This year the universe is calling me back to nature. Back home.
Earlier this summer, my husband and I determined specifically that we would spend at least one week of our three week trip back to Colorado in the mountains. We both really needed the time to decompress and reconnect. We visited family, hiked, canoed, camped in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison (an incredible natural wonder that I had never seen before), and just sat doing nothing, taking in the sky and the beauty of it all. I mention this, because Thunder Bay reminds me of home.
The sky reminds me of the Colorado sky. The size of it, the color of it. There is an energy here that is hard to explain. One member of our ensemble referred to it as a “spiritual vortex.” You can definitely feel it. Right on the northern shore of Lake Superior and surrounded by hills and mountains, rivers, lakes and waterfalls. Apparently, the mid-continental rift starts here. And last night, I discovered another connection to home. This is an extreme simplification, so please forgive me, but many of the unique features of this region were formed, like the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, during the Precambrian stage of volcanism and faulting. Magma, and water, and other fluids worked their way up into the fissures and faults in the rock, expanded and morphed it, then crystalized once they cooled. In the Black Canyon, these fractures are visible in the distinctive lines streaking the steep walls of the canyon (pictured above). In Thunder Bay, they formed the veins and cavities of amethyst (and other precious minerals), on which the city was built.
Each year we write these posts, attempting to document our time with World Wide Lab, and each year they take the temperature of where we are as individuals, as artists, as a collective in this particular moment in this particular place. Certain things remain the same/recur, other things transform dramatically. There is both continuity and change.
We are in a new place this year, but one of the things that remains the same is the fact that each year we learn about new places and peoples and histories. There is much that is unknown when starting a new project with WWL. We never know going in exactly what we will make together. One way to get a “hold,” to get our feet under us in this unsteady terrain, is research. Of course we each conduct individual investigations based on the theme and locale and personal inclinations, but we also ask the local participants for recommendations of reading, resources and stories that we should familiarize ourselves with. And each time I engage in this research, these investigations, it becomes clearer and clearer to me how connected we all are. Learning about other cultures, other countries, other ways of looking at the world, forces me to think about/rethink my own.
Learning about some of the specific challenges that Thunder Bay faces today, for example the historical treatment of its indigenous populations, makes me re-examine these same challenges – a culture and systems of oppression and distraction and silencing – that are taking place in the US as well. A divide is happening in both places, unspoken traumas that are finally finding a voice. But the challenge (always the challenge) is how to be heard, how to get others to listen, and whether it is possible to heal. When is the moment that the fissures in the system are finally forced open? When does the trickle of water become powerful enough to alter the course of the canyon?
I think back to my dissertation on female playwrights at the turn of the 20th century. My investigation revealed a cultural shift being documented through the world-wide accumulation of voices talking about the liberation and the rights of women – voices from disparate parts of the world rising as one voice. Rising the same time, likely unknown to one another, but connected by a common consciousness, a common sense/sentiment/conviction that things have to change – that things can change. An effort (united but not unified), to change people’s minds about things…about women…about “The Woman Question” (as if it were questionable whether women merited this kind of attention, this kind of thought). It wasn’t even 100 years ago that women finally got the night right to vote (in the US), and we’ve been fighting for our own rights, for true equality, ever since. But things did change. Things have changed. And they continue to shift and morph a fraction of a millimeter every year/month/day, like a river slowly carving a path down the canyon.
The more I travel abroad to make work with the WWL, the more aware I’ve become of the many fissures of trauma – like the lava and waters that fractured those ancient rocks – that stymie us all. It’s no wonder that those in power don’t want us educated. The more we know about one another, the more we understand those systems of power and control, the more we can unify to change them.
What is it that has to happen for a real shift to occur? For the silenced to truly be heard? To really understand another viewpoint and embrace other ways of thinking? How many voices have to join together? Small changes happen incrementally (they always do), over long long stretches of time; but then suddenly, the magma can push up through the rock, through the fissures and cracks in the status quo. Seismic shifts (can) come suddenly and with a fury. And once they start, nothing can stop them. I think we’re on the precipice of some seismic shifts – if we can join together to make them happen.
The beauty of the Black Canyon today, and the reason it has survived so many millennia, is precisely because of the bond between the soft and hard minerals that comprise it: contrasting elements (some very old, some relatively new) that shape and support one another, and that continually shift with the waters of time.
Laura Tesman, Brooklyn NY