Tanya Lukin Linklater, cheyanne turions, Leanne Simpson, Cris Derksen and Layli Long Soldier. Look how happy we all are… (Photo credit: Pip Day)

Earlier this month I made my way to Peterborough’s Artspace on the invitation of Tanya Lukin Linklater to participate in her exhibition Constellation/conversation alongside Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, Cris Derksen and Layli Long Soldier. Tanya had invited us to respond to “how to steal a canoe,” a poem written by Leanne. That night,  it was performed over and over again through Leanne’s voice and Cris’s cello, an incantation that lasted at least 30 minutes. Layli wasn’t able to join us, but from New Mexico she extended the form of poetry back to itself, reminding us that suffering is sacred because in living with our wounds, we are changed by them, becoming. Tanya invoked the many different valences that resistance can take, drawing out the connections between refusal and life, emphasizing that the labour required (for resisting, for living) is always bound up in alliance. When it came around to me, I started with a caveat: I am not an artist. My contribution to the evening would be of a different sort than what came before. My response was to reflect on how the different material forms I had encountered the poem in—through written language, through recorded sound, performed—exposed different aspects of its meaning.

When I was a very young child, learning to write was learning to conduct magic. Then, and still, the act of writing transforms what I think and feel, and I also believe that writing can impact upon the world outside me.

While preparing for the evening, I used this magic and I wrote Leanne’s poem out, over and over again, with different pens on different paper, trying to get the poem into my system.

Please read it, here.

In this way, I encountered the poem through the specificity of writing, which gave me clarity to the distributions of power in Leanne’s language.

The poem itself teaches me that canoes are alive. And that as with people, so with these water vessels: we have places where we imprison them.

Language, its specificities, tells me things. When akiwenzie says, “oh you’re so proud of your collection of ndns. good job, zhaganash, good job,” Leanne renders “indians” with the letters N, D and N, a kind of written slang that reduces the complexity of a life and a culture to a symbol. This foreshadows akiwenzie’s use of smudging to play on the security guard’s understanding of himself as enlightened, when really it’s his fetishization of Indigenous life that allows for akiwenzie and kwe to carry out their collective liberation.

Language also tells me about the politics of being. When kwe takes the canoe on her shoulder, Leanne reinforces the living nature of the canoe by addressing the canoe as “She” and “Her.” This you could hear in the poem as it was performed by Leanne and Cris that night, but what might not have been obvious to the audience, and what written language insists upon, is the object as being—“She” and “Her” are set title case in a text otherwise lowercased.

The use of “ndns,” and “She” and “Her,” is not necessarily something that voice conveys, but the voice and the cello tell us other things that language cannot account for, despite how hard the words can try. In writing, certain politics are revealed that cannot manifest through sound, but with sound, there is song. How to interpret the sound of Cris’s cello politically? And the cadence of Leanne’s voice as politics?

When I first encountered the poem, it was actually through the specificity of sound, through the track that makes up part of Leanne’s soon-to-be-released album f(l)ight. In the recording, Leanne’s cadence is slow, or slower than the pace the poem sounds in my head. Her pronunciation is bleeding, the words reaching to touch one another, carried by the elongated breath of Cris’s cello (Cris also performs on the album).

I wonder: what is the song that the canoe sings back? Is the conversation between kwe and the canoe like chorus and verse? Call and response? Like accompaniment?

Listening that night in Peterborough, something else happened, something in addition to what the earlier version of the recorded song showed me. “how to steal a canoe,” at the level of content, is about repatriation and it uses water as a tool. But the performance that night behaved as water—washing over, seeping, flowing, carving a course. In a way, word made flesh. Or, means made material.

In the space between writing and listening and performance, although I’m convinced of magic, there’s still always a question of what the space between one way of knowing or moving, and another, is.

Between forms, as between people in conversation generally, we attempt an honest engagement with this distance that cannot be undone.


A Pool is Water


Although it is often through the framing of other curators that I am introduced to artists, it is still a fascinating experience to watch other curators recontextualize practices that I thought myself familiar with through having made exhibitions with those artists previously. Visiting Montréal in late August to check out Galerie Division’s A Pool is Water, I found myself introduced to the works of Raque Ford, Athena Papadopoulos and Megan Rooney, and looking anew at the practices of Tiziana La Melia and Maryse Larivière, thanks to the careful curation of Loreta Lamargese.

I wrote about the exhibition—about the colour red, animals and the secret desire for longing to remain unrequited—and the review has been published by Hyperallergic under the awesome title of “Evocative and Futile Fantasies of Nature Tamed.” It’s my first time writing for the publication; take a look and let me know what you think, especially if you are able to make it to see the exhibition before it closes on Saturday, 03 September 2016.



