Watch Your Head
Coach House Books, 2020
A warning, a movement, a collection borne of protest.
In Watch Your Head, poems, stories, essays, and artwork sound the alarm on the present and future consequences of the climate emergency. Ice caps are melting, wildfires are raging, and species extinction is accelerating. Dire predictions about the climate emergency from scientists, Indigenous land and water defenders, and striking school children have mostly been ignored by the very institutions – government, education, industry, and media – with the power to do something about it.
Writers and artists confront colonization, racism, and the social inequalities that are endemic to the climate crisis. Here the imagination amplifies and humanizes the science. These works are impassioned, desperate, hopeful, healing, transformative, and radical.
This is a call to climate-justice action.
Cover design by Ingrid Paulson
...Watch Your Head does not disappoint. It serves as a warning to heed, a reminder to be thought of often, and a well-thought-out piece of art. Throughout the anthology, readers encounter pieces that provoke and insist, demanding attention, consideration, action, and creativity. Essays and stories and images alike bring about questions and statements on Indigenous rights, white privilege, exploitation of land and people, colonial power structures, place, home, language, and imagination.
This anthology is not to be missed. The pandemic may have defined our year, but the climate crisis defines our time in geological history. See how this roster of talented writers and artists advance the conversation, put the crisis in context and call for climate justice.
Medium: performance documentation
change is a 10-minute performance comprised of a single-channel video projected over a lone singer. The singer’s voice first delivers a rendition of Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Gonna Come through a vocoder, then moves into spoken poetry. By manipulating archived, found footage and combining it with its interactions between the body and voice, this performance confronts decolonization through an Asian-Canadian lens, notably putting the singer/speaker/artist directly into the environment being challenged. Created and performed at the wake of the pandemic, change’s main function is to respond directly to the xenophobia, Sinophobia, and unabashed racism that the current COVID-19 pandemic and biased mainstream media encourage.
James Legaspi is an emerging Filipino-Canadian multimedia artist currently completing an undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto and Sheridan College, living and working in Brampton, Ontario. Recent activity includes work exhibited at the Art Museum at the University of Toronto and Gallery 44, curatorial work at the Blackwood Gallery, professional experience as a teaching assistant at Sheridan College, and participation in the most recent rendition of Visual Arts Mississauga’s Creative Residency.
판교낙생대공원 / at the Pangyo Paradise Park, Seoul, Korea
두터운 잎 Project/ part of Thick Leaf Project
As time goes as humans love the city forest, the forest loses herself and morphs with our habit. Her power and beauty are destroyed by our impatient and insignificant acts. We think the forest will remain the same, but she loses her language every time we walk through her path. The beautiful path for us is a plastic wind for her.
- How do we express love?
사람이 도심의 숲을 사랑하는 시간이 흐를수록 작은 숲은 자신을 잃고 사람에 맞춰 변해간다. 숲은 그 자체로 힘이 있고 아름답지만, 사람이 만든 성급하고 작은 사건들에 무너져버린다. 숲은 계속 그대로일 거라고 생각하지만, 사람들이 한발자국 걸을 때마다 숲은 빠르게 숲의 언어를 잃어간다. 사람의 아름다운 산책길이 숲에게는 플라스틱 바람인 걸 모른다.
-사랑의 표현은 어떻게 해야 하나
CHOE Rayun is a visual artist who works closely with elements from everyday and nature. She is an active member of Mullae Art Village in Seoul. Site-specificity of Mullae informs her work and directs her attention to nature, human and urban, and their relationship to each other. With her thought provoking works, she offers a moment to share and an opportunity to contemplate. She works in diverse mediums such as painting, drawing, sculpture, video and performance.
WATCHING THE DULL EDGES (THE NORTHERN HEMISPHERE OF A 23°27′ TILT)
Watching Dull Edges (the northern hemisphere of a 23°27′ tilt) is a series of photographs documenting the act of sitting in Canada during the winter of 2017 carefully watching the last snowfall of the year melting inside a test tube. It is a meditation on what it means to be living through the end of planetary regularities, like the seasons as we have come to know them. Winter in Canada as long months of accumulating snow fall will shortly be no more, if it isn’t already gone; this work considers what it means to live with this awareness.
Watching Dull Edges (the northern hemisphere of a 23°27′ tilt) is a work about paying attention to change, even when it arrives with slowly, or with dull edges. It is about staying still to attune oneself to a loss whose material and temporal dimensions are so vast we struggle to make sense of them. How do we stop to not just notice but truly register and mourn these losses accumulating? What practices can we enact to connect our lived experiences of the world with this urgent new reality?
