John DeVeaux – Portfolio

May 17, 2009

To download a high-res PDF version of my portfolio, please click the link below (17 MB in size):

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John DeVeaux - Portfolio

About the Artist

John DeVeaux is a third year Film, Video and Integrated Media student at the Emily Carr University of Art + Design in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

Classifying himself as a Digital Artist with future aspirations to be an accomplished professional in either the film or video game industry, his work focuses on combining a wide range of media including crowd sourcing, data capture, film/video, installation, storytelling and internet blogging.

Artist Statement

clean   [kleen] -er, -est, adverb,  -er, -est, verb –adjective
1. characterized by a fresh, wholesome quality: the clean smell of pine.
2. free from all writing or marking: a clean sheet of paper.
3. complete; unqualified: a clean break with tradition.
sim·ple   [sim-puhl] -pler, -plest, noun –adjective
1. easy to understand, deal with, use, etc.: a simple matter; simple tools.
2. not elaborate or artificial: a simple style.
3. not ornate or luxurious: a simple gown.
ef·fec·tive   [i-fek-tiv] –adjective
1. producing the intended or expected result: effective steps toward peace.
2. creating a deep or vivid impression; striking: an effective photograph.
3. able to accomplish a purpose: an efficient secretary.
de·sign   [di-zahyn] –verb (used with object)
1. to plan the form and structure of: to design a new bridge.
2. the combination of details or features of a picture, building, etc.: the design on a bracelet.
3. to intend for a definite purpose: a scholarship designed for foreign students.

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World of Warcraft: The Burning Addiction
Research Project – ECUAD Creative Process 2007

World of Warcraft: The Burning Addiction

For this project, I wanted to focus on what extent people would spend time from their real lives on their virtual ones. I then went to the Alcoholics Anonymous website and took their manifesto of questions that they ask potential addicts (ie: Have you ever missed school or work due to alcohol?) and then remixed the questions to ask my fellow Warcraft players (ie: Have you ever missed school or work due to Warcraft?) and was amazed at how honest their responses were.

Click the link below to download the full project PDF and explore the addictive qualities of video games in greater detail (1 MB in size):

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World of Warcraft: Haikus
Video Editing and Production – ECUAD Video Art 2009

This Video Art project required us to use found footage and splice it together within the theme of a haiku and I chose to focus again on World of Warcraft. Several different scenes from official game play trailers were used along with my own poem sequences in order to create its own unique storyline set to a haunting yet beautiful soundtrack.

I also received some additional publicity from a major World of Warcraft fan blog and as a result, have now had over 6,000 views on YouTube:

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Medal of Honor: European Assault
Poster Design – ECUAD Design Essentials 2005

Medal of Honor: European Assualt

With creative control to choose our own subject matter, I decided to create this poster for the soon to be released add-on of the popular Medal of Honor video game using World War II imagery and incorporating pertinent graphics and typeface layouts, with the centerpiece being this iconic image of the D-Day landing.

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Emily Carr Foundation Exhibition
Poster Design – ECUAD Digital Basics 2008

Emily Carr University Foundation Exhibition

In my Digital Basics course, our instructor challenged us to create our own poster design that would be submitted for that year’s Foundation Exhibition. The design that I chose focused on a clean and precise grid layout, with the typeface echoing this overall theme as well.

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Read Between the Lies
Poster Design – ECUAD Visual Communication 2008

Read Between the Lies

With an overall political theme required for this project for my Visual Communications course, I decided to focus on the ongoing tragedy occurring in Iraq. I wanted my critique to be bold and biting, yet symbolic at the same time by using George W. Bush’s own words being contradicted by documented facts on the ground within the layout of the American flag.

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The Starlight Express
Poster Design – ECUAD Design Essentials 2005

The Starlight Express

One of the first poster design projects that I worked on in the Design Essentials program at ECUAD and BCIT, I wanted the overall theme to reflect a bygone age in which the Royal Hudson train serviced passengers from Vancouver to Squamish. This was all tied in with the upcoming 2010 Winter Olympics along with using Futura as the typeface.

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International Campaign to Ban Landmines
Layout Design – ECUAD Design Essentials 2005

International Campaign to Ban Landmines

This layout design was created to reflect on the tragedy that landmines cause in third world countries by mirroring two family units. Where the Nuclear Family is shown with the requisite two parents and two children, the Landmine Family is shown with obvious limbs missing and the daughter being replaced by a tombstone due to a landmine explosion.

