Rita Letendre: Toronto Public Art by Adam Lauder

This text by Adam Lauder was published alongside RITA LETENDRE‘S YYretroZpective exhibition, Toronto Public Art.

Rita Letendre
Toronto Public Art
By Adam Lauder

For years, Rita Letendre’s public art cut radiant vectors across Toronto’s urban grid. After decades living in Montréal and California, the artist had relocated to Toronto in November 1969.[1] Through a combination of public and private commissions for monumental murals and large-scale canvases, she quickly made her mark on the notoriously generic public spaces of her adoptive hometown.[2] By the decade’s close, her signature “arrow” paintings—iridescent, hard-edge abstractions—were a daily sight for thousands of Torontonians. Yet through a combination of misadventure and neglect, Letendre’s once ubiquitous and cherished public art works began to disappear, beginning with Sunrise(1971), her dazzling, seven-floor mural for Ryerson’s Neill-Wycik residence, which was permanently obscured when an adjacent 25-story residential tower was erected in 1978,[3] leaving only a 10-inch gap between the two buildings.

The titular sunrise of Letendre’s luminous mural may be a nod to her Indigenous heritage, her mother being of Abenaki/Québécois ancestry. “Dawn is special to the Wabanaki [a Confederacy of five northeastern nations including the Abenaki],” notes scholar and tribal member Jeanne Morningstar Kent, “because we are the ‘People of the Dawnland’,” where sunlight first reaches North America each morning.[4] Other Toronto-area public art works by Letendre, notably Tecumseth (1972) and Irowakan(1977), likewise gesture toward this personal history. Duane Linklater, a contemporary artist of Omaskêko Cree heritage whose projects excavate subterranean narratives of Indigenous presence and resilience, has recently interpreted the disappearance of Letendre’s public art as a symptom of Indigenous peoples’ historic dispossession.[5] Yet the artist is wary of being pigeonholed, or misrepresented by non-Indigenous commentators.[6] When asked about her identity, she has responded evasively “I am myself, Rita.”[7]

Wanda Nanibush, Curator, Indigenous Art at the Art Gallery of Ontario, has argued persuasively for recovering Letendre’s Indigenous roots, tracing the artist’s high-contrast palette and recurring arrow and wedge motifs to “a long Indigenous lineage of abstraction.”[8] Notably, Letendre’s hard-edge paintings radiate an “endless dualism”[9] reminiscent of the symmetrical foundations of Abenaki art.[10] Interpreted through an Indigenous lens, Letendre’s signature arrow motif might symbolize “direction.”[11]

The artist’s explosive vectors are every bit the trajectories of a dawning space age as they are the enduring signposts of non-Cartesian terrestrial wayfinding practices: “[With the arrow paintings] I was influenced by going to the moon, going into space,” she recalls in a new video interview recorded for the exhibition that this text accompanies, adding that “When we started going into space, I got so excited.”[12] This celestial orientation aligns Letendre’s arrow paintings with a broader “1960s ‘cosmic’ zeitgeist” associated with the experimental films of Michael Snow and the visionary media speculations of Marshall McLuhan, thus situating Letendre as an important precursor of more recent Indigenous futurisms.[13] If 1960s’ artists’ cosmic aspirations were symptomatic of a generational quest for identity, the “one-way trip” described by Letendre’s ballistic abstractions anticipate the unilateral orientation of the artist theorized by contemporary non-philosopher François Laruelle, whose “non-aesthetics” rejects the specular politics of representation.[14] Laruelle instead postulates a conjugation of disparate materials resonant with Letendre’s circumvention of categories.

Fittingly, forSunforce (1965), her first outdoor mural, Letendre employed an epoxy paint reserved, until then, “mainly for spacecraft engines.”[15] Her choice of a non-traditional medium may have been influenced by the mural’s locale: California State University, Long Beach being situated at the centre of a then burgeoning aerospace industry.[16] Fortuitously (as it turned out), neither epoxy nor the formidable scale of the 7 x 6-metre Sunforce would support the impastoed facture that had been a trademark of Letendre’s foregoing abstractions, forcing a technical breakthrough that cleared a path for the crisp edges and uniform paint application of the subsequent arrow paintings.[17]

Letendre was invited to produce Sunforcein conjunction with the 1965 California International Sculpture Symposium, a ground-breaking event whose artist-industry partnerships cleared a path for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s renowned Art & Technology Program, whose contributors were likewise chosen by curator Maurice Tuchman. It may have been the participation of Kosso, Letendre’s sculptor husband, that first brought her into Tuchman’s sphere, but she shared the curator’s fascination with science and technology: “If I had not been a painter,” she reflects, “I would have been a scientist”; adding, “if I had had money to go to university.”[18] Growing up in an impoverished family of seven on the outskirts of Drummondville, Québec, a university education was, however, sadly out of the question.[19]

Perhaps the artist’s attraction to new media and techniques—from epoxy paint to computer aided design and drafting software—can be traced to her father’s work as an auto mechanic. (Letendre recalls that her father, who was of Mohawk/Québécois ancestry, “wanted to be French.”)[20] Whatever the case may be, an accident in her father’s auto shop proved life-altering: mangling one of her fingers, and sending the young Letendre to stay with her maternal grandparents for a period of convalescence that ended up lasting several years.[21] (This injury also prevented her from studying piano, thereby forcing the artist to channel her lifelong passion for music into her painting.) Letendre recalls a subsequent childhood incident, while picking strawberries at her grandmother’s home, as decisive in shaping her worldview:

I was with my mother picking strawberries in a field in the country, and a storm started, and it became [a] thunder[storm]. It was not far away from my grandmother’s home, and so we went to my grandmother’s home. And I was terrified. And grandmother show[ed] me the beauty of it: instead of being afraid, to admire and love it. And I think she was certainly one of the most important thing[s] in my life. Never be afraid. See thing[s] as they are.[22]

This dramatic event ignited a tireless inquiry into the nature of things that may account for the more prominent sense of structure evident in Letendre’s early paintings compared to those of fellow second-generation Automatistes (followers of the revolutionary non-figurative painter and anti-clerical pamphleteer, Paul-Émile Borduas). It was Letendre’s keen plastic sense that brought her to the attention of Rodolphe de Repentigny, the chief theorist of the rival Plasticien movement, who signed his own canvases under the nom de plumeJauran. De Repentigny was an early and eloquent champion of the emerging painter. Yet today the artist is quick to distance herself from his geometric Neo-Plasticism, with its roots in the austere modernism of Piet Mondrian: “I reinterpret[ed] geometry … I’m using structure, but not geometry.”[23] As Anne-Marie Ninacs emphasizes, Letendre “remained faithful to the teachings of Paul-Émile Borduas,”[24] an ardent proponent of “spontan[eity],”[25] even if she soon broke with his gesturalist technique.

Art historian Sandra Paikowsky notes that the artist’s production of the late 1950s was emblematic of the new spirit of “pluralism” which pervaded the post-Automatiste generation;[26] but Letendre’s synthesis of Automatiste gesturalism and Plasticien form was always singular.[27] Her early disrespect for limiting labels set the stage for an exploration of Zen philosophy, whose kōans­—cryptic exchanges between master and student intended to provoke satori, or enlightenment—explode the dualistic constraints of conventional logic. Zennist non-duality may have offered Letendre a framework for negotiating her lived experience of cultural hybridity, as she explored aerospace imagery and materials in parallel with her Indigenous cultural inheritance.[28]

Rejecting static symmetry, Letendre’s arrows define a non-dual “parallelism”[29] that explodes the parallel postulate undergirding Euclidean space. Like certain cut-out paintings by Jackson Pollock, the dazzling iridescence of Letendre’s arrows stages a liberatory “tearing” of the modernist grid.[30] The vibratory rays of her hard-edge paintings recall Borduas’s relentless pursuit of “the infinity of everything.”[31]

Two of Letendre’s most significant public art works—Sunforceand Joy, her 1978 skylight for Glencairn subway station in Toronto—suggest analogies with the “gateless gate” invoked by Paul Reps’s classic anthology of Zen parables, Zen Flesh, Zen Bones (1957), as a metaphor for the kōan­ as a gateway to enlightenment requiring active audience participation.[32] Writing in reference to Sunforce, which is sited on an elevated crosswalk between buildings on the Long Beach campus of the California State University, Letendre has commented that,

I chose the wall over the passageway because I want people walking in and out of my painting. It must not be static—it must be dynamic with action and an interaction that continues in the mind of the spectator.[33]

Joywould revisit the interactive dynamics of Sunforceto reimagine the fluid space of transitanimated by the earlier mural on an even grander scale. At 54 by 6.4 metres, the majestic Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) subway station skylight—her only publicly funded commission—has been justifiably likened to a “cathedral.”[34] The winning entry in a 1975 open competition, Joy’s 318 individual panels of airbrushed tempered glass were installedbetween 1976 and 1977.[35] If, as Wanda Nanibush observes, Letendre’s adoption of the airbrush in 1971 supported her production of “mature colour field abstraction[s],”[36] Joy’s luminous, spray-painted canopy actualized the American colour field painter Jules Olitski’s seemingly implausible ambition “to spray colour in the air and have it remain there.”[37]

Like Sunforce, Joy defined a vibrant public space of “continuous action” that was also a powerful testament to the enduring presence, resilience and creativity of Indigenous people.[38] But after years of neglect that resulted in extensive weather damage, Letendre insisted that the ruined skylight be de-installed in the early 1990s.[39] Joy thereby joined a growing roster of public art works by Letendre that had either been de-installed, destroyed or obscured: from Upward Dream (1980)—commissioned by Omnitown Developments in response to the public outcry sparked by the corporation’s occlusion of Sunrise, only to be removed in turn when the masonry of the eastern wall of the Neill-Wycik tower on which it was painted prove faulty—to Urtu (1972), which graced the Davenport Road office of Dr. Stanley Horowitz until it was painted over in the 1990s.[40] The current whereabouts of other public paintings—including the six-metre-wide Now (1971), commissioned by Greenwin Corporation for its Berkshire House residential and office complex at Eglinton and Yonge—remain unknown at the time of writing.[41] The monumental (3.1 x 15.6-metre) 1974 canvas Irowakan, originally installed in the lower banking floor of the Royal Bank Plaza in Toronto’s financial district, fared slightly better: after being transferred to Royal Bank’s Montréal office at Place Ville-Marie in 1985, it was acquired by the Joliette Art Museum in 2004.[42]

Rita Letendre: Toronto Public Art is the first exhibition focused on Letendre’s public art in Toronto. It reunites the recently-restored Sunrise II (1972)—an imposing sequel to the obscured Neill-Wycik mural, originally installed in the lobby of Greenwin Square on Bloor Street—with Ixtepec (1977), the basis for Letendre’s forthcoming reinterpretation of her 1978 skylight for Glencairn subway station, which is slated for completion in 2019.[43] Supplementary documents include plans for both the original and forthcoming Glencairn projects, as well as a new video interview with the now 90-year-old artist. The exhibition temporarily reactivates the publicness of Letendre’s Toronto public art as a speculative space of remembrance, reconciliation and futurity.

 

ADAM LAUDERis a SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellow at York University in Toronto. He obtained a Ph.D. from The Department of History of Art at the University of Toronto in Fall 2016. He is currently researching Canadian information art in the 1970s. Since 2009, he has curated and co-curated exhibitions for a variety of museum and university art gallery venues. He has also contributed articles to scholarly journals including AmodernArt DocumentationCanadian Journal of CommunicationFuture AnteriorImaginationsJournal of Canadian StudiesTechnoetic ArtsThe Journal of Canadian Art HistoryTOPIA and Visual Resources as well as features and shorter texts to magazines including Art HandlerBorder CrossingsCCanadian Arte-fluxFlash ArtHunter and Cook and Millions. He edited H& IT ON (YYZBOOKS, 2012), featuring original art by ground-breaking information artist IAIN BAXTER&, and is the author of chapters appearing in Finding McLuhan (2015), The Logic of Nature, The Romance of Space (2010) as well as Byproduct: On the Excess of Embedded Art Practices(YYZBOOKS, 2010).

Adam Lauder would like to acknowledge the support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

 

RITA LETENDREwas born of Abenaki and Quebecois parents in Drummondville in 1928 and has lived in Toronto since late 1969. Her painting career began in Montreal in the 1950s, when she associated with Quebec’s prominent abstract artist groups Les Automatistes and Les Plasticiens. Often the sole female artist in their group shows, she broke away from their approach to painting, finding it restrictive. Seeking to express the full energy of life and harness in her powerful gestures an intense spiritual force, Letendre worked with various materials including oils, pastels, and acrylics, using her hands, palette knife, brushes and uniquely the airbrush, which she began using in 1971. She received the Order of Canada in 2005, has completed commissions across Canada and the United States, and has been exhibited nationally and internationally.

Notes

[1] Georgiana Uhlyarik, “Letendre in Toronto,” in Rita Letendre: Fire & Light, eds. Wanda Nanibush and Georgiana Uhlyarik (Toronto: Art Gallery of Ontario, 2017), 86.

[2] See Luis Jacob, “The Ward, Toronto: A Blank Space,” Canadian Art32, no. 4 (2016): 90-91.

[3] See Gunda Lambton, Stealing the Show: Seven Women Artists in Canadian Public Art(Montréal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1994), 56.

[4] Jeanne Morningstar Kent, The Visual Language of Wabanaki Art (Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2014), 49. “[C]alled Wabanaki (People of the Dawn) by their inland neighbors, for each morning the first sunlight on the continent belonged to them. And they belonged to it, for they believed that Kisuhs, the great Sky Fire, was the ultimate spirit-power in a world in which everything was imbued with a sacred force.” Bunny McBride, Women of the Dawn (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1999), 7.

[5] See Linklater qtd. in Adam Lauder, “‘The World Must Have Poetry’: Rita Letendre’s Public Art Interventions,” Canadian Art 32, no. 4 (2016): 116.

[6] See “Painter Rita Letendre on her Work in 1969,” Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, December 28, 1969, http://www.cbc.ca/player/play/896872003631.

