FRANKE JAMES

Art that is not afraid to speak up: The Real Poop on Social Change

by Franke James

“The Real Poop on Social Change” Exhibition | October 9 – November 9, 2014

“the role of art in fomenting change in our society… is critical.”
Dr. Thomas Pedersen, The Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions

Dock Manager, Aiden Abram with artist Franke James at The Dock October 9th, 2014

“Before this all happened, I really did not appreciate the importance of free expression. I didn’t worry about censorship.” Franke James, artist and author

At the art opening I reflected on what I’d learned by being blacklisted…

“I never realized how much at risk we are. And how important free expression is in a democracy. But being told to shut up about such an important issue, really brought it home. And so, I’m not going to thank Stephen Harper for blacklisting me, however, I have learned an awful lot….

“I’ve had a certain amount of fun in going through all of this. And it’s such a kick to realize that the bureaucrats thought that they could shut me up by preventing my work from being shown on walls in Europe. And I am going, “No, I’m sorry. I’m going to take that work which is digital, and we’re going to put it right in your face in Ottawa, right around the corner from the Parliament buildings. And we’re going to show people, and we’re going to get people talking.” Because so many Canadians have their head buried in the tar sands about the issue of climate change. They are not getting the facts about climate change. They don’t understand the risk. And that’s why it’s important to have messengers like me…”

My solo show at The DOCK, “The Real Poop on Social Change” is history now. It opened with a party on October 9 and wrapped up November 9th. It was a great success on many levels. It shows how art can speak up and why as Tom Pedersen says, “the role of art in fomenting change in our society… is critical.”

Ironically, many of the 35 artworks in my solo show would never have been created if the Harper Government had not tried to shut me up. 1) The prints that were supposed to travel across Europe in 2011 — but got nixed by the Harper Government were on display. 2) The Dear Prime Minister posters that fought the Harper Government censorship by asking Harper to stop blacklisting environmental voices were there. 3) My “Do Not Talk about Climate Change” poster and “Oh No Canada!” posters that had been shown in bus shelters in Washington, DC in 2013 were there too. In all “The Real Poop on Social Change” represented six years of work.

The advance publicity on Gregor Craigie’s show on CBC Radio and the Vancouver Observer, rallied a great crowd of over 100 guests. Murray Rankin, MP sent me a remarkable letter that really nailed the problem we’re facing in Ottawa. (I am delighted to have Murray as my MP in Ottawa! He’s a breath of fresh air from my previous MP.)

Dr. Thomas Pedersen, Executive Director of the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions gave a very entertaining and funny talk about the need for more Bedbugs in Ottawa — and why art can play a critical role. Carol Linnitt, Managing Editor and Director of Research at DeSmog Canada, spoke about the big changes we’ve seen in Canada in the last five years — and why the government chose the wrong citizen to silence. Charlotte Kingston from the BC Civil Liberties wrapped up the event with her thoughts, “Franke’s experience of having her work censored is a real wake up call to all Canadians that we cannot take our rights for granted.”

Zack Embree hopped over from Vancouver and took some fabulous pics. Check out my post about the show below, which also has videos shot by Zack. See more on Facebook.

The advance word attracted change-makers

“It’s a big leap though, isn’t it, dog poop to giant job creating emissions and industrial projects, and so on?” Gregor Craigie, CBC The Island

That’s what CBC Host, Gregor Craigie, asked me during my radio interview about the Real Poop show.

I laughed at Gregor’s question — because persuading industry (and citizens) to reduce carbon emissions is a challenge. Many people don’t even want to think about climate change. And can’t make the mental leap that citizens picking up dog poop could provide the answer to such a big global problem.

In fact the success of the New York Poop Scooper Law gives us the template we can use to reduce carbon pollution.

RealPoopSocialChange_trio_FrankeJames
Back in 1978 there were many naysayers who said that citizens would never, never, ever pick up after their beloved dogs — but miraculously, people did!! And it’s been such a success that many municipalities in North America have copied the NYC legislation. Dog-owners now are expected to stoop and scoop — or face a fine and the glare of angry onlookers. There is a great lesson for us in that. If people can be convinced to pick up dog poop — what else will they be willing to do — with the right incentive — for the good of society and the planet? We just haven’t aimed high enough. Changing light bulbs? Pffft! We need a hefty price on carbon pollution. That will encourage people to switch in a hurry.