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Tribeca Film Festival
Layout Design – ECUAD Design Essentials 2005

Tribeca Film Festival

Tribeca Film Festival

Utilizing still images from the films playing in that year’s festival, a double-sided handbook spread was made highlighting film screenings and appearances in a clean and elegant design.

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Phoenix Rising v1.0
3D Design – ECUAD Design One 2007

Phoenix Rising v1.0

These sculptures were created for my Design One class as the project called for us to construct new and unique 3D sculptures by combining a singular object in a repetitive fashion so that the original object would get lost in the sum of the whole of the new piece. Version 1.0 is a freestanding structure and able to balance on the tips of plastic spoons.

Phoenix Rising v2.0
3D Design – ECUAD Design One 2007

Phoenix Rising v2.0

Version 2.0 was created as an alternative and two interpretations that I have with this sculpture are that of a Phoenix Rising out of flames (hence the title of the pieces) or of a frame-by-frame rotation of a high board diver tucking in as he falls to the water below.

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Flipbook – ECUAD Digital and Interactive Arts 2008


Wanting to play on my audience’s moral standards, this flipbook showcased a woman performing an otherwise overtly sexualized activity, yet because I enlarged and hyper pixilated the original video footage, the viewer is not able to immediately ascertain what they are viewing. On initial viewing, they may in fact realize what they are seeing, but due to their personal embarrassment, may not give in to such puerile thoughts.

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HDR Porteau Cove
HDR Photography – ECUAD Digital and Interactive Arts 2009

HDR Porteau Cove

On a very windy and cold January afternoon, my girlfriend and I drove up to Whistler from Vancouver and stopped briefly at the Provincial Park in Porteau Cove where I wanted to capture the incredible whitecap waves and this beautiful island in the distance. I took my original shot into Photoshop and digitally manipulated it in order to create this much richer and vibrant image.

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Design Exploration – ECUAD Design One 2007


Playing around in Illustrator for one of my Design One projects in 2007, I became transfixed in creating artificial 3D perspective illustrations on a digital 2D plane that draws the viewer in to mesmerize and make them dizzy.

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Typography Exploration – ECUAD Visual Communication 2008


For this typography exploration, I decided on taking words at their literal meaning and creating abstract illustrations out of the words themselves. Compression being a thematically delicious word to utilize in such a fashion, the word is repeated and imploded without end into itself.

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Poster Girl
Illustrator Project – ECUAD Design Essentials 2005

Poster Girl

One of my first major digital illustrations, this image has always been a favorite of mine and its title harkens back to the process of origination by using the Posterize tool in Photoshop to create the initial blueprint and then cleaning it all up within Illustrator.

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ROLEX Submariner
Illustrator Project – ECUAD Design Essentials 2005

ROLEX Submariner

Another of my digital illustrations, I spent over 20 hours on this perfecting every detail in order to match the precision of the original watch itself. Created entirely in Illustrator, this illustration could substitute for the original any day.

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Idris Salih Photography
Website Design, Identity, Logo 2005

IDRIS SALIH Photography

IDRIS SALIH Photography

One of my freelance web design clients back in 2005, I was originally hired to just design and produce his portfolio site, but after seeing the logo and identity that he had been using, I challenged myself to provide him with a new one which would reflect the high contrast and starkness that is representational of his b/w portraiture photography and he loved it.

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John Fortunato Photography
Website Design 2005

John Fortunato Photography

Another of my freelance web design clients from a few years back, his work reflected a lot of what my design philosophy entails as well: clean + simple + elegant = design. With that in mind, I decided to use a clean palette with a lot of white space and simple, yet intuitive navigation, in order to allow the photographs to stand out and have greater impact on the viewer.

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The Canadian Oil Boom – National Geographic Magazine

February 25, 2009
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Very relevant piece done by National Geographic, even more so after going to the Surrey Art Gallery and listening to Edward Burtynsky’s lecture on his photographic work done at the Oil Sands in northern Alberta…
– FlashAddict

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Scraping Bottom

Once considered too expensive, as well as too damaging to the land, exploitation of Alverta’s oil sands is now a gamble worth billions.
By Robert Kunzig
Photographs by Peter Essick

Dust hangs in the sunset sky above the Suncor Millennium mine, an open-pit north of Fort McMurray, Alberta. Canada’s oil sands are layers of sticky, tarlike bitumen mixed with sand, clay, and water. Around a hundred feet of soil must be stripped off to reach many deposits.