[7] Letendre qtd. in Lambton, Stealing the Show, 51.

[8] Wanda Nanibush, “Rita Letendre: Fire & Light,” in Rita Letendre: Fire & Light, eds. Wanda Nanibush and Georgiana Uhlyarik (Toronto: Art Gallery of Ontario, 2017), 20.

[9] Letendre qtd. in Sandra Paikowsky, “Rita Letendre,” in Rita Letendre: The Montréal Years 1953-1963 (Montréal: Concordia Art Gallery, 1989), 30.

[10] “To guarantee symmetry in our designs, thin pieces of birch bark were folded several times and then bitten, creating small punctured holes. … Folding the bark in this way is similar to the way people create cut-paper snowflakes.” Kent, The Visual Language of Wabanaki Art, 24-25. The “acute black ray” that anchors many of Letendre’s arrow paintings recalls the “dark surface” of “spring-peeled birch bark” or “black broadcloth” of woodland clothing that serve as supports for much Abenaki expression. Anne-Marie Ninacs, “The Teaching of Life,” in Rita Letendre: Aux couleurs du jour (Québec, QC: Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, 2003), 134; Kent, The Visual Language of Wabanaki Art, 40, 27.

[11] Kent, The Visual Language of Wabanaki Art, 47.

[12] Rita Letendre, “Rita Letendre,” video interview by Adam Lauder, July 13, 2017. “The force of life is marvelous to me. We see the same force in the sea, the sun, all around us. It is the same strength that makes human beings dream—to want to go to the moon—to accomplish the impossible.” Letendre qtd. in Elise Emery, “‘Sunforce,’ 1965,” Press Telegram (Long Beach), July 21, 1965, n. pag.

[13] David Tomas, Vertov, Snow, Farocki: Machine Vision and the Posthuman (New York; London: Bloomsbury, 2013), 118.

[14] Ninacs, “The Teaching of Life,” 136; François Laruelle,Photo-Fiction: A Non-Standard Aesthetics, trans. Drew S. Burk(Minneapolis: Univocal, 2012), 1.

[15] Lambton, Stealing the Show, 55.

[16] See Diana Burgess Fuller and Daniela Salvioni, eds.,Art, Women, California 1950-2000: Parallels and Intersections (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2002); Rachel Rivenc, Made in Los Angeles: Materials, Processes, and the Birth of West Coast Minimalism(Los Angeles: Getty Conservation Institute, 2016).

[17] Anne-Marie Ninacs also attributes the mutations in Letendre’s practice that led to the arrows to the artist’s association with the Tamarind printmaking workshop upon arriving in California. See Ninacs, “The Teaching of Life,” 134; see also Lambton, Stealing the Show, 55.

[18] “Science always fascinated me,” Letendre continues; “knowledge of the world, knowledge of life, the way life evolved. … If I had been from a rich family, and going to school and university, I don’t know if I would have been a painter: maybe I would have been, but I would certainly want to be a scientist also.” Letendre, “Rita Letendre.”

[19] See Paikowsky, “Rita Letendre,” 6.

[20] Letendre, “Rita Letendre.”

[21] See Lambton, Stealing the Show, 51.

[22] This memory bears some striking similarities to a Zennist parable annotated, according to Anne-Marie Ninacs, in Letendre’s well-used copy of Reps’s anthology Zen Flesh, Zen Bones:

A man travelling across a field encountered a tiger. He fled, the tiger after him. Coming to a precipice, he caught hold of the root of a wild vine and swung himself down over the edge. The tiger sniffed at him from above. Trembling, the man looked down to where, far below, another tiger was waiting to eat him. Only the vine sustained him. Two mice, one white and one black, little by little started to gnaw away the vine. The man saw a luscious strawberry near him. Grasping the vine with one hand, he plucked the strawberry with the other. How sweet it tasted!

 

Muju, “A Parable,” in Zen Flesh, Zen Bones: A Collection of Zen and pre-Zen Writings, ed. Paul Reps and Nyogen Senzaki (Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1957), 32. See also Ninacs, “The Teaching of Life,” 137.

[23] Letendre, “Rita Letendre.” “While Letendre herself did not subscribe to de Stijl flatness, the tempering of illusionistic space was certainly important for attaining harmonious colour juxtapositions and her increased use of white provided a new type of spatial field.” Paikowsky, “Rita Letendre,” 15.

[24] Ninacs, “The Teaching of Life,” 136.

[25] Paul-Émile Borduas, “Refus Global,” in Refus global et autres écrits: essais, ed. André-G. Bourassa and Gilles Lapointe (Montréal: l’Hexagone, 1997), 72.

[26] Paikowsky, “Rita Letendre,” 19.

[27] In fact, it is arguably Letendre’s colourism, and the interactivity of works such as Sunforceand Joy, rather than her occasional deployment of geometry, that aligns her work with a generation of “post-Plasticiens” who “pursue[d] new colour-based, dynamic ways of engaging the viewer,” notably Guido Molinari and Claude Tousignant. Roald Nasgaard, “The Plasticiens and Beyond,” in The Plasticiens and Beyond: Montreal, 1955-1970 (Markham, ON: Varley Art Gallery of Markham; Québec, QC: Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, 2013), 14.

[28] Paikowsky dates the beginnings of Letendre’s investigation of her Indigenous heritage to 1961: “It was at this time that Letendre became more interested in her own aboriginal Indian origins which she has said was prompted by her new interest in Mexican and Pre-Columbian art.” Paikowsky, “Rita Letendre,” 29. It is important to note that Abenaki art itself manifests a longstanding condition of hybridity: “Because of the reciprocal influences,” notes Kent, “there is difficulty in drawing a line between designs copied from European work.” Kent, The Visual Language of Wabanaki Art, 40. “Nuns … taught our young women embroidery, and we taught them beading. The result was a blending of cultural designs.” Ibid, 22.

[29] Letendre qtd. in Paikowsky, “Rita Letendre,” 30.

[30] Hal Foster, Prosthetic Gods(Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004), 282; see also Adam Lauder, “Rita Letendre: Confronting the Grid,” Millions, no. 2 (2013): 32-27. “Rays and radiations appeared. She mixed her colours with powder of mother of pearl in order to intensify the iridescence of the shafts of light radiating across the whole surface of her canvases.” Gilles Hénaultqtd. in Rita Letendre(Palm Springs, CA: Palm Springs Desert Museum, 1974), n. pag.

[31] Borduas qtd. in Ninacs, “The Teaching of life,” 132. “Letendre’s contrasts of deep, cool blues with radiant red and orange have an expansive quality of the infinite that cannot be contained.” Nanibush, “Rita Letendre,” 18.

[32] See Paul Reps and Nyogen Senzaki, “The Gateless Gate,” in Zen Flesh, Zen Bones: A Collection of Zen and pre-Zen Writings, ed. Paul Reps and Nyogen Senzaki (Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1957), 89-131.

[33] Letendre qtd. in Emery, “‘Sunforce,’” n. pag.

[34] See Lambton: Stealing the Show, 50, 61; Jeanne Parkin qtd. in Lambton, Stealing the Show, 60.

[35] Lambton: Stealing the Show, 61.

[36] Nanibush, “Rita Letendre,” 18; see also Ninacs, “The Teaching of Life,” 135.

[37] Kenworth Moffett, “The Sculpture of Jules Olitski,” The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 27, no. 8 (1969): 367.

[38] Letendre qtd. in Emery, “‘Sunforce,’” n. pag.

[39] “Procurement Authorization: Glencairn Skylight Replacement, Contract A11-5,” Toronto Transit Commission, July 12, 2017, https://www.ttc.ca/About_the_TTC/

Commission_reports_and_information/Commission_meetings/2017/July_12/Reports/7_Procurement_Authorization_Glencairn_Skylight_Replacement_C.pdf.

[40] See Uhlyarik, “Letendre in Toronto,” 98.

[41] See Uhlyarik, “Letendre in Toronto,” 96. Other Toronto area public art works by Letendre that are currently missing in action include two commissions by J.D.S. Investments: the 1972 Tecumseth, originally installed at the Sheridan Mall in Pickering, and a series of paintings installed at 1000 Finch Avenue West. See Lambton: Stealing the Show, 57.

[42] See Lambton: Stealing the Show, 59; Uhlyarik, “Letendre in Toronto,” 104.

[43] “Glencairn Station – Skylight Replacement: August 2017 to March 2019,” Toronto Transit Commission, 2017, https://www.ttc.ca/Service_Advisories/Construction/

Glencairn_skylights.jsp.

 

 

 

When Things Occur by Doreen Mende

This text is a slightly revised version of the previously published contribution commissioned by vdrome.org in conjuction with ORAIB TOUKAN‘s exhibition, When Things Occur.

When Things Occur (2016) by Oraib Toukan is based on Skype conversations with Gaza inhabitants who were behind the images that were transmitted from screen to screen in the summer of 2014. The subsequent remarks are organised in four short segments that end up with open questions which expand the reflections touched upon here.

(one)

Watching artist and researcher Oraib Toukan’s When Things Occur (2016) makes one want to better understand the contemporary conditions of image processing as a militant-civil force. When Things Occur is a conversation piece, a visual research, an investigation, a desktop-documentary, and a collection of perspectives on contemporary image-(geo-)politics accommodating the Palestinian struggle for independence, including the right for visual self-determination. The work offers a reflection on techno-spatial conditions of image processing as an internationalizing force, as well as an enforced violence for the struggle of the Palestinian people in the Occupied Territories, particularly in Gaza after the Israeli attacks of 2014. Let us think of a civil contract of digital photography by considering the usage of the (mobile-phone) camera that people occupy to report from their homes under attack, posted in real-time or live-streamed on #GazaUnderAttack or on social media platforms. “[…] We would be under bombardment, shaking with fear, but I won’t let go of my mobile phone”, says Lara Abu Ramadan, reporting from Gaza. A “seeing the war from inside the home” that is shared online speaks of that techno-civilian force in When Things Occur. How can we understand the politics of the domestic attached to mobile phones, social media or networking services and digital platforms in relation to the possibility of an emancipatory image? 

(two)

The relation between ‘local’ and ‘foreigner’ narrated by Gazan freelance photojournalist Hosam Salem, is an important sequence in When Things Occur. He clearly differentiates between ‘local’ / ‘mahaliyin’ and ‘foreigner’ / ’ajnabi’ in Arab language. His award-winning Gazan colleague Khalil Hamra speaks about himself as a ‘local photographer’. Strikingly, he adopts the English term ‘local’ instead of the Arabic ‘mahaliyin’. Similar perhaps to the term ‘curator’, commonly used in English in Arabic, the adaption of ‘local’ into Arabic by a Palestinian photographer speaks of two things: of the awareness the photographer has of his job under the impact of globalization in economic, cultural, linguistic as well as visual terms, and of the urgency to re-articulate the entanglement between the particular (‘local’) with the universal (‘global’) or the ‘local’ with the ‘foreign’, in relation to the production of a ramified image-space, as investigated by When Things Occur. Digital image-making asks for an update of a geo-spatial reading of the image that I would link with the ‘navigational landscape’, as Reza Negarestani proposes by theorizing the interaction of the with the universal (or global-local interlacement, or the local-foreigner entanglement) in our era of algorithmic capitalism as a form of global capitalism. I wonder, regarding the exhausted and exploited concern for image-politics in the Palestinian struggle, about the visual-practical consequences of mobile-phone images, planetary computation and social media for our understanding of a ‘productive locality’ of the image, which is an image ‘across different scales of magnification’. When Things Occur analyses the image by documenting it through its pixel-grid, the variety of online image sizes (pixel dimension and scale styles), or the page of Google-images showing copy after copy the same picture. A good example is the front-page of The Guardian of July 31, 2014, featuring the image of a crying Gazan girl taken by the international Gazan freelance photojournalist Khalil Hamra. To consider the possibility of the image as a techno-spatial platform, or as a geopolitical fabric crossing borders, time zones, eyes, and perspectives in When Things Occur allows us to approach the form of screen-navigation as a ‘concept-practice’ (Tom Holert) that stretches from ‘inside the home’ in Gaza to our computer-screens in Oxford, Athens, Berlin, Geneva or in transit at the airport. In this sense, When Things Occur may point us to the emergence of a new visual vocabulary to document and internationalize the Palestinian Cause by making use of digital infrastructures for the production and distribution of images. However, is it too naive to anticipate the emergence of a navigational image-space with the capacity to go beyond the indexical document towards a truly transformative operation that interrupts reproductive forces of ‘infrastructural violence’, as Susan Schuppli describes the systemic erosion of rights beneath the digital cladding, and that instead can install complex narrations of the Palestinian situation through images?

(three)

When Things Occur also makes us engage with the economic implications of digital image technologies in the context of (anti-)photojournalism regarding the Palestinian question. This has been a big issue for decades, concomitant with Marxist-Leninist commitments of filmmakers and photographers of the P.L.O. since the late 1960s. Obviously, the possibility to circulate images via social media platforms puts pressure on the monopoly of international press-agencies with headquarters in Paris, Rotterdam or New York. Defining the conditions to sell an image is a possible force for a visual self-determination also in economic terms. Does this also affect the actual visual strategy? Hosam Salem states that “we as local photographers have finally concluded that bloody pictures do not address the western world”. However, in When Things Occur we see the travelling images of iconic tropes that are too familiar from the humanitarian discourse since the early 1980s: the lone child and the mourning parent. It seems logical that Palestinian photographers must be ahead of our time to think as well as produce an image beyond the binary imperatives of the local-foreigner entanglement. What image of the struggle would address the so-called ‘western world’ if it refuses the victim-image for ‘mobilizing shame’ as Tom Keenan analysed the visual forms of humanitarian violence more than ten years ago? What does resistance to the Occupation look like, and how do its images circulate today?

