Two renowned Canadian artists are lending their artworks to the Senate for a new exhibit highlighting the effects of climate change on the country’s landscapes and endangered species.

Astronaut, neurologist and artist Roberta Bondar and landscape photographer Edward Burtynsky — known for his large-scale images of industrialization’s impact on nature — have each contributed a photograph to “Visual Voices: Artists & the Environment”, an art installation at the Senate of Canada Building.

Dr. Bondar, who was the first Canadian woman in space, went to great heights to capture her work, Endangered Shadows. The digital aerial image shows a group of Whooping Cranes in the Prairie Pothole Region of Saskatchewan, a common stopover for the endangered birds’ biannual migration.

The rich textures of the high-resolution photograph and the angle of the light hitting the staging pond make it look as if a large tidal wave is threatening to engulf the birds. It’s symbolic of the dangers that the Whooping Cranes face as climate change puts their habitats and migratory corridors at risk.

Mr. Burtynsky’s Alberta Oil Sands #6, Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, 2007 provides a large-scale view of the oil sands in Fort McMurray, Alberta, documenting the human impacts on the landscape.

These artworks also honour the important role artists play in sparking discussions about issues of national importance, like climate change.

Endangered Shadows

inkjet photographic print
2018

Roberta Bondar

Canadian
Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, 1945

Collection of the artist

Photo credit: Roberta Bondar.

Alberta Oil Sands #6, Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, 2007

digital chromogenic colour print
2007

Edward Burtynsky

Canadian
St. Catharine’s, Ontario, 1955

Collection of the artist

Photo © Edward Burtynsky, courtesy Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto.

Senators Stan Kutcher and Mary Coyle suggested that the Senate’s Artwork and Heritage Advisory Working Group co-ordinate an art exhibit showing perspectives on climate change and environmental preservation.

“These pieces reflect the debates that are going on across Canada with regard to our environment, the protection of the planet and the issues of climate change,” said working group chair Senator Patricia Bovey, who is also the former director of the Winnipeg Art Gallery.

“I hope that visitors to the Senate of Canada will really take time to listen to what these two tremendously important Canadian artists say in their work.”

“Visual Voices: Artists & the Environment” will be on display in the Senate of Canada Building — once again open to the public for guided tours — until the end of March 2023.

Senator Patricia Bovey (left) oversees the installation of the “Visual Voices: Artists & the Environment” exhibit in the Senate of Canada Building on April 28, 2022

Senator Patricia Bovey (left) oversees the installation of the “Visual Voices: Artists & the Environment” exhibit in the Senate of Canada Building on April 28, 2022. Senate Curator Tamara Dolan (right) and Assistant Curator Meghan Paterson hang an artwork by landscape photographer Edward Burtynsky. An aerial photograph by Roberta Bondar is also featured in the exhibit.

Senator Bovey stands in front of “Visual Voices: Artists & the Environment,” which will be on display in the Senate of Canada Building until the end of March 2023.

Senator Bovey stands in front of “Visual Voices: Artists & the Environment,” which will be on display in the Senate of Canada Building until the end of March 2023.

In their own words

“Artists over decades have portrayed Canada’s landscape, its flora and fauna, highlighting where we live, the need for environmental preservation and the effects of climate change. Drawing communities and diverse sectors together through their visual insights, they evoke discussion. Astronaut, neurologist, and artist Roberta Bondar, working with NASA, depicts endangered species in Endangered Shadows. Governor Generals’ Awards in Visual and Media Arts recipient Edward Burtynsky, supported by industry and business, documents human impacts on the land in Alberta Oil Sands #6, Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, 2007. These photographs present the realities they see, and they call us all to action to preserve our planet to sustain life.”

Senator Patricia Bovey

“In my current project, Protecting Space for Birds, I am integrating three views of migratory bird corridors—outer space, aerial and surface—in the Americas and Asia, Europe and Africa, of habitats needed by endangered and threatened birds, to develop a global, emotional story to encourage ethical protection of habitats and fragile avian species.

Endangered Shadows is a high-resolution medium format, digital aerial image over a remnant pond in the Prairie Pothole Region of Saskatchewan, of staging and feeding endangered Whooping Cranes. A harbinger of climate change and the perils faced by the Whooping Crane on its twice yearly 4,200-km migration, an abstract wave suggested by the angle of light on the salty pond substrate, rises behind the unaware avian forms, threatening to engulf them.”

Roberta Bondar
Photo credit: Roberta Bondar

“When I first began photographing industry it was out of a sense of awe at what we as a species were up to, paired with a lament for the loss of the landscapes of nature I’d come to love so dearly as a boy, at the hands of human progress. Our achievements became a source of infinite possibilities. But time goes on, and that flush of wonder began to turn. The car that I drove cross-country began to represent not only freedom, but also something much more conflicted. I began to think about oil itself: as both the source of energy that makes everything possible, and as a source of dread, for its ongoing endangerment of our habitat.”

Edward Burtynsky
Photo credit: Birgit Kleber (2012)

“I am hopeful that these pieces will do more than just hang in the Senate of Canada Building. I hope they will be a reminder to all senators, staff and administration that we only have one earth, and that action is required now if we want to keep it in good shape for the generations that follow.”

“The installation is also particularly timely as the Senate is once again welcoming visitors. I hope that our excellent tour guides will take the time to show these pieces to our visitors. We want to reinforce the importance of working together across all boundaries and jurisdictions to reach net zero and highlight that the Senate of Canada is seized with the importance of being part of this objective.”

Senator Stan Kutcher

“The stunningly provocative photographic art of renowned Canadian artists Edward Burtynsky and Roberta Bondar depicts two powerful Canadian environmental truths. Mr. Burtynsky’s Alberta Oil Sands #6 starkly expresses the inevitable consequences of oil and gas development while Dr. Bondar’s Endangered Shadows portrays the fragility of our biodiversity. For me, climate change is what links the two images and compels us to act with urgency on climate mitigation and adaptation. I hope this installation will encourage Senate visitors and all Canadians to appreciate the importance of coming together to positively address this issue that is so critical to our future.”

Senator Mary Coyle
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