Archives for posts with tag: nova scotia

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As many of my readers may know by now, I spent a glorious week of August as a participant artist in the White Rabbit Residency.

Along the shores of the other-worldly Bay of Fundy (where you can experience the highest tides in the world), I joined 16 artists – including my brother, cartoonist and graphic designer, Jonathan – in a week of supportive, nurturing, and inspired creation, responding to the beautiful landscape of Red Clay. The residency focuses on the process of creation, culminating in the White Rabbit Celebration, where visitors come to celebrate the end of the residency in a festival of art and music. Along with illustrating the festival’s map, I spent the week working on my project, Framing Red Clay.

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I initially proposed spending the week wandering around the grounds and creating frames out of found materials, to direct wanderers toward views of specific landscapes. I would comment on the landscape based on the frames’ shape, position and materiality, frames made out of materials ranging from the most natural to the most human-made. I was excited to frame dynamic scenes that would change based on the time of day viewed — especially those views of the swift transformations of the intertidal zone.

But when I got to Red Clay, it was the August super-moon — and high above the Bay, the full moon sat and slowly moved across the sky. The fullness of the moon illuminated the entire landscape, and, I couldn’t look away.

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I promptly adapted my project to a project of chasing, and framing the moon. Building on the vertical ladder tradition initiated by Andrew Maize the previous year, I constructed a ten foot ladder and erected it straight out of the ground, on a spot that affords the best views of the bay — where I initially viewed the moon in its fullness.

Learning from brilliant Red Clay veterans how to sustainably harvest spruce, and latch with rope, I built a small frame with a handle, and hung it on the top of the ladder. Passersby were tacitly invited to climb the ladder. Once at the top, they intuitively grabbed the frame, and began viewing the world from enjoyably high vantage. When the half moon rose on August 17, we gathered around the ladder to enjoy the experience of framing the moon as it hovered across the bay. Ironically, from this high vantage, I ended up framing Red Clay, as I initially intended to.

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As my artist statement in the White Rabbit program put it:

I came to Red Clay with the intention of framing the landscape, but I couldn’t stop looking at the moon, so I tried to frame the Moon. I ended up framing Red Clay. 

It was a pleasure to participate in White Rabbit 2014, and I congratulate my fellow artists-in-residence. Framing Red Clay was a wonderful manifestation of my art practice, emphasizing process but with a physical and interactive end product.

See you at White Rabbit 2015!

The following is a guest post by Urban Geographer brother, designer and artist Jonathan Rotsztain. He is the publisher of the West Dublin Monitor and is currently training in cartooning at the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vermont

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Jonathan aboard a visiting Japanese warship in the military
Halifax Harbour, 2011

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Halifax/Dartmouth from above

Halifax, Nova Scotia was laid out in the interests of Empire. Following the successful English conquest of former French and Mi’kmaq lands—but before the expulsion of the Acadians—conquering army engineers superimposed a neat street grid over the lands west of the Halifax Harbour up until the Citadel defensive position. According to Halifax Street Names: An Illustrated Guide, “Town was laid out in squares or blocks of 230 by 120 feet, the streets being 60 feet wide; each block contained 16 town lots, 40 feet front and 60 feet deep, the whole divided into five divisions or wards.” How proper.

It may be apocryphal, but it’s said that the Halifax street grid was superimposed by surveyors looking at maps from London, England who never even set foot in the garrison during its 1749 founding and planning. The legend goes, that the powers-that-be didn’t anticipate the very steep hills up from the harbour and that during the cold Atlantic winters horses pulling heavy carriages were known to lose their foothold on the ice and go pummelling from the Citadel in the freezing water below. Whether this is true or not, having spent much time on the Halifax peninsula, it’s clear that its original architecture was indeed entirely military and that its civilian character has only evolved in that powerful echo.

Beyond its violent imperial roots, I spent much of the last four plus years living in Halifax marvelling at it’s apparent total lack of planning. Like much of North America, haphazard civic, industrial, business, retail and residential space butt-up and jut-out against each other. The impression I drew from navigating Halifax streets was one of short-term priorities triumphing over longterm planning, where consideration of how regular folks move and thrive in urban settings has been totally ignored.

This continues as the Halifax Regional Municipalities ignores its own design and regional plans and continues to encourage unbecoming sprawl. The result is areas like Hammonds Plains, where along its main artery, the Hammonds Plains Road exists as a kind of area I struggle to describe as sub-rural. On the outskirts of urban Halifax, it’s too agrestic too be properly suburban and yet it has many of the hallmarks of that kind of space. Residential sits atop business with many forests, fields and farms in-between. This is the outcome of a sparsely populated outpost growing for the sake of growth without thought to how different land uses interact with each other and the whole.