(four)

The 28-minute desktop-video investigates and labours the techno-spatial conditions of image processing. It considers the situation of Gaza after the 2014-wars entangled with global infrastructures. Thus, it provides an important analysis of a visually exhausted and exploited terrain that has been overproduced by media images for decades, by Human Rights discourses as well as by the field of international contemporary art, the arena where When Things Occur is presented. The desktop-video offers an update of the urgency to re-engage with the question of the image as a geopolitical issue for the Palestinian cause. Its image-regimes offer a contested terrain as well as a lived reality and politics of the domestic in which ‘nobody will understand how we are living’, as Gaza international photojournalist and blogger Lara Abu Ramadan states in her conversation with Oraib Toukan. The film probes the face of mourning and grief—its digital embodiment, transmission, and representation. It asks, as Toukan has written elsewhere, how the gaze gets channelled within the digital realm, and how empathy travels. What exactly is viewing suffering ‘at a distance’? What is the behaviour and political economy of the image of war? And who is the ‘local’ in the representation of war? 

Credits
Editing: Oraib Toukan
Audio Post Production: Geoff Mullen
Editing Consultant: Casey Asprooth-Jackson
Translation & Subtitles: Fadi Abu Nimeh, Oraib Toukan
Commissioned by Cities Exhibition 2016, Birzeit University Museum.
Supported by the Ruskin School of Art.

Presented in collaboration with the Images Festival, April 12 – April 20, 2018

DOREEN MENDE is a curator, theorist, researcher, and writer. She is currently Associate Professor and Director of the CCC Research Master and PhD-Forum of the Visual Arts Department at HEAD in Geneva, Switzerland. She is a founding member of the Harun Farocki Institut in Berlin. Her research interests include (geo)spatial practices in image regimes, exhibition-making, curatorial politics, archival metabolisms, decolonizing socialism, and concept work. She holds a PhD in Curatorial/Knowledge from Goldsmiths, University of London. Mende’s recent publications include KP Brehmer: Real Capital Production Raven Row and Koenig Books, London; and “Entries Towards a Society of Ramification” in Proxy Politics Power and Subversion in a Networked Age, edited by RCPP, Archive Books, Berlin.

ORAIB TOUKAN is an artist and Clarendon Scholar at the Ruskin School of Art, University of Oxford. She is visiting tutor at the Ruskin School of Art and the International Academy of Fine Arts in Ramallah, Palestine. Until Fall 2015, she was head of the Arts Division and Media Studies program at Bard College at Al Quds University, Palestine. Recent exhibitions include the Akademie der Künste, Berlin, Heidelberger Kunstverein, Qalandia International, The Center for Contemporary Art Glasgow, the Asia Pacific Triennial, the Mori Art Museum, and the 11th Istanbul Biennale.

The Space and its Contents by Alex Bowron

This text by ALEX BOWRON was published alongside DAVID YU‘S exhibition, Between You and I.

THE SPACE AND ITS CONTENTS

In the waiting room, there are more bodies than chairs. It smells stuffy and bored. There is only one seat available and a TV mounted just high enough to cause a quick kink in the neck. At least it is clear what we are supposed to do: enter the space, watch, wait, readjust, remain optimistic. This final point despite being forced to consume a fragmented over-saturation of too much information that is no information at all.

This space is not a space. This space reminds us of a space – here, and outside of here. A juxtaposition of several spaces forming a single, ‘real’ place. A break with traditional time.

We are uncertain of how to behave, in part, because the boundaries between hear and outside of here are not entirely clear. Our presence furthers blurs these lines. We can act ourselves (real), or we can follow the instructions (construct). Maybe there is no difference. Maybe they are not instructions. Either way, we agree to perform in/voluntary inter-relations in a communal performance of ‘here’.

Once inside, we sense that the room is ripe with reconfigured energy. Stability is just movement slowed down. Vibrational matter is battered from a methodic and meticulous labour; secure in in its position of infinity between meaning and thing.

This space merges the visible and the immaterial. Like a phone call, or seeing your reflection in a mirror. It is real but not grounded. Like moving about an exhibition where each object refuses to remain in place. Activated by our presence but functioning non-hegemonically, the primitive cyborgs dictate, and are dictated by, our relative position. We dock ourselves as they do, when we run out of charge.

Between meaning and thing, an internal logic. It extends from within and in between the objects, the people, the actions. This site is all sites, defined by relations of proximity. This space is not that space due to fixed points between things. Every body has agency and purpose. It is our job to determine how we fit in.

We can see that our chance of remaining passive was abandoned unknowingly at the entrance. We agree to participate upon entry. This is what we do every time we enter. We agree within reason to behave, to work, to absorb, to engage.

THE CONTENTS AND WHAT THEY TELL US

The objects prioritize how they relate to each other. They are busy activating their space, encouraging action, and effecting behavior. We speculate that the real differences in the world are not between humans and non-humans, but between objects and their relations. We cannot speak purely about an object being dropped or dragged. We can only speak to our experience of the dropping and dragging; to our experience of the evidence that remains. It is only when the object breaks that we notice its qualities.

This tension extends from the object’s twisted banged up folds, out towards its framing mechanism. This is the truth of understanding our world through the things we share it with. They, like us, occupy space through a series of relations: boundaries unclear and definitions fluid. We are autonomous units with agency, defined by a unified reality. They remind us that it is the space between where we should direct our focus. The objects are committed to their belonging with such vigor that we begin to believe them. After all, they have purpose, place, history, and a future. We are only here momentarily to share their world. This anthropodecentrism is the object’s ontology. We are just passing through.

The experience which tests this theory is defined by relational action. Instead of proving that the objects are secondary, we can confirm, through a systematic setting up of chance, an activation of the space between. An action performed, or evidence of an action performed. These social experiments are orchestrated through a display of evidence where objects play the lead. The viewer’s actions become both subject and substance of the art. Art becomes a cognitive model for philosophy – a place without a place; a place and a non-place where the space is not a space.

This is the art that you cannot see. It is the stuff of human environs. It is an interference with habit, a thing, tangible or not, created or found, that occupies a space outside of ‘normal’. Its successes lie in how effectively it takes us away from the familiar. It is a subjective pathway to objectivity. The further it pushes our modes of thought, the better it becomes.

SIDE NOTE ON THE MIRROR AS A MOST FASCINATING HETEROTOPIA

In 6000 BC, humans were polishing volcanic glass to create personal, portable reflective surfaces. We were dissatisfied from the start with our distorted portrait in water’s surface, or second-hand descriptions from our peers.

The mirror space merges the visible and immaterial. It is everywhere and nowhere at once. It counteracts real space, reflecting and therefore increasing its depth, but is also a real space onto itself. It is in the mirror where we discover our absence from the place that we are: on this piece of the earth, in our head, a part of our mother, forever young. The mirror is my own gaze directed at myself. It reinforces my relationship with myself. It is the only way to see myself, and yet, I can only ever see myself inverted. It designates the space that I occupy: my body, my space, the inter-relations between. My reflection is an absolutely real, primordial, un-objectified ‘I’. It is connected with all that surrounds it, complete with unique qualities that interrelate to make me whole. It is a window into the world where ‘the entire picture is looking out at a scene for which it is itself a scene’[1].

An effective apparatus to establish perspective, and yet, everything is backwards. My reflection is equally unreal, a fictitious depth, because it cannot be touched, it cannot move unless I move, it is but the threshold to the visible world. It is isolating and penetrable at once. It is virtual, in a perpetual state of ‘over there’, oscillating between interior and exterior; a perpetual heterotopia that is indifferent to my gaze. It is a peering into Galileo’s infinite void. It causes me to believe that I am an autonomous independent being, while causing me to question this very belief. It emphasizes my lack; causing me to yearn for that which I am not and seek profoundly a relationship between myself and the real. It is a point of connection that makes me aware of the space that surrounds my body. In private, it forces me outside of myself, in order to know myself socially. It is an exteriorizing tool, an extension of my cortex: ‘I no longer see the eye that looks at me and, if I see the eye, the gaze disappears’[2]. Within the space of the mirror, the domain of vision becomes integrated into a field of desire.

[1] Lacan, Jacques. The Mirror Stage as Formative of the Function of the I and Of the Gaze as Objet Petit a. In ‘Philosophers on Art from Kant to the Postmodernists; A Critical Reader’, Christopher Kul-Want, ed. pp.174

[2] ibid. Lacan pp.158

ALEX BOWRON is a freelance writer and curator based in Toronto, where she also works as Assistant Director at MKG127 and Auction Manager at the Canadian Art Foundation. She holds a BFA in Sculpture/Installation from OCADU and an MA in Critical Cultural Theory from University of Leeds, UK.

DAVID YU is a multimedia, installation, and performance artist that currently practices out of Toronto. He received a Masters in Fine Art from The Slade School of Fine Art in London, UK (2008) and his Bachelors in Fine Art from the Ontario College of Art and Design (2006). Until recently David practiced in London, U.K.,exhibiting work throughout Europe and abroad. His exhibition record includes: a one month durational performance during the exhibition Onderweg at Cultuurcentrum Zwaneberg, Heist-op-den-Berg, Belgium(2017); a solo exhibition at MART Gallery, Dublin, Ireland (2015); participation with Flux Night 2012 (Nuit Blanche Atlanta, Georgia) with a multi–channel video installation, Small Meteorites, projected within five vehicles; a city wide art installation commissioned and curated by the Duncan and Jordanstone College of Art and Design (2011), funded by the Scottish Arts Council; a solo exhibition at the Monster Truck Gallery in Dublin Ireland (2011); a Triangle Arts Trust residency and solo exhibition at the Kuona Trust Gallery in Nairobi, Kenya (2011). This summer David will be participating in a residency and organizing a solo exhibition with The Orleans Gallery in Ottawa.

Vol. 1: The Ward Players by Ellyn Walker

This text by ELLYN WALKER was published alongside JALANI MORGAN‘S Exhibition, The Unforgetting of Black Canadian Baseball, Vol. 1   The Ward.

Vol. 1: The Ward Players
By Ellyn Walker

In 1942, Mount Carmel Church,[1] located on St. Patrick Street in the area known as the Ward, had an inter-racial baseball team that featured two Black players. This was two years before Ontario would pass the Racial Discrimination Act in 1944; four years before Jackie Robinson played for the Montreal Royals during the 1946 season and led them to the International League title; and five years before Robinson would go on to officially break the Major League colour barriers signing to the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.

Indeed, histories of sport contain numerous social, cultural, and political narratives, many of which tell important stories of place and place-making across the lands now known as Canada. Both within and outside of these borders, there has existed a very narrow story of Black baseball within the public imaginary, in which Toronto-based artist Jalani Morgan intervenes with his new exhibition at YYZ Artists’ Outlet.

Reminding us of the richness contained in baseball as a simultaneous site of blackness, masculinities, dexterity, love, family, community and resistance, Vol. 1: The Ward Players is the first iteration within Morgan’s larger body of work called The Unforgetting of Black Canadian Baseball. In it, he focuses on Black histories of baseball in the area in which the gallery is located – the Ward – where Morgan also works and lives, turning his attention towards two Black players documented in a 1942 archival image of the local Mt. Carmel Church baseball team. Inspired by this image (now housed in the Ward Museum’s collection), Morgan began searching for stories of these players, whom still have yet to be identified. This brings to mind a number of considerations, namely, how to honour people whom you know limited things about?

The Ward Players commemorates these men’s stories through what is known: they played baseball. Using materiality in careful ways to pay respect to them, Morgan’s installation draws on the cultural objecthood of baseball customs and protocols to reference popular remembrance practices such as used for display in museums or sports halls of fame. Featuring a pristine display case in the middle of the gallery with two baseball jerseys stoically exhibited inside, this particular type of display suggests the aftermath of a retirement ceremony, where an athlete’s decorated equipment or uniform would be forever on view, safeguarded and appreciated in a hall of fame. Within Morgan’s artwork, the encasement offers a heightened level of visibility and protection to the jerseys’ objecthood and, in doing so, insists on a kind of formal acknowledgement that is long overdue.

Positioned diagonally in the room with each jersey facing opposite the other, the display case demands an investment in looking, as visitors must physically walk around its entirety in order to see its full contents –the front and backs of each jersey. Replicating the original jerseys worn by the Mt. Carmel team in the 1942 photograph, the front side of each jersey features a dark green clover patch over the right breast that contains the team’s insignia. The backside of each jersey features slightly different markings from what the original player’s would have worn, with the word “ NAME ” at the top-centre and the Ward’s GPS coordinates underneath[2]. By including this precise locationality, Morgan insists on a number of things: foremost, the players’ (and Morgan’s) contributions to this place – the same place in which viewers of the display case will be physically standing.

“ NAME ” is sewn in graphic capital letters where the player’s original last name would have been, acting as a kind of space-holder for a name we should know but unfortunately do not. This conceptual gesture holds space for not knowing (alongside the potentiality of future knowing), as neither Morgan nor myself have been able to identify or locate the Black Mt. Carmel baseball players thus far from the original church photograph. Though they remain unnamed, this does not make them unknown.

Morgan is thoughtful to distinguish this act from popular gestures of ‘remembering,’ explaining in a co-written article with scholar Nicole Bernhardt that “unforgetting involves [the] critical examination of existing narratives that were developed by the dominant power elite, and re-establishing the story through the voices of those who were disenfranchised in the original narrative.”[3] This recalls critical feminist and anti-racist practices that seek to recover and re-centre marginalized and thus invisibl-ized voices. Morgan and Bernhardt explain, “the process of ‘unforgetting’ [requires] both an unearthing of neglected histories of blackness within Canada and a call to become [more] attentive”[4] to them, as they exist all around us. This is clear in the sited implications of the gallery, which is also located in the Ward – an area that has an extensive Black history that still remains largely unknown to the general population.

Annexed by College Street, Queen Street, Yonge Street and University Avenue, the Ward is situated on traditional Indigenous lands that are now part of Treaty 13 territory – an area that carries with it many histories and thus claims to it, some of which span back as far as the last ice age.

