New Digital Art Exhibit at Edmonton Synoptic Translations in Harcourt

“But what this work shows, just using the data, is that there are really only a handful of particular facilities and operations that are basically emitting almost all the carbon for an entire region.”

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When Victorian artist and educator Colton Hash was growing up in the mountains near Helena, Montana, he began noticing the effects of climate change blowing in from above.

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“I remember playing in front of my house and all of a sudden there was a wall of orange smoke,” the 29-year-old Rocky Mountain player recalled south of the border. “Or driving up to the top of a hill, being able to see that smoke and set a few mountainsides ablaze, and kind of wondering if it would come to our house or not.”

The Saskatoon-born artist notes, of course, that wildfires aren’t primarily a bad thing as part of nature.

“They are a regenerative process,” he says, “a good thing in balance with the ecosystem.”

But in 2008, something new came to the mountains, chirping and chewing, with devastating results.

“The mountain pine beetle epidemic has spread. And in a single summer, entire slopes of lodgepole pine and ponderosa pine turned red, almost instantly.

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That same summer, Hash volunteered for the Montana Conservation Corps, where he began speaking to concerned scientists sounding the alarm — in various ways — about beetles, industrial forestation, rising global temperatures and climate change. bottleneck effect of not letting fires burn naturally over the past century, resulting in the devastating megafires we now see every year in cabins and towns.

All of these components of a larger picture serve as the backdrop and inspiration for Hash’s compelling new digital art exhibition opening Friday at Harcourt House, Synoptic Transitions: Digital Perspectives of the Anthropocene. (This last word refers to our new geological age where human activity has major consequences.)

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The show opens at 7 p.m. Friday – artist talk at 7:30 p.m. – and runs until June 4.

Synoptic Transitions is a series of large-scale digital artworks – some representative, some speculative – driven by actual satellite imagery and government data across the continent, moving across its rooms in more impressionistic animations of the behavior of forest fires, both in terms of devastation and regrowth, as seen in his animated play, Evolutionary Forest.

For the works, Hash serves as both artist and programmer, noting that his art requires a lot of engineering, “and thinking about things mathematically to create something that’s complex, but can also be run on a computer. relatively weak”. he’s laughing. “It takes a lot of planning. But once you’ve built those basic structures, it starts to get really intuitive, where you’re, for example, adjusting the colors or adjusting the settings on the spread of forest fires or the growth of trees.

The show’s most striking piece is Eye of the Anthropocene, an easy-to-digest map overlaying wildfire activity and refinery flares, woven with an intricate network of pipelines from Alaska to the Gulf of Mexico.

Hash notes that while his map has no political borders, economic activity and legislation show exactly where certain provinces and states are located.

“Oklahoma is characterized by no wells, where the states to the north and Texas to the south have a whole bunch of gas wells, all around. They are visible through infrastructure and resource development.

Alberta and Texas both shine, as you might have guessed.

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The interactive projection piece Carbon Pulse: Edmonton Heartland, meanwhile, is an interactive visualization of data seen from an airplane of the Edmonton area. It describes greenhouse gas emissions data collected from government sources, which then creates gesture clouds emanating from urban areas and major industrial facilities.

As viewers approach the projection, they cast a dark, computer-generated shadow created in real time using a special camera suspended behind them. In our very form, it reveals artificial transportation networks and energy infrastructure linking our local industries.

“It is meant to inspire viewers to think about their personal relationship with the landscape itself,” the artist explains, “but also the idea of ​​carbon emissions from specific places they might recognise” .

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Colton Hash's interactive digital coin, Carbon Pulse: Edmonton Heartland, is in Harcourt until June 4.
Colton Hash’s interactive digital coin, Carbon Pulse: Edmonton Heartland, is in Harcourt until June 4. Photo provided

While your shadow itself reveals human activity, Hash emphasizes that his art isn’t about blaming the individuals at the show for climate change.

“We have spent so much time and energy on our individual carbon footprints. Or even with an entire city, where if we all stopped driving, our city would stop emitting so much carbon,” he says. “But what this work shows, just using the data, is that there are really only a handful of particular facilities and operations that are basically emitting almost all the carbon for an entire region.”

He insists he’s not here to preach – just to offer perspective.

“A lot of activist media have a role that can be very important,” says Hash. “But it often feels like you’re assuming that your viewer doesn’t know or care about an issue. And that way of relating not only seems unsustainable, but also isn’t the kind of culture we want. create.

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The artist, who thinks most of us accept that climate change is real at this point, is more interested in creating a space where people make their own connections, including aesthetic ones, and to their own pace.

“My installations are just trying to create a quieter, slower space for reflection, rather than that punchy, super-fast paced activist media you see on Facebook, where you scroll, then scroll, then get hit with something completely different.

“If you can spend a few minutes or even half an hour at an art exhibition, I just try to provide a space where a viewer can make their own connections, rather than telling them what to think.”

Hash’s exhibit is in the main gallery; Glasgow artist Madeline Mackay’s multimedia exhibition Inside Out, which opens simultaneously at Harcourt’s Art Incubator Gallery, uses images of meat and flesh to create alternative tomies and generally explores what it is than to be human.

Both exhibitions run until June 4.


Synoptic Translations: Numerical Perspectives of the Anthropocene by Colton Hash

Or: Harcourt House, 10215 112 St.

When: Opens Friday with an artist talk at 7:30 p.m.; until June 4

Admission: Free

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