Lisa Hirmer is an interdisciplinary artist who works across visual media, social practice, performance and occasionally writing. She is primarily concerned with collective relationships: that which exists between things, rather than simply within them—particularly in relation to collective beliefs and in human relations with the more-than human world. Her work finds home both in gallery contexts and an expanded field of other public spaces. It has been shown across Canada and internationally. She has received numerous grants and residencies for her work including from Canada Council for the Arts, Ontario Arts Council, Robert Rauschenberg Foundation and Camargo Foundation.
Lisa Hirmer would like to acknowledge The Art Gallery of Ontario for project support.
ISLAND OF THE DEAD
Rise of the Island of the Dead (2019)
Oil on wood panel, 17 X 19 inches (irregular dimensions)
After the photo Earth Rise (1968) taken by William Anders, crew of the Apollo 8 mission. Earth Rise is often attributed as being a photograph that contributed immensely to modern environmental awareness. It is predated by black and white photographs taken by an unmanned lunar orbiter two years prior, but it was the blue of the earth taken in Ander’s photo that resonated with millions of people. That brilliant blue contrasts with the dead grey of the lifeless moon and the stark black of the surrounding nothingness, emphasizing the jewel-like fragility of our own world.
Island of the Dead (2019)
Oil on wood panel, 23.5 X 23.5 inches (irregular dimensions)
After the photo Blue Marble (1972) taken by the crew of the Apollo 17 mission.
Oil on wood panel, 34 X 27 inches (irregular dimensions)
After Caspar David Friedrich’s Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog (1818). Friedrich’s painting is often used to represent the Romanticism movement and the sublime. Romanticism was in part a reaction to the industrial revolution marked by a nostalgia for an untouched natural world and a reverence for its overwhelming power. Ironically the spread and continuation of that industrialism is predicted to set in motion a new overpowering version of nature that does not include us. The original painting uses Rückenfigur; a compositional technique with a figure seen from behind contemplating a view before them. In this painting there is no figure; the future view of a dead world is instead seen from behind in time.
Garden of Earthly Remains (2019)
Oil on wood panel, 21 X 60 inches (irregular dimensions)
After Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights (1490 -1510). The five structures in this painting are based off the ones from the center panel of Bosch’s triptych painting. That painting suggests a moral warning about the consequences of a humanity let loose to act without boundaries. In my painting all the abundance of life and wild humanity from that center panel are gone with only the structures remaining.
Island of the Dead - Artist Statement
This work is focused on a scientific prediction of a change in the colour of the sky and oceans as a result of climate change. I came across this theory through the writings of Professor of Paleontology and Biology at Washington University, Peter Ward. He describes how in the past an increase in carbon dioxide has led to anoxic oceans where hydrogen sulfide producing bacteria altered the chemistry of the environment so that the oceans became purple and the sky became green. I first encountered this scientific prediction in Tim Flannery’s book about the urgent need for climate change action, Now or Never. He quotes Ward from his book Under a Green Sky where he describes a vision of a dead ocean and poisonous sky:
Look out on the surface of the great sea itself, and as far as the eye can see there is a mirrored flatness, an ocean without whitecaps. Yet that is not the biggest surprise. From shore to the horizon, there is but an unending purple colour – a vast, flat oily purple, not looking at all like water. . . The colour comes from a vast concentration of purple bacteria. . . At last there is motion on the sea, yet it is not life, but antilife. Not far from the fetid shore, a large bubble of gas belches from the viscous oil slick-like surface. . . It is hydrogen sulphide, produced by green sulphur bacteria growing amid their purple cousins. There is one final surprise. We look upward, to the sky. High, vastly high overhead, there are thin clouds existing far in excess of the highest clouds found on our Earth. They exist in a place that changes the very colour of the sky itself. We are under a pale green sky, and it has the smell of death and poison.
As a painter, this change in colour of the world’s landscapes captivated me. The blue of the sky and oceans seems to have always been and as if it always will be. This new colour pallet for the world will be sublime, strange and beautiful, but there will likely be no one around left to see it. Approaching climate change in painting through this change in colour is a phenomenological way to know an issue that is often hard for people to feel convinced of except as an abstract theory. I first came to this subject while working in Berlin last Winter and Spring. I spent a lot of time in Europe visiting museums and seeing historical paintings and contemplating my relationship to them and their relationship to today and came to specifically consider their associations to the environment and climate change. From that research I made a series of paintings referencing historical paintings and images, setting them in that future of purple oceans and green skies predicted by Ward.