The Ward was also home to arrivants from the Underground Railroad, such as Thornton Blackburn, an African-American escaped slave whose legal case established the principle that Canada would not return slaves to their masters in the US no matter what they had done. Blackburn’s escape also caused The Blackburn Riots – the first race riots in the history of Detroit – before reaching his freedom in Upper Canada. Upon reuniting with his wife Lucie in 1834 and settling in the newly incorporated City of Toronto, the Blackburns opened the city’s first taxi service called “The City” in 1837. They soon began acquiring properties throughout the Ward to provide for other escaped slaves who would need safe and affordable housing. By 1855, more than 500 Black people lived in the Ward, where it would continue to thrive for a short period as a tight-knit entrepreneurial Black community.

Due to its close proximity to Union Station and the port, the Ward would go on to be home to refugees from the European Revolutions of 1848, the Irish Potato Famine, and later from Russia and Eastern Europe, where crowded parcels of land were often subdivided by landlords into highly condensed mixed-use neighbourhoods. This is where successive waves of new immigrants would initially settle, creating ‘slums’ in the process through rapid conditions of overcrowding, such as the spread of disease. For instance, St. Mary’s Church, a Roman Catholic Gothic-Revival style church established by Irish immigrants in 1852 at Bathurst and Adelaide, was built on top of a mass grave of cholera victims from the outbreaks of 1832 and 1834.

This is the same area in which YYZ is located and Morgan both works and lives – where fresh water continues to run underground from a disappeared body of water known as Taddle Creek that, like the mass cholera grave, remains unbeknownst to most of us. However, in 1985, when the Toronto Metro Police began constructing their new headquarters near Bay and College, Taddle Creek miraculously emerged in the building process from seventy feet below, interrupting and delaying the project. The fact “that these waterways continue so strongly in a big city’s stream of consciousness, long vanished but somehow known by citizenry who cannot have known them, demonstrates the power of collective memory […] to persist,”[5] as well as the ways in which what may seem invisible is simply just out of view.

This is not unlike histories of Black life and community-making in Toronto (and in Canada more broadly), which have significantly shaped the cityscape and its practices, while continuously being elided from it/them. We know this well, while we also importantly know otherwise – such as the work of Black poets, critics, scholars, curators, artists and musicians in this very city has shown us for so long (see the work of Austin Clarke, Dionne Brand, Rinaldo Walcott, M. NourbeSe Philip, Andrea Fatona, Betty Julian, Sandra Brewster, Abdi Osman, Camille Turner, and the Black Jays, to name but a handful).

When viewers encounter the marking “ NAME ” on the back of the jerseys, they may interpret it in a number of ways. Those familiar with art history will know that there already exists a long colonial tradition of depicting Black subjects as nameless, and thus beneath the white artists and photographers that frequently depicted them. Alternatively, visitors to the work may see the potential for their own name to be emblazoned on an iconic sports jersey, such as a younger version of Morgan would have done while growing up in Scarborough watching the Toronto Blue Jays at their peak, capturing two championships in 1992 and ’93.

From 1983 to 1993, the Blue Jays had won more than one thousand games and reflected relatively diverse (specifically, Black) teams. However, Morgan describes his family’s disengagement precisely when that representation started to change.

Indeed, representations are powerful insomuch that they are thought to portray what is possible. For example, while scholar David Canton notes that 70 years have passed since Jackie Robinson desegregated Major League Baseball, he explains only 7.7 % of all MLB players today are Black.[6] Jalani Morgan’s exhibition and broader project tells an important counter-story to what these stats suggest, insisting on the importance of Black histories of baseball regardless of data, popular narratives, neighbourhood demographics, or unidentified persons. Focusing on the Ward as his particular site of/for unforgetting, Morgan brings to mind Dionne Brand’s book of poetry about Toronto, in which she writes, “how come I anticipate nothing as intimate as history”?[7] For it is in this loving spirit that Jalani invites people into his work and the generative spaces of unforgetting Black histories.

 

 

Notes: The artist would like to acknowledge Jess Godding (21/21 Design Company), Nicole Bernhardt, Kristie MacDonald, A Space Gallery, and the Ontario Arts Council for their assistance in realizing this project.

 

JALANI MORGAN is a Toronto-based photographer, visual historian and photo editor known for his editorial, documentary and gallery collected work both nationally and internationally. Morgan’s creative work explores visual representations within a Black Canadian context and focuses on documenting and portraying images of Black life both in Canada and internationally. As a commissioned photographer, he covers the spectrum of portraiture and current events documenting the architectural, racial, musical and cultural landscapes of Toronto. Over the past fifteen years, Morgan has built an impressive portfolio creating pieces for: Black Lives Matter Toronto, National Film Board of Canada, The Fader, Nike, Sportsnet Magazine, TVO, National Screen Institute, Converse, Manifesto, ArtReach, TEDxToronto, Daniel Spectrum, Nia Centre for the Arts and has contributed to exhibits for Photoville New York, The Wedge Collection, Art Gallery of Ontario, Art Gallery of Windsor and CONTACT Photography Festival. Originally from Scarborough, Morgan has been dedicated to giving back to his community through mentorship and community empowerment programs that have included The Remix Project, LAMP and We Are Lawrence project created in partnership with City of Toronto and Manifesto. He is a passionate Toronto Blue Jays fan and has a soft spot for Montreal.

 

ELLYN WALKER is a writer and curator based in the place now known as Toronto, where her work engages with the politics of representation, inclusion and social justice work in the arts. Her writing has been widely published by McGill-University Press, Inuit Art Quarterly, Prefix Magazine, BlackFlash Magazine, Journal of Curatorial Studies, Public Journal, amongst others. She was recently awarded the 2016 Thematic Exhibition of the Year Award by the Ontario Association of Art Galleries for her curated exhibition CANADIAN BELONGING(s) presented by The Art Gallery of Mississauga. Ellyn is currently a PhD candidate in the Cultural Studies program at Queen’s University. Walker is a YYZ Board member.

[1] What is today called Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

[2] 43.64484 x -79.404229.

[3] Jalani Morgan & Nicole Bernhardt, “Unforgetting Blackness – Beyond Black History Month,” NBS Consulting Blog, February 24, 2015. http://www.nicolebernhardt.com/unforgetting-blackness-beyond-black-history-month/

[4] Ibid.

[5] Alfred Holden, “The Forgotten Stream: The real Taddle Creek—a brief history,” The Christmas, no. 1, 1997. http://www.taddlecreekmag.com/the-forgotten-stream

[6] David Canton, “Where Are All the Black Baseball Players? 3 socioeconomic reasons for the declining percentage of black players in MLB,” US News, July 10, 2017. https://www.usnews.com/opinion/op-ed/articles/2017-07-10/3-reasons-for-the-declining-percentage-of-black-baseball-players-in-the-mlb

[7] Dionne Brand, Thirsty, Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2002.

“Why don’t I understand?” by Vincent Bonin

This text by VINCENT BONIN was published alongside MARIE-MICHELLE DESCHAMP + BRYAN-K. LAMONDE‘S Exhibition, BETTER TIMES.

“Why don’t I understand?”
by Vincent Bonin

In his untranslated book written in French, Le Schizo et les langues ​​(1971), Louis Wolfson, who suffered from schizophrenia, adopted the analyst’s posture rather than that of the analysand, by attempting to write the autobiography of his own “split mind.”[1] From childhood, he has put in place procedures to quickly translate fragments of his mother tongue, English, in other idioms. Since 2012, some works by Marie-Michelle Deschamps are distilling the content of Wolfson’s texts. She has repurposed his techniques of linguistic condensation to integrate them in her own praxis as methodological triggers. The temporal passage from one set of words to the other became for her a corollary of the giving of form to particular materials. These references to Wolfson as character are less present in the show at YYZ, but Deschamps is still exploring here the play between the fragmentation of language and the contingent manifestations of sculptural processes, this time in dialogue with her longtime collaborator Bryan K. Lamonde.

It is useful to describe from the outset her way of working. After a period of conceptualizing often involving complex topological design, Deschamps initially makes models of her works with paper. A bit like superimposing a fabric on a pattern, she then manipulates copper and steel sheets, finely chiseling an outline and folding the surface at specific locations. The metal leaves are coated with an enamel powder and placed in an oven. For this glaze to amalgamate with the copper and maintain its uniformity, without turning to green-gray, the cooking time must remain very short. Once in the open air, metals take their final appearance like a revealed photographic image. Some works are partly covered with cracks and asperities caused by chemical reactions during the cooking. Deschamps sometimes quickly draws graphemes with a stylet on the burning half-liquid enamel and these marks, like scars or automatic writing, seem to underline the rapidity of the transformation. Other objects remain smooth, with the exception of the shaped folds. When these assemblages do not lie on the floor they support themselves on the walls, hung most of the time without adjoined frames.

Although the conceptual ramifications of temperature transition remain only latent in Deschamps’s complicity with her chosen materials, I wish nevertheless to examine here how the understanding of some contemporary thermodynamic phenomena can be added to the discourse on split subjectivity that the artist has been investigating through Louis Wolfson’s case study, and other references to psychoanalytic literature. Temperature balance defines the reception and retention of information in the human body and brain. By the early 1960s, Marshall McLuhan had already proposed a schematization of “hot” media, giving the illusion of immersion, and “cold” media, which demand that the receiver fill the gaps in communication[2]. To move from technological to organic reception of data, McLuhan then largely updated Sigmund Freud’s theories of trauma with cybernetic science. More recently, the thermodynamics of electronic discretization had made it impossible to conceive of the protocols of the deregulated economy (new currencies, among others) as separated from an incompressible materiality and toxicity. In order to remain stable, the internal mechanism of the hardware of any communication systems now depends on the regulation of the shift from hot towards cold and cold towards hot. Just like the precise control of the internal temperature in the chips of our devices, the continuous transmission and storage of data in ubiquitous clouds necessitates to remove the excess of heat out of the server farms dispersed around the globe, which are rolling 24/7. Furthermore, neurobiological study of affects now expands the postulates of psychoanalysis by also using thermodynamic models. For example, people who are victims of severe head injuries or Alzheimer’s disease often don’t feel their own suffering, having a “cold brain” according to scientific imaging, while conversely, other neurological pathologies like Multiple Sclerosis can produce excessive phantom burning[3].

In analyzing Walter Benjamin’s essay, The Artwork in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Susan Buck Morss points out that the modern discipline of aesthetics, which first attempted to describe the perception of the senses before proposing templates of judgments of taste, is linked to technologies of anesthetics and analgesics[4]. However, we must be careful not to conflate too easily the phenomena of physical cooling and psychic frigidity to a work of art associated from the outset with a withdrawal of human qualities, or to the artist’s detachment. Deschamps’s reappraisal of a vocabulary of abstraction indicates that a decrease in affects, even when reaching the zero degree, preserves a specter of the subject.

While seeing the photographic documentation of It suits you well (2015), I abandoned myself to free associations. I projected on the work’s entangled vitrified surfaces looking much like fabric hiding a body, the remembered image of the vests of Mary Kelly’s son, which she carefully folded and placed under Plexiglas in the introductory plates of her cycle Post-Partum document (1973-197). Kelly’s distancing from her subject, also carried out by covering these vests with Jacques Lacan’s schemas on intersubjectivity, has often been mistakenly described as waning of affect. While Kelly demonstrated the Lacanian principle that the symbolic already ascribes subject positions in language, even before a baby is born, she recognized an unknown dimension – her own emotions as a mother – in this over-determination of social reproduction. For Deschamps who, unlike Kelly, doesn’t use indexical figuration, passages from hot towards cold, rather than provoking only painful dispersals of energy, can also resolve in the forgetting of the burn and its healing/cicatrizing, leaving no trace. Perhaps that is why always arriving at its destination in an acclimatization chamber (which the gallery replays as an aftermath “scene”), Deschamps’s transformed objects also allow us to remain calm. Although the topological signs distributed on her substrates are offered to the gaze in arrested form, they also make us think about the way folding can expand in an infinite movement.

Recently, Deschamps showed as it were the reverse of the copper and enamel process by creating a work that gives us this time the opportunity to fold and unfold surfaces instead of just contemplating them. During her pregnancy, she painted a series of watercolors by establishing a gestural vocabulary close to the units of a chromatic scale. She then digitized each of the sheets covered with these graphemes, and placed them in a template of blank pages of a printed newspaper the size and “salmon” color of the Financial Time[5]. Since this publication Untitled was produced in a large print-run, it can be distributed for free on the premise of the exhibition. Handling our own copy, we realize that in the absence of information, our habits of reading become perceptible. By way of an automatism, we remove a sheet out of the set, and then we insert it again where it is missing. Unlike the Financial Time which is paginated, we can read it in every direction. We turn the object on itself like a pivot and explore all of the possibility of juxtaposing the graphemes, until they are repeated and their familiarity is imposed on the perception of difference, thus closing up the loop. Although the newspaper is the reference here, the gestures Deschamps asks us to perform could also allude to the manipulation of money.

The graphic envelope of this work has been created by Bryan K. Lamonde. In 2013, he designed the template for Deschamps’s book The Twofold Room in which she has explored the allegory of the hotel to address language as a temporary dwelling, once again linking the register of psychic symbolization to architecture and an anonymous materiality. On page 43, she printed the logo of the institution, described as follows in the text:

 

“Two I in bed together, two I which form an H.”

 

Just like she had reversed here the “I” to give birth to another opaque but recognizable letter, later on, with a sculpture entitled Entre Singulier et Pluriel (2015), she had used once more this “coupled” form by matching identically shaped copper and enamel surfaces, putting the white one upside down and covering the other in a skin toned color. For the YYZ exhibition, Deschamps and Lamonde examined again the plasticity of fonts, which we often use according to a principle of transparency, as if they have no effect on reading. Conversely, when we see their occurrences in different contexts, it is possible to recognize singularity by accumulation. In his book Discourse, Figure, Jean-François Lyotard discussed the rebuses, which are a travesty of language requiring the parallel reading of the text and its graphic supplement[6]. Although an alphabet belongs to no one, it is possible to transform the whole into an idiosyncratic seemingly autonomous object, when its parts are treated as discrete elements. In L *, a group exhibition at the Darling Foundry in 2016 dedicated to Louis Wolfson’s aforementioned techniques of translation, Lamonde had made magnet fonts attached to structures like those used by Deschamps to hang enamel coated copper or steel substrates. At YYZ, he continues this research on the alphabet with a video showing a series of letters permuting as nodal points, enabling a system of unknown origin to spin its way out of the void.

