Saturday, May 19, 2012

Unknown, Known, Forgotten and Wall.e

During my fourth year at UW, I participated in a senior honours project that focused on aspects of the Alberta Oil Sands. I wrote a paper and did my research project about microbial degradation of the reclamation ponds. With 2 semesters of work, little was actually accomplished. But, I'll never forget about the process of oil sands extraction and the implications about the process.

Several years later, I saw a coffee table book at Indigo of a massive oil field and was drawn to the sheer scale of the photograph. I flipped through the pages and saw things that most people probably don't even think about: the actual "mining" of our intermediate goods. The book was the work of Edward Burtynsky on Oil.

(at the time, he also had the same exhibit on, at the Royal Ontario Museum)

Mr. Burtynsky is a Canadian photographer who's chosen (or maybe drawn to) waste and contemporary landscape as his primary subjects. In an interview (which actually inspired me to look further into this photographer), he talks about a "critical balance" between humans and our planet Earth. He is not by any means an environmentalist, but through his art, he strives to bring the audience closer with the history and travels of our goods; from beginning to end.

He talks about a three-stage history that all things endure, in a human's grasp... the first being the unknown origin, the second where the item is useful/known to the human and finally, the stage where the item is deemed useless/disposable. His photography brings you into the first and third stages of this history and it is here, that one realizes the magnitude of our footprint on the Earth. I don't mean to tote the whole "environmental" record here but I think most people have no real concept of where our things come from. We know the items as it is now--how we see, want and use it. But, do we know how it was made? Where the parts came from?

I'm typing away on this laptop and I wonder, where did all the parts come from? and what happens when its reached the end of its useful days?

These are some of the questions that his artwork brings to the surface. It may not get everyone to immediately realize that their consumption has a consequence somewhere but it does get you to realize the reality of it all. We live in a society far removed from traditional manufacturing or intermediate good mining... Our technology advances have moved many of us to a place where most are far removed from the base source of where our consumable products come from; and where they go.

Do you personally know a miner? a farmer? a waste procurement specialist? I don't and I think most of us are really caught up in our fast paced North American lifestyles of the shiny lights. We seemingly live in a cycle of excess whereby we use something only to soon dispose of it.

Running enthusiasts are told in articles again and again, that running shoes have a life span of approximately 200-500mi and even when they don't look used, they're likely at the end of their "cushy" lifespan. But, what are you supposed to do with those gently used runners? Do you just chuck em into the garbage? I"ve looked. There are plenty of donation programs that ship the shoes to those "less fortunate" people in developing countries but at some point, even they'll use up the shoes. And I wonder, do these countries even have a program to recycle something like running shoes? We don't even have a particularly good program in North America. How could we assume that these non-developed nations to have something like that??? Sounds like we're just shifting our problem somewhere else. Anyone else see a problem here?

One of these days, we're going to have to leave our planet to live in a giant spaceship because we've turned our wonderful little planet into an exhausted wasteland.

(Next theme/topic: omega 3s and omega 6s in our diet)

1 comment:

  1. So what does happen to the stuff I throw out? it would be cool if you talked about that in the future.

    Also would like to suggest having a week-long, or month-long, theme that you explore in-depth.