A COUNTRY FOR THE SCULPTING © David Watts 27 August 2003
First it was sculpted by fire. The ancient granites of the Laurentian plateau—what we call the Canadian Shield—were extruded, and compressed in crystals and laminates.
Next it was sculpted by ice. Scoured by waves of glaciation, abraded by fragments that broke off and dragged under the ice sheet, it became rounded, boulder-pebbled.
Then came the run-offs. Water freshened, livened, softened the scoured surface.
Where once there was a central frozen massif was now a giant estuary—Hudson Bay—collecting the melt-flow of myriad rivers.
Shallow seas became plains. Knobs of ice became kettles in rocks and forests, lakes without number. Flowing streams joined the parts. The mass became a living body.
Now it was sculpted by innumerable life forms: lichens on rocks, eagles in cliffs, beaver and muskrat, trees and ferns in forests, grasses that ripple, anchoring soil, adding texture.
Then comes the one who stands upright. For a time she was content to run and dance over the surface of the land, to harvest and hunt, live and celebrate as part of the sculpture.
Others came who forgot they were part of the earth, tools and trinkets in their empty forelimbs.
They went to work, shaving closer, cutting deeper. They ran probes into the underburden, pumping secretions into rivers, mixing blood with bile, grafting stem cells and fatty tissue.
Canvas colours ran together: the painting wept. Fissures opened, the sculpture shuddered.
Then a voice called “Ho! What are we about? What is the masterpiece we are making?
“There is no neutral observer, no artist outside the artwork. As we build we surely become.
“If it is mines and mills and factories, we will be undermined and milled and factored.
Look to the artists—storytellers and wordsmiths, painters of masks and carvers of totems, musicians and shamans, the Emily Carrs and Connie Kaldors, the Group of Seven.
God saw that it was very good. We sat down. They set down and shared what they saw.
The totem emerges from the cedar, the statue from the quarried block.
The iron road wriggles and wrests its way from the rocks and muskeg. The painting appears from pigments of earth and forest. The song springs from undifferentiated sound.
Cities rise as standing stones on the plains. “The earth shows its bones of wind-broken stones, and the sea and the sky are one.” “The Coho flash silver all over the bay.”
A subdivision settles from the machinations of earth movers.
And a nation sculpts itself in a celebration of awakening.