Lamonde’s greased fonts combined with Deschamps’ substrates could trigger the speech of an analyst. While writing this text, I have been going back to a little-known episode of the story of Jacques Lacan’s Borromean dots and mathemes used as speaking prompts during his seminars. These diagrams were extrapolated mainly through scribblings and at this early stage, could have been made partly in a state of floating attention while listening to analysands. In the introduction to Lacan’s catalogue raisonné of drawings and graphic manuscripts, a very strange object in itself, Jacques Roubaud describes the transition from the sketches to the rigidity of a series of copyrighted elements (including fonts):

“A loss results from the perfect normalization of the drawings compared to the ‘draft’. The drawings are perfect in The Sinthome, but petrified, frozen, ‘frozen words.’ The general draft was more than a negligible piece of writing. It introduced a rich interference, imbued with meaning, due to the hand guided by the effort of thinking.”[7]

Contemporaneous with Lyotard’s investment of the visual against the dominance of language, and Lacan’s topology, Louis Wolfson’s intra-linguistic translation protocols represent an exemplary manifestation of the desire to create an idiom with existing structures before thought processes freezes in the logic of communication. The figural, as it increases the discursive, must not, however, be confused with a possessive individuation of speech (a solipsism). The recognition of the exteriority of language in relation to the subject (“it speaks”) indicates the place one must occupy, against our will, after a flight into the imaginary. The return of the symbolic order during enunciation could also be manifested in a completely other register, by the stratification of a social history of materials, which has to be recognized in an artistic practice beyond the limits of the artwork’s instantiation (even more so when it is conceived a readymade).

Another of Deschamps’s series entitled Company (2017), presented at YYZ, conjures up multiple meanings, referring both to corporate legal persons and to the act of being present to someone, at his or her side (for instance, beside their beds when they are sick). It would be reductive to see this play with words as a hint to the process of collaboration, although Deschamps explicitly recognizes the division of labor and the importance of dialogue in all of her projects. This “whatever singularity” of residual subjectivity rather evoke for me another linguistic subversion, more ordinary though than the grammatical misuses to which Deschamps referred to through quoting Wolfson’s techniques of translation. I think here of the claiming of the preferred pronoun “they,” singular plural, by transgender persons hoping to leave the “I” and the unifying power of the “us” behind them. There, one decides to impose a non-choice to others, and this distance no longer rests on dissociation from the social. While Deschamps and Lamonde don’t explicitly refer to a queer phenomenology, in their objects meant to “accompany” without a predicate, they may offer a second series of metabolic metaphors alongside that of the temperature transition. In line with another debate about a use value of indifference, they point towards the way in which some abstractions dissolve a human frame already deemed improper by subjects who got casted out of the symbolic order[8]. In the time being, this is the way I identify with their work and put myself in the empty places it has carved.

Vincent Bonin, January 2018.

 

 

 

 

[1] Louis Wolfson, Le Schizo et les langues (Paris: Éditions Gallimard, 1970).

[2] Marshall McLuhan, “Media Hot and Cold,” in Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2001). Initially published in 1964.

 

[3] Dysesthesia is a condition that produces these phantom sensations. The affected brain roots send deceptive signals to the nervous system, interpreted as burns on the skin. On the subject of irreversible brain dissociation, see Catherine Malabou, The New Wounded: From Neurosis to Brain Damage (New York: Fordham University Press, 2012).

[4] Susan Buck Morss, “Aesthetics and Anaesthetics: Walter Benjamin’s Artwork Essay Reconsidered,” October, vol. 62 (Fall 1992), p. 3-41.

[5] In another ongoing series, Deschamps isolates the grapheme as the smallest unit of meaning. She makes shapes looking like a hybrid of brushstrokes, clouds, and algae, by applying a smoothing compound and a marble powder directly on the walls of the gallery. Some of these works are entitled Coquilles, alluding to the French word for typos, which also means shells.

 

[6] Jean-François Lyotard, Discourse, Figure (Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press, 2010). Initially published in 1971.

 

[7] Jacques Roubaud, “Brouillons Là quand,” in Jacques Lacan, Œuvres graphiques et manuscrits (Paris: Artcurial – Briest – Le Fur – Poulain – F. Tajan, 2006), p. 8.

[8] On abstraction in art and queer discourse, see Pink Labor on Golden Streets, Queer Art Practices, edited by Christiane Erharter, Hans Scheirl, Dietmar Schwärzler, Ruby Sircar (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2015).

 

Beware: whoever pretends to be a ghost will eventually turn into one by Vincent Bonin

This text by VINCENT BONIN was published alongside DAVID COURT‘S Exhibition, CV.

Beware: whoever pretends to be a ghost will eventually turn into one
By Vincent Bonin

In a conversation, David Court said to me that since he submitted a proposal to YYZ’s generic call, he was in some way inviting himself rather than adapting his practice to a given framework, which usually characterizes site-specific “interventions”.[1] However in turn, he asked me to write an introduction to his show and thus “imposed” my response to an institution, bypassing the selection committees of peers that otherwise predicates the selection of content in an artist-run center. Additionally, this text was written without me having been able to see many of Court’s exhibitions, and therefore it is largely the result of distilled documentation, transformed as it were it into a fiction of primary experience.[2] During our conversations, Court and myself talked about the vicariousness of language in art historical essays, when an author gives a belated second chance (a deferred reception) to the often nearly imperceptible gestures that made some artworks often blend completely into their surroundings. Notwithstanding the fact that the artist could himself offer this narrative, there is still the remaining necessity to graph other prosthetic discursive entities to his speech for means of legitimation. Moreover, even when there is commonality between cultural producers (usually transpiring from an artist-run center ethos), the polarization of the invitation and the response prevails, shifting an unintelligible collective will towards the individual artist, and his scribe, becoming, à deux, a “subject supposed to know.” In other words, they are asked to answer to social situations under the rubrics of proper names, accruing their capital, symbolic or otherwise.

In the last few years, Court ‘s exhibitions have seemed to approach the question of responsiveness away from the presupposition that his role (and that of his collaborators) would be above all to “reveal,” once more, hidden meaning unspeakable by the institution hosting the work. In a sequence of projects begun in 2012, he has focused instead on the way another kind of consideration of context could address ghostly things “hidden in plain sight.” As an example, Court has engaged with the phenomenology of visible dissimulation by making an allegory out of the infrastructure of the “green screen” technique, allowing video editors to juxtapose incompatible segments of reality within a unified and continuous visual field.

In this exhibition at YYZ, David Court reformats materials from his previous show, Artist’s Rendering (Distressed, Relaxed), presented at the artist-run center AXENÉO7 (Gatineau) in March and April 2017. At the time of writing this text (August 2017), he had not yet decided which of the components of the previous display would reappear[3]. Located in a former industrial area of Gatineau, AXENÉO7 occupies a converted textile mill, the Hanson Hosiery, which is part of a larger industrial complex, at this point largely recycled into other uses. For the show, Court incorporated the recent outcomes of a familiar debate on art and gentrification, but he also attempted to slightly change its terms. He lived for many years in Brooklyn, New York, and more recently, in Columbus, Ohio, where he witnessed different forms of urban change under late capitalism. It has become a leitmotif to say that the arrival of artists and the so-called “creative class” in overlooked neighborhoods increases the value of properties, pushing the poorest populations to the periphery. Eventually, these artists are themselves evicted from the enclaves that had welcomed them, and they have to migrate to other parts of cities. The cycle continues until urban living becomes unbearable for all, except the wealthy[4]. Through our participation in the reproduction of this system, we always leave a footprint and conversely make space more and more abstract, to the point that some dwellings remain empty while their value on the market increases. Although the AXENÉO7 building as it is known today was inaugurated in 2002, artists had been occupying the premises since 1982[5]. In the vicinity there are some vacant lots, a few apartments and suburban homes. Nevertheless, unlike other refurbished industrial districts in Canadian cities, especially Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal, this section of Gatineau won’t soon be the prey to a real estate boom going overboard.

Overall, in the exhibition at AXENÉO7, Court established an abridged sequence in which each discreet element seemingly carried the potential to act as a trigger for pursuing a debate, in the fashion of institutional critique. Playing their own roles in this scenario, the staff could have used the content of the show to enact micro-performances, filing gaps in the knowledge of working class history of the neighborhood, and, at the same time, relay their own contemporary struggles as cultural workers. However the “discussion island” was not offered. As his notes, published on the premises, made clear, Court wished to avoid programing symbolic reparation, in which, ultimately, antagonisms are absorbed in a new dialectical synthesis.[6] He rather chose the path of obfuscation, distributing layers of observed misrecognition. Court has in common with several artists today that he leaves the fragility of meaning uncovered, instead of overly protecting it. The precariousness of working conditions extends to everything that is exposed in this setting, including himself. He understands that it is also vain to attempt to arrest the vast movement of digital dispersion which makes an image say a thing and its opposite, according to the hands that take hold of it. Court, however, works in the field of discourse, which asks for discriminating gestures. As he did in other projects[7], at AXENÉO7, he wrote this aforementioned statement establishing the limits of his agency, and he interpolated a bibliographical object in the epicenter of the exhibition, assembling into a precise constellation several excerpts of books and shorter essays consulted during the design and production of the exhibition.[8] This object did not occupy the paratextual place usually reserved for cultural mediation. Instead of making copies of the booklet accessible at the entrance hall table, Court “abandoned” them on an old dolly salvaged from an exhibition he participated in at Modern Fuel, Kingston in 2016 (with the artists Aryen Hoekstra, David Court and Shane Krepakevich). Nearby, he carefully positioned other “objets trouvés” (which he calls “unemployed forms” in the checklist): an antique loom shuttle and a wooden crate. On the walls, Court hung four prints encased in recycled wooden frames. For one, he made a montage out of images (found on Etsy) of a piece of loom (Reclaimed #1 (This/That)). For another, he retrieved a photographic print from the collection of the Beacon NY Historical Society, showing the former site of the Dia Beacon with heavy industrial machinery (Reclaimed #2a (A gallery that was once a factory)). In a fourth, he isolated a detail of the model of the refurbished site by the architects Rice and Lipka (Reclaimed #2b (Fabrication)).

The disused quality of the frames, the antique shuttle loom and the dolly seemed to displace with irony the fiction of use value in recent artworks salvaging techniques like weaving, mainly for the purpose of arresting “eye balls” on social media. This work was thus highly “instagrammable” against the grain, and at the same time, it referred critically to a larger phenomenon of cosmetic visuality : the tendency, since the late 1980s, to retain some of the patrimonial architectural detail of a converted industrial site as decoration. More than kitsch nostalgia, these encased features produce photo-ready cuteness[9] in a space where, for example, the body of museum visitors as well as tenants or owners of condos became monetized, interchangeable units. The renovation of the spinning mill at AXENÉO7 seems to have resulted from a compromise between the construction of “neutral” white cubes for artists and the valorization of the industrial/picturesque characteristics of the site. From outside, the letters spelling “Hanson Hosiery Mills” on the façade have been kept intact. Their towering presence could generate confusion as to what is the current function of the place inside for the passerby unfamiliar with the artist-run center’s mandate. Entering the first gallery, the project room where Court had his show, the viewer notices that one wall is interrupted by a large, perfectly square window, revealing the garden. Some artists choose to veil it with a curtain, but Court left it as it was, so that this landscape became the figure, almost eclipsing the ground. In the exhibition at AXENÉO7 all content thus blended in their surroundings by virtue of the integrative potential of the architecture. Opposite this window, Court screened a video on the most cutting-edge flat screen monitor, decomposing the contents of an engraving attributed to Thomas Morgan representing two luddites in a factory, destroying a loom. The visitor alternately saw the arms of the luddites, and the texture of a sample of fabrics filmed in close-up.

While attempting to give an afterlife to the ghost of Ned Ludd in the contemporary period, Court seemed to ask the question: is it still possible to throw the sabot in the machine while it is running? He knows that the answer to this question cannot itself emerge from the rehabilitation of iconoclastic gestures or falling into the negative of intentionality (eg. the so-called creativity of destruction). It must also integrate another kind of sabotage in the absence of direct human intervention: accidents, abstract protocols, or natural and economic catastrophe, generating their own forms and responses. Taking into account this contingency, during the process of writing this essay, I also wondered what was the embedded performance of avoidance in the repetition of the term “ambivalence” (which Court uses in his statements). As it is almost forcing a speech act on un-felicitous circumstances, does it allude to the impossibility of taking a stance (in the psychoanalytic sense of the split subject), or rather to the difficulty of finding one’s own respite (or semblance of autonomy) facing the current political situation, when others, less privileged, are pushed into the void? At the beginning of his famous text “Mimicry and Legendary Psychasthenia,” Roger Caillois included the phrase: “Beware: whoever pretends to be a ghost will eventually turn into one.”[10] The meaning of his statement can be diverted to say that it is naïve, even dangerous, to hide behind the specters of anarchy when there is an urgency to patch broken social links in the present. Rehearsing the theatrical tropes of disappearing acts once more with feelings, saying again and again “I prefer not to,” risks letting unwelcomed forces occupy the place we have vacated. Here, I am using the plural but talking about my own doubts, and not parroting the artist’s, although we might agree on this.

Vincent Bonin
August 2017.

 

[1] I had sent Court quotes from Jacques Derrida about the ontological status of the invitation and the response (in the philosopher’s case, embedded in an academic framework), which I thought would fit into a discussion gravitating around context in the art field as a given, even after more than 40 years of debates around site specificity. See Jacques Derrida, Passions (Paris: Galilée, 1993).