One day in 1963, when Jim Boucher was seven, he was out working the trap­line with his grandfather a few miles south of the Fort McKay First Nation reserve on the Athabasca River in northern Alberta. The country there is wet, rolling fen, dotted with lakes, dissected by streams, and draped in a cover of skinny, stunted trees—it’s part of the boreal forest that sweeps right across Canada, covering more than a third of the country. In 1963 that forest was still mostly untouched. The government had not yet built a gravel road into Fort McKay; you got there by boat or in the winter by dogsled. The Chipewyan and Cree Indians there—Boucher is a Chipewyan—were largely cut off from the outside world. For food they hunted moose and bison; they fished the Athabasca for walleye and whitefish; they gathered cranberries and blueberries. For income they trapped beaver and mink. Fort McKay was a small fur trading post. It had no gas, electricity, telephone, or running water. Those didn’t come until the 1970s and 1980s.

Squeezing Sand for Oil
At the bottom of a mine, a giant shovel devours sand and delivers it to trucks like this three-story, four-million-dollar Caterpillar, which muscle up to 400 tons at a time to extraction plants.

In Boucher’s memory, though, the change begins that day in 1963, on the long trail his grandfather used to set his traps, near a place called Mildred Lake. Generations of his ancestors had worked that trapline. “These trails had been here thousands of years,” Boucher said one day last summer, sitting in his spacious and tasteful corner office in Fort McKay. His golf putter stood in one corner; Mozart played softly on the stereo. “And that day, all of a sudden, we came upon this clearing. A huge clearing. There had been no notice. In the 1970s they went in and tore down my grandfather’s cabin—with no notice or discussion.” That was Boucher’s first encounter with the oil sands industry. It’s an industry that has utterly transformed this part of northeastern Alberta in just the past few years, with astonishing speed. Boucher is surrounded by it now and immersed in it himself.

Where the trapline and the cabin once were, and the forest, there is now a large open-pit mine. Here Syncrude, Canada’s largest oil producer, digs bitumen-laced sand from the ground with electric shovels five stories high, then washes the bitumen off the sand with hot water and sometimes caustic soda. Next to the mine, flames flare from the stacks of an “upgrader,” which cracks the tarry bitumen and converts it into Syncrude Sweet Blend, a synthetic crude that travels down a pipeline to refineries in Edmon­ton, Alberta; Ontario, and the United States. Mildred Lake, meanwhile, is now dwarfed by its neighbor, the Mildred Lake Settling Basin, a four-square-mile lake of toxic mine tailings. The sand dike that contains it is by volume one of the largest dams in the world.

Nor is Syncrude alone. Within a 20-mile radius of Boucher’s office are a total of six mines that produce nearly three-quarters of a million barrels of synthetic crude oil a day; and more are in the pipeline. Wherever the bitumen layer lies too deep to be strip-mined, the industry melts it “in situ” with copious amounts of steam, so that it can be pumped to the surface. The industry has spent more than $50 billion on construction during the past decade, including some $20 billion in 2008 alone. Before the collapse in oil prices last fall, it was forecasting another $100 billion over the next few years and a doubling of production by 2015, with most of that oil flowing through new pipelines to the U.S. The economic crisis has put many expansion projects on hold, but it has not diminished the long-term prospects for the oil sands. In mid-November, the International Energy Agency released a report forecasting $120-a-barrel oil in 2030—a price that would more than justify the effort it takes to get oil from oil sands.

Nowhere on Earth is more earth being moved these days than in the Athabasca Valley. To extract each barrel of oil from a surface mine, the industry must first cut down the forest, then remove an average of two tons of peat and dirt that lie above the oil sands layer, then two tons of the sand itself. It must heat several barrels of water to strip the bitumen from the sand and upgrade it, and afterward it discharges contaminated water into tailings ponds like the one near Mildred Lake. They now cover around 50 square miles. Last April some 500 migrating ducks mistook one of those ponds, at a newer Syncrude mine north of Fort McKay, for a hospitable stopover, landed on its oily surface, and died. The incident stirred international attention—Greenpeace broke into the Syncrude facility and hoisted a banner of a skull over the pipe discharging tailings, along with a sign that read “World’s Dirtiest Oil: Stop the Tar Sands.”

