UPDATE: We have a winner! Congratulations goes to Paul Le Tourneau who was randomly selected as the winner of a signed copy of Banned on the Hill!
Banned on the Hill
While reading and absorbing James’ essays, I was reminded of the term infotainment, which Jon Stewart used to describe the likes of Fox News. Infotainment also aptly describe The Daily Show but with a different sentiment. Instead of being a news show designed to entertain for the sake of ratings, The Daily Show is a comedy show that also happens to inform—Banned on the Hill does the same. James sees art as a way to deliver the truth yet leave room for personal interpretation and opportunity to decide for one’s self:
“The wonderful opportunity we, as visual artists, have is to help people understand complex issues by presenting information in ways that people can better absorb it.”
In her essay What is Harper afraid of?, James includes the above image to help people “remember and really feel the scale of the tankers navigating the skinny channels in B.C.” By juxtaposing information from a graph against a familiar scene, James makes the numbers real. The reader now imagines a tanker standing on end in the middle of NYC and the data come alive.
To the skeptics, please note that she’s not exaggerating. This size comparison is a point of pride for the American Petroleum Institute and it is in fact plainly graphed on page 5 of its promotional material.
James advocates for Canadians through her art: “To me being an artist and advocate is inseparable. I’m passionate about getting the ideas and opinions I have out of my head and into the world so that people can understand.”
Her visual essays journal her personal experiences that she validates with evidence from meetings with the likes of Joe Oliver and by exercising her rights according to Canada’s Access to Information and Privacy Acts (ATIPs).
I am not artistically blessed myself but I can relate to her visual way of communicating because my daughter tends to sketch out her thoughts and feelings rather than speak them-it seems they are kindred spirits: “Talking to my family through drawings is something I’ve done all my life, but it’s become even more direct and useful to me as an adult.”
James recalls the essay “My SUV and Me Say Goodbye” she included in her book Bothered By My Green Conscience. In it she sketched her family’s response to her and her husband selling their family’s only car. She argues that her thoughtful rather than quick comeback “ends up being more effective (and funny).” Not to mention a permanent record of her commitment that pushes back on the naysayers.
So, if art is a natural outlet and the environment is a natural passion, I wondered which one she would study formally if she could do it all again. Not surprisingly, her answer is not that simple:
“Hmmm… Studying art and writing was essential to me learning to structure and express my ideas… the way I put my ideas, my thoughts and reactions to the world, into action.
“That ‘art’ can be on walls, the web, the streets, a book, a t-shirt… the fun of it is to figure out what’s the best media to get people engaged with the idea.
“[Playwright] Bertolt Brecht said, ‘Art is not a mirror to hold up to society, but a hammer with which to shape it.’ I want to use my art to positively shape society,” James explains.
Like the proverbial analogies long used to unite societies, James’ work has a distinct message but it is open to interpretation. “I like to leave spaces in my visual essays so people can jump in and make new connections,” she explains, “I want people to think about their own experiences and relate it to how they would respond.” She argues that art inspires but also participates in public dialogue.
“Art can get people talking about what really matters… Art can change minds, change behaviours and move people to action.” The proof? Over 7,955 letters were sent to the Harper administration in response to her story What is Harper afraid of?
Apparently, Harperites are afraid of “art that disagrees with them and their policies” but not with how visual tools help carry a message. James says they use the same tools that she does, the difference being that “They hire ad agencies to create multi-million dollar ad campaigns and websites to get their messages across.”
For example, the Canadian Government spins the impacts of Alberta’s oil sands to counter what scientists say and “routinely downplays the environmental hazards and emphasizes the financial benefits,” but this isn’t just a matter of differences of opinion on climate change.
And, the extent our “Orwellian Ottawa” will go to silence dissenting Canadians is well beyond our borders. “The government’s interference in my European art show in 2011 could have been torn from George Orwell’s 1984 novel,” says James.
“The Climate Change office actually killed funding for my show… senior bureaucrats interfered behind the scenes to dissuade people from supporting me or my environmental art show.”
[Left: Excerpt from a Canadian Government email discussing reasons to pull James’ funding]
Andrea Bennett points out, however, in her Vancouver Observer article, Deep pocket PR vs. artist Franke James: the fight’s on that “The attempt to silence Franke James has, instead, ensured that both her work and her message are recognized around the world.”
James is not the only one sounding the alarm that “Free expression is at grave risk in Canada.” The Federal government is being sued for sneaking legislative changes into last year’s Omnibus Budget Bill C-38 that “undermined the democratic rights of all Canadians to speak to the issues that impact them… they violate fundamental free speech guarantees enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Huffington Post).”
I had one final question for Franke James that was inspired by a concern raised by my husband. “I think she made a mistake,” he said, “She drew the Kyoto target in different places.”
For a moment I thought: Uh oh, the credibility of my new favourite “artistvocate” (coined here, by me, oh ya) is ruined! Then I remembered that Canada’s Kyoto commitment was indeed lower than other countries like Sweden and our co-signers were okay with that, yet we still broke our promise and reneged on a Protocol that we signed and ratified (Read Sierra Club Canada’s Voters Guide to the Climate Crisis Election for more information). Take that, skeptical husband!
Franke James knows her facts and does her research. Just how much research? Well, for a chance to win a signed copy of Franke James’ book, you tell me:
How many access to information documents Franke James has obtained since 2011?
Answer in the comment section below (hint: she gives the answer in her CTV interview linked above). A winner will be randomly selected from all attempts made to answer the question. Enter as many times as you can by sharing this giveaway on your own blog/Facebook page/twitter feed/Pinterest/Google+/washroom stall at your office (just kidding, this doesn’t count, but I’m sure Franke would appreciate the publicity). Your odds of winning will depend on the number of entries received and the number of entries you submit.
Sorry Québec, you are not eligible for this one but you can still get a copy of Franke’s book at Amazon. We will ship anywhere in North America or Europe, but check your local laws regarding restrictions or eligibility.
I’ll be making the draw Tuesday September 3 PST. Good luck!
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