Nearing the turn to the new year and thus the conclusion of Wood Land School: Kahatenhstánion tsi na’tetiatere ne Iotohrkó:wa tánon Iotohrha /Drawing Lines from January to December it is meaningful to have been given a chance to reflect on the project and its force. In “Taking Up Space: An Interview with the Wood Land School,” Art in America’s Sean J Patrick Carney posed a series of thoughtful questions to Tanya Lukin Linklater, Duane Linklater and myself about the project and about art institutions. With their future-tense inflection, these prompts point to the work that still, continually asks to be done, and in the twilight of Drawing Lines… I find myself easing into hope.
The incubation period for press, for words on a page, the holding in the hands, is always so much longer in the end than what we convince ourselves it will be when we begin. It is almost as though it is impossible to make books. Except that there are libraries stacked full, proof otherwise. And now, another gem to add to those shelves: Desire Change: Contemporary Feminist Art in Canada (2017). Published by Winnipeg-based artist-run centre MAWA, the publication brings together contemporary Canadian feminist art through the entangled relations of desire and desire for change.
Desire Change: Contemporary Feminist Art in Canada is edited by Heather Davis and includes contributions by myself and Janice Anderson (Concordia University), Gina Badger (artist, writer, editor, Toronto), Noni Brynjolson (writer, San Diego), Amber Christensen (curator and writer, Toronto), Karin Cope (NSCAD), Lauren Fournier (artist, writer, and curator, York University), Amy Fung (curator and writer, Toronto), Kristina Huneault (Concordia University), Alice Ming Wai Jim (Concordia University), Tanya Lukin Linklater (artist, North Bay), Sheila Petty (University of Regina), Kathleen Ritter (curator and writer, Vancouver), Daniella Sanader (curator and writer, Toronto), Thérèse St. Gelais (UQAM), Ellyn Walker (Queen’s University), Jayne Wark (NSCAD) and Jenny Western (curator and writer, Winnipeg).
In my essay, I tried to work through some observations of and reflections on the 2013 exhibition Sakahàn: International Indigenous Art:
Theoretically, the exhibition was an expression of the difficult, hopeful work that is our living responsibility as cultural workers, gallery visitors, thinkers and citizens today in addressing the injustices of colonization, a project that I see as central to contemporary feminism. It is important to acknowledge that feminism is about more than ending sexism—it’s also about abolishing interconnected systems of oppression that affect different people in different ways, and in a Canadian context this importantly means working to acknowledge and then abolish colonial forms of dispossession. And yet, like a trailing stitch of wool hanging from a sweater, the [National Gallery of Canada] undid at least some of this work through a repeated gesture. At the entrance of the exhibition, where the spirit of “sakahàn”— an Algonquin word meaning to light a fire—was put forward as the organizing principle of the show, was this disclaimer: “The views and opinions expressed in this exhibition are those of the artists and do not reflect the views of the National Gallery of Canada.” Such disclaimers are not in regular use at the NGC nor are they common practice for exhibitions generally. The appearance of an additional disclaimer, directly next to the didactic panel for Nadia Myre’s “For those who cannot speak: the land, the water, the animals and the future generations” (2013), was therefore notable: “The views expressed in this work are those of the artist and do not reflect the views of the National Gallery of Canada.” In both cases, the language enacts a strict demarcation between the views of the NGC and the artists. The politics of the works on display do not align with the politics of the gallery itself.
This essay has been a long time in the making and finally it lives in the world. If it comes to rest upon your shelves, your desk, your hands, let’s talk more about what it means to install Indigenous art as feminists.
In the ongoing becoming that is Wood Land School: Kahatènhston tsi na’tetiátere ne Iotohrkó:wa tánon Iotohrha / Drawing a Line from January to December, the second gesture launches this week with a cast of artists invested in thinking through what an inherited history makes in the present. It is an honour for Wood Land School to be thinking alongside Joi T. Arcand, Elisa Harkins & Nathan Young, Tsēma Igharas, Brian Jungen, Gabrielle L’Hirondelle Hill, Marianne Nicolson, Annie Pootoogook and Wendy Red Star.
The first gesture of this year-long project was concerned with the power of line to mark history and invoke memory. In this first gesture, we considered what it means to inherit a history. We made claims for where we have felt ourselves formed. We proposed that this is one of many ways to pick up the line.