Squeezing Sand for Oil
Sand, water, and bitumen residues are finally piped to a tailings pond, where the water is extracted, cleaned, and reused in the mines.

The U.S. imports more oil from Canada than from any other nation, about 19 percent of its total foreign supply, and around half of that now comes from the oil sands. Anything that reduces our dependence on Middle Eastern oil, many Americans would say, is a good thing. But clawing and cooking a barrel of crude from the oil sands emits as much as three times more carbon dioxide than letting one gush from the ground in Saudi Arabia. The oil sands are still a tiny part of the world’s carbon problem—they account for less than a tenth of one percent of global CO2 emissions—but to many environmentalists they are the thin end of the wedge, the first step along a path that could lead to other, even dirtier sources of oil: producing it from oil shale or coal. “Oil sands represent a decision point for North America and the world,” says Simon Dyer of the Pembina Institute, a moderate and widely respected Canadian environmental group. “Are we going to get serious about alternative energy, or are we going to go down the unconventional-oil track? The fact that we’re willing to move four tons of earth for a single barrel really shows that the world is running out of easy oil.”

That thirsty world has come crashing in on Fort McKay. Yet Jim Boucher’s view of it, from an elegant new building at the entrance to the besieged little village, contains more shades of gray than you might expect. “The choice we make is a difficult one,” Boucher said when I visited him last summer. For a long time the First Nation tried to fight the oil sands industry, with little success. Now, Boucher said, “we’re trying to develop the community’s capacity to take advantage of the opportunity.” Boucher presides not only over this First Nation, as chief, but also over the Fort McKay Group of Companies, a community-owned business that provides services to the oil sands industry and brought in $85 million in 2007. Unemployment is under 5 percent in the village, and it has a health clinic, a youth center, and a hundred new three-bedroom houses that the community rents to its members for far less than market rates. The First Nation is even thinking of opening its own mine: It owns 8,200 acres of prime oil sands land across the river, right next to the Syncrude mine where the ducks died.

As Boucher was telling me all this, he was picking bits of meat from a smoked whitefish splayed out on his conference table next to a bank of windows that offered a panoramic view of the river. A staff member had delivered the fish in a plastic bag, but Boucher couldn’t say where it had come from. “I can tell you one thing,” he said. “It doesn’t come from the Athabasca.”

Without the river, there would be no oil sands industry. It’s the river that over tens of millions of years has eroded away billions of cubic yards of sediment that once covered the bitumen, thereby bringing it within reach of shovels—and in some places all the way to the surface. On a hot summer day along the Athabasca, near Fort McKay for example, bitumen oozes from the riverbank and casts an oily sheen on the water. Early fur traders reported seeing the stuff and watching natives use it to caulk their canoes. At room temperature, bitumen is like molasses, and below 50°F or so it is hard as a hockey puck, as Canadians invariably put it. Once upon a time, though, it was light crude, the same liquid that oil companies have been pumping from deep traps in southern Alberta for nearly a century. Tens of millions of years ago, geologists think, a large volume of that oil was pushed northeastward, perhaps by the rise of the Rocky Mountains. In the process it also migrated upward, along sloping layers of sediment, until eventually it reached depths shallow and cool enough for bacteria to thrive. Those bacteria degraded the oil to bitumen.


Ronnie Campbell hauls whitefish from Lake Athabasca, downriver from Fort McMurray, to use as feed for his sled dogs. Locals say their catches are often covered in unusual red spots, and many no longer eat lake fish. While the cause of the spots is unclear, some believe toxic chemicals, such as those released during bitumen production, are leaching into Alberta’s rivers and lakes.

The Alberta government estimates that the province’s three main oil sands deposits, of which the Athabasca one is the largest, contain 173 billion barrels of oil that are economically recoverable today. “The size of that, on the world stage—it’s massive,” says Rick George, CEO of Suncor, which opened the first mine on the Athabasca River in 1967. In 2003, when the Oil & Gas Journal added the Alberta oil sands to its list of proven reserves, it immediately propelled Canada to second place, behind Saudi Arabia, among oil-producing nations. The proven reserves in the oil sands are eight times those of the entire U.S. “And that number will do nothing but go up,” says George. The Alberta Energy Resources and Conservation Board estimates that more than 300 billion barrels may one day be recoverable from the oil sands; it puts the total size of the deposit at 1.7 trillion barrels.

