Addiction: From heroin to diluted bitumen

Zach Embree takes the floor, telling us how he went from there to here. Embree worked at a mental health and addictions clinic, until "the Health Authority deleted our program one day." A few months of EI (O, Canada!) saw Embree come to terms with a desire lurking in the back of his brain: to see the world with camera in hand. Two and a half years later, he's doing just that; as a photographer and videographer. He shows slides from his work with the VO on the Alberta tar sands ("It smells like you're walking through a gas tank"), as well as coverage of the #IdleNoMore movement, the Northern Gateway expansion project, and the city's new garbage-incinerator plan.


Zack: Still serving public health.

Both the exploitation of the tar sands and Ottawa's sneaky moves to strip First Nations peoples of their land speak to a deep addiction and a broken sense of value, both of which were present in Embree's clients back in his hospital days. He never stopped being an addictions counselor, as it turns out: both a junkie's wander from fix to fix on the DTES and Ottawa's urge to give away Canada's resources at its own expense speak to, as Embree calls it, "a very skewed idea of what value is."

A junkie must shoot up: he can't see past tomorrow. You could say the same about Ottawa. This is why we're here: to explore that other voice whispering in the backs of our heads: "Things could be different."

He likens our situation to the time when people believed the world to be flat, a place with an edge off of which you could sail, falling into space: "Our city, our country, or planet needs people who are willing to push past that edge."

Embree is no stranger to creative teamwork, recounting his early student days: "We would... imbibe elixirs and we would paint something, to explore creation and collaboration. [...] We would develop [the work] as a way of sharing space with our friends."

Scratching that itch

This, says Thomas, "is a space where we can take a layer off." It's a metaphoric layer, he hastens to add, as more than half the participants begin to peel off. Maybe he should have just gone with it.


Julien Thomas and a Late Nite Art participant

Thomas then reads out a series of cues, prompting us to paint, draw, cut, or write a response; literal or abstract. Some of the cues require spontaneous conversation with a stranger. This is easier for some than for others.


Esther demonstrates the proper cut-up technique

The urge to impact your surroundings must be confronted and embraced: Embree had shown us images from Port au Prince, Haiti, where refugees of that country's earthquake and subsequent humanitarian crisis were making art with whatever they could find, including human remains. This is a place far from the comfort of a gallery space with exposed brick, but these people are tapping into the same vein of energy.


Ajay in event-management mode

Puri, Ehad, and Huyghe were buzzing around behind the scenes, making sure all the gears were meshing (Makes sense, considering Puri's experience with BeeVanCity).

Flow for a collaborative art event is crucial: dead-time means time for self-censorship, and that's lethal for fragile creativity.

From little things, big things grow.
–– Paul Kelly

The point of the Late Nite Art-Changemakers event is not just to make a mess on the page (though it's also about making a mess on the page). It's about stoking the tiny spark that instigates change. As Embree said, "It's about reflecting on how change happens, and how we react to it."

Canada is at this crossroads because too many people in a position of power are suffering from a soul-draining addiction, and are unable to see beyond the status quo.

If a bunch of people in a Gastown art space drawing on tabletops is a step toward a national sobering-up, then so be it. Late Nite Art and Changemakers address very similar needs, so their joining forces is fortuitous indeed.

Epilogue: Postcards for the outside world

The final task of the evening was to create a postcard that we would send to friends or family in Canada. We had two minutes to convey whatever we wanted to say. The pre-stamped cards would then be whisked off to the postbox in the dead of night.

Here's a rapid-fire slideshow that Puri shared, showing the evening's planners and insta-artists in action.