wisdom from all perspectives is heard.

Over half of humanity is now urban. Industriousness is an intrinsic part of human nature, to which incredible ingenuity and creativity are applied. Yet industrial culture is now of a scale where our nature orphans us from the rest of nature. Are we starved of the diverse perspectives which ensure an appreciation of the whole? Imagine if the creativity and industriousness that we apply to our widgets and web consciously included the larger living system we are a part of? There is no limit to how well we can live with all of life on earth, when our hearts and awareness are connected to it.

What is essential to opening our hearts to what our manufactured world can isolate and exclude? It seems that inclusivity of perspectives is key, and that includes perspectives which lead us to wonder and beauty. Who unlocks the door for us? In my experience, our elders share the profound perspective through time. Our astronauts have the profound perspectives from space. These are essential medicine for our hubris. And our artists share perspectives from profound sensibility, creating the sensual bridge between the world we create, and the rest of life to which we belong.

In Remote Sensibility VIII, I respond to what the land, and the work of my contributors and collaborators, inspires. inspires. It is as though our works are articulating an essential deepening of how to see, feel, know all of life on earth from the vantage point of our manufactured spaces:


the ecology of our perception.

marten berkman

Earth and moon image courtesy NASA

Descriptions of installations

Water, Earth, Air, Light, Life

2-channel Stereo 3D video projection, surround sound, 2.8m x 5m / 9.2’ x 16.5’ (x2)


The divide between the Peel and Yukon River watersheds, where water begins journeys to the Beaufort and Bering seas. In the folds of the earth, tectonic forms are carved by water and wind, and bathed in subarctic summer light.

In a language spoken in the rivers and folds of these lands for thousands of years, Na-Cho Nyäk Dun elder Jimmy Johnny shares words for water, earth, air, light, life. These words are the human fabric woven into the land.

In the boreal forest, these words are echoed again in several languages from distant parts of the planet. The human journey through these elements is expressed in sculptures by Doug Smarch and Cornelia Osztovits… is this heart of ours connected to the rest of life? In the alpine, people sculpted of wood and clay (Suzanne Paleczny) reflect what some remember: we are made of nature.

And in the world that is our nature to manufacture, is this memory alive?

In words of my own dutch ancestors, whose nature it was to carve land from the sea and energy from the wind: "water, earth, air, light, life; water is the blood of the earth, the air is its breath" echo between glass, traffic, concrete and steel. Elmer Iseler Singers  in the city, and Whitehorse Chamber Choir in the boreal forest, sing these compositions by Barbara Chamberlin: reminding what we come from and are connected to, wherever we are, whatever our nature.

Water, river forms, topography, are transformed into sonic sculpture by voice. Stepping outside of conditioned musical form, our perception is lured outside of our own conditioning. Is this essential to become aware in the paradigm it is our nature to create?

In the forest, a musician (Jordy Walker) picks up wood and makes music. He also finds metals in a salvage yard…whether stone, bone, wood or metal… all of this came from the land. Dancers (Talia Woodland, Karyin Qiu, Grace Simpson-Fowler) pick up this rhythm and bridge the world we come from and the world we create, with the tension and exuberance of this dynamic.

And in the city, where we have almost smothered the land with our nature, the wind blows through trees that have grown up through the concrete, and a dancer (Michelle Olson) reclaims traditional relationship to the land at water’s edge.

At the edge of Yukon River, a beaver at home, swimming in the morning light.

The words the choirs sing are "water, earth, air, light, life; water is the blood of the earth, the air is its breath” in english and in french. 

