Confronting Movement, Confronting Vocabularies

"Slow Scrape" Tanya Lukin Linklater and Daina Ashbee, performance, 2014. Photo credit: Sam Cotter.

“Slow Scrape,” Tanya Lukin Linklater and Daina Ashbee, documentation of performance, 2014. Photo credit: Sam Cotter.

As the final event of A Problem So Big It Needs Other People, the idea of negotiation was approached choreographically, as the instruction of movement by Tanya Lukin Linklater and the practice of movement by Daina Ashbee. A historical negotiation was also at play in Lukin Linklater’s translation of civic protest and domestic labour into poetry, which she exhibited in the gallery space as a series of three hanging banners. Entitled Slow Scrape, the three-part dance utilized the banners as scores for performance. To begin, every English and Cree word comprising the first banner was addressed through movement, a  patient and deliberate reckoning of syllabics by a body. In the second act, phrasing was acknowledged and Ashbee’s actions corresponded in scale, expanding, taking up space, her body shooting forward and crawling back, behind and in front of the banners. And in the end, the shape of language itself was embodied, the rising smoke used to tan leather suggesting an arrangement of words on a page, which then became the shape of a body moving through a crowded gallery space.

As a practical reflection of Lukin Linklater’s processed-based approach to developing work, the distance between North Bay, Ontario, where Lukin Linklater is based, and Montréal, Quebec, where Ashbee resides, was broached through a series of electronic exchanges (webcam conversations, video sharing and email correspondence), where Lukin Linklater provided “the structure and concepts to [Ashbee], who in turn [experimented] with movement vocabularies.” [1] The collaborators had only one day of rehearsal time in the space, where the decision to utilize the exhibition as a site was realized. Just as the banners were scores, the other works in the show became Ashbee’s partners. The voices of Susan Hiller’s The Last Silent Movie spilled out of the cinema space of the gallery and spoke alongside Ashbee’s powerful presence as imagined commentary; Annie MacDonell’s photo series and Tiziana Le Melia’s paintings/sculptures were rooted as silent partners subject to spatial address; and even the audience became site, albeit a metamorphic one, where space was made and taken as Ashbee moved amongst those present.

The banners—part of the exhibition from the start as objects themselves, but also harbingers of a sort—are poetic reflections on a series of conversations Lukin Linklater conducted with her kin in order to learn a specific kind of mitt-making. This was instruction as a gesture of solidarity. Lukin Linklater describes it as such: 

Slow Scrape is a series of nine banners [only three of which were on display at SBC] developed from a text, The Harvest Sturdies, written in response to Chief Theresa Spence’s hunger strike, a 44-day action that began December 11, 2012. The mitts Chief Spence wore in many of her press engagements are an important symbol for the people of James Bay. Interviews with Agnes Hunter, Marlene Kapasheshit and Lillian Mishi Trapper during January and February 2013 regarding the process for making traditional James Bay Mitts were conducted for this text…The text began with experiential knowledge shared within the context of phone interviews, conversations between relatives, across generations. Within the development of the text, translation is at the centre, [I worked] with Cree language, the concepts of syllabics, visual vocabularies, and poetics…The process [of creating the performance became] a negotiation between the text, Daina’s body, the concepts at the centre of the work, and my ability to communicate or translate the ideas to Daina. [2]

Departing from the first line of the banners’ poetry, “So it’s done like this, Tanya,” it is apparent that Lukin Linklater’s work is about an intergenerational relay of teaching and learning. Through these pedagogical processes, parallels were constructed between the various acts of translation (from protest to education to dance) and negotiation (between Indigenous peoples and the Canadian state, between Lukin Linklater and her elders, between a choreographer and a dancer). In the last instance, the negotiations between Lukin Linklater and Ashbee, as artists, is mediated by their sovereignty as people and as makers, which results in the manifestation of the work itself. So, while the choreographic relationship between the artist and the dancer was structured and instructional, the aspects of improvisation in the work generate questions about where these roles begin and end, and these questions are present without clear answer.

Considering the articulation of the sovereignty focus program at SBC, the sovereign subject has been the unit of measure in discussions of, and enactments of, negotiation. Lukin Linklater’s performance, which has been firmly rooted in the female Indigenous body at all stages of development, presents a very specific subjectivity within the exhibition. Given the space of reflection that the gallery represents, and given the framework of thinking through the processes and possibilities of sovereignty, what is to be made of our bodies in that space? The sovereign subject is not disembodied; we are bodies, bodies which profoundly inform how we are in the world. While Ashbee’s performance departed from Lukin Linklater’s text, it was a translation of intention and spirit that only another female Indigenous body could make. 

The performance was developed in specific response to the space of SBC and the conditions of the exhibition, a process possible because of reciprocal extensions of trust between SBC as an institution and myself as a curator, between Lukin Linklater and I, and between Lukin Linklater and Ashbee. Although I am sure that the commissioning of any new work for an exhibition involves a similar extension of belief, this was one instance in the show (among others) where the conditions of sovereign negotiation were foregrounded. Trust was both an acknowledgement of faith and recognition of independence in service of something being collectively created (standing apart from other kinds of facilitation, like hierarchical directorship or even consensus). Trust was the agreement implicitly made that allowed for the production and presentation of a new work. 

Fundamentally, this extension of trust was enabled by the subtle callings of intuition. What initially drew me to Lukin Linklater’s work was the introduction she wrote for Duane Linklater’s Decommission, a solo-exhibition held at the MacLaren Art Centre in 2013, where she spoke about the relationship between the artist, the mechanic and machine as one predicated on processes of negotiation. As Lukin Linlater said of the sculpture, “My ideas about the object are not the same as the object itself,” pointing to an irreducible remainder in the work, the thing that cannot be seen but cannot be discounted, to those negotiations of skill, desire and material that foster the work’s being in the world. I have been drawn to her work for the way I recognize what she sees. I realize that this is an intimate consideration, one that cannot be displayed as part of the exhibition, but in the same way as the ideas are not the object, it cannot be discounted, this feeling of recognition. To be honest, the role of intuition cannot be discounted in my own processes of curating more generally, and as is its nature, it resists articulation. 

And yet, at the performance’s close, Ashbee was asked what she thought about when danced. And as it happens, Lukin Linklater had asked her relatives what they think about when the sew. How often or how little do we consider the what happens in the silences that enable the performance of our lives? Do these conversations or rituals resist articulation or is that we are not accustomed to naming these other aspects of our interior lives? Surely, our expressions of sovereignty are deeply inflected with intimate concerns, however much they yield or resist translation into conversation. Not unlike the untranslated Cree words that structured Lukin Linklater’s banners, a desire to bridge between knowing and unknowing is all a matter of concern. Though some visitors had access to the language (and in fact expressed their joy at seeing their languages reflected in the space), and others did not, understanding was only ever so far away as one’s own motivation, and of their being open to being acted upon in return. 

[1] From an email correspondence with Lukin Linklater, 10 February 2014.

[2] Ibid.


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