[2] What name do we give to this division of labour which produces a body of work, as well as the biography of an individual, from archival fragments? In disclosing this particular temporality of writing, and by extension, of art producing, one might say that the profiles of two readers of this text are hollowed out. The first one would have seen the works in the gallery, and would read this text during or after his visit. The second one would find the page devoted to the exhibition on the YYZ Website, much later. There is, perhaps, a third reader, finding the printout in a pile of press releases or didactic material remaining of his visits to the 401 Richmond building, a few months after the exhibition had closed. I am addressing him now, in the tense that we call in French the “futur antérieur.” I imagine this reader as the usual neglectful viewer, distracted, indeed even indifferent, but then discovering this text after the fact and actually remembering what he saw.

[3] It is important to point out that, for Court, the exhibition is never considered as the uttermost limit of conception. He often shifts his projects during the brief period of the installation, which is not usually devoted to production.

[4] Although part of its content is now dated, Rosalyn Deutsche’s book Evictions: Art and Spatial Politics (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1996), still remains in my opinion a key reference on art and gentrification, particularly at its nascent phase. For an updated version of a debate about site specificity “increasingly assimilated into the capitalist logic of regeneration and value creation,” see When Site Lost the Plot, edited by Robin Mackay (Falmouth: Urbanomic , 2015).

[5] See the Website of La filature, a production center adjacent to AXENÉO7 serving the same community of artists : http://www.lafilature.qc.ca/histoire.html

(consulted August 31, 2017).

[6] David Court, “Notes on Artist’s Rendering (Distressed, Relaxed)”, 2017.

[7] For his exhibition Self-Titled (Materials for a 21st Century Room-SWAMPED, EXHAUSTED, HESITATING) at the gallery 8 Eleven, Court invited the poet Corina Copp to compose a text in response to the materials and references he was gathering for the exhibition.

[8] The texts are by Robert Binghurst, Muriel Combes, Claire Fontaine, Lewis Mumford, Sianne Ngai, Martha Rosler, Gertrude Stein, Bernard Stiegler and “others.”

[9] I use the term cute here in the way theorist Sianne Ngai repurposes it for cultural critique. She says: “Cuteness, an adoration of the commodity in which I want to be intimate with or physically close to it as possible, thus has a certain utopian edge, speaking to a desire to inhabit a concrete qualitative world of use as opposed to one of abstract exchange. There is thus a sense in which the fetishism of cuteness is as much a way of resisting the logic of commodification – predicated on the idea of the “absolute commensurability of everything”-as it is a symptomatic reflection of it.” Sianne Ngai, Our Aesthetic Categories : Zany, Cute, Interesting (Cambridge Massachusetts and London, England: Harvard University Press, 2012), p. 12-13.

[10] Author’s translation. It is quoted in French in the English version of the text as: “Prends garde: à jouer au fantôme, on le devient.” Roger Caillois, “Mimicry and Legendary Psychasthenia,” October, Vol. 31 (Winter 1984), p. 16.

VINCENT BONIN lives and works in Montreal. Notable among his credits as a curator is the project Documentary Protocols (1967‐1975), presented at Concordia University Leonard and the Leonard and Bina Ellen Art Gallery and composed of two exhibitions (2007-2008) and a publication (2010) exploring the development of artists’ collectives and self-managed associations in Canada during the 1960s and 1970s. He served as co-curator (with Grant Arnold, Catherine Crowston, Barbara Fischer, Michèle Thériault and Jayne Wark) of Traffic: Conceptual Art in Canada (1965-1980), which travelled throughout Canada between 2010 and 2013. In collaboration with the curator Catherine J. Morris he organized an exhibition on the American critic Lucy R. Lippard entitled Materializing ‘Six Years’: Lucy R. Lippard and the Emergence of Conceptual Art, which was presented at the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum in 2012-2013 (with a catalogue published by MIT Press, Cambridge). In 2013-2014, he conceived the two-installment exhibition D’un discours qui ne serait pas du semblant/Actors, Networks, Theories, held at the Leonard and Bina Ellen Art Gallery and at the artist-run centre Dazibao, in Montreal, which examined the way “French Theory” was assimilated in Anglophone art milieus (the book following this exhibition will be published by Black Dog, London, in the Fall of 2017). In 2016, he curated Réponse, an exhibition responding to the work of the French philosopher Catherine Malabou, which was presented at the Musée d’art contemporain des Laurentides, Saint-Jérôme.

DAVID COURT is an artist and writer currently living and working in Ulster County, New York. He holds a Masters in Visual Studies from the University of Toronto (2009) and a BFA from NSCAD University (2006). Recent exhibitions include: Artist’s Rendering (Distressed, Relaxed), AxeNéo7, Gatineau, Quebec, 2017; You can tell that I’m alive and well because I weep continuously, The Knockdown Center, Queens, New York, 2017; Apparatus for a Utopian Image, Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts Project Space, New York, New York, 2016; Self-Titled (Materials for a 21st Century Room—or SWAMPED, EXHAUSTED, HESITATING), 8eleven, Toronto, Ontario, 2016; David Court, Aryen Hoekstra, Shane Krepakevich, Modern Fuel Artist Run Center, Kingston, Ontario, 2016.

Presque-vu By Matthew Kyba

Presque-vu
By Matthew Kyba

A strange phenomenon occurs when one can almost remember a memory, term, or detail, yet falls short as it barely escapes them. Concentration seems to grip the sand too tightly as whatever we hoped to recall slowly falls through our fingers. As an artist, Jen Aitken capitalizes on this sense of Presque-Vu, or almost seen. The French term doesnt perfectly translate, but insinuates an on the tip of the (mental) tongue. Instead of searching for a reference or connection that her new series Kaloune tantalizingly entices, she invites the viewer to consider the reason we require intertextuality to preface artworks. Aitken critiques the art historical habit of privileging content over form, while showcasing how these two elements are inseparable. In employing almost familiar but ultimately ambiguous forms, the exhibitions uncertainty implores the viewer towards their own meaning-making through physical spatial orientation and directly investigating the work as autonomous objects.

Aitkens series Kaloune at YYZ beckons the strange feeling of having synapses crackle and snap, but not quite connect. As the viewer quizzically ponders and slightly agonizes over what seems familiar (but isnt), the pieces wedge themselves between recognition and uncertainty. The geometric forms possess a unique materiality. Even though these materials appear to point towards everyday concrete substances, their assemblage juxtaposed with their surfaces eclectic imprints of other elements fog up easy readings. Adorning the walls and columns, the works seem like fragments of construction. However, they also could act as remnants of modernist furniture, architectural models, 3-dimensional paintings, or even unfinished dioramas. Their ambiguity is their power; Aitkens pieces are the sign without the signified. Concrete is a medium that has many cultural connotations. Connections to urbanization, capitalism, development, architecture, DIY home projects, and Roman invention all occur alongside a myriad of other signifiers. However, Aitkens ambiguous forms merely tease these references instead of explicitly alluding towards them. Absent of original referent, pieces in Kaloune are autonomous symbols that resist contextualization.

The missing referent is a constant theme in Aitkens practice, specifically when looking at online images of her work. We can look at Aitkens past works as existing in three stages: the idea or concept, the reified form, and the recorded file (on or offline). While the artwork can only literally exist physically, images of artworks are increasingly disseminated and the artworks live on through the digital means. Within virtual worlds her works endure beautifully; gorgeous photo-documentation with perfect angles and lighting elevate the images towards works of art themselves. Of course, these images only display perfectly curated singular perspectives, where in-person any and all angles can be seen. The artist is conscious of her works digital presence and understands the division between these versions. Existing in an internet-centered society results in extremely digestible images propagating online and through social platforms, where often JPEGs can act as stand-ins for the real thing. Is it okay to say someone saw an exhibit if only online? Although these images are near convincing depictions of her work, the exact physical objects cant be fully translated.

 

Aitkens newly created Kaloune works operate in multiple antithetical states. The lightness and thinness of her pieces go against the heaviness of concrete. Her molds (consisting of wood, cardboard, and more) leave lingering natural impressions unto their hardened surfaces. Materiality is apparent in the works, not only due to the dynamic simplicity of concrete, but also the various other materials traced upon the exteriors. Aitkens process of production also hints at binary statuses within the works. Her concrete mixture begins to form when adding water with the cement, paper pulp, and other ingredients to quickly become an easily malleable and viscous liquid. Impressionable and elastic, the material is molded into an opaque and (almost) impenetrable finished product. Kalounes material aesthetic references two opposite conditions: The soft process and the hard product, through traced remnants from other material imprints.

Semiotics plays an important role within the exhibition, even if the works seem devoid of identifiable language. Recurring forms often point to an invisible law that the artistic process follows a restraint that fosters their creative autonomy. These rules for creation result in different iterations of forms that are aesthetically akin to one another through repetitious production processes. Recurrent figures allow for the works to provide a visual language that could ostensibly operate when all pieces are grouped together. Each sharp edge, long curve, balanced plane, and unique surface detail define these sculptures that have no top or bottom, no beginning or end. Side by side, these pieces share an unseen casting process that created them. Their production underscores how the constant repetition of visual cues interacts to create a pictorial syntax that appears both recognizable yet undecipherable.

Adding onto her visual semiotics, Aitken also invents her own words for her series titles. Reading over current and previous titles such as Kaloune, Phaxa, Lunopel, Galomindt, or Yna, each term could suggest a foreign languages word or phrase. Aitkens created terms allude to etymological understanding; the roots of these words seem possibly Germanic, Latin, Middle Eastern, or Eastern European, and therefore can be somewhat traced through history. However, Aitken has carefully chosen these titles so that they possess no connection or identifiable link with real dialects. Instead, her terms are decoys and stand-ins, elements used to resist and critique our persistence for an artworks contextualization. Inverting the traditional mantra of Modernisms form follows function, Aitken suggests that form is content. Her objects do something spatially and materially, instead of just pointing to other things. Far from an outmoded and impossible refusal of content, Kaloune makes conscious the need of taxonomy and desire to systemically classify art objects.

Interestingly, her artworks sometimes develop in two-dimensional platforms, as Aitken will occasionally plan and test not-yet-realized works within 3D modeling computer programs. Though Aitken initially sought out the computer process to speed up the development of her creations, it had an unexpected and exciting effect on her thinking about form and space. In her previous series from 2015-16, titled Numa, Aitkens virtual process led to more intricate and complex forms, which in turn necessitated a simplification of her materials. In Kaloune, Aitken worked for the first time without making plans or maquettes, opting for a more reactionary process by intuitively adding one component to another until the mold was complete. In doing so, her forms are more open-ended, unfinished and spontaneous than in her previous work.

Whether it be Kaloune or her earlier works, Aitkens pieces require an in-person experience to fully appreciate them. Kalounes concrete forms that jut out of walls seem to embolden the 3-dimensionality hinted at via photography and digital imagery. The constant push/pull between 3- and 2-dimensionality means Kaloune can oscillate between pictorial and sculptural space. Navigating around the physical works, results in infinite angles and perspectives that could only be possible in person. Although they recall much familiar abstract and formalist sculpture, Aitkens sculptures are enhanced through their seemingly constant change in appearance based on the viewers position in the gallery. Aitkens careful balancing of concrete planes requires viewers to access the works from multiple visual points. Contemplating each works dynamic geometry in person, visitors can attempt to recall similar forms and figures of art, architecture, and design. The works ability to both mimic and yet detach from familiar forms magnifies how the series investigates the opposite binaries of familiarity and singularity in art. Aitkens works plead to be accessed and activated in person, physically inhabiting the gallery environ.

Kaloune marks the first time that Aitkens work is exhibited fully on the walls. In integrating the artists visual syntax with the picture plane, the pieces can operate as both images and sculptures. They do not occupy the familiar middle ground of relief sculpture, but exist in both distinct realms simultaneously. They are obvious sculptures first, but can be viewed as pictures. Their placement on vertical planes does not diminish their physicality and spatial orientation. Since Aitkens practice of installation involves a playful eye and conscious exploration, the viewer must operate in new ways to activate and experience each work. We are subtly pushed to not only examine the artworks head on, but also from the sides, bottoms, tops, and everything in-between.

Initially, Aitkens Kaloune series shows geometric abstract sculptures that borrow architectural structures. But through ambiguous forms, titles, digital vs. real imagery, and exhibition strategies, her works never comfortably dwell within the visitors various modes of explanation. Instead, Aitken works to resist our proclivity for intertextuality and contextualization, a difficult feat in our current era, in order to make room for more open-ended moments of direct undistracted experience. The difficulty of reading Aitkens works not only allows for a more nuanced viewing experience, but ultimately showcases the false veracity of her seemingly simple forms.

 

MATTHEW KYBAis an independent curator and critic. He is the Founder and Director of Bunker2, a new contemporary art space in Toronto. He holds an MFA in Criticism and Curatorial Practice from OCAD University, and has forthcoming texts appearing in Canadian Art magazine and the Journal of Curatorial Studies.

JEN AITKENreceived her MFA in 2014 from the University of Guelph, and her BFA in 2010 from Emily Carr University. In May 2016, she presented her first solo show at Battat Contemporary in Montreal, which was accompanied by a publication of her studio drawings. She created a site-specific solo exhibition at Centre Clark in September 2016 and has recently participated in group shows at Forest City Gallery in London, Ontario, Diaz Contemporary in Toronto, and Kamloops Art Gallery in British Columbia. Aitken is a Toronto-based artist and is represented by Battat Contemporary.

Jen Aitken gratefully acknowledges the support of the Toronto Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts.

 

Aiminanu by Guy Sioui Durand

This text by GUY SIOUI DURAND was published alongside ANNE-MARIE PROULX’S exhibition, Aiminanu.