In the second gesture we are asking the following question: how does the line behave?
Spanning video, photography, sculpture, drawing and performance, the works of the second gesture show us how to occupy the present. Here, the line acts as a point of departure for Indigenous relations, mapping time, family, Indigenous languages and non-human relations in the now. And yet, this isn’t a singular line of thought. What does a line of thinking become when it is collapsed or disrupted? In this second gesture, we complicate and converse with the idea of the line and materiality.
Wood Land School: Kahatènhston tsi na’tetiátere ne Iotohrkó:wa tánon Iotohrha / Drawing a Line from January to December has yielded many questions and ideas—for Wood Land School, for SBC, for the artists and for our publics. Collectively, we consider how this line acts, thinks and articulates itself under this particular condition we have created or implicated ourselves in.
Please join us at the launch of the second gesture on Thursday, 11 May 2017, 18:00–20:00, at SBC galerie d’art contemporain (372, rue Ste-Catherine Ouest, espace 507, Tiohtià:ke/Montréal). Elisa Harkins, Tsēma Igharas and Hilda Nicholas will be variously performing over the evening and they are not to be missed.
As winter turns to spring, Wood Land School’s unfolding exhibition Kahatènhston tsi na’tetiátere ne Iotohrkó:wa tánon Iotohrha / Drawing a Line from January to December prepares to rest. Articulated through a series of gestures—clusters of activity that bring works into and out of the exhibition space— a suite of new drawings by Brian Jungen will soon join works by Annie Pootoogook, Alanis Obomsawin, Layli Long Soldier, ReCollection Kahnawake and Napachie Pootoogook. With this, the composition of forms that make the first gesture will be complete.
To mark the inclusion of Jungen’s work, which are the first drawings he has produced in over 20 years, Wood Land School will engage in conversation with the artist this Thursday, 30 March 2017. Please join us.
Following this, for the month of April, the exhibition will rest, playing out the energies between the works on display, collectively producing a line that demarcates and describes inheritance.
In May, the exhibition remakes itself along with the world. Details of the second gesture will be announced soon.
This winter, I was invited back to the Vera List Center to participate in their ongoing program Indigenous New York, this time with a focus on how Indigenous creative production might reconfigure regimes of critical writing. As an invited participant in the event, I was paired with a fellow writer, Sadia Shirazi, and we were asked to respond to the prompt of “land writes—citing territory.” Shirazi and I had not met previous to this, but in approaching this work, we decided to engage each other in conversation, extending the call and response structure of the exercise, first over Skype then in writing, crafting a meditation of enactments of territory that extended from acknowledgements to bans. In a time when so many people have been barred access to the lands called the United States through executive orders, it was a strange decision to go there (and indeed, some other invited participants boycotted the event in response to the recent travel bans). And yet, I hope that there was some utility in going the US and to this event to discuss how the policies enacted on land are equivalent to politicized regimes of dispossession, and to imagine other ways of organizing the shapes we make when we come together. Below, Shirazi and I read from our text at the public portion of the colloquium. Entitled the cuts., our writing owes a debt of gratitude to the brilliant Layli Long Soldier and her book of poetry WHEREAS (2017).
And here, documentation of the panel discussion that followed:
And here, the collection of texts.
Today, Alanis Obomsawin’s first film, Christmas at Moose Factory (1971), joins Annie Pootoogook’s Coleman Stove with Robin Hood Flour and Tenderflake (2003-2004) in the space of Wood Land School: Kahatènhston tsi na’tetiátere ne Iotohrkó:wa tánon Iotohrha. Conceived as a single year-long exhibition unfolding through a series of gestures—clusters of activity that bring works into and out of the gallery space—the exhibition is in a constant state of becoming, and today it shifts.
Christmas at Moose Factory brings together children’s crayon drawings and the voice of a girl narrating the images to create a study of life at Christmas time in Moose Factory, a community of mostly Indigenous families on the shore of James Bay. Incidents big and small are illustrated and described with candour, conveying to the viewer a strong sense of being there with the children and their families. As Obomsawin comments in the film, the children “speak with their drawings about life around them” and the resonance between their stories and Pootoogook’s study of domestic rituals makes for a moving illustration of the power of a line to circumscribe living and mark history.