Considerations

Some Ways of Art’s Working

Writing for the Toronto Star, Chris Hampton has crafted an attentive survey some of the works in Nep Sidhu’s Medicine for a Nightmare (they called, we responded) exhibition. What interests me about Sidhu’s practice in general, and what is exemplified in this new body of work, is the concern he has for exploring the many processes at play in building a relationship to the past, and how this kind of inheritance is reshaped by the practices of life as it continues to unfold. Hampton picks up on this same thread:

Across media — be it metalwork, sculpture, jewelry design, rug-making or the couture sported onstage and off by artists, futurists and mystics like Shabazz Palaces and Erykah Badu — Sidhu is intensely committed to craft. The 40-year-old practitioner is a student of its histories and techniques. It is his vehicle for time travel, bridging various ancestries to the future imaginary.

I believe that Sidhu’s work encourages a specific, embodied understanding of the history he invokes, showing history as an unsettled thing, both for himself and others. In pointing to the need to continue the telling of what has shaped us, perhaps it is that these stories may shape others and, in turn, be reshaped themselves.

Hampton’s article can be found here.

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Considerations

Best of 2018

I am thrilled that Rosemary Heather has included I continue to shape on her NOW Magazine list of best exhibitions in Toronto for 2018. It is a strange thing to make an exhibition but then not be able to live with it. That being said, it is good to know that the propositions of this show resonated for Heather, and hopefully for many other folks who had the chance to see it. Although the exhibition is now closed, I am still working through the propositions the artists made through their works, considering how to exploit moments of cultures in collision to tell the stories of history differently, to tell them through the concerns of recovery and reconfiguration. And so begins a list of goals for 2019!

Shout out also to Vulture who included I continue to shape on a list of exhibitions to check out in lieu of the insanity of Art Basel Miami Beach—if one were up for exchanging eternal summertime for a winter wonderland.

 

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Considerations

Circumventing Inclusion

ArtsEverywhere published an essay by Yaniya Lee this week entitled “Tactics and strategies of racialized artists: some notes on how to circumvent the art world’s terms of inclusion.” Working as an editor on the piece, I had the privilege of thinking alongside Lee as she enumerated a few of the strategies that she and her peers use to jam a cultural machine that oftentimes only wants the perspectives and practices of BIPOC artists/writers/cultural workers to the extent that they can represent diversity.  She asks, “What if all of the inclusive and diverse exhibitions that have been curated, all of the critical essays that have been written, and all of the self-congratulatory diversity panels and talks that have been hosted ultimately had no effect whatsoever on the structural make-up of cultural institutions in Canada?” And then she answers back with a toolbox of tactics that tend to the self-determination of BIPOC artists while simultaneously destabilizing structures that operate under false pretences of neutrality. Instead of inclusion within these same old systems, Lee proposes to dismantle their ideological foundations through processes of complication, care and refusal, serving the rise of something else in the wake. Something otherwise.

 

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Considerations

Krista Belle Stewart’s “Seraphine, Seraphine”

I’ve had the luck of seeing Krista Belle Stewart’s video installation Seraphine, Seraphine twice: first at the Esker Foundation in 2013 as part of the Fiction/Non-Fiction exhibition, and then again in 2015 at Mercer Union in a solo presentation of the piece. In the five years since I first experienced Stewart’s work, which is kind of biography of her mother, I have continually come back to it as a profound articulation of strength and resistance, and as an example of what effects art might produce through encounter.

This week, ArtsEverywhere has published “From Where do You Speak?: Locating the Possibility of Decolonization in Krista Belle Stewart’s Seraphine, Seraphine,” an essay I have spent many years writing that attempts a deep reading of the video work, both on its own terms and through the world we live in today, which is a post-TRC, post-Canada 150 country in the midst of a widespread social and political paradigm shift away from settler colonial plunder, or so I hope. As provoked by Stewart’s work, I wonder:

What if a decolonial, Indigenized Canada is made from the twinned imperatives of decolonization on the behalf of settlers and self-determination on behalf of Aboriginal peoples? While these processes are inextricably bound yet distinct from each other, their conjunction recognizes the fact that a decolonized future must start with the self-determination of Indigenous people: despite the fact that decolonization is the task of the colonizing settler, it is not settler-articulated. Decolonization demands a robust relationality between settler and Indigenous populations, and most important for the task at hand is the capacity of settlers to listen, to receive, to be deeply uncomfortable, to recognize themselves as estranged from the skewed history presented in textbooks, to feel alienated from a sense of righteous belonging and to cede powers and privileges that have been ill-gotten.

There is so much profound work to be done in regards to making some sort of decolonial future possible—cross-culturally, legally, spatially, aesthetically, and in regards to repatriating land and resources to Indigenous communities—and it is my sincere belief that cultural forms, such as this work by Stewart, are part of what will make these endeavours legible to the many people that now call this place home, settler and Indigenous alike.

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Considerations, Happenings

“Picking Up a Long Line” in Afterall Journal

So long ago now, I remember picking up a copy of Afterall—a journal that showcases in-depth considerations of the work of contemporary artists, as well as essays on art history and critical theory—from the University of British Columbia bookstore. I picked it up because I was someone who loved language and wanted to know more about art, and this was the one art mag that featured more words than pictures. I still have that copy kicking around, so many years later, so many different homes and different cities later.

And just this month I received the latest copy of Afterall in the post, which features an essay I have written about the practice of Rebecca Belmore. In the nerdiest way, that young women of before is thrilled today to see my writing in those pages. It has been a total honour to engage with Afterall’s editors, and the invitation to consider Belmore’s practice could not have come at a better time. The essay, entitled “Picking Up a Long Line,” charts the ways that Belmore’s practice has provided an anchor for feeling my way through all the awful shit that #MeToo and Times’ Up and Not Surprised have brought to the surface, socially and intimately. Not that any of this is new, but that it has been hard to find my way sometimes. As I say in the essay:

Belmore reminds us of our complicity in the unfolding of stories like this: what duty do we have to bear our suffering on each other’s bodies? How to carry the burden that trauma produces? These questions resonate with stark clarity today. What to do with the public accounting of how power and violence are wielded to demean others? What to do when the naming begins, both the naming of perpetrators of these violences and the naming of those whose lives have been altered by them?

In Belmore’s practice, I am reminded that this kind of social grappling and reconfiguration has been going on for a long long time, and that although the correlation isn’t perfect, that something like Not Surprised needs the long history of Belmore’s practice to be possible at all. Like so much else in life, it is the labour of BIPOC women that lead the way in making an otherwise possible. That young women of before, and this woman I am now, cannot be more thankful that there are such fierce precedents for how to be in relation to what can no longer stand to be.

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Considerations, Wood Land School

Taking up Space

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View of “Kahatenhstánion tsi na’tetiatere ne Iotohrkó:wa tánon Iotohrha / Drawing Lines from January to December.” Photo Paul Litherland.

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.

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Considerations

Between Desire and Change

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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.

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