Happenings, Wood Land School

A Statement

Cultural work is not distinct from the political realities that shape civic society.

Statement reads:

Wood Land School offers our sincerest and deepest condolences to the Muslim community of Quebec City, and to those in the province of Quebec, throughout Canada and the United States, and around the world for the hateful act that was carried out at the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec on 29 January 2017. We feel a deep sense of empathy and love for the families and people affected by this tragedy. Places of prayer should be safe and peaceful sanctuaries for our communities, our loved ones, our children and our families. As Indigenous people, we understand the need for these spaces to exist, and to exist without fear. We are deeply sorry for your loss and commit ourselves to fostering a world where such acts of intolerance are no longer conceivable.

With love and solidarity,
Wood Land School
Duane Linklater, Tanya Lukin Linklater and cheyanne turions, with Walter Scott


I am the Organizer of My Own Archive


© Sara Cwynar, “Soft Film” (2016). Courtesy of Foxy Productions.

Next week I head to Montréal for the opening of I am the Organizer of My Own Archive, a screening program I have curated for Dazibao, a centre dedicated to the dissemination of contemporary image-based practices. Housed within a building on Avenue de Gaspé that has been recently retrofitted from its factory past to a complex of arts spaces, Dazibao’s exhibition spaces include a petite bespoke cinema, which is where the program will be presented, from 02 February–01 April 2017.

In conceptualizing the program, I started with a short animation by the artist Maria Lassnig. Known primarily as a painter, this animation was made in 1992, when Lassnig was 73 years old. A totally vivacious babe, Maria Lassnig Kantate shows Lassnig making sense of her artistic ambition through a reflection on the struggles that produced her career. Although the work is 25 years old, I was struck by the unabated resonance of the misogyny and sexism she describes, of not being taken seriously as an artist because she is a woman, because she is single, because she refuses to play nice. In the face of continual neglect of her talent by the art world, she roots herself in curiosity and perseveres, constructing a narrative of her life where she is a super hero, brave and adventurous. What Lassnig shows me is how self-determination leads to a becoming of self that cannot come into being otherwise.

Gathered around Lassnig’s animation are videos by Stephanie Comilang, Sara Cwynar, Dylan Mira, Krista Belle Stewart and Martine Syms that foreground the recuperative force of articulating experience from a felt position within the social structures that hold our personal lives.

Our memories fool us when they seem to play as movies in our minds. What is left of our living is something more akin to a box of photographs—ruffled through, their order lost or barely held together. What we take for these movies are re-compositions of these still images into narratives, a process of sense making that is self-making too. I am the Organizer of My Own Archive presents a range of tactics for coming into relation with the remnants of personal and social histories, emphasizing the interpretive liberty at play in any project that aims to coax sense from isolated objects or recollected experiences.

The thing about understanding history as photographs, as opposed to movies, is that the order is up for negotiation and relationships can be proposed and constructed, or denied and torn apart. In organizing our archives, we write ourselves as we ought to be.


Indigenous New York, Curatorially Speaking

This past fall I travelled to New York to be part of the Vera List Center’s Indigenous New York, Curatorially Speaking. Organized in two parts—a closed curatorial colloquium followed by a public forum—the event focused on four key inquiries: Indigenous and non-Indigenous epistemologies and methodologies; the non-colonial museum; the challenges of collaborative curation; and the growing Indigenization of international art.

In partnership with Trista Mallory (an instructor for Curatorial Studies at the Whitney Museum’s Independent Study Program), her and I were tasked with facilitating conversations about Indigenous and non-Indigenous epistemologies and methodologies. In presenting a summary of the intimate conversations at the public forum, we decided to share specific strategies that people had used in these kinds of cross-cultural translations. Here are some of the tactics that were shared with us (and presented at the forum with consent):

  • It was repeatedly emphasized that conversations around how to negotiate between Indigenous paradigms of understanding and settler-colonial world views have been going on for hundreds and hundreds of years, long preceding the rhetorics of decolonization or reconciliation that are flourishing today. Complexity and nuance can be built on these sturdy foundations—if we tend to them.
  • Sometimes opacity is deliberate. Not everything need be translated. And perhaps it is useful to feel oneself in a position of not-knowing.
  • The goal of speaking to one another may not be belonging as conceptualized by citizenship or knowing as represented by academia.
  • Listening is a durational practice.
  • It is sometimes useful to build alliances with the people who have the capacity to say “no” to your ideas and propositions, with the goal of getting closer to a future “yes.”
  • There is an interpretive gap between Indigenous epistemologies and settler history that can be broached, in part, through starting any story earlier.

Other speakers included David Garneau, Candice Hopkins, David Joselit, Ruba Katrib, Wanda Nanibush and Elisabeth Sussman, all of them generously and carefully taking up the colloquium’s core concerns. Check out all the brilliant things they had to say, below:


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.