episode 63 is part 1 of a bilingual speculative fiction radio play set in an undergraduate university history seminar course about the arts scene in 2021 in Canada that launches season 3
The setting is an undergraduate university history seminar course called ‘History of 2021 in Canada’. I want to thank my son Riel, student of history, for the idea. It is set in the distant future, where a professor is presenting a ‘case study’ based on the second season of the conscient podcast as part of a class on art in 2021. The episode is in two parts, episode 63 is part 1 and episode 64 is part 2. You’ll see that they are separated by an event, that you’ll hear.
There are four people in the classroom: the teacher played by myself, Claude Schryer, a young male student is played by my son Riel Schryer, a young female student, who is online, is played by my daughter Clara Schryer and a female adult student is played by my wife Sabrina Mathews. I want to thank the cast.
A reminder that most of the narration is in English, but there are elements and excerpts of the interviews that are in French and some of the narrations as well.
Thanks for listening.
Here are the excerpts from season 2 in this episode (in order of appearance):
e63 in Reaper editing software
The cast : Sabrina Mathews as 'adult student', Claude Schryer as 'professor' and Riel Schryer as 'male student', September 2021, Ottawa
The cast: Clara Schryer as 'female student', September 2021, Ottawa
(note: the recording has additional elements that were improvised during the recording)
(Sounds of students chatting, arriving in class and sitting down)
Teacher: Hello students. Let’s start OK. Welcome to the History of 2021 in Canada seminar. How is everyone doing? OK? I see that we have 2 students in class and one online. So, today’s topic is the arts and the ecological crisis in 2021… comme vous le savez, le cours Histoire de 2021 au Canada est une classe bilingue, alors sentez-vous à l’aise de parler dans la langue de votre choix. Please feel free to speak in the language of your choice in this class or in writing of any of your assignments. Alright, where shall we begin here? We’re going to do a case study today of the second season of the conscient podcast, which ran from March to August 2021. It was produced by an Ottawa based sound artist, Claude Schryer, who is passed away now, but I was very fortunate that his children, Riel and Clara, kindly helped me do some of the research for this class. I want to check if you have all had a chance to listen to the course materials, which were… conscient podcast episodes… 19 reality and 62 compilation. Were you…
Male student (interrupting): Excuse me, but can you tell us why did you choose this podcast? Historically speaking, you know, there were other podcasts in Canada in 2021 that also explored issues of art and environment. Why this one?
Teacher: That’s a very good question. I chose the second season of this podcast because Schryer was exploring the themes of reality and ecological grief, which were timely in 2021 and still are today. Also because it gives us a snapshot of what artists and cultural workers were thinking about in relation to the ecological crisis at that time. It was an interesting year, 2021. This is when the Sixth IPCC report was released, it’s when much of western Canada was on fire, which unfortunately become the norm across Canada, it’s also when SCALE, the Sectoral Climate Arts Leadership for the Emergency, which an arts and climate emergency organization, was created and so many other things, It was a pivotal year. I’ll start by playing a recording of Schryer himself explaining what season 2 is about in conversation with Ian Garrett in episode 54. Let’s give that a listen.
Why did I ask that question? The reason is because I was living it myself. I was feeling that accepting reality was necessary for me to move on into a more active, engaged... I had to kind of deal with that. The fact that it's so bad, that if I don't actually accept it - especially the baked in things that we can't change - I can't function and just today, May 25th, I had a really bad dark day. I was crying inside my head about how bad things are and just losing hope and then I read this beautiful piece by Rebecca Solnit, who was saying, that there's some hope out there because the combination of all these efforts. You have been made doing a lot, but when you combine that with so many like millions and millions of people around the world who are making a difference, it will come together and there will be a tipping point towards some kind of... not just an awakening, but action... collective action. That's where we need to go and that's where we are going.
Female student (interrupting)OK, mais ce balado a été produit par un homme blanc avec tous les préjugés de l’époque…
Teacher: That’s a good point. Schryer had good intentions did carry some unconscious biases in his discourse that were typical of his generation and his times but we’re focusing on his guests, who were very interesting, and they come from a wide range of cultural backgrounds, ages, and points of view. Why don’t we start with one my favorite quotes from episode 55, because I was able to listen to them all as part of my work for this class. It’s by indigenous artist France Trepanier, who was a visual artist, curator and researcher of Kanien’kéha:ka and French ancestry. Trepanier was known in the arts community in particular for a project called Primary Colours which placed Indigenous arts at the centre of the Canadian arts system. This excerpt is in French, so I’ll let you listen to the original recording then I’ll explain what France was talking about for those who don’t understand French, and of course, you can use the simultaneous translation function on your computers as well.
