Happenings, SBC, Wood Land School

Wood Land School: Kahatènhston tsi na’tetiátere ne Iotohrkó:wa tánon Iotohrha


Image credit: Wood Land School, Untitled, c-print, 2016.

For the duration of 2017, I will be working with a group of people I deeply respect on a project that promises to totally reconfigure how I understand the cultural work I do and the relationships that function as the support structures for it. On the invitation of Duane Linklater, I will be joining him, Tanya Lukin Linklater and Walter Scott on a new iteration of Duane’s ongoing Wood Land School project, this time anchored in Montréal at SBC Gallery. For the year, SBC’s institutional identity and resources will function wholly in support of the Wood Land School as an experiment with what it means for settler-colonial infrastructures to work in service of Indigenous imperatives. This is one attempt to understand what such a reconfiguration of power, privilege and resources can be, authored from our specific and varying subject positions. Entitled Kahatènhston tsi na’tetiátere ne Iotohrkó: wa tánon Iotohrha (in Mohawk),  Drawing a Line from January to December (in English) and Traçant la ligne de janvier à décembre (in French), this project is rooted in our shared investment in making a world that grapples with how to inherit history, and it dreams wildly free about how else we can be in relation. Conceived as a single year-long exhibition, the project will unfold through a series of, what we are calling, gestures—clusters of activity that bring works into and out of the gallery space—such that the exhibition is in a constant state of becoming, learning from itself and responding to the political urgencies that are sure to emerge over the course of 2017. Amidst so many confederation and civic anniversary celebrations, Wood Land School: Kahatènhston tsi na’tetiátere ne Iotohrkó: wa tánon Iotohrha aims to be a space of critical reflection otherwise.

Tanya, Duane, Walter and I have authored a letter, explaining the project and articulating our goals for the year’s activities, which we anticipate will shift and change as the year’s programming develops. Perhaps we will re-write the letter along the way. As we begin, though, this is where we are:

For the duration of 2017, SBC Gallery of Contemporary Art will be renamed and operate as the Wood Land School. This is the continuation of a conversation, and it is the forging of new relationships. From an initial position of Indigenous self-determination and collectivity, we situate ourselves as impacted upon by forces both nurturing and destructive; we work to be aware of our own participation in dispossession; and we consider our capacity to articulate new ways of being in relation. Structured as a single exhibition unfolding over the course of a year, Wood Land School: Drawing a Line from January to December recognizes the power of line to mark history and invoke memory, proposing a line without beginning or end as a space to collaboratively imagine Indigenous futurity.

Contemporary civic institutions and social structures are built upon systems that have silenced, ignored and destructively classified Indigenous people, ideas and objects. In response to this history, Wood Land School calls upon institutions to give intellectual and physical labour, philosophical and physical space, time, and funds to support Indigenous ideas, objects, discursivity and performance. In Wood Land School’s six-year history, it has come into relation with many kinds of institutions through a framework of treaty, wherein we have accepted and shared in the responsibilities of realizing these many projects. Foregrounding Indigenous history and presence on this land now known as Canada, in a place now known as Montreal, Wood Land School: Drawing a Line from January to December attempts to create a space of critical reflection and re-imagination, where the tenets of treaty—mutual accountability, reciprocity, relation across difference and stewardship of resources—can be enacted.

Wood Land School is an experimental space where Indigenous thought and theory are centred, embodied, mobilized, and take shape as practice through exhibition and pedagogy. Wood Land School does not seek to summarize Indigenous identity, but rather to honour specific, embodied expressions of inheritance and becoming.

The scope of the contexts we operate within and in relation to include the historical, which is akin to theory, and the contemporary, which is akin to practice. Wood Land School aims to be a space for listening, where we can tend to the urgency of current conditions as they unfold—both systemic and material—with an eye to how (and how else) these circumstances can shape our everyday lives. It operates with an awareness that settler colonialism is ever present, enacted in and on Turtle Island in various forms. Wood Land School is the theorization and practice of centering Indigeneity. Our primary relationships are Indigenous to Indigenous, which includes land and non-humans. We also extend our conversations with and to other communities and publics, working in and through a treaty relationship, to re-frame conversations in a way that centres Indigenous agency. The impact of this project will be determined by many viewers over time.

We wonder, how do the relationships between theory, practice and pedagogy manifest across the complexity and diversity of Indigenous identities, and in relation to settler colonial positionings? What does it mean for a settler-colonial institution to unknow its power? What does it mean to memorialize and dream in relation? How to collectively tend to the becoming of the future?

The project launches this Saturday, 21 January 2017, with a single work by Annie Pootoogook and readings by Heather Igloliorte and Wood Land School. Please join us from 4–6 PM at SBC (372 Ste-Catherine Ouest, suite #507).

Thanks to Pip Day, Camille Usher, Julia Smith, Lindsay Nixon, the board of SBC galerie d’art contemporain, Ersy Contogouris, Kanerahtenhawi Hilda Nicholas, Dorothy Thunder, Reid Shier, Heather Igloliorte, Beatrice Deer, Canadian Art, The Three Sisters and The Andy Warhol Foundation for your labour and generosity in making this project possible.


Launch of the first gesture with Beatrice Deer, Heather Igloliorte, cheyanne turions, Tanya Lukin Linklater, Duane Linklater and Annie Pootoogook’s “Coleman Stove with Robin Hood Flour and Tenderflake” (2003-2004). Photo credit: Camille Usher.




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?