Getting oil from oil sands is simple but not easy. The giant electric shovels that rule the mines have hardened steel teeth that each weigh a ton, and as those teeth claw into the abrasive black sand 24/7, 365 days a year, they wear down every day or two; a welder then plays dentist to the dinosaurs, giving them new crowns. The dump trucks that rumble around the mine, hauling 400-ton loads from the shovels to a rock crusher, burn 50 gallons of diesel fuel an hour; it takes a forklift to change their tires, which wear out in six months. And every day in the Athabasca Valley, more than a million tons of sand emerges from such crushers and is mixed with more than 200,000 tons of water that must be heated, typically to 175°F, to wash out the gluey bitumen. At the upgraders, the bitumen gets heated again, to about 900°F, and compressed to more than 100 atmospheres—that’s what it takes to crack the complex molecules and either subtract carbon or add back the hydrogen the bacteria removed ages ago. That’s what it takes to make the light hydrocarbons we need to fill our gas tanks. It takes a stupendous amount of energy. In situ extraction, which is the only way to get at around 80 percent of those 173 billion barrels, can use up to twice as much energy as mining, because it requires so much steam.

Most of the energy to heat the water or make steam comes from burning natural gas, which also supplies the hydrogen for upgrading. Precisely because it is hydrogen rich and mostly free of impurities, natural gas is the cleanest burning fossil fuel, the one that puts the least amount of carbon and other pollutants into the atmosphere. Critics thus say the oil sands industry is wasting the cleanest fuel to make the dirtiest—that it turns gold into lead. The argument makes environmental but not economic sense, says David Keith, a physicist and energy expert at the University of Calgary. Each barrel of synthetic crude contains about five times more energy than the natural gas used to make it, and in much more valuable liquid form. “In economic terms it’s a slam dunk,” says Keith. “This whole thing about turning gold into lead—it’s the other way around. The gold in our society is liquid transportation fuels.”

Beneath a green sweep of fen and forest in northern Alberta lies a promise of wealth—vast layers of hydrocarbons that can be refined into petroleum products like gasoline. Undisturbed until now, these trees may soon fall: This land has already been staked out by prospectors.

Most of the carbon emissions from such fuels comes from the tailpipes of the cars that burn them; on a “wells-to-wheels” basis, the oil sands are only 15 to 40 percent dirtier than conventional oil. But the heavier carbon footprint remains an environmental—and public relations—disadvantage. Last June Alberta’s premier, Ed Stelmach, announced a plan to deal with the extra emissions. The province, he said, will spend over $1.5 billion to develop the technology for capturing carbon dioxide and storing it underground—a strategy touted for years as a solution to climate change. By 2015 Alberta is hoping to capture five million tons of CO2 a year from bitumen upgraders as well as from coal-fired power plants, which even in Alberta, to say nothing of the rest of the world, are a far larger source of CO2 than the oil sands. By 2020, according to the plan, the province’s carbon emissions will level off, and by 2050 they will decline to 15 percent below their 2005 levels. That is far less of a cut than scientists say is necessary. But it is more than the U.S. government, say, has committed to in a credible way.

One thing Stelmach has consistently refused to do is “touch the brake” on the oil sands boom. The boom has been gold for the provincial as well as the national economy; the town of Fort McMurray, south of the mines, is awash in Newfoundlanders and Nova Scotians fleeing unemployment in their own provinces. The provincial government has been collecting around a third of its revenue from lease sales and royalties on fossil fuel extraction, including oil sands—it was expecting to get nearly half this year, or $19 billion, but the collapse in oil prices since the summer has dropped that estimate to about $12 billion. Albertans are bitterly familiar with the boom-and-bust cycle; the last time oil prices collapsed, in the 1980s, the provincial economy didn’t recover for a decade. The oil sands cover an area the size of North Carolina, and the provincial government has already leased around half that, including all 1,356 square miles that are minable. It has yet to turn down an application to develop one of those leases, on environmental or any other grounds.