Adam Gunn is a painter whose work focuses on interests in ideas about natural and unnatural orders with a deep concern for how an image is brought into being. He was both formed and grown in Nova Scotia and currently dwells in Montreal. He has accumulated an MFA from Concordia University and a BFA from NSCAD University. He’s been semi-finalist in the RBC Canadian Painting Competition twice, and recently completed a 5-month residency in Berlin as part of the Nancy Petry Award.
The aesthetics of environmental erasure—of what goes, what remains, and what is brought back to us on the tide.
Kevin Adonis Browne is a Caribbean American photographer, writer, and speaker. His award-winning visual and written work exist at the intersection of fine art, documentary, street photography, creative nonfiction, and memoir in what he calls: A discourse on the legacies of light as a way to understand the poetics of Caribbean culture.”
Born in Trinidad and Tobago, he attended Presentation College in the southern city of San Fernando. In 1990, he emigrated to the United States, settling in the Bronx and Brooklyn. In 2003, he was awarded a Bachelor of Arts degree in English at Medgar Evers College (CUNY) in Brooklyn, later earning a Master of Arts in English in 2006 and a PhD in English in 2009 from The Pennsylvania State University. He has taught at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Syracuse University, and Bentley University. In 2017, he returned to Trinidad and Tobago, where he teaches at the University of the West Indies (St. Augustine). He is co-founder of the Caribbean Memory Project and is the author of two books: Tropic Tendencies: Rhetoric, Popular Culture, and the Anglophone Caribbean (2013) and HIGH MAS: Carnival and the Poetics of Caribbean Culture (2018), which won the prestigious Bocas Prize in Caribbean Literature in 2019. Following a successful launch in the streets of Port of Spain, Trinidad, he has had solo exhibitions in the United States and the United Kingdom.
THE BLUE LINE
La ligne bleue (maquette, 2013)
Inkjet print on paper, 44 x 85 cm (17 x 33.5 inches)
The Blue Line Project proposes to draw a line of blue light across the night skyline of Lower Manhattan. Positioned at 65 meters¹ (213 feet) from the ground, the height of the glowing line will correspond to the projected sea level if all of the ice on the planet were to melt. Such a scenario is symbolic rather than realistic, since it does not relate to a scientifically predicted event as such, but acts instead to strongly promote environmental awareness.
This image represents an ambitious project that solicits the cooperation of building owners and managers as well as residents, tenants and their employees in a visually contiguous series of buildings in the Financial District. The project constitutes an invitation for a collaborative undertaking to realize a striking and poetic visual art work. At the same time, the simple fact of participating will engage those involved in a pertinent conversation about sustainability. In this context, the choice of artistic intervention is one that operates from inside the urban architecture, creating a visual effect that engages the public space of the city outside.
1 Bamber, J. L., Aspinall, J. L. An expert judgement assessment of future sea level rise from the ice sheets. Nature Climate Change 3, 424–427 (2013)
Aude Moreau holds a Masters in Visual Arts and Media from the Université du Québec à Montréal, and has developed a practice that encompasses her dual training in scenography and the visual arts. Moreau’s work has been exhibited in Canada and internationally. Recent solo exhibitions have been held at the Canadian Cultural Centre, Paris (2015); galerie antoine ertaskiran, Montreal (2015); Galerie de l'UQAM, Montreal (2015); Smack Mellon, Brooklyn (2013); Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal (2012); Casino Luxembourg - Forum d'art contemporain (2009); and the Darling Foundry, Montreal (2008). She has received awards including the Claudine and Stephen Bronfman Fellowship in Contemporary Art, Montreal (2011), the Powerhouse Prize from La Centrale, Montreal (2011) and the Prix Louis Comtois, Montreal (2016). Her work is part of the collection of the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal (2013) and of the Canada Council Art Bank (2006). Aude Moreau lives and works in Montreal.
She is represented by Bradley Ertaskiran.
I am from Nunatsiavut (in Labrador). We Inuit have always been known as “Sikumiut; People of the Sea”, meaning that we lived and survived by the sea ice as a means for subsistence, travel, traditional cultural practices (as well as contemporary). In the four Inuit Regions Nunatsiavut (in Labrador), Nunavik (in Arctic Quebec), Nunavut and Inuvialuit Settlement Region in the Western Arctic, we see the most effects of ice loss due to climate change.
Each year it takes longer for ice to form and as a result, hunter and trappers and community members are not able to go out on the ice or land, leading to less food for both hunter and community. Our Ice is melting and we are all at fault (humanity). We have no one else to blame but us and humans are contributing to loss of practices, changes in animal migration, traditions, community well-being, less time on the land and less interaction with the environment.
