A Crude Case: Landscapes of Extraction in Canadian Contemporary Visual Culture
In this dissertation, I examine the relationship between visual culture and the culture of oil in Canada, specifically, the visual culture of the Alberta oil sands. I situate my research in the context of recent contentious environmental and infrastructural developments, including the Kinder Morgan pipeline (2004) and Northern Gateway pipeline (2006) proposals, and land claim disputes between the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and Canadian provincial and federal governments, which since the early-twenty-first century have been at the forefront of public discussions. This study seeks to explore what visual knowledge does, how environmental and social concerns are communicated visually, and the affective dimensions of these visualizations. I argue that the visual culture of the Alberta oil sands is both a strategic tool and a site of understanding that is key for advancing environmental and social knowledge. I examine the concept of wilderness in Canada and environmental and social justice as they are visualized in three areas: contemporary art, mass media and tourism, and activism. Each area forms a case study and is analyzed in context to explore the different ways in which the visual operates to deepen the moral and ethical dimensions of content—whether on informational, argumentative, emotional, or affective levels. Key to this discussion is sensitivity to the systems of meaning and value at play in each area, and how these both shape art, media, tourism, and activism and inform their reception. Attending to these systems of meaning also enables me to tease out within each area competing understandings, agendas, and ideologies, as well as relationships of one to another.