A Pale Caress (deconstructing the landscape)
“Landscape is the world under the gaze of man…Landscape is not nature. It is a mirror reflecting our fears and fantasies about mankind’s place in the world”
Excerpt from artist statement - Ken Jeannotte 1995
An ongoing series of photographic images (and text in some bodies), dealing in a broad sense, with change. The series documents and considers the implications of changes to the natural (and coincidentally cultural) environment world wide due to the development of the infrastructure of agricultural, industrial and post industrial societies.
The various bodies deal with a myriad of interlocking issues, from colonization, displacement, land use and ownership, environmental issues, to assumptions of cultural and religious superiority and our sense of place in this nation called Canada. It also considers the effects of attitudes towards these issues and questions the vision of our “develop at all costs, call it progress” culture.
Full Artist statement - Ken Jeannotte 1995
“A PALE CARESS (Deconstructing the Landscape)” Ken Jeannotte 1995
An ongoing series of photographic images and text, dealing in a broad sense, with the change visited on the land. The
series (made up of separated but related bodies of work) documents and considers the implications of changes to the
natural (and coincidentally cultural) environment worldwide due to the development of the infrastructure of agricultural,
industrial and postindustrial societies.
More specifically, “A Pale Caress” deals with a myriad of interlocking issues, from colonization, displacement, land use
and ownership, to assumptions of racial, cultural and religious superiority and our sense of place in this nation called
Canada. It also considers the effects of attitudes towards these issues and questions the vision of our “develop at all
costs, call it progress” culture.
The first half of the body of work of “Intrusion/Occupation” has its genesis in 1991 while exploring central B.C. I was
originally motivated to photograph the landscape as an exploration of formal concerns. I began by documenting natural
land forms, evidence of human intrusions and alterations imposed on the landscape. Work shot on and around the
Chilcotin Plateau proved to be the most informing. The area appears to be a vast and empty land with a few pockets of
development and habitation hugging a lonely highway. This lack of development highlights what development there is,
and transforms it to the level of symbol. These symbols became the threshold into the body of work and the resulting
images became the impetus for continued investigation. Though these symbols appear almost futile in that part of B.C.,
they speak of an imposition of foreign values. As in the rest of the hemisphere, the land was taken, the natives were
alienated and are marginalized. The first six images and text consider this process.
I first approached the Chilcotin plateau on a rutted dusty trail from the east over 20 years ago. I later discovered that this
trail (known as the “grease trail ” for the oolichan oil traded to the interior by the natives) began in the west, on the coast.
In 1793, with the help of local natives, Alexander McKenzie was guided down it to become the first white man to reach the
Pacific by land. The next incursion of the white man, in 1864, was an attempt to push a road to the Cariboo gold fields
from the head of Butte Inlet. It was met by armed resistance and fourteen road builders were killed. Though the natives
perceived this as an invasion on the part of the Europeans and an act of war, when lured to negotiations, six of the natives
were arrested and hanged.
The second set of six images “Occupation” considers questions of our use, ownership and occupation of the land. What
will be the state of the “Landscape” if we continue down the road our culture has chosen regarding land use and resource
exploitation? Whose “Landscape” is it in the light of the fact that ownership of over 80% of B.C. was never relinquished
by the first nations and, though it was arrogated by the Crown, (contrary to British laws of the day) proper compensation
was never tendered, treaties never negotiated?
In 1945, Indian Reserve # 172 (located in the area of the province covered by treaty) was “sold” to Department of
Veterans Affairs for the settlement of returning veterans. The Department administering Indian Affairs received $70,000 in
compensation for the 18,168 acre Indian reserve. Due to a “slip of the pen” the mineral rights were transferred with the
land. The natives (mostly illiterate hunters and trappers) were assigned to three reserves further north totaling 3,328
acres of land perhaps more suited to these endeavors but nowhere as valuable in real terms.
In 1948, my father (one of many returning vets) having purchased 320 acres of this (Veterans Land Act) land, moved my
mother, my brother and me there. Thanks to thirty years of unrelenting labour, a wife and family of 8 children, and the fact
it was prime farmland, a successful mixed farming operation of 960 acres was carved out of the bush. Due to the
ownership of the mineral rights many of the veterans who purchased this land benefited from the discovery of petroleum
resources on this land.
In 1993, the Appeal Court of Canada ruled that the native’s right to sue for proper compensation had expired in 1978.
Sixteen years of litigation (fought to the bitter end by the federal government) ended on Dec.15 1995. The Supreme Court
of Canada ruled that the Department of Indian Affairs had in fact breached their fiduciary duty to the natives and they must
be compensated for the loss of mineral resources.
In 1998 agreement for compensation was reached between the Federal Govt. and the Blueberry and Doig bands with the
two bands to receive over one hundred million dollars.
The research and production of this body of work ultimately and inexorably led to some questions that, though complex
and difficult, demand to be asked.
Is our sense of identity as Canadians, our sense of place in this land, made possible by the displacement of the
indigenous culture? Did the suppression of the Native peoples’ cultures and religion by the State and Church, and the
resulting loss of sense of identity contribute to their marginalization and virtual designation to the status of foreigner in
their own homeland? Has the arrogation of the land and resources, resulting in our enrichment, come at the expense of
that culture? Has the imposition of foreign values, i.e. (mainly western European, Christian, paternalistic, capitalistic)
been responsible for the loss of resources, the ensuing damage to the environment, the depletion of forests, the pollution
of the water and air, and the near extinction of some wildlife species (Bison, Cod, Salmon etc.)?
The fact that we are living on a planet sustaining more serious environmental damage every day, demands that the values
that drive our society be seriously looked at. Concepts such as consumption being every citizens’ duty (it keeps the
economy moving) and seeing unexploited resources and unused or unproductive land as a waste of these resources
reflect a very short-sighted point of view. Some consideration must be given to those who will come after us (our children
and grandchildren after all). Perhaps the spiritual values of the Indigenous cultures’ (such as seeing oneself as an
integral part of nature, living in harmony with nature, and not as a chosen species somehow detached from or above the
laws of nature) could help alleviate the damage caused by our reckless disregard for the damage perpetrated in the name
of “progress”. Our concepts of the domination and subjugation of nature and the consumption and exploitation of
resources, regardless of the ramifications to the health of the earth that sustains us, surely proves that no, we cannot see
the forest for the trees. Because trees equal money don’t they?
 Visions of America: Landscape as Metaphor in the late 20th. Century. Essays by Martin Friedman. Denver art
Museum, 1994. p21