One of life’s industrious creatures, beaver draws us through its aquatic habitat. We are taken to urban habitat of another industrious species, and meet astronaut Julie Payette. The work of earlier astronauts, and the industrious culture which sent them into space, provides an intimate view of our celestial neighbor, and inspires Julie on her own journey. How uninhabitable the moon is. Yet from orbit, Julie sees it is only the earth’s atmosphere, a very very thin film when seen from space (“thin like the peel of an onion”), that makes life possible on earth. And from a perspective further out in the solar system, we see the earth in true scale to the sun, and learn how small we really are to the colossal forces in the universe. And yet, delicate life captures the sun’s colossal energy, and releases it in the flames that Ross River Drummers are warming their drums with…. the energy in that fire, and almost all energy supporting life on earth, originally came from the sun, either directly, or when captured and transformed through life.

In space, we hear only our own heartbeat, that anomaly of sound which marks the remarkable symphony of symbiotic organs we identify as mammalian life. When we return to earth, entering this thin film of atmosphere, we hear and see Ross River drummers, performing “The Destiny Song”, on the land. This speaks to all our destiny… we all come from, are nourished by, return to… the land. The drummer’s terrestrial theatre includes a mine site, reminding us of where everything we use originally comes from. They finish their song in the city, bridging the places we create with the places we are connected to.

In the city, a musician (Casey Koyczan) appears on a rooftop, and as he prepares to play his song “Sweetgrass”, the city sounds disappear, and are replaced by the sounds of forest, the world supplanted by our manufactured space, the world we are connected to beyond our manufactured space. At water’s edge in the heart of the city, dancer (Michelle Olson) brings our connection to land to life. And visual art of caribou and fish (Joyce Majiski and Meshell Melvin) and fire express the life and energy in the land which sustain us.

The energy of fire and summer dissipate, and winter comes. In the metal salvage yard, all the metal objects we create, scream the impermanence of everything we strive for. And every scrap of metal being crushed to be transformed and re-used, reflects enormous amounts of habitat, water, minerals, energy saved, if they do not need to be extracted from the land. The wood and ceramic sculpture of our nature transforms into a dancer (Machaëla St-Pierre), who sees and reacts to the impermanence of everything we create. The next generation who discovers her (Willow Berkman) clambers on our creations, and jumps into the unknown.

Dissolving space and time, Dhawa Gyanjen Lama Tsumpa brings a song from the Tsum valley in the Nepalese Himalaya to the Yukon mountains. His song is Om Tare Tuttare Ture Soha, an ancient Tibetan Buddhist mantra. This reverent song is about the Green Tara, belonging to nature and the mountain spirit. Reverence is echoed by Jo Tito in her incantation honouring Papatūānuku our earth mother and other atua wāhine (Māori female deities). She sings in Maori, at Waikoropūpū springs in the South Island of New Zealand. This song and this incantation express how connection to the earth knows no boundaries, either in the earth or in ourselves.

Our journey takes us back to the forest. The choirs are singing "water, earth, air, light, life; water is the blood of the earth, the air is its breath” in latin, the ancient root language of many settler languages. The dancer awakens to find herself surrounded by the life she is a part of, supported by art born of traditional and contemporary knowledge. The next generation also finds herself in the forest and dances in response to the life that surrounds her, and from this place runs to the future. The sculpture of the heart focuses on the key… what is the essential key to opening our hearts to the world we are a part of?

On a mountain in the Peel watershed, elder David Suzuki turns from the sky and land, to look at us. Have we heard his words?

and then we return to where watersheds begin, and Jimmy reminds us, “water is the giver of life”


Parallelogram stereo 3D floor projection, 2.1m x 3.8m  / 7’ x 12.4’

Stereo 3D wall projection, approx. 3m x 5m / 9.8’ x 16.4’


Sandra Storey:

"Mother had Alzheimer's" - A Long Goodbye.

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

clay sculptures fired with oxides. (2019)

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);

Beyond these manufactured surfaces, are the water, soil, and life that we come from and return to.


Panoramic photograph, approx. 4m x 18.3m / 60’x13’

Dechenla (“Land Beyond the Sticks”, Yukon/NWT border region)

With quotations from

“Lands of Lost Borders: Out of Bounds on the Silk Road”, Kate Harris, Knopf Canada, 2018