Je pense que ce cycle du colonialisme, et de ce que ça a apporté, on est en train d'arriver à la fin de ce cycle là aussi, et avec le recul, on va s'apercevoir que cela a été un tout petit instant dans un espace beaucoup plus vaste, et qu’on est en train de retourner à des connaissances très profondes. Qu'est-ce que ça veut dire de vivre ici sur cette planète? Ce que ça implique comme possibilité, mais comme responsabilité aussi de maintenir les relations harmonieuses? Moi, je dis que la solution à la crise climatique c'est cardiaque. Ça va passer par le cœur. On parle d'amour avec la planète. C'est ça, le travail.
Teacher: What Trépanier is saying here is that she thinks that the 500 plus year cycle of colonialism on Turtle Island was coming to an end and we now know that she was right, with the Indigenization of Canadian Culture movement that started around then. People began to understand the true meaning of reconciliation during this era. In this quote Trépanier talks about how it’s everyone’s responsibility to maintain harmonious relationships in their communities and our need to love the planet. Does anyone have any questions so far? No, then I’ll move on to…
Female student (interrupting): Wait, professor, are you saying that indigenous arts and culture were not at the heart of Canadian culture in 2021?
Female adult student: Can I answer that one?
Teacher: Sure, please go ahead.
Female adult student: Throughout the early history of Canada the arts and culture scene was dominated by European art forms and left little space for Indigenous voices. This was part of the colonial structure, but it changed when people started listening to indigenous voices and learning about indigenous culture and languages at school, like I did. This re-education led to massive change in cultural institutions and shift in people’s worldview…
Teacher: That’s exactly right. Thank you for that. Let me give you another example of an indigenous artist from season 2. Suzanne Keeptwo was a Métis writer and teacher who wrote a book in 2021 called We All Go Back to the Land : The Who, Why, and How of Land Acknowledgements. This excerpt is from episode 47:
In the work that I do and the book that I've just had published called, We All Go Back to the Land, it's really an exploration of that Original Agreement and what it means today. So I want to remind Indigenous readers of our Original Agreement to nurture and protect and honor and respect the Earth Mother and all of the gifts that she has for us and then to introduce that Original Agreement to non-indigenous Canadians or others of the world that so that we can together, as a human species, work toward what I call the ultimate act of reconciliation: to help heal the earth.
Teacher: We’ll come back to more indigenous perspectives at the end of today’s class. The next recording I want you to listen to isfromepisode 21 with philosopher Dr Todd Dufresne,who wrote a book in 2020 called The Democracy of Suffering:
I think capitalism is over, but the problem is we have nothing to replace it with. Here's when we need artists, and others, to tell us what kind of vision they have for a future that is different than that: a future of play and meaningful work would be one future that I think is not just utopic, but very possible. So, there's a possible future moving forward that could be much better than it is right now, but we're not going to get there without democracy of suffering as we're experiencing it now and will at least over the next 20, 30, 40 years until we figure this out, but we need to figure it out quickly.
Teacher: Well, overall, Dr. Dufresne was right. We did go through a lot of physical and mental anguish, didn’t we, and we still are, in fact, with the resettlements, the food rations and all of that, but we survived and it’s interesting to see that Dufresne was right in predicting that artists would help articulate a vision for the future. Artists have always done this, but it was particularly important at this time when the window of time before irreparable damage… was narrowing. There was a sense at the time that there were only a few years left and they were right. So we’ll come to see how this happened a bit later but let’s move on now to look at some of the causes of the ecological crisis. Why did this happen and what were some of the underlying conditions? Episode 23 features environmental activist Anjali Appadurai and provides insights on range of social and ecological justice issues. BTW does anyone know why Appadurai is famous in the history of climate activism?
Male Student: Wasn’t she the one that give that speech in 2011 in South Africa. I saw it on You Tube the other day in my History of Social Equity class. I think I can play it for you from my laptop. Here it is:
I speak for more than half the world’s population. We are the silent majority. You’ve given us a seat in this hall, but our interests are not on the table. What does it take to get a stake in this game? Lobbyists? Corporate influence? Money? You’ve been negotiating all my life. In that time, you’ve failed to meet pledges, you’ve missed targets, and you’ve broken promises.
