Panelists discuss art, war & the military

Canadian veterans share their personal experiences in the military in relation to art and its role in war

Thoughts of war and the military don’t often couple with the creative expression associated with art.

The military as an institution is perhaps as uniform as they come — so what place does art have in discussions of war, peacekeeping and the Canadian military? The Philosopher’s Café answered this question on this very subject

— and many more.

Philosopher’s Café: War, Peacekeeping, and Canada’s Military, took place at The Agnes Etherington Art Centre on June 8. In collaboration with PeaceQuest, it was a discussion on the horrors of war, Canada’s involvement and how and why art can hold such a powerful role in the representation of war.

It began with a speech by Major Brent Beardsley, who served as an infantry officer in Canada for 32 years.

In a short, matter-of-fact manner, Beardsley described what it felt like to be in the state of war. “You are bored, looking out into that endless field, minutes that turn into hours that turn into weeks that turn into months,” he said. “It feels like it will never ever end, but usually when it does, it’s interrupted by moments of terror.”

After painting this stark picture of the realities of war — so different from the heroic and patriotic tales we normally hear, Beardsley went on to emphasize the importance of peacekeeping. His answer to the problem was simple — more Canadian involvement, less European involvement. He argued that Canadian peacekeeping based on Canadian values was more effective than the colonial structures in which European peacekeeping efforts still operate.

Despite his blunt approach to the topic, Beardsley ended on a positive note. “We must be cautious optimists, not eternal pessimists,” he said.

Then came a discussion between Beardsley and Jamie King, a writer and activist that tried to make connections between art and the realities of war. As King made attempts to relate the topic of discussion to art, Beardsley often circled back to the topic of war and peacekeeping without mentioning the role of art within these specific issues.

Once the discussion was opened to the floor, an audience member was able to get an answer from Beardsley with the question: How significant is the role of art, and artists, in the depiction of war? Essentially, the art is knowledge for those who have never experienced war, as well as therapeutic for those who have, he said.

The most enjoyable aspect of this presentation was the art exhibition on display. Titled “Terms of Engagement: Averns, Feldman-Kiss, Stimson,” artists Dick Averns, Nichola Feldman-Kiss and Adrian Stimson showcased paintings, videos and photography that depicted the realities of war.

Perhaps most profound was a piece by Feldman-Kiss titled “until the story of the hunt is told by the lion/facing horror and the possibility of shame,” a collection of photographs of weapons and bones in grass. These photographs were displayed in such a manner that the viewer felt as if they were, for a moment, experiencing war for themselves.

Philosopher’s Café: War, Peacekeeping, and Canada’s Military presented a discussion that needed to be had. While not conclusive in its answers to questions of peacekeeping and the role of art in war, it approached a dialogue that is often cast aside when it comes to Canada’s role in war on an international scale.

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