Until the 9th of April, the Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA) has an exhibition titled It‘s All Happening So Fast, A Counter-History of the Modern Canadian Environment. Through elegant graphic design, art works, maps, architectural plans, video footage, audio and text, the exhibition examines the ways in which human beings have intervened in the Canadian landscape, often with devastating effect.
The exhibition is divided into general environmental themes and is punctuated with specific case studies, many of which I had never heard of. Did you know that the first significant nuclear accident in the world happened in Canada, or that there was once a proposal to atom bomb the oil sands? I’m not an environmental engineer but that sounds problematic.
What I enjoyed the most about the exhibition was its commitment to providing a counter-history. The exhibition problematizes the romantic notion of the Canadian landscape as raw, untouched and limitless in its resources. I am admittedly ignorant of much of Canada’s wrongdoings when it comes to our natural environment. Like many others, the size of our beautiful country and the seemingly vast amounts of natural landscape often makes me blind to its expiration date. There’s so much of it, can we really do that much damage? Yes.
My roommate, who recently went to It’s All Happening So Fast, recalled having seen the Lawren Harris exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario in September last year. She noted that the paintings by Harris perfectly fit her ideal narrative of the Canadian environment and that the two shows were in fact quite complimentary. Having seen both shows myself, I couldn’t agree more that the two exhibitions work in dialogue with one another. While Harris’ paintings remind one of the beauty of Canada’s natural environment, the CCA’s exhibition confronts the reality of the fragility of the land.
I was impressed with the CCA’s commitment to acknowledge the disproportionate effect these environmental disasters and the exploitation of land have had, and continue to have on indigenous communities. A conversation about the Canadian environment and our country’s natural resources should not be had without acknowledging the relationship that marginalized people have with the land and the histories of violence against these communities. The CCA does a commendable job of this given the complexity of the topic.
I cannot recommend this exhibition enough. The CCA has taken on a subject that everyone needs to be talking about, though it is often dismissed.
When stories of environmental accidents and systematic exploitation of the land hit the news, they appear and disappear in a way that does not at all emulate the long-lasting effects had on the natural environment.
The timing of this exhibition couldn’t be more perfect. With prospective pipelines and world leaders denying climate change, we need to learn from our mistakes and inform ourselves about how our natural environment is being appropriated and exploited now more than ever.
This CCA exemplifies the role that our cultural institutions must continue to take in the years ahead in providing counter-narratives, and educating and impassioning visitors.