Teacher: Thanks.That’s right. Check out the entire speech when you get a chance. Now let’s listen to Anjali in her conversation with Schryer. This except is quite fun because they are doing a soundwalk in a park in Vancouver and you hear some of the soundscapes from that time, like crows and those loud gas-powered vehicles during the conversation that were typical of that noisy era. Of course, it all sounds much different today. Here is an excerpt of their conversation.
The climate crisis and the broader ecological crisis is a symptom of the deeper disease, which is that rift from nature, that seed of domination, of accumulation, of greed and of the urge to dominate others through colonialism, through slavery, through othering – the root is actually othering – and that is something that artists can touch. That is what has to be healed, and when we heal that, what does the world on the other side of a just transition look like? I really don’t want to believe that it looks like exactly this, but with solar. The first language that colonisation sought to suppress, which was that of indigenous people, is where a lot of answers are held.
Teacher: So Appadurai worked closely with fellow activist Seth Klein on a project called Climate Emergency Unit which made a parallel between Canada’s effort during World War 2 and the efforts required to achieve the just transition and avoid the worse outcomes of climate change based on Seth’s book A Good War : Mobilizing Canada for the Climate Emergency.
Female student: Can you tell us more about the… Climate Emergency Unit? What happened to them?
Teacher: Well, I know that they were funded by the David Suzuki Institute and that they had four goals. Let’s see if I can remember them, oh, I have them right here: to spendwhat it takes to win, to create new economic institutions to get the job done, to shift from voluntary and incentive-based policies to mandatory measures and to tell the truth about the severity of the crisis and communicates a sense of urgency about the measures necessary to combat it.The unit was dissolved once they achieved those goals or at least were sufficiently advanced to be able to move on to other things.
Female student: (interrupting): That’s amazing.
Teacher: Yes, it was, but it was an uphill battle, but we are thankful that they persisted, along with thousands of other similar environmental initiatives around the world at that time, and most importantly once they were combined and people worked together as a community and they were able to push us away, and all living beings, from the precipice of catastrophe and towards the recovery that we are experiencing today. Of course, we’re still in crisis now but back in 2021, they had no idea whether they would succeed. It was a time of great uncertainty, like the beginning of World War 2 in 1940 when Canada and its allies did not know whether their efforts to fight fascism in Europe would succeed. Let’s listen to Seth Klein, leader of the Climate Emergency Unit from episode 26 and his interest in the arts to help rally people to this cause:
Here would be my challenge to artists today. We're beginning to see artists across many artistic domains producing climate and climate emergency art, which is important and good to see. What's striking to me is that most of it, in the main, is dystopian, about how horrific the world will be if we fail to rise to this moment. To a certain extent, that makes sense because it is scary and horrific, but here's what intrigued me about what artists were producing in the war is that in the main, it was not dystopian, even though the war was horrific. It was rallying us: the tone was rallying us. I found myself listening to this music as I was doing the research and thinking, World War II had a popular soundtrack, the anti-Vietnam war had a popular soundtrack. When I was a kid in the peace and disarmament movement, there was a popular soundtrack. This doesn't have a popular soundtrack, yet.
Female student: Yah, but we have a popular soundtrack now for the climate emergency. I sometimes listen to them on my oldie’s playlist on Spotify. Do you know that tune from 2025, how did it go (mumbling words and a song, improvised)?
Male student (interrupting): But professor, I have trouble understanding what was their problem? The issues seemed so obvious. All the scientific data was there from the COP reports and much more. Why did they have their heads in the sand?
Teacher: That’s another good question. Let’s look at the social structure at the time. The oil and gas industry were extremely wealthy, and powerful and they were desperate to maintain their grip on power, despite the cost to the environment and life on earth it might be, but to be fair, people were also complicit in this dynamic because they were users of this oil and gas, but also because western society had built a massive infrastructure with essentially nonrenewable resources that was destroying the planet and continued to behave in destructive ways. How can we understand this? Schryer talked to a lot of researchers and thought leaders who provides context and insights. Let’s listen to arts researcher Dr. Danielle Boutet. This one is in French. She explains the lack of collective awareness inepisode 60. This one is in French, so I’ll give you a summary afterwards.