As an Inuk living in Ottawa, I ask myself, do people really understand the potential and real risk of climate change? How is it affecting our regions, our lives and our environment. Do we understand the consequences and effects associated with melting snow and ice; natural disasters, time, awareness, funding and polices or lack of them. Who is talking about it, who is concerned about it, and what are we going to do as a result of it? The images selected from my Ice Works is an attempt to bring awareness to and of climate change and global warming from an urban Inuk artist’s perspective.
Below are selected images from De-Iced photo series, on-going project
** Two of the photographs from the series, Policy Gone Awry and After the Melt, are part of the upcoming group exhibition Qautamaat | Every day / everyday at the Art Gallery of Guelph
Barry Pottle is an Inuk artist from Nunatsiavut in Labrador (Rigolet), now living in Ottawa, Ontario. He has worked with the Indigenous arts community for many years particularly in the city of Ottawa. Barry has always been interested in photography as a medium of artistic expression and as a way of exploring the world around him. Living in Ottawa, which has the largest urban population of Inuit outside the North, Barry has been able to stay connected to the greater Inuit community.
Through the camera’s len, Barry showcases the uniqueness of this community. Whether it is at a cultural gathering, family outings or the solitude of nature that photography allows, he captures the essence of Inuit life in Ottawa. From a regional perspective, living in the Nation’s Capital allows him to travel throughout the valley and beyond to explore and photograph people, places and events.
He believes that the concept of Urban Inuit is relatively new and for the most part unexplored (compared to other Urban Indigenous groups in Canada) so as an artist, he seeks to articulate this. “The camera,” he shares, “allows me to explore connection and continuity with my heritage and culture especially with regards to the contemporary reality of being an Urban Inuk.”
Barry’s photos have been published in a variety of magazines (Makivik Magazine, Inuktitut Magazine, Inuit Art Quarterly) and he has also contributed images to a number of community initiatives.
Pretty Paws is an on-going series of miniature graphite drawings, depicting severed beaver hands and feet with manicured nails. This series accentuates the natural lengthy shape of beaver claws by applying playful, over-the-top nail art. These nails embrace the kitsch, meaning excessive and tacky ornamentation, which is absurd on both beaver hands and as a beauty standard for women. The application of this artificial beauty onto the decaying beaver appendages creates an uneasy tension by referring to the outstanding issue of cosmetic testing on animals.
Sarah Pereux is a Canadian artist currently working in Toronto, Ontario. She is an undergraduate student in the joint Art and Art History program at the University of Toronto Mississauga and Sheridan College. Working primarily in drawing, her work explores questions concerning environmental ethics, consumerism, and empathy. She uses the alluring aesthetics of monochromatic graphite to create an attraction-repulsion effect that occurs once the viewer dissects the subject-matter of the image.
2030 SURVIVAL GUIDE (TIP #19): FIELD DRESSING
Poster by artist Jen Rae with illustration by Indie Laden.
Commissioned for the Climarte Poster Project II (2019), the poster is a visual double entendre and a provocation to consider a future impacted by climate change from a disaster preparedness perspective. The illustration provides basic instructions on how to field dress a rabbit in case of food scarcity. It also brings to the fore questions around the abdication of climate action and responsibility by the global elite; altruism and population control; and, international food security. The most rigorous scientific report published in human history states we only have 11 years to curb run-away climate change and collapse. Some are preparing for the worst better than others in the game of ‘survival of the richest’. For instance, billionaires are investing in prime farmland globally; ‘doomsday bunkers’ are now hot real estate for rich ‘preppers’; and, most apocalyptic survival guides are written by and for middle-class, often middle-aged, white men. What does that mean for commoners? Disasters heighten disadvantage. By the time the elite take action, it might be too late for most commoners.
Excerpt from the CLIMARTE POSTER PROJECT II (2019), curated by Will Foster
Dr. Jen Rae is a Narrm (Melbourne)-based artist-researcher of Canadian Métis-Scottish descent engaged in the discursive field of contemporary environmental art and a scholar in arts-based environmental communication. Her creative practice and research interests centre around food systems knowledge, disaster scenarios and ecological futures thinking via transdisciplinary collaborative methodologies and community engagement. Jen is a multi-art-form artist including public art, drawing, animation and cookery.
Indie Ladan is a Melbourne-based illustrator and freelance graphic designer with more than ten years experience in the industry, designing and consulting for corporate and non-profit organisations as well as local businesses. Her recent projects include branding designs, illustrations, website designs, photography, social media management, art direction, signage design and many more.
SEVEN IMAGES FROM THE SERIES 'ENDANGERED.'
