Monthly Archives: September 2012

Urban Weaver Project

In recent months, I have made several shorts which document the Urban Weaver Project, a group dedicated to finding uses for invasive plants as replacements for traditional weaving materials. Based in the Strathcona neighbourhood of Vancouver near where I live, the group has transformed the McLean Park Fieldhouse into a studio/research facility/community meeting place.

Shooting Joy at Lost Lagoon iris pull

Urban Weaver works in conjunction with the Stanley Park Ecology Society and has focused on three invasive plants that have become established in the park: Himalayan Blackberry, Yellow Flag Iris and English Ivy.

Working closely with environmental artist Sharon Kallis, I have learned not only about the threat of invasive plants, but of their potential to bring people together to share skills, artistic vision and a sense of community. Learning about weaving, fiber production and the historical significance these technologies have had in different cultures has been eye-opening, particularly in light of the global monstrosity the clothing/fashion industry has become.

Sharon harvests Himalayan Blackberry

Blackberry weaving by Joy Witsche

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The Weaver’s Circle

While at Capilano University  I made a ten minute film entitled “The Weaver’s Circle”about environmental artist  Sharon Kallis. In it she articulates ideas about the importance of sharing knowledge, working with local materials (particularly green waste) and building community through shared projects and goals. I was interested in the idea that this kind of community engagement can act in opposition to the consumer lifestyle that so much of the world seems locked into. Learning how to make something, sharing the results with others, finding out some history about materials, traditional techniques and the cultures that surround them is like opening a window into another way of thinking and living.

Sharon working on willow fence around the Women’s Memorial in Crab Park

Much of the film plays out in the downtown eastside of Vancouver, a place in the midst of much change as old neighbourhoods are being displaced with new, high priced developments, and local history is paved over. The willow fence weaving project around the Women’s memorial in Crab Park is an important image for the film. The location has many layers of meaning and history that are visually present, most notably, the proximity to Centennial Pier where gantry cranes unload thousands of containers of consumer goods, marked with brand names of luxury products. Close by, are the older buildings of neighbouring Gastown and Japan-town, where single occupancy hotels stand next to newly renovated lofts, flanked by highrise office towers and the mountains of the North Shore. This location frames the story of Sharon in the larger context of a neighbourhood and a city in a time of globalisation. Living steps away from the park, she is a resident who has a vested interest in her community.

With Ken Matheson and Robyn Thomas interviewing Greg Ferguson of Stanley Park Ecology Society

Also important to me is the chain of people involved in the Urban Weaver Project, from biologists, to Parks board officials, to First Nations artists and to people living in the area. This is not a story of a guru, but rather a person who wants to make connections with others, in a series of small, positive steps. It is largely about hand made objects and processes using non-manufactured materials, taking place in small pockets of activity and green space within the city, part of a network of people involved in overlapping visions of a better world and their part in it.

The story I set out to portray is local with global implications. It concerns individuals and small communities in the shadow of larger forces which threaten to swallow local knowledge, traditions and history. The message I would like to put forward is that this humble practise can be a catalyst for community engagement and an antidote to consumer culture and urban alienation. Sharon is an artist who has begun a journey of rediscovery of traditions from past cultures, who valued things made by hand, by people who understood the land and the things that lived around them. The central motif of the film is the idea of weaving – of natural materials, ideas, traditions and history, and how this has a quiet, political force.

Willow fence around the Memorial for Missing Women in Crab Park

I worked with a terrific crew again on this film: Derrick Daniels, Robyn Thomas, and Ken Matheson, with Marina Dodis doing a special stint on camera. Michelle Mason was my supportive and encouraging faculty mentor.