Collectivement, on est inconscient. On cherche à parler de la conscience écologique. On cherche à parler de ça, mais en réalité… S’il y a une psyché collective, ce que je crois, je pense qu’il y a une espèce d’esprit collectif, mais c’est un esprit qui est inconscient, qui n’est pas capable de se voir aller, de se réfléchir et donc pas capable de méditer, pas capable de se transformer, donc soumis à ses peurs et ses pulsions. Je suis assez pessimiste par rapport à ça, mais c’est que le deuil écologique, tout le chagrin et toute la peur est refoulée présentement. Il y a des activistes qui crient dans le désert, qui hurlent, et les gens entendent, mais comme dans un brouillard. Ce n’est pas suffisant pour amener à une action collective. Donc, le deuil il est loin d’être fait, collectivement.
Teacher: What Boutet is saying here, is that people in 2021 were collectively unconscious or unaware of the severity of environmental issues. Boutet, who was a leading expert on contemporary art, but also on social issues, explains that people were not capable of changing their ways and that their grief and fears were being repressed. She admits that some activists were screaming out loud, and that some people were listening, but was all in a fog, which she calls un brouillard as she says in French, and that there was simply not enough momentum to bring about collective action. Of course, thankfully, this would change once people finally woke up to reality a few years later. At the time it seemed quite grim.
One of the issues at the time was also a lack of agency. Let’s listen to researcher and arts strategist Alexis Frasz in episode 40 was very articulate about this:
There is a lot of awareness and interest in making change and yet change still isn't really happening, at least not at the pace or scale that we need. It feels to me increasingly like there's not a lack of awareness, nor a lack of concern, or even a lack of willingness, but actually a lack of agency. I've been thinking a lot about the role of arts, and culture and creative practice in helping people not just wake up to the need for change, but actually undergo the entire transformational process from that moment of waking up (which you and I share a language around Buddhist practice). There's that idea that you can wake up in an instant but integrating the awakeness into your daily life is actually a process. It's an ongoing thing.
Female student (interrupting): Ok, so I get that it’s an ongoing thing but what made the difference then? Do you really think that something as ephemeral and marginal as art had an impact?
Teacher: Well, yes, actually, it did, and we’ll get to that soon but first, I’d like to give you another example of the social dynamic at the time. Speaking of time, how are we doing for time, ok? Here’s an excerpt from episode 42 architect Mark Rosen:
The idea of enough is very interesting to me. The idea that the planet doesn't have enough for us on our current trajectory is at the heart of that. The question of whether the planet has enough for everyone on the planet, if we change the way we do things is an interesting way. Can we sustain seven, eight, nine billion people on the planet if everyone's idea of enough was balanced with that equation? I don't know, but I think it's possible. I think that if we've shown nothing else as a species, as humans, it's adaptability and resiliency and when forced to, we can do surprisingly monumental things and changes when the threat becomes real to us.
Male student: Ok. I get it. When the threat became real, they changed their ways, out of self interest, I suppose… but I have a question. Schryer talks about reality and grief as the two main topics in season 2, right. Why did he do that? I know that he was a zen buddhist and that are interested in reality, but why did he explore those specific issues?
Teacher : Schryer asked each of his 41 guests in season 2 how they viewed reality and ecological grief and he got, well, 41 different answers. I’ve listened to some of them all as part of my research for this class. One of my favorite responses to Schryer’s questions about ecological grief is by filmmaker Jennifer Abbott, who was an activist film maker at this time…
Male student (interrupting): I found some info her, let me see, I think she co-director and editor of, um (sound of typing) The Corporation (2003), wow, that became most awarded documentary in Canadian history at that time. She was also Co-Director of a sequel called… The New Corporation: The Unfortunately Necessary Sequel(2020)
Adult student: I’ve seen both of those films in film studies class. Amazing documentaries. I bet they scared the living…
Female student (interrupting) And she was also… director of The Magnitude of all Things (2020) which is kind of a classic of the ecological grief film.
Teacher: Yes, that’s right. Let’s listen to an excerpt from episode 45 where Abbott talks about delusion and brainwashing:
The notion of reality and the way we grasp reality as humans is so deeply subjective, but it's also socially constructed, and so, as a filmmaker - and this is relevant because I'm also a Zen Buddhist - from both those perspectives, I try to explore what we perceive as reality to untangle and figure out in what ways are we being deluded? And in what ways do we have clear vision? And obviously the clearer vision we can have, the better actions we take to ensure a more compassionate, just and sustainable livable world. I'm all for untangling the delusion while admitting wholeheartedly that to untangle it fully is impossible.
