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A Hymn to Uncertain Futures
Editorial by: Noémie Fortin

The three-parts project Requiem for a Glacier was initiated in 2013 by Canadian artist and composer Paul Walde, after being commissioned by curator Kiara Lynch for an exhibition at Langham Cultural Centre in Kaslo (BC). Notable exhibitions of the work include a solo show at the Art Gallery of Université Laval (QC) in 2014, and its inclusion in the exhibition The Edge of the Earth: Climate Change in Photography and Video curated by Bénédicte Ramade at the Ryerson Image Center (ON) in 2016. Moreover, it has recently been acquired by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts’ (QC).

The artwork first took the form of a site-specific outdoor sound performance on July 27, 2013. On this occasion, fifty amateur and professional musicians played and sang a four-movement oratorio solely for the Farnham Glacier, with no audience beyond the production team. This glacier is part of the Jumbo Valley in British Columbia, known as of Qat’muk to the Ktunaxa First Nation, an area under threat from global warming and touristic development. Performed as a memorial for the glacial range, the score composed by Walde converts scientific data such as local temperature records to illustrate the effects of climate change, while the libretto is a Latin translation of the press release issued by British Columbia’s government, announcing their approval for a year-round ski resort to be built on this Indigenous sacred land. The two following iterations of the project consist of a gallery installation featuring a 40-minutes, two-channel panoramic video projection, which incorporates footage from the site-specific performance supplemented by visual effects created in post-production [1], and a multimedia indoor concert where professional musicians presented a re-interpretation of the score. The artist hopes that: “By moving the dialogue into different levels of intellectual engagement, the repackaging and dissemination of Requiem for a Glacier provides alternate critical ways of seeing and hearing the work,” and that “in this way, the reverberations have the potential to be clearer than the original sound.” [2]

Subliming Nature and Culture

At once poetic and political, the video re-presenting the initial manifestation of Requiem for a Glacier is imbued with a deep sense of nostalgia, of grief even – the requiem echoes the collective mourning of the impending loss of the Farnham Glacier, as well as many others just like it. In an homage to the changing landscape, Walde conflates the territories of political ecology and social activism, with monumental imageries evoking sentiments of immensity and infinity, of the sublime – resulting in an emotional experience akin to that of Romanticism. The closing shot of the video installation suggests an art-historical reference, featuring the orchestra conductor standing alone, seen from the back and set against a grandiose mountain backdrop. Reminiscent of Caspar David Friedrich’s painting Wanderer above the Sea of Fog (1818), a seminal work of German Romanticism, the scene compels the viewer to rethink human’s relationship to the landscape, and illustrates the artist’s desire to reflect nature from a cultural perspective. Moreover, by bringing an orchestra, a choir and soloists directly on the site to perform classical music, Requiem for a Glacier goes against a Western conception of nature as separate from culture. As the artist explains, this reframing suggests a cultural value intrinsic to the landscape, “which is otherwise absent from the debate surrounding the development of wild spaces in the non-Indigenous community”. [3]

Although several sequences in the video illustrate the relationship between humans and their environment, Quebec curator and scholar Patricia Aubé claims that its most striking feature is the pervasive presence of an imposing black rectangle, which acts as a spectrum over the entire work. The visual effect creates a strong opposition between the wild immensity of the landscape, and an intrusive, conquering presence. The rectangle expands, imposes itself and stretches out: it literally invades the screen, until we feel the disappearance of the glacier under the weight of our presence. [4] This symbol of looming loss stands as a reminder of the impacts of climate change and corporate development on the Canadian landscape.

“Keep Jumbo Wild” 

As a commemorative rite, the ceremonial nature of Walde’s work engages the viewer in a sensible and almost spiritual experience to raise emotional awareness, seeking to defend the interests of the glacier and everything that it symbolizes through affect. As Aubé explains in her review of the exhibition presented at Université Laval, this incursion into the field of the sacred responds to the complexity of the situation surrounding the Jumbo development project. The immersive experience allows the viewer to reach another level of consciousness, perhaps closer to that of people who maintain a spiritual link with the place. Indeed, for the Ktunaxa First Nation, the physical site of Qat’muk intersects with spiritual territories that are far removed from the pragmatic concerns put forward by corporations and government officials. [5]

In a recent turn of events after three decades of controversy around the Jumbo Alpine Resort, the wildlife corridor and spiritual home of the grizzly bear of Qat’muk has finally been recognized as an Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area in early 2020, thus closing the door on any development project. [6] This victory of the Jumbo Wild campaign was certainly aided by the 2013 performance and ensuing exhibitions and presentations in different contexts, including its continued discussion in local and international media. After all, as the artist claims, “[…] art has a potentially long tail, reaching into the future and pulling its extended dialogue forward into the present with each subsequent exhibition of the work.” [7]

Strong Symbol and Eco-Lesson

The strength of Requiem for a Glacier resides in its capacity to provoke both intellectual and emotional responses to issues of local and global scopes – namely climate change and how it relates to development projects such as the Jumbo Alpine Resort. This insertion in different registers, paired with its propension to reactivate its ecological lesson with each exhibition and discussion in the medias, makes the artwork a perfect symbol for the causes it supports.


  1. Hardy, T.E. (2014). “Requiem for a Glacier Mourns Climate Change Losses,” Canadian Art, https://canadianart.ca/reviews/paul-walde-requiem-for-a-glacier/
  2. Walde, Paul (2015). “Requiem for a Glacier,” Canadian Theatre Review, Volume 162 (Spring 2015) University of Toronto Press, p. 71.
  3. Ibid., 68.
  4. Aubé, Patricia (2015). Review of “L’expérience du sacré dans le paysage : Requiem for a Glacier de Paul Walde”. Espace, vol. 110, p. 87.
  5. Ibid., 86.
  6. “Jumbo Glacier Resort is dead. Jumbo Wild forever!” Keep It Wild, (January 18, 2020). http://www.keepitwild.ca/jumbowildforever/?fbclid=IwAR2_
  7. Walde, Paul (2015). “Requiem for a Glacier,” Canadian Theatre Review, Volume 162 (Spring 2015) University of Toronto Press, p. 71.

Project Title: Requiem for a Glacier
Artist: Paul Walde and volunteers
Year: 2013(performance; exhibitions till 2016)
Place: Farnham GlacierKootenay Land District, BC (Exhibition took place in various locations)

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