From a helicopter it’s easy to see the indus­try’s impact on the Athabasca Valley. Within minutes of lifting off from Fort McMurray, heading north along the east bank of the river, you pass over Suncor’s Millennium mine—the company’s leases extend practically to the town. On a day with a bit of wind, dust plumes billowing off the wheels and the loads of the dump trucks coalesce into a single enormous cloud that obscures large parts of the mine pit and spills over its lip. To the north, beyond a small expanse of intact forest, a similar cloud rises from the next pit, Suncor’s Steepbank mine, and beyond that lie two more, and across the river two more. One evening last July the clouds had merged into a band of dust sweeping west across the devastated landscape. It was being sucked into the updraft of a storm cloud. In the distance steam and smoke and gas flames belched from the stacks of the Syncrude and Suncor upgraders—”dark satanic mills” inevitably come to mind, but they’re a riveting sight all the same. From many miles away, you could smell the tarry stench. It stings your lungs when you get close enough.


On the banks of the Athabasca River, Suncor’s upgrader plants refined an average of 235,000 barrels of petroleum products a day in 2008. A narrow dike separates the river from ponds that hold water used during the industrial process, which will be cleaned before being reused.

From the air, however, the mines fall away quickly. Skimming low over the river, startling a young moose that was fording a narrow channel, a government biologist named Preston McEachern and I veered northwest toward the Birch Mountains, over vast expanses of scarcely disturbed forest. The Canadian boreal forest covers two million square miles, of which around 75 percent remains undeveloped. The oil sands mines have so far converted over 150 square miles—a hundredth of a percent of the total area—into dust, dirt, and tailings ponds. Expansion of in situ extraction could affect a much larger area. At Suncor’s Firebag facility, northeast of the Millennium mine, the forest has not been razed, but it has been dissected by roads and pipelines that service a checkerboard of large clearings, in each of which Suncor extracts deeply buried bitumen through a cluster of wells. Environmentalists and wildlife biolo­gists worry that the widening fragmentation of the forest, by timber as well as mineral companies, endangers the woodland caribou and other animals. “The boreal forest as we know it could be gone in a generation without major policy changes,” says Steve Kallick, director of the Pew Boreal Campaign, which aims to protect 50 percent of the forest.

McEachern, who works for Alberta Environment, a provincial agency, says the tailings ponds are his top concern. The mines dump waste­water in the ponds, he explains, because they are not allowed to dump waste into the Athabasca, and because they need to reuse the water. As the thick, brown slurry gushes from the discharge pipes, the sand quickly settles out, building the dike that retains the pond; the residual bitumen floats to the top. The fine clay and silt particles, though, take several years to settle, and when they do, they produce a yogurt-like goop—the technical term is “mature fine tailings”—that is contaminated with toxic chemicals such as naphthenic acid and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) and would take centuries to dry out on its own. Under the terms of their licenses, the mines are required to reclaim it somehow, but they have been missing their deadlines and still have not fully reclaimed a single pond.

In the oldest and most notorious one, Suncor’s Pond 1, the sludge is perched high above the river, held back by a dike of compacted sand that rises more than 300 feet from the valley floor and is studded with pine trees. The dike has leaked in the past, and in 2007 a modeling study done by hydrogeologists at the University of Waterloo estimated that 45,000 gallons a day of contaminated water could be reaching the river. Suncor is now in the process of reclaiming Pond 1, piping some tailings to another pond, and replacing them with gypsum to consolidate the tailings. By 2010, the company says, the surface will be solid enough to plant trees on. Last summer it was still a blot of beige mud streaked with black bitumen and dotted with orange plastic scarecrows that are supposed to dissuade birds from landing and killing themselves.


Floating among mats of leftover bitumen on a thousand-acre tailings pond, a radar device scans for incoming birds. The fake falcon flaps its wings, and predator calls blare to scare off waterfowl that would die if they landed on the surface and their feathers became soaked with sludge.

The Alberta government asserts that the river is not being contaminated—that anything found in the river or in its delta, at Lake Athabasca, comes from natural bitumen seeps. The river cuts right through the oil sands downstream of the mines, and as our chopper zoomed along a few feet above it, McEachern pointed out several places where the riverbank was black and the water oily. “There is an increase in a lot of metals as you move downstream,” he said. “That’s natural—it’s weathering of the geology. There’s mercury in the fish up at Lake Athabasca—we’ve had an advisory there since the 1990s. There are PAHs in the sediments in the delta. They’re there because the river has eroded through the oil sands.”