Butternutbutternut creates art inspired by conscious living, a bright and quirky take on a utopia where animals and humans coexist in harmony. For this series, Endangered, I wanted to hero endangered species to bring awareness to the alarming reduction in population. When we think of tigers, rhinos, orangutans, the general understanding is that they exist, freely, in the wild, but the truth is that we are close to extinction, and they only exist in conservation areas. This series in meant to humanize these animals, hence they are shown on human bodies, and start the dialogue on what we can do to help them, whether through mindful tourism, conscious buying of goods and services or donations. Over continued years of illegal trade, poaching, deforestation, and climate change, we are responsible for this tragedy, and now we need mass awareness to help save these species.
Butternutbutternut was started in 2018 by Shinjini Sur, a self-taught artist. Shin's vision is to create art inspired by conscious living - bright, fun, and quirky pieces critiquing social norms. Her iconic work shows animals on human bodies to personify and humanize them, ultimately bringing to life a utopian world where humans and animals coexist in harmony. She is currently experimenting with new materials and home decor - check out butternutbutternut.com for more of her work. *20% of all proceeds from shopping this collection goes to the World Wildlife Fund in support of endangered, critically endangered, and vulnerable animals.*
HOPE OF THE HUMMINGBIRD
For the past decade, severe wind storms have battered the little community I live in on the Pacific Coast.
Leg-thick tree limbs have busted roofs, littered lawns, flattened bushes, and felled old trees in our adjoining forest.
This spectre is climate change. Elsewhere, the world is burning. What can one person do?
Our solution is simple. During fall, we hang up a hummingbird feeder, seed feeders for larger birds, and a suet feeder for winter. We nourish the most vulnerable creatures of the forest, without discouraging their natural ability to forage.
The small, bright glow of hope of our hummingbird friends inspired this poetic honouring:
Shimmering red tweed on green
our tiny guest
wings beat time
its needle dips deep
into the slit of our offered feeder’s
yellow plastic petals
your forest retreat thinned
our serving a small buffer
against a grievous global surge
of natural tragedies
one shock-absorber stands firm
"A Vortex" previously published in print in Otoliths, issue fifty, part two, southern winter, 2018 and online at the-otolith.blogspot.com
"Hope of the Hummingbird" first published by Elephant Journal, September 25, 2019
Elaine Woo has long engaged in the discourse on environmental justice through her poetry and visual art. She would like to see many more join in and take action in ways, big or small, as able. She is the author of the collections Put Your Hand in Mine, 2019 and Cycling with the Dragon, 2014.
ARTWORK BY JESSICA JOY HIEMSTRA
POEMS BY KATHRYN MOCKLER
Part of a series of cathartic reactions to Kathryn Mockler's #thisisntaconversation poems: searing, pithy, moving and funny snippets of writing that put a finger on our collective nerve around climate crisis. Kathryn and I decided that we wanted to donate 100% of the proceeds from these prints to Shades of Hope Wildlife Refuge, a registered charity based in Georgina, Ontario. Licensed by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Canadian Wildlife Services, SOH serves the GTA and areas throughout the South Central Ontario corridor. Their mandate: to nurture and rehabilitate injured and orphaned native wildlife with the goal of releasing healthy animals back into their natural habitats.
Prints are available for purchase from this series, and 100% of the proceeds go to Shades of Hope Wildlife Refuge.
Jessica Joy Hiemstra likes what Paul Klee once said about art – that one eye sees, the other feels. Jessica works in a variety of mediums on many kinds of surfaces - from watercolour and thread on paper to acrylic on acetate to plastic bags sewn into canvas. Jessica’s also a poet and designer. One of the things people often ask Jessica is “what’s the difference between all the things you do?” Jessica doesn’t distinguish much between her mediums. She just chooses the best medium for exploring whichever question, concern or exaltation is most pressing to her in the moment - from delight in the body to sorrow and anger at how poorly we care for our world and each other. Sometimes she uses words, sometimes pencil, sometimes paint. A selection of Jessica’s work is available as limited, signed prints in Jessica’s online shop.
Kathryn Mockler is the author of four books of poetry and six short films. She is the Editor of Watch Your Head, Canada Editor of Joyland Magazine, Publisher of The Rusty Toque from 2011-2017, and she teaches creative writing at Western University. She has a poetry chapbook written in collaboration with Gary Barwin forthcoming from Knife | Fork | Book (2020) and her debut collection of stories forthcoming from Book*hug (2121). She is working on a TV series pilot called Yardbird.
Watch Your Head is an online journal of creative works devoted to the climate crisis and climate justice.
New work is published monthly!
Check out our latest project: a print anthology published by Coach House Books!
Watch Your Head: Writers & Artists Respond to the Climate Crisis
Coach House Books
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