More recently, moving outside of Halifax and two hours down the South Shore another form of human geography struck me. Living in the LaHave area off Highway 331, I was faced with another kind of organic/haphazard human development. The 331 is given the tourist moniker “The Lighthouse Route” and it weaves its way close to the LaHave river in an organic rhythm that may date back to when the area was capital of French Acadia or even earlier to before European conquest.

The river road stands in contrast to the backroads. These I can best describe as spaghetti. They curve, narrow and bend in an even more organic fashion that was clearly the mother of necessity. As I travelled these often unpaved connectors I would wonder at how I could start in one area and end up in another. That these distant places across Lunenburg County were accessible to each other was one thing, but the journey along such unexpected paths add to their unreal feel.

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The drive from Bridgwater to Petite Riviere takes about half an hour but consists of 10 place names. This stretch of Highway 331 made up my immediate South Shore universe. Note: not all these photos of road signs are taken from the same direction.

When I first started visiting the Shore, trips contained to driving down the river road, I would laugh at the speedy and seemingly hilarious progression of multiple places names. One minute you’re in Pentz and the next LaHave, followed quickly by Dublin Shore and West Dublin. Yet once I relocated to the area and began to travel by the slower bicycle or on foot, I came to realize how reasonable these distinctions are. Indeed traversing the length of West Dublin by foot takes at least 25 minutes and it’s further still to come to the edge of Dublin Shore. In this case, my judgement was obscured by the mode of travel: the car. The original settlers were correct to consider their relatively small areas distinct because indeed they were isolated from each other, especially in the winter.

The South Shore too suffers wayward development, but like rural poverty it’s more hidden, except in the regional metropolis of Bridgewater where lack of planning is glaring on display. This is to say nothing of the relationships between the areas centres: the aforementioned Bridgewater, the town of Lunenburg, Mahone Bay and Chester (because I won’t be addressing them any further, but believe me there’s an interesting story there.)

My experiences in Nova Scotia—in Halifax and on the South Shore—has been one of grappling with the built environment and its organic and inorganic forms. In Halifax a garrison town has unintentionally grown into a minor regional metropolis while in the LaHave area the settlement has for the most part retained its original colonial feel. Both present distinct economic and infrastructural challenges and can be great cultural places to live. I’m glad to have taken this opportunity to share with you as I’ve sketched out some long brewing thoughts.

Living in Halifax has given me first hand experience of the “HRM”, the Halifax Regional Municipality. The HRM sort of seems like local politicians saw other Canadian regional governments, such as the Toronto “Mega-City” and the unsuccessful merger of municipalities on the Island of Montreal, and applied it to a region that doesn’t make as much sense.

The HRM, as you can see, makes up a significant portion of the province of Nova Scotia. But size doesn’t matter in agglomerating political districts: what matters is flows — if the flows of peoples, goods, traffic and communications begins to spread widely, over formerly significant geo-political boundaries, that’s when an urban amalgamation makes sense.

But — the HRM — it doesn’t seem to make sense to me, a new-comer to this city. Beyond its immediate neighbours, the towns surrounding Halifax seem pretty disconnected from the Peninsular City. And, whereas in Montreal and Toronto, you have a certain degree of suburban sprawl that sees a significant number of commuters travelling between places, in Halifax, the sprawl is relatively limited, and you reach rural land quickly once leaving the city.

The HRM is an astonishingly big political entity, where people from extremely different walks of life, with extremely different needs and political attitudes, have to somehow come together and make decisions that affect everyone. The consequences are broad ranging, an example being that wealthy suburban, or otherwise interested rural voters will have more influence on city council and consequently neglect the needs inner city urban folk, as we saw in Toronto’s last mayoral election.

Indeed, I believe in the need for regional government. It makes sense that a forum be established where plans regarding such problems as energy and transportation infrastructures, issues that make sense at a regional scale, be discussed and plans executed. But regional government should not replace local, autonomous government. I may go so far as saying local government should have the most influence, nested within regional, provincial and federal levels of governance.

The seeming ridiculousness of the HRM presented itself the other day, when, driving back from Tancook Island, many signs announcing towns along the highway, like the one in the first photo, boasted the HRM logo, with the phrase “Welcome to Our Community”.

It was incredibly strange realizing that we were already “in Halifax”, even though our surroundings included sea side cottages and farms. Most ridiculous was the repeated notion of “our community” — what are these communities, and who established them? What happens to the meaning of “community” when it is constantly repeated in the same monotonus fashion, and is imposed from some distant, top-down governing body? What does it mean when we enter the Community of Halifax? These signs betray the non-sensical logic of the HRM and speak of the continuing trend of potentially harmful centralization in Canadian governance.