Aiminanu

By Guy Sioui Durand
Tsei8ei
8enho8en

 

 

Shipu nikamuitak
Minunamu esshi-ishkuteunit shikuteua
Nitamatshuen utshu
Takutatinat
Nuapaten assi
Tshiuetin, mamit, akua-nutin, pashtautin, natamit 

Tshiuetin minu-tshisikau
Mamit petatpa
Pashtautin apita-tshishikau
Akua-nutin nipun

Tshitakussin
Uesh ma tshititan

The river’s lapping sings
Dazzled by the bush its berries its hues of fire
I climb the mountain
At the highpoint
A land
The North, the East, the South, the West

North heralds fine weather
East an awakening
South a meal
West repose

You wrap me around
Free from absence[i]

 

 

Aiminanu. “A conversation is going on,” as it translates from Innu-aimun. Thus, the relationship develops through spoken language. Its rhythm is in the present. What’s more, the dialogue evoked is open, continuous, evolving (going on). But, above all, its formulation carries us away. It transports us towards three territorialities: geographic, cosmological, and artistic.

 

Nitassinan

Nitassinan names the ancestral territory of the Innu. The missionaries called them “Montagnais,” those who come and go across the mountains. There are about eighteen thousand of this First Nation living in Kébeq (Quebec) and Labrador. Nomads.

The Innu of Pakua Shipu form a small community of about 350 people on the Lower North Shore of Quebec who speak Innu-aimun to one another (less than half speak French, and a few older people English). They live at the mouth of the Pakua Shipu (Saint Augustine River), which spills into the immense Gulf of Saint Lawrence, ready to be swallowed by the Atlantic Ocean near Labrador and Newfoundland. The road does not go there. It can only be reached by boat, by air, by snowmobile, or on foot.

Is this microcosm so remote that it is absent from the portrait drawn by a non-native modernity that has not completely taken hold of those who live on these lands?

 

Akua-nutin, tshiuetin, mamit, natimit

Seen from the south, they are a resistance. In the 1960s, when government authorities deported them to the reserve of Unamen Shipu (La Romaine), farther south, nearly a hundred fled on foot under cover of darkness to return to the mouth of their river.

For them, the north represents going upriver towards the interior of Nitassinan, towards the nutshimit, for the caribou hunt and customary seasonal activities. The east means the currents of the river, their route. The west takes the form of stories from the Eeyou Istchee (Cree territories) that draw the outline of a bay, vast as an inland sea (Hudson Bay), and far, far away, past great plains, would be the Rocky Mountains, their peaks covered in eternal snow, impassable.

And yet, rather than guaranteeing a strict orientation in space, as the cardinal points do, these directions take their meaning more from immaterial, spiritual passages that allow us to circulate according to Algonquian cosmology.

It was there that one Anne-Marie Proulx went to listen, arriving by Magtagoek, “the great walking river,” an expression from the Micmac language that poetically designates the Saint Lawrence. This is where Aiminanu, this “conversation going on,” comes from, and where the photographer anchors how we circulate among the elements of her installation in Toronto’—another word of native origin, this time Iroquoian, to which I will return later.

This way of life of the Innu, the geography situating Pakua Shipu, and their unique manner of naming the world in their language, Innu-aimun, are transmuted into an art of attitudes by a living audiovisual spatialization in YYZ’s exhibition space. We can speak of a photographic and sonic spatial arrangement that obeys the immaterial energies of circularity and its orientations, structuring not only the conversation going on, but also the way we navigate the exhibition.

In an elegant manner, akin to a shaman or an alchemist, Anne-Marie Proulx attempts to transform the white cube, the exhibition venue of Western art, into a circle full of energy. These forces obey the natural cycles that characterize, as the words transcribed in a dictionary name them, the cosmology, the spirituality, and the poetry of the physical places of the Nitassinan, a territory at once real and imaginary.

The minimal stylization of the display steers clear of the traps of anthropologizing, of all the folklorizing exoticism too often suggested by the concept of “encounters” between worlds. Because we’re talking about contemporary art, here, of which I would describe the aesthetic—to borrow the final verse from the poet Joséphine Bacon, Innu of Pessamit, quoted above—as being “free from absence.” That is to say the visible and audible aspects reveal and question the very real relations of a nomadic artist who has travelled to and known the milieu that is Pakua Shipu, as well as the milieu in which she practices—that of photography in the era of multimedia expansion, within the field of art. What emerges is this atmosphere, this sensation, this art of attitudes, that through their forms pitch towards a transgression of customary usages, there and especially here in Toronto’.

 

The circle’s energies

The white cube is the modern exhibition space. The circle is the ancestral, cosmological shape of the First Nations. To symbolically effect the transference from one into the other, Anne-Marie Proulx is directly inspired by the six directions of the Algonquian medicine wheel—Algonquian is the linguistic family to which Innu belongs—and by its traditionalist, spiritual meanings, in the organization of her installation: east-west, north-south, land-sky.
At YYZ, we enter from the north—tshiuetin. The colour white, like the hair in old age, is associated with this direction. It symbolizes wisdom. Opposite, the viewer sees the large photographic wall situated to the south—akua-nutin—which also means water, the Gulf. Water is life and the colour associated with it is red, like blood, a vital liquid. There are no coincidences here: the large image shows water currents merging, and the Great Lake Ontario, nearby, is on the same side. To the left, the east—mamit—where the sun rises and with which the Innu associate the colour yellow, we hear the spoken language of Pakua Shipu. The west—natimit—is symbolized by a wall painted black. Where the sun sets and the night is born, it is also the metaphor for the last great journey that one undertakes, towards the spirit world. In the centre, on the ground—assi—rest other works, which follow the direction of an arrow pointing to the north, marking an inclination, almost to the sky.

Territorialities, spiritualities, and oralities. Aimaninu, the conversation going on, flows between these concepts.

 

The ebb and flow of the shallow river

Look. Look closely at the immense wall image to the south. Consider the detail of the large-scale photograph to which Anne-Marie Proulx exposes us, which she offers up to our eyes. In shades of grey, the ebb and flow of the currents tightly wrap a cormorant in its reflection.

Listen. “Shipu nikamuitak”: “The river’s lapping sings.” Does the image not match what Joséphine Bacon poetically whispers to us? Or the audible words of a conversation? Or else are these the waves of the Great Lake Ontario, also located to the south? And why not a blending of places?

Observe. The photograph causes the wavelets of the river to mix with those, more abundant, of the Gulf. Again, territorialities, one might say. John Berger says that “a photograph is effective when the chosen moment which it records contains a quantum of truth which is generally applicable, which is as revealing about what is absent from the photograph as about what is present in it.”[ii]

And, in the distance, other worlds, other dreams. Using the technological eye, for a moment the artist becomes a shaman: the viewer becomes a traveller.

“Circulate, make yourself doubly nomadic,” the work suggests. It draws us into the gallery, but also artistically brings us to a specific location on the Pakua Shipu, the river that is “shallow because there are sandbanks.”

Travelling from the city of Quebec, where she lives and works, Anne-Marie Proulx camped on the river, at the site called Uepishtikueiat, that is to say “where the current narrows” between the banks. But was she merely dreaming, when one knows that the Innu use the same word to name Quebec City—there, where the river is narrowest? Interpreting dreams, message sticks, and shoulder blades, and hearing the rhythms of the teueikuan (drum), these things still lie at the heart of this culture, which is in constant dialogue with Papakassiku, the master of the caribou.

There is also the bird anchored in these tangled waters. The cormorant seems ready to fly, from the earth toward the sky. It is another key to understanding “the meaning of the world.”[iii] In keeping with the caribou and wolverine of the foundation myths, legends, stories, and tales, the bird incarnates the spirit of the Animals, which links Earth and Heaven, the other axis that connects the real territories of Mother Earth to the cosmological and mythological territories of the Sky, completing the medicine wheel.

 

Erasing to see the voices of the Nitassinan

To circulate in the gallery is to hear and read under a double influence: the white cube metamorphosing into a circle and selected words that encourage seeing and hearing, rather than reading, the Innu orality transcribed in your languages.

Within the space are strange dictionaries, bizarre in the Baudelairean sense of an art criticism relying on poetic suggestiveness. These open dictionaries are, in fact, magnificent photographic textures more than bookish readings. This is because the pages that we see are altered in an enigmatic way.

Anne-Marie has erased the entries that would normally define a dictionary, to highlight certain phrase-journeys. Here, translation means transcription; reading is equivalent to listening, hearing to imagining.

On these pages—photographed in this way, using a subtractive method—floats, like winter snowflakes or summer fireflies, an Innu word which, once translated, lets a phrase flow out, a voice from the Nitassinan.

And it is no coincidence that we are floating among the audible words of Innu host and friend Mathias Mark, which have also been brought back from Pakua Shipu by the one he calls “Anemani”!

 

From Pakua Shipu to Toronto’—old alliances are activated

This writing does more than accompany the exhibition Aiminanu. In my mind, it possesses the spirit of a wampum belt, its stylized words used by way of geopolitical treaties. As a Wendat (Huron) from Wendake, near Kébeq (Quebec City), let me tell you a secret: as the Innu name Uepishtekueiat links Pakua Shipu and Quebec City for Anne-Marie, so Nionwentsïo, in Wendat, unites Toronto’ and Wendake for me as its neighbour.

The artistic aiminanu brings me back emotionally to the Huron-Wendat pathway that runs along the Humber River through Toronto’ to throw itself into Lake Ontario in the Nionwentsïo, our historic, ancestral territory. Indeed, these toponyms originate from the shared culture of the great Wendat confederacy and that of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois), who cohabitated for a long time, due to maize cultivation, on the north shore of the Great Lake, where the city of Toronto’ exists today.

The project created by Anne-Marie Proulx revives and amplifies a continuing alliance, that which brings together our Iroquoian confederations, the Innu, their allies, and, why not, Quebecers and Ontarians. The great Chief Anadabijou explained this important network of contacts in the conversations he had with Champlain, in 1603, at Pointe-aux-Allumettes, near Tadoussac, on the north shore of Magtagoek, the “great walking river” that connects Toronto’ to Pakua Shipu.

In short, YYZ’s gallery vibrates through the art of a journey undertaken in territorialities that not only bring us together, but also speak to us. This is what comes to mind when, from my window, I see the sculpted cormorant near the Akiawenrahk River, the “river with a thousand detours” that leads to Wendake.

Tiawenhk, Anne-Marie.

Guy Sioui Durand
Tsei8ei
8enho8en

 

 (translation by Julie Fiala revised by Craig Rodmore)

GUY Tsie8ei 8aho8en yatshih, Wendat endi’, Yanariskwa’ iwayitiohkou’tenh, Wendake ekwayehtih, Teyiatontariye (Québec) indare.

GUY SIOUI DURAND is a Wendat (Huron) based in Wendake, Québec. He is a sociologist (Ph.D), art critic, independant curator, and performer (spoken words). He is specialised in contemporary Amerindian art and contemporary art. He is President of Intervention Editions and member of performance groups Le Tas Invisible (Québec) and Bbeyond (Belfast).

ANNE-MARIE PROULX is originally from Lévis, where she grew up on the banks of the Saint Lawrence River, she now lives and works on the other side of the river, in Québec City. With a practice that integrates words and images, she creates poetic works that are situated between history and myth, a consciousness of the world and its interpretation. Her works present themselves as free spaces, open to the imagination, where the real is transformed to reach new narrative evocations. She has presented her work at La Centrale, Panache art actuel, the Darling Foundry, and Regart, and it will be included in upcoming exhibitions at Galerie UQO, FRAC Lorraine (France), and in the exhibition program of Montréal’s 375th anniversary. She has contributed writing for YYZ, Eastern Edge, Ciel variable, Esse, and Les Éditions du Renard, and has presented lectures at conferences in Québec and internationally. annemarieproulx.com

The artist would like to gratefully acknowledge the support of Mathias Mark, Tanya Lalo Penashue, Craig Rodmore, Guy Sioui Durand, Sodec, Avatar, VU, L’Œil de Poisson, François Simard, Le Labo, and YYZ.

 

[i] Joséphine Bacon, A Tea in the Tundra / Nipishapui Nete Mushuat, trans. Donald Winkler (Markham, Ontario: Bookland Press, 2017), 32–33.

[ii] John Berger, “Understanding a Photograph,” in Classic Essays on Photography, ed. Alan Trachtenberg (New Haven: Leete’s Island Books, 1980), 293.

[iii] The books Carcajou et le sens du monde (1971) and Carcajou à l’aurore du monde (2016) by Rémi Savard bring us into the mythological world of the Innu.

 

//

 

Aiminanu
Par Guy Sioui Durand
Tsei8ei
8enho8en

Shipu nikamuitak
Minunamᵘ esshi-ishkuteunit shikuteua
Nitamatshuen utshu
Takutatinat
Nuapaten assi
Tshiuetin, mamit, akua-nutin, pashtautin, natamit

Tshiuetin minu-tshisikau
Mamit petatpa
Pashtautin apita-tshishikau
Akua-nutin nipun

Tshitakussin
Uesh ma tshititan

Le clapotis de la rivière chantonne
Éblouie par la chicoutée aux couleurs de feu
Je grimpe la montagne
Au sommet
Une terre
Le Nord, le Sud, l’Est et l’Ouest

Nord annonciateur de beau temps
Est le réveil
Sud le repas
Ouest le repos

Tu m’enveloppes
Sans absence[i]

 

Aiminanu. « Une conversation est en cours », traduit-on de l’innu-aimun. La relation passe donc par le langage parlé. Son rythme est au présent. Qui plus est, le dialogue évoqué est ouvert, en continu, en évolution (in progress). Mais, surtout, sa formulation nous entraîne. Elle nous transporte vers trois territorialités : géographique, cosmologique et artistique.

 

Nitassinan

Nitassinan nomme le territoire ancestral des Innus. Les missionnaires les appelèrent « Montagnais », ceux qui vont et viennent par-delà les montagnes. Ils sont environ 18 000 de cette Première Nation vivant en Kébeq (Québec) et au Labrador. Des nomades.

Les Innus de Pakua Shipu forment une petite communauté d’environ 350 personnes sur la Basse-Côte-Nord du Québec, qui parlent entre eux l’innu-aimun (moins de la moitié parlent le français et quelques vieux, l’anglais). Ils vivent à l’embouchure de la Pakua Shipu (rivière Saint-Augustin), qui se déverse dans l’immense golfe du Saint-Laurent, prêt à se faire avaler par l’océan Atlantique à proximité du Labrador et de Terre-Neuve. La route ne s’y rend pas. On n’y vient que par bateau, par les airs, en motoneige ou à pied.

