Today, the North is making economic headlines, as it has become a new Eldorado for societies stalked by the dream of continual growth. This territory – homeland to First Nations, an ecosystem vital to the entire continent, and a vast pool of natural resources – is nevertheless mostly unknown to the general public. National mythology situates the Canadian identity in these immense lands, but our imagination is still limited to the southern edge of the country.
The three portfolios in this issue, concerned with our perceptions of the northern territories of Canada, are thematically related to the increasing number of works embodying the voices of peoples living on these lands or expressing their concerns with their occupation and exploitation. The works presented here also look at the stakes in development and ownership of the natural resources, deal with our experience with the natural environment, and pay particular attention to the filters affecting our perceptions of these realities.
In Under Currents, Thomas Kneubühler examines hydroelectric facilities in Northern Quebec and their impact on the territory and its inhabitants. His project is crystallized around two intersecting axes: the rivers that flow east–west and the power lines that carry electricity from north to south. In a series of large-scale images, Kneubühler presents a power station, electricity relay and conversion stations, and the residences of Aboriginals and Southern workers. Combined with a video offering an overview of the daily wanderings of the people who live in these remote zones, these images bring to light the upheavals in ways of life in and occupation of the territory.
Andreas Rutkauskas’s Virtually There juxtaposes experiences and portrayals, virtual and real, of mountains in the Rockies near Banff. This isn’t the “true North,” but the site is nevertheless remote enough to allow us to perceive the differences between what we might imagine about a site and its actual physical qualities. After consulting numerous historical photographs and topographical maps of the Rockies and GPS images and routes found on the Internet, Rutkauskas first reconstituted the views of these peaks using the Google Earth software. Then, on site, he surveyed the sites and re-created his simulated explorations in large-format photographs reconstructing the same points of view. The difference in rendering is spectacular and gives a full measure of the impact of technology on modes of perception and re-creation of wild nature.
When he was still a young man, Eamon Mac Mahon, who grew up on the edge of the boreal forest, developed an interest in and curiosity about places in the North where people lived in close proximity to wild nature in small towns with no road access. Landlocked resulted from many stays in communities of this type in northwestern Canada and Alaska, as well as numerous hours of flight during which he took pictures, on a much-larger-than-human scale, of a landscape marked by acts of appropriation some of which seem trifling and others terribly damaging. Here, the images make palpable a very concrete experimentation with the territory combined with a distancing that allows for a very different gaze.