Smoking. Drunk Driving. Recycling Trash. Next Goal: Carbon Pollution!

With the right combination of policy and social awareness, society can make big changes. Doubtful? Well, just take a minute to remember some of the big ways that society has already changed for the better.

Trash_Smoking_Drunk_trio_FrankeJames

Smoking has been outlawed in most public places. Drunk driving is now seen as a major taboo. Recycling and composting is commonplace. And most people do pick up after their dogs. These are all examples of how policy and social awareness (and social pressure) can work together to change our behaviour.  Music is another great example. Just 30 years ago, we listened to music on vinyl albums. Now we carry music around with us. And, that is not just a technological change, it’s a behavioural change.

FrankeJamesDoNotTalk_500We need to make a similar behaviour change to whack down our carbon emissions. The fossil fuel divestment campaign is making strides. Modelled on the anti-apartheid movement, fossil fuels are becoming a pariah investment. The Heirs to the Rockefeller oil fortune recently divested from fossil fuels over climate change. Their $50 billion dollar decision sent shockwaves around the world, and in Canada’s oil patch.

But how can we reduce carbon pollution when the Harper government wants to use the sky as a free sewer? And they don’t even want us talking about climate change!

Unfortunately climate change is not going away, and every year we delay, we are just making things worse and more expensive to tackle. The final IPCC report was just published and it states unequivocally that “Time is not on our side:

U.N. climate change report: “Time is not on our side”

“Climate change is happening, it’s almost entirely man’s fault and limiting its impacts may require reducing greenhouse gas emissions to zero this century… Amid its grim projections, the report also offered hope. The tools needed to set the world on a low-emissions path are there; it just has to break its addiction to the oil, coal and gas that power the global energy system while polluting the atmosphere with heat-trapping CO2, the chief greenhouse gas… “We have the means to limit climate change,” IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri said. “All we need is the will to change, which we trust will be motivated by knowledge and an understanding of the science of climate change.” Read the article…

 

Thanks from my MP on Art and Activism

Since political will is a major factor in initiating “change”, I approached Murray Rankin, Member of Parliament for Victoria, BC for his thoughts. He has been a strong voice in Parliament…

Murray Rankin, MP:

“Canada could be leading the fight against climate change, but instead we have become an international embarrassment. Beyond just muzzling our scientists, last week it was revealed that the government is muzzling weather forecasters at Environment Canada by not allowing them to even discuss climate change in public. Conservatives have systematically undermined scientific freedoms, defunded basic research capacity, dismantled the National Research Council and gutted environmental assessment.

“They think that if we don’t talk about climate change, and if we don’t measure the effects, that it will go away. Canadians know better. They know climate change is happening and that Conservative climate change denial will not help Canada transition to renewable energies. That is why New Democrats are working to legislate science-based emissions targets. We have a plan to transition to a lower carbon economy that includes smart investment in Canada’s clean energy sector and developing our natural resources more sustainably. It’s time to take action on climate change!”

Murray sent me a remarkable letter that really nailed the problem we’re facing — and also let me know that my art has been noticed in Ottawa — and is greatly appreciated (by some)!

Murray Rankin MP Letter to Franke James “Between the release of the Environment Commissioner’s report detailing the failure of the Conservative government to meet even its own modest emissions reductions targets and new research into the muzzling of scientists, for many of us it has been a week that reaffirmed our commitment to bring change to Parliament Hill.”

“Among the many who have felt the Harper government’s contempt for anyone committed to action on climate change, Franke James stands out for her indomitable energy and resolve, and for the creativity of her activism. Franke’s commitment to the environment, social justice and freedom of expression was only strengthened by the government’s shameful attempts to censor her. I was so happy to see her many years of work recognized this year by the BC Civil Liberties Association.

“Thank you, Franke, for your art and your activism. Those of us fighting in Parliament against the government’s auditing of environmental groups, its muzzling of federal scientists, its decimation of Canada’s environmental laws have a remarkable and passionate ally in you.” ~ Murray Rankin, October 9, 2014

Opening Event: Tom Pedersen and Carol Linnitt joined me in saying a few words

The times they are a’changing: My Member of Parliament’s recognition of the urgent need for change in Ottawa is the perfect segue to Dr. Thomas Pedersen, from the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions and Carol Linnitt from DeSmog Canada who joined me in speaking about politics, art, and how to make real change happen.

