A wetland habitat rich full with hands-on educational and artistic possibilities sits in the centre of the École K.L.O. Middle School grounds; it is covered entirely by aging, cracked concrete pads. Working with the school’s students and their dedicated teacher, Michelle Hamilton, we are using eco-art to gain the attention needed to restore this once luscious wetland.
This is not your cliché group of middle schooler slactivists. From the moment I began working with them, when I was only planning on doing a short-term eco-art project with the school, I was completely blown away by the dedication they had to their immediate natural environment and how aware they were of the connection between it and their own education. This creek could be an ideal learning ground for every subject from the sciences to the fine arts.
I stand next to the creek in the middle of the school grounds. It is still covered in cold, cracked, sinking concrete pads. I feel the autumn wind brush by my nose and chill my moist eyes as it works its way past my face. I close my eyes and listen to the creek flowing. Now I see a classroom but not a classroom inside a building; I see the classroom underneath the concrete. Desks with slates face each other in a circle on top of the water. Tall trees and Typha Latifolia (local cattails) surround me and I can hear the students’ voices. They are talking about what they want here. I am hearing countless conversations about them wanting and working so long and so hard for this, for their passion; for the investment in their own future not one handed out to them but one that they fought for and could not be happier to have finally received out of their own sweat.
What I’ve described above is the eco-art installation, Concrete in the Creek. The school desk slates have prompts on them encouraging the audience to contribute their ideas and opinions on the project. These slates are being re-projected via a live feed onto a wall in the gallery. This is done to encourage all members of the community to contribute their ideas and opinions on the current situation at École K.L.O. Middle School and have those ideas and opinions shared with the rest of the community. These desks sit on a large scale water colour painting on cloth which the students at K.L.O. are making of the creek as they envision it being one day soon. This painting comes from some of the eco-art work I am currently doing with these students. They each have a very well developed sense of what they would like to see on their school grounds one day and it is ultimately their collaboration of their visions that will bring that into fruition. Using water colour, they are expressing their ideal vision of their future. Trees are attached to the walls surrounding the room, behind them on the remaining three walls of the gallery is a projection of the creek on Casorso Road close to the school where the habitat has not been disrupted from its natural state. This puts the classroom directly into the wetland where one can experience an integrated learning environment balanced with the natural system bring restored at École K.L.O. Middle School. There are children’s voices projected around the space, excerpts from many long recorded conversations we have had that were part of a dialogical performance series we did at the end of their last school year. These are their requests, these are their views, this is how they see the natural environment at their school and how they want to see it.
The set-up and load-in of this installation is a little non-traditional. To show the embodied nature of this project’s process and goals, we are planning on using the first two weeks as an interactive community installation process. Here, members of the community, including the students contributing to the installation, will be able to come in and observe the progression of the virtual-nature-classroom in a style akin to that of an open forum. In this, those observing are invited to leave their thoughts and opinions in a guest book dubbed the ‘opinions book’ which will be incorporated into the ‘finished product’ version of the show. During this process, the wall designated for the live feed of the slates will be projecting black and white videos of the students talking about their reasons for fighting for their natural environment, and why it is so valuable to them. On the weekend after the second week of this install, the reception launches the ‘finished product’ for the final week where Concrete in the Creek is left up for display and interaction. Here there is information about how those who are interested in supporting the project can do so and donate to it.
The students at École K.L.O. Middle School have reminded me how easy it is to be surprised. I honestly never thought I would see such committed young people working so completely dedicated to their environment and their education. This is not the generation of slactivists I come from: this is a generation of action. When these students eventually do remove these old cracked concrete pads, they will have unearthed more than the habitat hidden in their back yard; they will have revealed hope in a beautiful, luscious wetland to the world in every step they take forward from it.
Concrete in the Creek was co-sponsored by UBCO’s Theatre26, the Centre for Culture and Technology, the Eco Art Incubator, and the Alternator Centre for Contemporary Art located in the Rotary Centre for the Arts, 421 Cawston Ave., downtown Kelowna.