Connecting art and urban planning

Valerie Durant was born in Burnaby, B.C. and lives on the land of the Sḵwxw̱ ú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish), Səlil̓ilw̓ətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh), and xwməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam) First Nations in Vancouver. She holds a BFA from Emily Carr University and an MA in Community and Urban Planning from the University of Pretoria in South Africa. Interwoven in her interdisciplinary practice is the belief that as humans, we are of nature and not beside it and that we are interconnected in ways which are not always apparent. Valerie has curated and conceptualized Out of the Rain, a social change project that raised awareness about homelessness through the arts in Vancouver, engaging with marginalized artists and community members. While living in South Africa, she collaborated with the International Office of Migration (IOM) on a photographic and social change project to raise awareness about xenophobia in the Southern African Region. This lead to her exhibition Interweave, which was part of the Capture Photo Festival in Vancouver. While in Africa, Valerie developed and implemented a climate change initiative for the UK government that reduced greenhouse gas emissions for their land use and buildings.

Linking past, present and future

In her interdisciplinary practice, Valerie explores the effects of human impact on the natural world. Her work draws connections between upstream events such as flooding, forest fires, and logging and the consequences for our oceans and sea life. Entwined in her identity as a mother is a desire to explore seemingly invisible connections within the natural world, which has minimal impact on future generations through conscious material choice. Exploring the lifecycle of natural organic materials and the impact of inorganic disruptors such as Styrofoam and plastics observed and collected from land and sea is an integral part of her process. Linking the past and future with the present, while conveying our impermanence and ephemerality is an important component of her practice.

Collecting studio inspiration

A day in the studio for Valerie begins with a walk  in the forest or along the shoreline. This is very much the most important component of her studio practice. While photographing, and recording videos and sound on her walks she collects objects that are organic or human made and includes those in her studio sculptural practice. Prior to March 2020, her studio practice involved creating organic forms in porcelain and clay in response to her walking observations and experiences. This was a dance with material that reflected her photographic process. Like most artists and humans, her way of being in the world changed as a result of COVID-19.  Without access to a community kiln, working with clay was no longer an option and she had several exhibitions canceled. Instead, she wrote poetry and returned to digital processes. She completed a short video and sound piece of her still images and sculptures. This work, entitled Silence of The Sea, was made possible as a result of a Canada Council for the Arts Digital Original Grant. She currently spends time in the studio working on sculptural objects from organic materials in a number of processes that relate to her photographic images.

Triptych: An African Landscape 1. Seep, 2. Diamond in the Rough, 3. Waiting on an Empty Pool Images available separately (2016), Valerie Durant, Photography

Living in connection with nature

Valerie feels grateful to live in close proximity to the forest and the sea. Her connection and reverence to and with nature is essential for her health and wellbeing and is integrated in her identity. She is grateful for larger systems that allow for the waxing and waning of the moon, laying bare the foreshore, delivering hidden truth.  Tidal pools and extreme weather events provide the source of many of her art making materials. She feels the interconnection with others  in our common sky and in the intricate  and invisible web of life that is nature.  Valerie finds rejuvenation and sees the continuum of life, death and rebirth in the presence of massive old growth forests and the rhythm of the waves. As humans, we have ravaged our natural environment and polluted our seas. She is deeply concerned  for the loss of biodiversity, the increase in ocean acidification and the loss of arable land which has provided our food supply. She believes our greed as humans exceeds our need, which expands our ecological footprint. Collectively, as humans, we are inherently unsustainable. But Valerie is optimistic that we have the potential to reverse the present course and leave a living planet for our children and grandchildren, and believes that it is her purpose as an artist to share the beauty and our flaws as humans. 

She dreams that we are trees in a grove, living symbiotically, our branches flexing and flowing, our canopy shyly touching as we sway rhythmically, in syncopation. We are different, each one unique yet sharing commonalities. Blood courses through our veins and we share the sky above. As trees, we inherently possess the quality of nurture, empathy, equality and reciprocity. We are reliantly intertwined in our roots, connected to the earth, yet in our canopy we are free to imagine and return to the stars. She wonders, can we be more like trees in our relationship with others as we look to the sky for answers?

Art as a tool for change

Valerie personally finds meaning and purpose in evoking social change by raising awareness about climate change and human vulnerability through her art making practice. 

In terms of whether artists should be responsible for creating a call to action with their work, she believes that every artist has their own meaning and purpose and it is not for her to say how that comes through in their work. She can only say that this is her purpose, as it is inherently in who she is as a person and an artist. 

You can find more of Valerie’s work on her website, , and on her Instagram at @ValerieDurantVancouver, where you can contact her directly. 

Her video The Silence of the Sea can be viewed at: (Password: SilentSea )

More information about the above mentioned exhibition Interweave can be found at: