The Land and My Body Are Not So Separate

By Venta Rutkauskas –

Summer beckons us to explore a landscape at the peak of its fertility while around the province, arts and culture events sprout and blossom into fruitful exchanges of energy. Music festivals, art walks, markets, and more, set themselves against the backdrop of British Columbia’s inspired terrain.

Industry and human impact at the interface of the natural landscape. How do we find our place within it? Photo: Venta Rutkauskas

It’s a time to revel in and celebrate the landscape, while the arts provide a passage into human ingenuity. The art experience is imbued with the sights, sounds, and smells of the environment, joining with the subject matter to create a synthesis perhaps unimagined by its creator. It’s that moment when the moon rises above the stage at a festival, dripping ethereal light; or the sculpture surprises you on the path between galleries.

I’ve become curious about the ways our bodies move through various spaces, and the powerful effect nature and creativity have on our beings. The land and my body are not so separate. Have you also felt this? When I perceive the mountains, beautiful and ancient figures lay there in repose, their curved hips and sloped abdomens risen from the valley. I recognize us in them. Their beauty awakens within me a deep knowing.

In recent months, as I moved through landscape, I carried questions about the ways in which humanity has brought the physical environment into art practices, whether through pattern, natural materials, or the infinite colour palette witnessed. Our senses feast on the stimulus, lured back to the wild by the richness offered. Struck by the overwhelming awe I experience while engaging with the beauty of nature, I was also amazed by the human impacts that are enmeshed with that beauty. When I looked more closely, I couldn’t escape our human impression upon the environment.

The ways in which we intersect with this environment are varied. Sometimes, the evidence is a trail system scratched into the surface of the mountain. Other times, its pointed presence rears up like a razor wire snake, half-buried and perilous to passers by. Metal garbage and industry populate the wild places, to say nothing of plastic… traces left by humans who claim territory with flagpoles of homesteads and cut blocks. Our presence creates a patchwork on the landscape, seen as beautiful parcels of cultivated fields, or roads, or gashes left by extraction.

My body merges with the landscape, and yet in the curves of my fingers, in the tread of my footsteps, I sense the complicated relationship we now have with our Earth, as the force of so much change. Alive to this tension, my words and my creative practice contain at once the deep reverence for the gifts of such beauty, alongside an ache and urgency sensed in my blood and bones. I want to celebrate our artistic legacy, like music under the stars among my community, and I need to do it in a way that acknowledges how heavy my human impact can be on the space around me.

I’m inspired by the movement at many arts festivals, introducing a ‘leave no trace’ philosophy to the patrons, building into the experience an awareness of how much you leave behind or use up when you travel. Initiatives like mobile composters, on site at last year’s ArtsWells festival (operated by one of our community’s most treasured conservationists, The Mary Forbes of Potato House fame), demonstrate technology’s constructive role in softening our footprint. That inherent human need to celebrate in community with arts and nature as the stage can serve as a powerful catalyst for our whole beings. We can grow inspired by conversation, bird call, a painting, a song, or a star, and seek to engage with the complex issues we face, harnessing the creative forces required in facing them.

Our bodies belong to the wild, like the figures of the reposing mountain people, and through art and contemplation, we develop a language that can grapple with the knotty and perplexing place we inhabit today. From my perch on the mountain, I hope to see you dancing under the stars or writing a love poem to a tree. Let’s absorb the potent nectar that flows when our bodies are engaged in creative acts in the natural world.

Venta Rutkauskas is the co-ordinator for the Community Arts Council of Williams Lake (CACWL). She is an advocate and lover of the arts and has taught drama and written plays for young children. She is also passionate about the healing arts. Visit www.williamslakecommunityartscouncil.com to learn more about CACWL and local artists.

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