More Caught in the Act


When I worked as the Shop Manager and Curator at Art Metropole, you wouldn’t believe how many requests I received for a publication called Caught in the Act (2004). Edited by Johanna Householder and Tanya Mars, this anthology of writing on performance art by Canadian women, from what I can tell, sold out immediately but the thirst is deep for the critical reflections it contains. I’ve actually  never seen a copy—Art Met didn’t have any and copies on the secondary market are extravagantly expensive (a quick search tells me $250 on Amazon).

But, I have just got my hands on a copy of the follow-up, More Caught in the Act: an anthology of performance art by Canadian women (2016), which will launch in Toronto at YYZ Artists’ Outlet later this month in Montréal at Artexte later this year, and it’s heavy and thick and gorgeous, full of writing by some of the most exciting thinkers around, bringing their skills to bear on the most important performance artists in this country. And I’m lucky to be a part of it.

Johanna and Tanya approached me a couple years ago about writing an essay about the complexity of the body mediated through film or video. This new publication focuses on work produced in and around the 1990s, and so I dove deep into works by Judy Radul and Penelope Buitenhuis, Cathy Sisler, Emily Vey Duke and Cooper Battersby, and Dierdre Logue to consider what the confluence of moving images and performance art can accomplish.

Setting out, the question seemed to be this: what makes performance for the camera a specific kind of art practice? What distinction is made when film and video works insist upon a connection to performance art practices? As two means of making, performance art is ostensibly in opposition to artists’ films and videos in its temporal emphasis—performance is live, here and now, volatile; film and video are the material of archives, mobile, repeatable. Spatially, the performance event has blurry contextual boundaries; whereas the mediatized image is fixed within its frame. When a camera is used as part of a performance, it can be as documentation, but performance for the camera is not equivalent to this practice of representation. Unlike documentation, which can never be total, these works must be understood as complete in themselves. When an artist performs for a camera, there is no discrepancy between experience (witnessing a live event) and capture (a recording to be experienced later). The live event is not re-presented in film or video, but unfurled in its deliberate fullness as the recorded image moves.

Performance for the camera is a lush practice that traffics in performance art’s long history of transforming political concern into imaginative response, and it takes advantage of the formal capacities of film and video. The specificity of performing for the camera—as opposed to artists’ film and video, as opposed to documentation—lies in conjoining the apparent contradictions between forms. The works I discuss highlight a range of tactics that exploit the meeting of performance art and media forms, and they are not meant to stand in for the incredible breadth of performances made for a camera that have been undertaken over the last 25 years. They do, however, provide clear examples of what the confluence of artistic tactics can accomplish. 

I had a lot of support crafting this essay. Thank-you Fraser McCallum and Barbara Clausen for your generous feedback when I needed it most. Thanks to the artists for producing works that continue to resonate. And thanks to Johanna and Tanya for the persistence in making your vision its own kind of performative reality.



The Fraud that Goes Under the Name of Love


Mika Rottenberg, “Time and a Half,” 2013. Single channel video. Courtesy Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York. 

For the past many months, I have been working alongside the totally brilliant Amy Kazymerchyk in developing an exhibition for Simon Fraser University’s Audain Gallery. I head out to Vancouver next week to begin installing The Fraud that Goes Under the Name of Love and I couldn’t be more excited to see how this show begins to unfold in space as we make a constellation of the works of Billy-Ray Belcourt, Hannah Black, Rebecca Brewer, Anne Boyer, Maggie Groat, Johanna Hedva, Hanna Hur, Dylan Mira, Skeena Reece, Mika Rottenberg and Rachelle Sawatsky.

This group exhibition explores how singular and social bodies are affected by the entwinement of love and work. It focuses on under-acknowledged forms of physical, intellectual and emotional work, such as domestic care, cultural production and social activism, which are often referred to as “labours of love.” In querying the complexity of the commonly used phrase, the exhibition exposes how this love is valued on global, communal and personal scales.

These artists use material and conceptual strategies to express the physical, emotional and psychological effects of enduring or refusing the conditions of these social roles. Employing figurative language, abstraction and poetics, their works express how the conditions and affects of labouring are absorbed in the body and enfolded into life.

Full details about the exhibition and associated events can be found here, and it would be especially lovely to see you at the opening on 01 June, 19:00–21:00, at the Audain Gallery (149 West Hastings Street, Vancouver BC).


Thinking about labour, love and what we do for $$$ or lack of $$$ as we complicatedly compute the costs of pleasure against, say, food:

I am tasked as an artist with bearing the meaning of labour by bearing its negation or opposite side of free desiring activity, I should work from the free activity of my desire … The position of the artist insofar as the artist is not just an excrescence of financialization or an avatar of (il)liquidity, is of mediator: the artwork is supposed to mediate between living and dead labour. The operations of art may be like the operations of that banned substance, analogy; they may be analogous to analogy itself, mimicries of mimicry. Analogy is reactionary, I think: it yokes what has yet to happen to what has already taken place, through language laws that are also laws of probability and credit. It implies that events can be known and enumerated because, although there has never before been anything like it, they have somehow already happened.

