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Flimsy futures: existential anxiety at eco-minded photo exhibit

It’s hard not to be in perpetual worry. On top of the normal anxieties of confused, twentysomething university students, we’ve now got to grapple with quasi-apocalyptic issues like terrorism, economic crisis, global warming, biased media, and the occasional mass epidemic as well.

In particular, environmental issues seem to have taken a leading position in the 21st century’s fearful consciousness, as it becomes more and more obvious that the human race is on a path to seriously damaging the earth. But, for all the agonizing, it seems like there’s very little actually being done, as the world – and North America in particular – still continues to consume like there’s no tomorrow. Pun intended.

This is exactly what Cindy Diane Rheault hopes to call attention to in “Bâtir Vert L’Avenir,” her photography exhibit, which showcases the state of sustainable construction in Quebec and calls attention to alternative solutions for responsible consumption.

Working with ImageECOterre, Rheault’s exhibition hopes to use art to express the ways that we can aid the environment in our everyday lives – hopefully steering us off our path toward destroying the earth.

Speaking of the end of days, things felt just a bit apocalyptic on my journey to “Bâtir Vert L’Avenir.” As the meteorological gods would have it, “Bâtir” opened to a cold, dismal evening, threatening rain and awash with a general sense of inauspiciousness. (Hello, global warming!) Wandering through a series of streets perpetually under construction, I saw migratory birds in jumbled formations and smoke stacks on the horizon. Most ominous of all, I was at one point passed by an open-ended truck carrying the bodies of two dead moose.

While my childhood road trips into the Canadian wild had always ended in disappointment because we failed to sight a great Canadian moose, the city was now supplying me with not one, but two – presumably off to meet the grim end of taxidermy. If I wasn’t thinking it before, this couldn’t help but evoke the thought that the world was, in fact, going to shit.

The walk there wasn’t the only curious precursor to “Bâtir Vert L’Avenir.” The exhibit was held in a structure generally reserved for the circus – TOHU, a bizarre building surrounded by carnival tents, oversized sunflowers, and Montreal’s Centre de Recuperation des Matières Recyclables. The fact that a seemingly important environmental call-to-arms would be held, essentially, in a fun house felt eerily ironic. At the very least, I anticipated some ridiculousness in the exhibit to come.

However, these hopes were quickly deflated. “Bâtir Vert L’Avenir” did little to whet the aesthetic palate, never mind meet expectations for insanity. Free-standing boards showcasing Rheault’s “photographic record of the current state of sustainable construction in Quebec” looked more like a high school photo fair than it did gallery of design. Pretensions aside, these murals, albeit far from artistically exciting, did have something important to say. For “Bâtir Vert L’Avenir,” art is not so much the crux of the exhibit as it is a vehicle for something more ethically valuable. And, in that sense, it does its job.

Environmental awareness was the key player of the night, with each of Rheault’s pieces conveying green solutions to ease our growing environmental conscience. “Bâtir” placed special attention on the responsibility of the consumer and the importance of sustainable solutions. This was expressed through examples of recycling ingenuity, like the a staircase made entirely from bicycle parts, and manifesto-like, how-to-guidelines for collecting water – “blue gold” – through simple draining systems. McGill’s Leacock even made a cameo in one photo; however, it seemed that the only “solution” said all the building had to offer was a patch of flowers growing within its 100-metre radius.

Near the rear of the exhibit were interactive displays that drew attention to the life cycle of consumer products, in particular that of carpet. Inviting viewers to touch, pause, and evaluate, such displays remind the consumer that household products like carpeting leave an ecological footprint on our earth that is hard to ignore. Even the framework of the exhibit itself encouraged green advocacy, as the chairs, bookcases, display boards, and tableaus – offering a “green” assortment of finger foods – were made entirely of recycled cardboard.

Spirits seemed high as Rheault invited attendees to reflect upon what can be done to make the future a little greener. But I worried that, like the flimsy cardboard structures, “Bâtir” was merely a feeble call for awareness that continues to be largely ignored by much of the public.

As I walked home, rain beating down and roads now empty, I couldn’t help but think that it’s more action, and less encouragement, that the planet needs to repair the damage that has been done. Thankfully, though, tomorrow is still going to come.