DOCUMENTARY/ ECO ART/ COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT- IN PROGRESS
Director/Producer/Writer: Denise Kenney
New Monaco: Developing Place- Placing Development is a documentary film that acts as a witness to the five-year transformation of 125 acres of rural Okanagan land into an innovative mixed-use community. The pie shaped property is located high above the small town of Peachland and lake Okanagan and is bordered on two long sides by busy highways. Contained within these noisy borders are untouched forests and grasslands, creeks, orchards, and two old homesteads that are collapsing into their surroundings. Historically, the Okanagan has been colonized by imported aesthetics such as Tudor- and Spanish Mission-themed architecture not rooted in the experience and nature of the Okanagan itself. The developers of New Monaco plan to use green building principles to preserve Peachland’s aesthetic value, heritage and lifestyle while also preserving habitat for native plants and riparian areas and employing water conservation strategies and renewable energy technology. Their website reads:
New Monaco is envisioned as a ‘complete’ community built on principles of sustainability and focused around a neighourhood centre anchored by health and wellness technology employers. The community (is designed to offer) a series of housing clusters and a variety of housing types built into the landscape and connected to the village centre by pedestrian and cycling trails that cross the spectacular natural hillside” (New Monaco Website).
My intention for this project is to have artists occupy the New Monaco site for long periods of time so that they may interpret its transformation from agricultural and wild terrain to a fully developed community. Various artists will serve as witnesses to this transformation and interpret the process through digital images, time-lapse photography, audio recordings and responses, poetry, interviews, and the long-term archiving of events. 2013 is devoted to the witnessing of the land for four complete seasons before developers break ground so that its “natural” rhythms and aesthetic may be experienced in relationship to the development.
The process has only just begun and already I find my artistic practice challenged. I have become less clear about the parameters of the land I am witnessing and my ability to witness it. While filming aerial shots of the property with a model helicopter I suddenly began to wonder where the land actually ends. Does it end at its surface or ten to a hundred feet above ground? Do the New Monaco developers now own the air above the ground? I began to wonder about the birds occupying that space. I decided to accompany a natural resource biologist on an early morning bird listening expedition to assess the environmental impact of the New Monaco development. It was strange to film someone simply listening. I watched him listen. His job was to listen. It became clear almost immediately that I was in a different place than he was. I felt as though I was deaf. While I heard one or two birds, he heard layers upon layers of birds and bird stories. Like an anatomy book with the plastic pages that fold down to illustrate another layer of the body system, he saw all the pages layered one upon the other. I only saw the skin. I wondered how well I could witness something that I wasn’t hearing or seeing very well. Another challenge I am encountering is the challenge of time. None of my projects have spanned five or six years and none have required that I slow down to the extent that I must in order to bear witness to the more-than-human world. Our rhythms and relationship to time are different. My ego just seems too big and too busy. Perhaps that is why I am a performer. I will continue to attend to these challenges and in the meantime, I enjoy wild asparagus, crunchy and juicy like fresh peas. I enjoy the Arrow Leaf Balsam Root in full bloom and moving in all directions along with the grass that I suspect has ticks clinging to every tip, ready to hijack my legs as I pass.
With this film I build partnerships outside of the art world and the nature conservancy world and take my art-making skills into the world that may have the deepest influence on our sense of belonging and relationship to place- real estate development. The primary partnership is between the New Monaco developers and myself as artist and professor. This partnership is of mutual benefit to both parties. I am able to (or will try to) witness, interpret and represent a development project through its various stages of production, and New Monaco is provided with digital documentation of their operations throughout this process.
Is New Monaco an utopian vision? Perhaps. Can community be constructed in this pre-meditated way? I am skeptical. I am also skeptical of New Monaco’s ability to bring this vision to fruition given the financial and logistical challenges of a development project of this scale. When these financial and logistical challenges demand compromises be made, will these compromises betray the original goal? I don’t know. For me, the name New Monaco, betrays conflicting understandings of this new community’s relationship to this place and this history. But despite all of these questions, New Monaco remains a project that is attempting to work with community to build “home” in the Okanagan in a more meaningful and sustainable way. I don’t subscribe to dialectical thinking, nor am I seeking to define forces of opposition. If there is a tension in this story, that tension may be between our dreams and our ability to bring those dreams to fruition, but I believe that any attempt to do so in a tangible way is a noble pursuit. I plan to witness this pursuit from, as much as possible, the point of view of my physical self on the material land.
- New Monaco Enterprise Corp. Environmental Page, accessed June 21, 2013, http://www.newmonaco.ca/energy.
This project is supported by the Eco Art Incubator, the Okanagan Sustainability Institute, and New Monaco Enterprise Corp.