Dr. Thomas Pedersen, Executive Director of the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions spoke at the opening of my show, ‘The Real Poop on Social Change’ on October 9th. Read part of Tom’s speech

Tom Pedersen flattered me in his opening remarks…

“I think Franke is a bedbug. I think she’s right there biting and scratching and itching and tormenting. And you know, we have to have that if we’re going to make progress with the current government that we have ensconced in Ottawa. We’re not going to make progress unless we have thousands of bedbugs out there agitating all the time for change.”

Tom is exactly right. We do need thousands of bedbugs agitating for change — and if they can use art to communicate their ideas on change — all the better.

“the role of art in fomenting change in our society… is critical.”
Dr. Thomas Pedersen, The Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions

Thomas Pedersen:

Banned on the Hill. It’s absolutely outstanding. It’s a tour de force and if you haven’t bought a copy, buy one. And then buy a second one for your kids and your grandchildren. Because we’ve got to get the youth. We don’t have an awful lot of youth in the room here tonight.

We need more youth to start reading these books because it, it resonates with them. Franke gave me a copy, I have a 17 year-old son. He looked through it and he said, “Wow.” He said, “Dad this is better than anything you do.” (laughter)

Well, he’s right. He’s right because he immediately related to the visual [power that Franke generated]. Now on the cover of that book you’ll see the clock tower, in Parliament and on the side of it there’s a big cockroach and that cockroach is there because a friend of Franke’s and a friend of mine, Richard Littlemore, he’s a brilliant writer based in Vancouver, suggested to Franke that she was being a cockroach

 

Carol Linnitt from DeSmog Canada

Carol Linnitt, Managing Editor and Director of Research at DeSmog Canada, spoke about the big changes we’ve seen in Canada in the last five years. Read part of Carol’s speech

“The government thought that they could silence its citizen. They just chose the wrong one with Franke James.” Carol Linnitt, DeSmog Canada

Carol Linnitt:

“Those early days of Franke’s bed bug biting… and access to information requests showed how the government was talking about her behind the scenes. I think Franke, in that regard, was way ahead of the curve. I don’t think anyone a few years ago would have anticipated that going into this next year, before the next federal election, that some of the major issues Canadians would be concerned about… would be things like democracy and freedom of expression, and freedom of the press. I don’t think we would have anticipated the headlines over the last little while saying “Harper’s Enemy List,” or “Muzzling Of Scientists,” or “Politically Motivated Audits.”

…The government thought that they could silence its citizen. They just chose the wrong one with Franke James. She was obviously the wrong person to try and silence. She’s made that abundantly clear again and again and again. Our journalists are losing their jobs and our scientists are being muzzled. Franke James has put up that poster, “Do not talk about climate change,” across the street from Parliament in Ottawa. She put up that same poster across the street from [Capitol Hill] in Washington DC. She’s taking this message with her everywhere. And she’s clearly not stopping. And she’s got a lot of support. A lot of that support’s here in this room.”

“In a dream world Franke would be teamed up with every single climate scientist across the planet to come up with these types of ways to convey messaging.” Carol Linnitt, Managing Editor and Director of Research at DeSmog Canada

And then it was my turn. I spoke about social change, freedom of expression and more…

Franke James, artist and author of ‘Banned on the Hill’ at the opening of her show, ‘The Real Poop on Social Change’ on October 9th. Read part of Franke’s speech

 

“Before this all happened, I really did not appreciate the importance of free expression. I didn’t worry about censorship.”

Franke James:

“I never realized how much at risk we are. And how important free expression is in a democracy. But being told to shut up about such an important issue, really brought it home. And so, I’m not going to thank Stephen Harper for blacklisting me, however, I have learned an awful lot….

