Mapping and Manufacturing

Nien Schwarz, Clearance, 1997-2001. This image from my 1999 solo exhibition Promised Land at the Canberra Museum and Gallery, 1999.

Since 1981, I have, whenever possible, worked with geoscientists conducting mapping and rock sampling in the field. I started as a teenager, working as a bushcook, accompanying geological mapping expeditions across Canada’s North West Territories and Nunavut.

Bushcook is a misnomer; I worked above the tree line. It was a simple existence with no generator, solar power or GPS. Into the lumpy canvas-floored kitchen I hauled buckets of water from barely thawed shorelines. Meat and produce was stored under tarps supported by permafrost. My job was to also protect our tent camps from local 4-legged carnivores. I had to learn to shoot. I did a lot of fishing to put fresh food on the table. I was happy to immerse long afternoons into carefully colouring in geological maps in the making.

I was always aware that the geological maps our expeditions produced would be interpreted by mineral exploration companies. That my pots and pans, and indeed everything I used that was not grown, was derived from mining and the decision on where to mine originated with the mapping and interpretation of a geological map.

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