Kyle Scheurmann | Hold On

Kyle Scheurmann | Hold On 
April 16-30, 2022
OPENING Saturday, April 16, artist in attendance 12- 4 pm 
340 Dundas Street West, Toronto

Kyle Scheurmann’s vivid paintings share a strong ecological message. The paintings in Scheurmann’s all-new exhibition, Hold On, document the ‘front lines’ of climate change as experienced first-hand by the artist at the Fairy Creek blockade and scenes of contemporary life as ecological collapse approaches. Together, these portraits of the crisis form a cohesive narrative across paintings about the state of our environment. 

Artist's statement:

When an old-growth cedar naturally dies in an ancient forest, it turns white. These massive ‘Snags’ become the homes for countless species of wildlife while simultaneously feeding the forest around them. Bacteria, fungi and insects break down and utilize every last bit of the old tree’s resources. Sometimes, this process can take hundreds of years.

When an old-growth cedar is cut down and parts are left behind in a clearcut patch, they also turn white - but often in just a few seasons. These clearcuts create carbon sequester “dead zones”, totalling an area larger than Vancouver Island that pushes more carbon into the atmosphere from rabid decomposition and sun bleaching than newly planted trees can absorb.

“Over the past 20 years, BC forests were so heavily logged that net carbon emissions caused by the industry are now twice as large as Alberta’s oil sands.” (- David Broadland, Focus on Victoria)

On April 4th, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its 2022 assessment. Or, as the UN Secretary-General António Guterres referred to it; "a litany of broken climate promises. It is a file of shame, cataloguing the empty pledges that put us firmly on track toward an unlivable world.”

On the unceded clearcut mountainsides along the pacific northwest coast, you can see these broken promises everywhere you look.

Broken promises that fall at the feet of the BC government. From refusing to implement the recommendations of its own “Old Growth Strategic Review Panel”, to claiming there is “no logging going on” at Fairy Creek, despite Pacheedaht Elder Bill Jones stating “The BC government has issued lies saying they’ve stopped logging while we can see trucks going by loaded with the trees we’re trying to protect.”

This track record has not stopped the government from continuing to make bold claims designed to feature well in press conferences. During the recent COP26 summit in Scotland, “the government of BC identified 2.6 million hectares [of deferrals] of the province’s most at-risk old-growth forests, but stopped short of announcing specific or permanent protections for the ancient, rare and large trees.” (- Stephanie Wood, The Narwhal)

These deferrals do not stop logging. In only the areas mentioned, they just postpone it for 2 years, allowing for old growth logging to continue at a rate of 50,000 hectares per year. The “annual allowable cut” doesn’t change, ancient trees will just be cut in different locations. Most of the forests protected by the Fairy Creek Blockades are not even on this deferral list.

So with less than 2.7% of productive ancient forest left in BC, as well as a “Talk and Log” policy firmly in place by the government, how can we Hold On to what we have left?

 At Eden Camp, one of several camps making up the Fairy Creek Blockades on unceded Pacheedaht territory - on Tree Farm Licence (TFL) 46 - the act of holding on took several literal forms.

Sometimes, it meant searching deep in the grove for signs of the endangered Goshawk - a rare bird that if found, would at least temporarily force the logging to stop.

Sometimes it meant locking yourself shoulder deep into the earth, physically preventing the logging trucks from going any further.

Sometimes it just meant cooking a warm meal for your fellow Forest Protectors.

I was scared when I first got to camp. I’d never been anywhere like that before. Not only because of the 1000-year-old cedars I now called my neighbours, but because of the persistent and swelling presence of RCMP. Their job was to forcibly remove us all in favour of short-term profit for the logging company, Teal Jones. At first, I was so scared, I sleep in my truck rather than setting up my tent just in case I needed to make a sudden late-night exit.

But the strength and power of the relationships between Forest Protectors quickly pulled me into the community. It is their conviction which has had the biggest lasting impact on me.

I had originally gone there as an ‘Artist in Residence’. I wanted to be witness to the realities on the frontlines of climate change. By the end of my four months, I’d also served as press on the RCMP media list, documenting enforcement in real time.

But most importantly, I grew into a Forest Protector too.

Canadian landscape painting is inseparable from the history of colonization. Although it has often played a role in the romanticization of a so-called frontier, in a contemporary context, I believe that landscape painting is required to take into consideration the reality of environmental destruction at the hands of colonialism while pursuing indigenous sovereignty as the primary step in healing.

In this way, the act of painting became my method of residence - documenting not only the act of ‘Holding On,’ but also reflecting on what we have left to ‘Hold On’ to.

As the repercussion of climate change seep deeper into our daily lives - heat domes, atmospheric rivers, fires, floods, and drought - we must urgently take stock of what’s at stake. Because cutting those trees affects us all, in every corner of the globe.

I am grateful for the support of the Forest Protectors I now call friends. Their assistance on the ground made my job as an artist considerably easier. Their continued encouragement and consultation in the days since camp was destroyed has been crucial to the realization of this new work. Now, it is their written reflections of experiences from the frontlines that breathe life into images they helped create.

Looking back, I now think of Eden Camp as one giant piece of art: A collaborative installation of determination.

I remember the first time I met Chickweed, just a few hours after arriving at Eden. Across the campfire, she very confidently said to me, “I’m here to put my body between those saws and these trees. What are you here to do?”

Exactly one year later, it’s now clear that what I went there to do was to make these paintings.”    -- Kyle Scheurmann


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