—Hannah Black, Dark Pool Party, (67-69).


At the prompting of Joni Murphy, I recently read Alice Driver’s essay “Femicide in Juárez is Not a Myth.” Murphy has just published her debut novel, Double Teenage, and I was hosting her as part of No Reading After the Internet. The idea, in part, was to triangulate between Driver’s essay, Murphy’s book and the crowd that gathered to read aloud together. It’s been a couple of weeks, but I can’t shake a question that was raised that afternoon: why do we not use the word “femicide” to describe the shameful plight of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada? As Driver’s essay points out, femicide frames the murder of women—usually Indigenous, and usually involving sexual violence—as systemic, and not a collection of isolated incidents of domestic abuse.

In Murphy’s novel, one of her central protagonists leaves Las Cruces, New Mexico, where the specific border context around Juárez, Mexico plays out in its American counterpart, eventually ending up in Vancouver, BC. As she prepares the leave one country for another, her American friends proclaim the civilized nature of Canada, so magical, so prosperous, the citizens so polite. But what she is greeted with instead is the almost incomprehensible violence “of a serial killer who targeted women on the margins, women who traversed prostitution and drug scenes, the hyper-visible yet willfully overlooked. This bad man tugged the frayed edges of the urban cloth, slipping in and out of the holes. For a long time he could get away with it” (67).

The specificity of femicide in Juárez cannot be reduced to the violence of any singular man, but it would be a willful ignorance to think that what happened in Canada could be either. A serial killer operated for nearly 20 years and this is because there was a social infrastructure that supported him. In Driver’s essay, she quotes Jean Friednam-Rudovsky, a journalist who has worked extensively on describing the social context of femicide: “These crimes are different than other crimes both in how they are committed as well as in the response given to them by government, law enforcement and civil society.” There is no doubt that the willful blindness of the Vancouver Police Department at the RCMP played a significant role in allowing for the serial-killer murders to continue for as long as they did and the The Missing Women Commission of Inquiry details much of this complicity. But, to be sure, the systemic complicity extends beyond the borders of the Downtown East Side. The murders of so many Indigenous women across this country need to be understood as enabled by that very same systemic complicity. So why do we not use the term “femicide” in Canada? Why is there such resistance here (as there has been in the US and Mexico) to understand the roles we play in enabling such violence? What other way could there be to stop it?



Meryl McMaster’s “Confluence”


Catalogue cover for Meryl McMaster’s “Confluence”

Meryl McMaster is having quite the year. She was just long-listed for the Sobey Art Award, has work in Ellyn Walker’s carefully curated Canadian Belonging(s) at the Art Gallery of Mississauga and in Jessica Bradley’s expansive Counterpoints: Photography Through the Lens of Toronto Collections at the Art Museum at the University of Toronto, and last week an early-career survey entitled Confluence opened at the Carleton University Art Gallery.

Alongside Gabrielle Moser, I had the pleasure of contributing an essay to the catalogue that will accompany Confluence as it tours across Canada (to the Richmond Art Gallery, Thunder Bay Art Gallery and the Art Gallery of Southwestern Manitoba in 2017, and to the University of Lethbridge Art Gallery and The Rooms in 2018).

McMaster’s photographs are anchored in her extensive use of props and costuming, which work to conjure a sense of the otherworldly, transporting viewers out of ordinary life and enlarging our understandings of inherited historical narratives. Her interest in taking on different personas and her theatrical embodiment of divergent aspects of herself are all part of extending the boundaries of identity beyond what is known and understood. Although McMaster does not consider herself a performance artist, the temperament of the central subjects she embodies shift in response to the outfits they are cloaked in and the objects they are in dialogue with, activated through a series of performances staged for the immediate audience of her camera lens. When I look at McMaster’s work I recognize a powerful articulation of identity along a spectrum of instantiation: from inherited to burgeoning to speculative. McMaster’s exploration of the acts and outcomes of identity formation arises out of the shifting reconciliation of these forces, new stories piled atop old ones. If her work is a mirror because of what we assume it tells us about her, then it is also a window onto our capacity to relate to any project that takes interrogation of the self as its motivation.

The catalogues arrived this week and the nerd in me is so happy with tactile beauty of the object. Further, I heartily endorse Moser’s essay, which reflects on continual development of meaning that photographs provoke, reading McMaster’s work through the lens of Kaja Silverman (among others), as well as an interview between McMaster and the exhibition’s curator Heather Anderson, which examines McMaster’s working methods. The increasing clamour around McMaster’s practice demonstrates how her explorations of identity, representation, storytelling and the environment resonate across different audiences and contexts. I can’t wait to see how else her practice will develop from this significant juncture.