Independent scientists, to say nothing of people who live downstream of the mines in the First Nations’ community of Fort Chipewyan, on Lake Athabasca, are skeptical. “It’s inconceivable that you could move that much tar and have no effect,” says Peter Hodson, a fish toxicologist at Queen’s University in Ontario. An Environment Canada study did in fact show an effect on fish in the Steepbank River, which flows past a Suncor mine into the Athabasca. Fish near the mine, Gerald Tetreault and his colleagues found when they caught some in 1999 and 2000, showed five times more activity of a liver enzyme that breaks down toxins—a widely used measure of exposure to pollutants—as did fish near a natural bitumen seep on the Steepbank.

“The thing that angers me,” says David Schindler, “is that there’s been no concerted effort to find out where the truth lies.”

Schindler, an ecologist at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, was talking about whether people in Fort Chipewyan have already been killed by pollution from the oil sands. In 2006 John O’Connor, a family physician who flew in weekly to treat patients at the health clinic in Fort Chip, told a radio interviewer that he had in recent years seen five cases of cholangiocarcinoma—a cancer of the bile duct that normally strikes one in 100,000 people. Fort Chip has a population of around 1,000; statistically it was unlikely to have even one case. O’Connor hadn’t managed to interest health authorities in the cancer cluster, but the radio interview drew wide attention to the story. “Suddenly it was everywhere,” he says. “It just exploded.”

Two of O’Connor’s five cases, he says, had been confirmed by tissue biopsy; the other three patients had shown the same symptoms but had died before they could be biopsied. (Cholan­giocarcinoma can be confused on CT scans with more common cancers such as liver or pancreatic cancer.) “There is no evidence of elevated cancer rates in the community,” Howard May, a spokesperson for Alberta Health, wrote in an email last September. But the agency, he said, was nonetheless conducting a more complete investigation—this time actually examining the medical records from Fort Chip—to try to quiet a controversy that was now two years old.

One winter night when Jim Boucher was a young boy, around the time the oil sands industry came to his forest, he was returning alone by dogsled to his grandparents’ cabin from an errand in Fort McKay. It was a journey of 20 miles or so, and the temperature was minus 4°F. In the moonlight Boucher spotted a flock of ptarmigan, white birds in the snow. He killed around 50, loaded them on the dogsled, and brought them home. Four decades later, sitting in his chief-executive office in white chinos and a white Adidas sport shirt, he remembers the pride on his grandmother’s face that night. “That was a different spiritual world,” Boucher says. “I saw that world continuing forever.” He tells the story now when asked about the future of the oil sands and his people’s place in it.

A poll conducted by the Pembina Institute in 2007 found that 71 percent of Albertans favored an idea their government has always rejected out of hand: a moratorium on new oil sands projects until environmental concerns can be resolved. “It’s my belief that when government attempts to manipulate the free market, bad things happen,” Premier Stelmach told a gathering of oil industry executives that year. “The free-market system will solve this.”

But the free market does not consider the effects of the mines on the river or the forest, or on the people who live there, unless it is forced to. Nor, left to itself, will it consider the effects of the oil sands on climate. Jim Boucher has collaborated with the oil sands industry in order to build a new economy for his people, to replace the one they lost, to provide a new future for kids who no longer hunt ptarmigan in the moonlight. But he is aware of the trade-offs. “It’s a struggle to balance the needs of today and tomorrow when you look at the environment we’re going to live in,” he says. In northern Alberta the question of how to strike that balance has been left to the free market, and its answer has been to forget about tomorrow. Tomorrow is not its job.


In the small town of Fort Chipewyan, Emma Michael stands beside the grave of her sister who, like her mother and brother, recently died of cancer. Michael herself is a breast cancer survivor, and the family is among the victims in a cancer cluster that includes, among other forms of the disease, cholangiocarcinoma, a rare malignancy attacking the bile duct. About 1,200 people live in Fort Chipewyan, an isolated community more than a hundred miles downstream from Fort McMurray and its massive mining operations. For several years residents have wondered if pollution from upstream could be causing local health problems. John O’Connor, a physician in Fort Chipewyan for seven years, was among the first to report the high cancer rate. He says the government has not done enough to investigate. “How could such a small community in such a pristine place have such illnesses?” O’Connor asks. In late 2008 the provincial government completed a cancer study, but Fort Chipewyan community leaders rejected the results before they were made public, complaining the study was poorly done.

