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Voices in the Wilderness

Ryan Walker
Ryerson Image Centre - Student Gallery

Reception

One small island in the Salish Sea, British Columbia, 350 people off-grid: Voices in the Wilderness documents this remote community, conjuring and interrogating our nostalgia for a life known via clichés cemented by time and distance. The island is not simply an escapist utopia; the land and people who rely upon it are subject to the vagaries of a modern, mainland world from which they are simultaneously connected and isolated. Island life bears traces of a rich history of outside influences even as it seemingly eschews them in favour of narratives of self-creation.

These islanders embrace a countercultural ethos that values autonomy; in the 1970s, they rejected B.C. Hydro’s attempt to sell service to them, relying instead on alternative energy sources. While traditional currency is exchanged for goods and services, most islanders have adopted work-trade and bartering. Power politics—hierarchies of race, age, and gender—are not left behind on the mainland. Neither is economic disparity: many long-term residents become financially strained when the boom of island-created economies (logging camps of the 1920s and 1950s, marijuana grow-ops of the 1990s) go bust.

The island is a microcosm of the wider world, where people must balance independence with codependence—where survival necessitates collaboration between a diverse cross-section of characters: nomads and draft dodgers, young families and solitary retirees, artists and tradespeople, homesteaders and environmentalists. This work witnesses the complex harmonies and dissonances of these disparate voices in the wilderness.

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