Teacher: Let’s move on now to the other main issue in season 2, ecological grief, which, at the time, was defined as psychological response to loss caused by environmental destruction. The term Solastalgia, coined by Australian Glenn Albrecht, was also used at the time. What it basically means is how to deal the emotional charge of environmental loss. Of course, we’re still dealing with ecological grief today, but at least now we know that one of the best ways to address loss is through regeneration and rebuilding. But back in 2021, ecological grief was something people were becoming aware of and not able to turn it into a positive force, not at first anyway. I would like to start with musician Dr. Tanya Kalmanovitch.Kalmanovitch is an interesting case because she was both an accomplished musician and a leading climate activist. She was raised in the heart of the oil sands in Alberta in Fort McMurray…
Female adult student (interrupting): I’ve heard some of her recordings. She was a great violist and improvisor. Pretty cool lady.
Teacher: Great she was also a performer in a project called the Tar Sand Songbook, that actually became now a classic of the climate art canon. Let’s listen to her talk about grief and art in episode 53:
Normal life in North America does not leave us room for grief. We do not know how to handle grief. We don't know what to do with it. We push it away. We channel it, we contain it, we compartmentalize it. We ignore it. We believe that it's something that has an end, that it's linear or there are stages. We believe it's something we can get through. Whereas I've come to think a lot about the idea of living with loss, living with indeterminacy, living with uncertainty, as a way of awakening to the radical sort of care and love for ourselves, for our fellow living creatures for the life on the planet. I think about how to transform a performance space or a classroom or any other environment into a community of care. How can I create the conditions by which people can bear to be present to what they have lost, to name and to know what we have lost and from there to grieve, to heal and to act in the fullest awareness of loss? Seeing love and loss as intimately intertwined.
Teacher: So you can see that people were struggling with grief, including educators, who were trying to figure out how to support their students, many whom were demoralised and had given up hope… but it’s around this time that tools starting being created such as the Creative Green Tools and the Existential ToolKit for Climate Justice Educators. One of Schryer’s interviews was with climate educator Dr. Krista Hiser, Let’s listen to Hiser from episode 51:
There’s a whole range of emotions around climate emergency, and not getting stuck in the grief. Not getting stuck in anger. A lot of what we see of youth activists and in youth activism is that they get kind of burned out in anger and it’s not a sustainable emotion. But none of them are emotions that you want to get stuck in. When you get stuck in climate grief, it is hard to get unstuck, so moving through all the different emotions — including anger and including hope — and that idea of an anthem and working together, those are all part of the emotion wheel that exists around climate change.
Female Student: OK. I understand about not getting stuck in climate grief, but now we’re paying the price of their neglect. It makes me very angry to think that they could easily have prevented most of the current climate damage during that critical decade in the 2020s, I don’t know, by shifting from fossil fuels to renewable energy, and professor, you say that artists played a key role but how did this…
Teacher (interrupting): Thank you. I hear your anger and I understand and I promise we’ll get to the role of artists in just a minute, but before that I would you hear Australian Michael Shaw, who produced a film 2019 called Living in the Time of Dying. He talks about fear and grief but also support structures in episode 25:
It's a real blessing to feel a sense of purpose that in these times. It's a real blessing to be able to take the feelings of fear and grief and actually channel them somewhere into running a group or to making a film or doing your podcasts. I think it'simportant that people really tune in to find out what they're given to do at this time, to really listen to what the call is in you and follow it. I think there's something that's very generative and supportive about feeling a sense of purpose in a time of collapse.
Teacher: Both Shaw and Schryer were influenced by dharma teacher Catherine Ingram, who wrote an essay in 2019 called Facing Extinction. Here’s Schryer reading an excerpt from Facing Extinction in episode 19:
Despite our having caused so much destruction, it is important to also consider the wide spectrum of possibilities that make up a human life. Yes, on one end of that spectrum is greed, cruelty, and ignorance; on the other end is kindness, compassion, and wisdom. We are imbued with great creativity, brilliant communication, and extraordinary appreciation of and talent for music and other forms of art. … There is no other known creature whose spectrum of consciousness is as wide and varied as our own.
Teacher: (alarm sounding) Darn. It’s an air pollution alarm. You know the drill. We have to go to safe area until the air is breathable again. I’m sorry about this. An unfortunate disruption to our class. Why don’t we call it a day and pick this up next week?
Male Student: These damned things always go off when things are getting good. I really hope one does not go off next week.
Teacher : Now let’s get out of this smog. (coughing).
Note: this episode continues in e64 a case study (part 2)