Screen/Print is an experiment in translation across media, featuring a close-up digital look at printed architectural writing. Divorcing content from the physical page, the series lends a new perspective to nuanced architectural thought.
For this issue, we’re featuring Satellite's Toronto.
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The biannual Satellite magazine is unaffiliated with universities or firms, situated instead in the realm of cities, culture and politics. To focus that expansive context, each issue is titled as a single city, letting the location serve as a lynchpin for the varied journalistic, poetic, historic and artistic pieces. Issue #3, featured here, begins its conversations with Toronto, where the magazine happens to be based, and includes articles on Toronto’s tower development booms, mayor Ron Ford’s more colorful sides, and an interview with linguist Noam Chomsky on drones.
Screen/Print’s featured article is a report on the artist Peter von Tiesenhausen, written by Satellite’s editors, Steven Garbas and Sarah Wesseler. Tiesenhausen’s art often is embedded within his surroundings, fortifying his connection to his hometown of Demmitt, Alberta. This artistic bond is reforged as a legal defense when he’s threatened with eviction from his land, bullied by a gas company wanting to plant a pipeline underneath the property.
Garbas and Wesseler's piece, entitled “The Law of the Land”, is as follows:
In 1962 artist Peter von Tiesenhausen's parents, who had immigrated to Canada from Germany a decade earlier, decided to become homesteaders near the tiny community of Demmitt, Alberta. As a child he helped them clear the land, which he later used as a site for his outdoor sculptures. “It was a pretty hand-to-mouth existence,” said von Tiesenhausen. “My father always wanted me to be a farmer, and I just couldn’t do it after seeing the hardship that he’d gone through.”
The 1977 discovery of the Elmworth Deep Basin Gas Field brought boom times to the region, which sits five hundred miles northwest of Calgary. Like many, von Tiesenhausen found himself drawn into the energy business by the promise of high wages. Uncomfortable with the industry’s impact on the land, however, after spending fourteen years as an equipment operator he broke away for good.
Since 1990 he has worked full-time as an artist, raising two children on an eight-hundred-acre plot of land only a mile away from his parents’ homestead while exhibiting around the world. He has created sculptures throughout his property, including a fence that has been a work in progress for twenty-three years and a ship woven out of willow wood.
Someone has to say, ok, I declare this sacred...It came to me, maybe this land is an artwork.In the 1990s his land, which is situated next to one of Alberta’s largest gas plants and bounded by a lake on one side and the Alaska Highway on another, began to draw attention from the energy industry. For years, he fielded phone calls and visits from representatives of countless oil companies.
One of the most persistent was natural gas consortium Alliance Pipeline, who wanted to build a pipeline to Chicago through his property. As his land was located directly in the best path, the company first tried to lease it, then threatened to take it by eminent domain when the artist wouldn’t sell.
Von Tiesenhausen refused to cooperate. “Nothing seems to be held sacred in this area. Someone has to say, ok, I declare this sacred,” he said. “It came to me, maybe this land is an artwork.” After consulting with lawyers to see if it would be possible to copyright the property, he decided to make the claim.
When a representative from the consortium visited the land, he was prepared. “The way he put it was, ‘We’re coming across.’ And I said, ‘Well, this is not your average piece of land, this is an artwork. If you alter it you’ve infringed upon my moral right.’”
As his case drew more attention, he attracted support from a high-level industry executive sympathetic to his position who promised to serve as an advocate for his cause—on the condition that von Tiesenhausen promise not to sell no matter how high a price he was offered.
Well, this is not your average piece of land, this is an artwork. If you alter it you’ve infringed upon my moral right.Having secured the right to remain on his property, he began forcing the energy companies to deal with him on their own terms. By charging five hundred dollars per hour for meetings about his land, he drastically reduced the amount of requests for his time.
A decade and a half later, his property remains untouched and the energy companies leave him alone. He occasionally gets calls from others fighting to save their land. “I say, is there a grove of trees that your grandfather planted? Is there something that can’t be replaced? And then you can fight your way. I’m not going to tell you that you’re going to win, but it’s worth a try.”
Also featured in the Toronto issue of Satellite:
A brief history of Toronto
Photography by Beth Lesser
Ten years of Spacing Toronto
Interview with Matthew Blackett
Hurting the ones you love: A codependent abusive relationship between a city and its public transit
Article by Sherrill Sutherland
Following the water
Photography by Michael Cook
Heart trouble: how Toronto clogged its main artery
Article by Steven Garbas
Don't you fucking know? I'm Rob fucking Ford, the mayor of this city!
Article by Steven Garbas
If you build it, we will pay: Tallying the cost of the Skydome
Article by Philip Irwin
Editorial Manager for Archinect. I write, go to the movies, walk around and listen to the radio. My interests revolve around cognitive urban theory, psycholinguistics and food.