“I’ve had a certain amount of fun in going through all of this. And it’s such a kick to realize that the bureaucrats thought that they could shut me up by preventing my work from being shown on walls in Europe. And I am going, “No, I’m sorry. I’m going to take that work which is digital, and we’re going to put it right in your face in Ottawa, right around the corner from the Parliament buildings. And we’re going to show people, and we’re going to get people talking.” Because so many Canadians have their head buried in the tar sands about the issue of climate change. They are not getting the facts about climate change. They don’t understand the risk. And that’s why it’s important to have messengers like me…

“When I first realized that I’d been blacklisted, I called up a whole bunch of smart people… One person said “Run towards the controversy.” And I went “What? Run towards the controversy?” Like, how stupid do you think I am, I mean really? Run towards the controversy? But actually, he was right, because it’s only by running bravely right into the fire that you are going to expose the wrongdoing. That’s how you hold them accountable. You have to be brave and just run into that controversy. It’s crazy, but that was a good piece of advice.

“Run towards the controversy? But actually, he was right, because it’s only by running bravely right into the fire that you are going to expose the wrongdoing.”

Opening Night Photos

By Zack Embree

See more photos from the opening.

Charlotte Kingston BCCLA2BCCLA_logo

Charlotte Kingston, Community Engagement Director, BC Civil Liberties Association
“The content of Franke’s work asks important questions about our relationship to the environment, and our relationships to each other. It asks Canadians to wake up and take part in vital policy conversations. But, for the BC Civil Liberties Association, it’s not the content of speech and expression that we usually worry about; it’s the fundamental rights to engage in these expressive activities at all. Franke’s experience of having her work censored is a real wake up call to all Canadians that we cannot take our rights for granted.

“Across the country we have seen artists censored, activists spied on, and meetings infiltrated, all in the name of silencing Canadians who do not agree with our current resource extraction practices. Taking a peaceful stand for the environment should not make you the target of government scrutiny or repression. These kinds of government activities can chill free speech, they can prevent people from taking part in important public debates, and they can hold us back from making good choices as a nation.

“BUT, if you’re Franke James, these kinds of activities can embolden you, they can solidify your commitment to making your message heard, they can even amplify you and make you louder. It’s exactly this kind of response to government censorship and intimidation that we think is so worth celebrating. Franke’s refusal to be silenced calls the rest of us to speak up. It’s for these reasons that we were so happy to present Franke with the 2014 Liberty Award for Excellence in the Arts, and why I tried so hard to be here with you tonight. Franke reminds us that critical voices need protection so that they can challenge us all to do better. Franke inspires us to keep protecting free expression, and we think she’ll inspire you too.”

Related Media

CBC The Island: Franke James interviewed by Gregor Craigie on CBC’s The Island, October 9, 2014:

The Invitation Show Announcement
ART EVENT Oct 9: Franke James: The Real Poop on Social Change, The Dock, Victoria, BC

Vancouver Observer: “Harper’s favourite “banned artist” back in Victoria for art exhibition” “The Real Poop on Social Change is an event about using art to speak truths that society (and the Harper government) doesn’t want to hear.”

Concrete Garden: Franke James: The Real Poop on Social Change – An Activist for our Age
by Madeline McParland

“If the title The Real Poop on Social Change doesn’t get your attention, who knows what will. Not to worry, this was the name of a successful art show held on October ninth at The Dock in Chinatown, a new collaborative work centre for social change where Concrete Garden has a desk. It was also perfect space for hosting artist, author, and activist Franke James.

“The exhibit showcased James’s activist artwork, inspired by her experience being blacklisted by the Canadian government for speaking out against the injustices surrounding climate change. After the government cancelled her 2011 European tour, she fought back and managed to get her Do Not Talk About Climate Change poster up on bus shelters outside of parliament in Ottawa and even in Washington. The tagline for the event, The Real Poop on Social Change, refers to a poster that reads, “If people can be convinced to pick up dog shit, who knows what social change is possible…

“While the Canadian government may have its head in the sand – be it made of oil or tar – James’s work encourages us to embrace controversy and continue the hard conversations around climate change

The Real Poop on Social Change exhibition | October 9 – November 9, 2014
Book a viewing.
The Dock, Chinatown, Victoria, BC
A place where social entrepreneurs and community advocates can share ideas, collaborate, and create a more caring, sustainable future. The Dock is a home for Victoria’s free-thinkers, social entrepreneurs, creatives and engaged people.

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