Silent Picnic was a group performance marking the last evening of our residency at Empire of Dirt. Our collective shared an hour of silence while eating homemade superfoods (inspired by the previous night’s Super Moon), sitting on silver space blankets, and using listening devices to overhear the conversation between power lines humming overhead and bugs buzzing in the grass below.
Our collective spent two weeks wandering the woods, meadows, and mountainside on the traditional territory of the Yaqan Nukiy within the Ktunaxa Nations, and thinking about contemporary ‘land art.’ Land art, like industry, is often characterized by cuts, rifts, and artificially shifted landscapes.
Seeing these dazzling and monstrous power lines slicing their way up Arrow Mountain, a stone’s throw from Empire of Dirt, we couldn’t help but imagine them as found sculptures, installations integrated into the land – as impressive and imposing as any traditional 1960s earthwork.
Major utilities often impact environments, sometimes in ways not fully understood at the time of their construction. We seldom think about power – its origins, aesthetics, extraction, or dissemination – despite using it every day. About 87% of electricity in British Columbia comes from hydroelectric energy.
The damming and diking of Kootenay Valley has profoundly impacted the shape of the landscape, sometimes to the benefit of agriculture, sometimes at the expense of the land itself, and certainly at great cost for local Indigenous populations (who were not always notified that their territories would be flooded before the water started rising). Transmission lines carry power into outlying regions, sometimes slicing through heavily forested areas to accomplish this end. The lines left behind in the landscape are testament to human desires.
The world is full of charge; our bodies are electric. Nevertheless, electricity sits in the camp of “science-magic,” crackling in the sky overhead, or hidden from view alongside other utilities that lend comfort and ease to our daily lives.
Silent Picnic was a brief intervention at a power-full site of transmission, using listening devices and a moment of pause to amplify our awareness. Beneath the power lines on Arrow Mountain, the soundscape reveals all without a word ever needing to be said.
Thanks to this collective of folks (Alia Shahab, Lane Shordee, Nikki Martens, and baby Reishiii) for sharing this residency, to Empire of Dirt for having us, to the lands for holding us, and to Jim & Marnie for inviting us.
We gratefully acknowledge the support of Canada Council for the Arts.