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Feature Article Links:

Peter Essick’s website:

Additional Links:

Flipbook project compilations…

October 10, 2008

Here are two videos that I made showcasing the concepts I developped for the flipbook animation project that we were assigned for our DIVA 200 course:

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ob·scene (adj.)

1. Offensive to accepted standards of decency or modesty.
2. Inciting lustful feelings; lewd.
3. Repulsive; disgusting


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From Booty Bay to Quel’Danas in 2 minutes

I recorded this film for my DIVA 200 (Digital and Interactive Arts) course at the Emily Carr University of Art + Design (ECUAD). The clips were taken from the online video game World of Warcraft and features a hyperspeed flight from Booty Bay to the Isle of Quel’Danas.

Last Wednesday’s DIVA 200 class notes

September 17, 2008

DIVA 200 – last Wednesday’s class notes – yes I know I am late getting these on the blog!!!

Subvert Cultural Phenomenons – do not look down on sub-cultures

Gilligan’s Island = Lost of the 1960’s
Christian Metz – watch youtube videos

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PAINSTATION – Volker Morawe and Tilman Reiff

First Painstation game ever

The concept was based on the scene in the James Bond movie, “Never say Never Again” with Sean Connery

– instead of the game being Global Thermonuclear Dominance, the game is Pong!
– players use one hand to navigate the game itself, with the other hand on the “Pain Dispenser”
– if a player misses a ball, they receive either an electric shock,
– relevant today with entertainment such as Gladiator, Jackass, Rollerball/Roller Derby
– commentary on Totalitarian sanctioned violence to pacify/subdue/desensitize the populace

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– installed at Tesla For Transmediale exhibition
– treadmill in the gallery with motion detectors = running inside a virtual world
– what happens when you actually get to the wall at the end?
– boundary between reality / virtual – also shows limits
– the treadmill only goes in a linear direction (forwards and reverse)
– can’t strafe from side to side or turn around

homage to Cave Automatic Virtual Environment

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chitrakarkhana n, hindi

1.[chitra+karkhana]- Image workshop

or picture factory. A fully independent, small scale unit for experimental media.

2. [chitrakar+khana]- Artist food.

– TV broadcasting experiment in India
– what constitutes the viewer / performer – web cam vs. audience
– constitutes narrow casting (ie: youtube channel with only 10 subscribers)
– relevance – London CCTV = Big Brother
– London Underground Terrorist bombings – without the CCTV, the police would not have cracked the case

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A couple of thousand short films about Glen Gould

– meticulously constructed from youtube samples of individual notes played by amateurs –
– bricolage

Super Mario Bros. Movie

“Two unattended computers send endlessly bouncing out-of-office auto-responses to each other”

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Perimeters, Boundaries and Border
RSS Newsreel – Good news = Hot weather front / Bad news = Cold weather front
Merging weather information and digital displayed information

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WEARABLE ART – R.F.I.D. experiments – Leah Bueckley

L.E.D. tank tops – used conductive thread for wireless communication
(reminds me of “Minority Report” advertisements within the movie)

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JIM CAMPBELL – Church on Fifth Avenue

Church On Fifth Avenue, 2001
Custom electronics

A matrix of 32 x 24 (768) pixels made out of red LEDs displaying a pedestrian and auto traffic scene in NY from an off street perspective. There is a sheet of diffusing plexiglass angled in front of the grid. As the pedestrians move from left to right the figures gradually go from a discrete representation to a continuous one (or metaphorically from a digital representation to an analog one).

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JANET CARDIFF – The Telephone Call

– audio/video walk through the San Francisco M.O.M.A.
– commentary from artist for audio tour but it;s for shock value
– record mp3 file and walk around museum and do podcast
– brings up concept of located media – text 55555 to hot babe

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Super Mario Theme – RC Car with bottles

Super Mario Theme – Zack Kim


Japanese TV Pranks

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– reality vs. representation
– deliver best product for the platform
– open taboo subject discussions within a totalitarian state

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TROIKA – SMS Guerilla Projector

The SMS Guerilla Projector is a home made, fully functioning device that enables the user to project text based SMS messages in public spaces, in streets, onto people, inside cinemas, shops, houses…

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