Si éloigné géographiquement, ce microcosme est-il absent du portrait dessiné par une modernité allochtone qui n’a pas encore totalement eu prise sur celles et ceux qui vivent en ces terres ?

 

Akua-nutin, tshiuetin, mamit, natimit

Vus du sud, ce sont des résistants. Dans les années 1960, quand les autorités gouvernementales les ont déportés vers la réserve d’Unamen Shipu (La Romaine), plus au sud, près d’une centaine d’entre eux ont fui à pied à la faveur de la nuit pour retourner à l’embouchure de leur rivière.

Pour eux, le nord signifie de remonter la rivière vers l’intérieur du Nitassinan, vers le nutshimit, pour la chasse au caribou et les activités coutumières saisonnières. L’est veut dire les courants de la rivière, leur route. L’ouest prend l’allure de récits venus du Eeyou itshee (territoires des Cris) qui esquissent une baie, vaste comme une mer intérieure (baie d’Hudson), et très, très loin, passé de grandes prairies, il y aurait des montagnes rocheuses, aux cimes couvertes de neiges éternelles, infranchissables.

Or, plutôt que de garantir une stricte orientation dans l’espace, comme le font les points cardinaux, ces directions prennent davantage leur sens dans des passages immatériels, spirituels, qui permettent de circuler en fonction de la cosmologie algonquienne.

C’est là que s’est rendue une Anne-Marie Proulx à l’écoute, arrivée par Magtagoek, le « grand chemin qui marche », expression de la langue micmaque qui nomme poétiquement le fleuve Saint-Laurent. C’est de là qu’Aiminanu, cette « conversation en cours », provient, et là que la photographe arrime la manière de circuler parmi les éléments de son installation à Toronto’ – autre mot d’origine amérindienne, iroquoien celui-là, sur lequel je reviendrai plus loin.

Ce mode d’existence des Innus, la géographie situant Pakua Shipu et cette manière unique de nommer le monde dans leur langue qu’est l’innu-aimun, se transmutent en un art d’attitudes par une spatialisation audiovisuelle vivante dans l’espace d’exposition de YYZ. Parlons d’une mise en espace photographique et sonore qui obéit aux énergies immatérielles de la circularité et de ses orientations, structurant non seulement la conversation en cours, mais encore son parcours.

De manière élégante, s’apparentant à une chamane ou une alchimiste, Anne-Marie Proulx tente de métamorphoser le cube blanc, lieu d’exposition de l’art occidental, en un cercle plein d’énergies. Ces forces obéissent aux cycles naturels qui caractérisent, comme les mots transcris dans un dictionnaire les nomment, la cosmologie, la spiritualité et la poésie des lieux concrets du Nitassinan, à la fois territoire réel et celui de tous les imaginaires.

La stylisation épurée du dispositif créé s’affranchit dès lors de toute tentative d’anthropologisation, de tout exotisme folklorisant, trop souvent suggéré par le concept de « rencontres » des mondes. Car il s’agit d’art actuel ici, dont je qualifierais  l’esthétique – pour reprendre la dernière stance de la poétesse Joséphine Bacon, Innue de Pessamit citée ici en exergue – de « sans absence ». C’est dire que les éléments visibles et audibles révèlent et questionnent les relations bien réelles d’une artiste nomade qui s’est rendue et a connu ce milieu qu’est Pakua Shipu, tout autant que celui du photographique à l’ère de l’expansion multimédia dans lequel elle œuvre au sein du champ de l’art. En ressortent ce climat, cette sensation, cet art d’attitudes qui tanguent par leurs formes vers une transgression des usages coutumiers, là-bas et surtout ici à Toronto’.

 

Les énergies du cercle

Le cube blanc, c’est la salle d’exposition moderne. Le cercle, c’est la figure cosmologique amérindienne ancestrale. Pour effectuer symboliquement la mutation de l’un en l’autre, Anne-Marie Proulx s’inspire directement des six directions de la roue de médecine algonquienne – famille linguistique dont font partie les Innus – et de ses significations spirituelles traditionalistes pour déployer son installation : l’est-l’ouest, le nord-le sud, la terre-le ciel.

Chez YYZ, on entre par le nord – tshiuetin. La couleur blanche, comme les cheveux à l’âge avancé, y est associée. Elle symbolise la sagesse. À l’opposé, le regardeur voit le grand mur photographique situé au sud – akua-nutin –, qui signifie aussi l’eau, le golfe. L’eau est vie et sa couleur associée est le rouge, comme le sang, liquide vital. Point de hasard ici : la grande image donne à voir des courants d’eau qui fusionnent, et le grand lac Ontario, tout près, est de ce côté. À gauche, l’est – mamit –, où se lève le soleil et auquel les Innus associent la couleur jaune, on entend la langue parlée de Pakua Shipu. L’ouest – natimit – est symbolisé par un mur peint en noir. Là où le soleil se couche et où la nuit naît, c’est aussi la métaphore du dernier grand voyage que l’on entreprend, vers le pays des esprits. Au centre, sur le sol – assi – repose d’autres œuvres, qui adoptent l’orientation d’une flèche pointée vers le nord, marquant l’inclinaison presque vers le ciel.

Territorialités, spiritualités et oralités sont donc ici sciemment convoquées par l’art. Aimaninu, la conversation en cours entre elles, en découle.

 

Les flux et reflux de la rivière peu profonde

Regardez. Regardez bien l’immense mur-image au sud. La finesse de la grande photographie à laquelle Anne-Marie Proulx nous expose, qu’elle nous donne à voir. Tous de nuances de gris, le flux et le reflux des courants d’eau enserrent de leurs reflets un cormoran.

Écoutez. « Shipu nikamuitak » / « Le clapotis de la rivière chantonne » . L’image ne rejoint-elle pas ce que nous chuchote poétiquement Joséphine Bacon ? Ou les paroles audibles d’une conversation ? Ou bien sont-ce les vagues du grand lac Ontario, lui aussi situé au sud ? Et pourquoi pas un mélange des lieux ?

Observez. La photographie fait se métisser les vaguelettes de la rivière à celles, plus amples, du golfe. Toujours les territorialités, me direz-vous. John Berger dit qu’« une photographie est frappante quand le moment choisi qu’elle enregistre contient une quantité de vérité universelle qui révèle autant de ce qui est absent de la photographie que de ce qui est présent en elle »[ii].

Et, au loin, d’autres mondes, d’autres rêves. Utilisant l’œil technologique, l’artiste se fait un moment chamane : le regardeur devient voyageur.

« Circulez, faites-vous doublement nomade », suggère l’œuvre. Elle nous attire dans la galerie, mais aussi nous amène artistiquement à un endroit précis de la Pakua Shipu, cette rivière « peu profonde parce qu’il y a des bancs de sable ».
Partie de la ville de Québec, où elle vit et travaille, Anne-Marie Proulx a campé sur la rivière, au lieu dit Uepishtikueiat, c’est-à-dire « là où le courant rétrécit » entre les berges. Mais n’a-t-elle fait que rêver quand on sait que les Innus utilisent le même mot pour nommer Québec, là où le fleuve est plus étroit ? Interpréter les rêves, les bâtons à message et les omoplates, entendre les rythmes du teueikuan (tambour) forment toujours le cœur de cette culture qui est en constant dialogue avec Papakassiku, le maître des caribous.

Il y a aussi cet oiseau ancré dans ces eaux qui se nouent. Le cormoran semble prêt à s’envoler, de la terre vers le ciel. C’est une autre clef, pour « le sens du monde »[iii]. Dans la lignée du caribou et du carcajou des mythes fondateurs, légendes, récits et contes, l’oiseau incarne l’esprit des Animaux, qui lie Terre et Ciel, l’autre axe qui lie les territoires réels de la Mère Terre aux territoires cosmologiques et mythologiques du Ciel, complétant la roue de médecine.

 

L’effacement pour « voir les voix » du Nitassinan

Circuler dans la galerie, c’est entendre et lire sous une double emprise : le cube se métamorphosant en cercle et des mots sélectionnés qui donnent à voir et à entendre, plutôt qu’à lire, l’oralité innue transcrite en vos langues.

Dans l’espace se trouvent de bien étranges dictionnaires, bizarres, au sens dans lequel l’aurait entendu Baudelaire, adepte d’une critique d’art misant sur la suggestivité poétique. Ces dictionnaires ouverts sont, en fait, de magnifiques textures photographiques plus que des lectures livresques. C’est parce que les pages que l’on y voit s’absentent de manière énigmatique.

Anne-Marie a procédé par effacement des énumérations qui définissent normalement un dictionnaire, pour mettre en relief des phrases-voyages. Ici, traduction signifie transcription ; lire équivaut à écouter ; entendre, à imaginer.

Ainsi photographiées sur le mode de la soustraction, ces pages ouvertes font flotter, tels des flocons de neige hivernaux ou des lucioles estivales, un mot innu qui, une fois traduit, laisse couler une phrase, une voix provenant du Nitassinan.

Aussi n’est-ce point un hasard si l’on flotte dans les paroles audibles de l’hôte et ami innu Mathias Mark qu’a aussi rapportées de Pakua Shipu celle qu’il appelle « Anemani » !

 

De Pakua Shipu à Toronto’. D’anciennes alliances s’activent

Ce texte ne fait pas qu’accompagner l’exposition Aiminanu. À mes yeux, il possède l’esprit d’un grand collier de wampum, ses « paroles stylisées » en guise de traités géopolitiques. Disons une confidence que je vous fais en tant que Wendat (Huron) originaire de Wendake, près de Kébeq (Québec) : autant le nom innu Uepishtekueiat relie Pakua Shipu et Québec pour Anne-Marie, autant celui de Nionwentsïo, en wendat, soude pour moi, qui suis son voisin, Toronto’ et Wendake.

L’aiminanu artistique me ramène avec émotion sur le sentier huron-wendat qui longe la rivière Humber traversant Toronto’ pour se jeter dans le lac Ontario, dans le Nionwentsïo, notre territoire ancestral historique. En effet, ces toponymes proviennent de la culture commune à la grande confédération des Wendats et à celle des Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) qui ont longtemps cohabité, par la culture du maïs, sur la rive nord du grand lac, aire où la ville de Toronto existe aujourd’hui.

Le projet créé par Anne-Marie Proulx ravive et amplifie l’alliance de toujours, celle qui rapproche nos confédérations iroquoiennes, les Innus, leurs alliés et, pourquoi pas, les Québécois et Ontariens. Le grand chef Anadabijou expliqua cet important réseau de contacts dans les conversations qu’il a eues avec Champlain, en 1603, à la Pointe-aux-Allumettes, près de Tadoussac, sur la rive nord de Magtagoek, le « grand chemin qui marche » et qui relie Toronto’ à Pakua Shipu.

En somme, la galerie YYZ vibre par l’art d’un périple entrepris dans des territorialités qui non seulement nous rassemblent, mais qui, de plus, nous parlent. C’est ce à quoi je pense en observant de ma fenêtre le cormoran sculpté près de la rivière Akiawenrahk, la « rivière aux mille détours » qui mène à Wendake.

Tiawenhk, Anne-Marie.

Guy Sioui Durand
Tsei8ei
8enho8en

 

GUY Tsie8ei 8aho8en yatshih, Wendat endi’, Yanariskwa’ iwayitiohkou’tenh, Wendake ekwayehtih, Teyiatontariye (Québec) indare.

Wendat (Huron) originaire de Wendake, GUY SIOUI DURAND est membre du clan du Loup. Sociologue (PH.D.), critique d’art, commissaire indépendant, conférencier de renom et performeur Sioui crée aussi des harangues performées exprimant l’oralité amérindienne. L’art actuel et l’art amérindien sont ses domaines d’intervention.  Il est président des Éditions Intervention de Québec et membre des collectifs d’art-performance Le tas Invisible (Québec) et Bbeyond (Belfast).

Originaire de Lévis, où elle a grandi sur les rives du fleuve Saint-Laurent, ANNE-MARIE PROULX vit et travaille maintenant de l’autre côté du fleuve, à Québec. Avec une pratique qui fait se rencontrer les images et les mots, elle crée des univers poétiques qui se situent entre l’histoire et le mythe, la conscience du monde et son interprétation. Ses oeuvres se présentent comme des espaces de liberté, ouverts à l’imaginaire, où le réel est transformé pour atteindre de nouvelles évocations narratives. Récemment, ses oeuvres ont fait l’objet d’expositions à La Centrale, Panache art actuel, la Fonderie Darling, Regart, et son travail sera bientôt présenté dans des expositions à la Galerie UQO, la FRAC Lorraine (France), ainsi que dans la programmation d’expositions du 375e anniversaire de Montréal. Ses textes ont été publiés dans différentes publications et revues, et elle a présenté des conférences tant au Québec qu’à l’étranger. annemarieproulx.com

 

[i] [i]Joséphine Bacon, Un thé dans la toundra Nipishapui nete mushuat, Montréal, Mémoire d’encrier, 2013, p. 36-37.

[ii] John Berger, L’air des choses, Paris, Librairie François Maspéro, 1979, p. 20.

[iii] Les livres Carcajou et le sens du monde (1971) et Carcajou à l’aurore du monde (2016) de Rémi Savard nous font entrer dans le monde mythologique des Innus.

 

Goldilocks & The Bears

Goldilocks still 2 credit Jimi L Kinistino

This interview between Karahkwenhawi (Zoe Leigh Hopkins) and Owennatekha (Brian Maracle) was conducted in conjunction with ZOE LEIGH HOPKINS’ Goldilocks tahnon Ohkwari (Goldilocks and the Bears) exhibition.

 

Goldilocks & The Bears

a Mohawk language film that turns the classical tale upside-down;

produced by the father-and-daughter team of

Karahkwenhawi (Zoe Leigh Hopkins, Director)

and

Owennatekha (Brian Maracle, Writer)

 

Brian Maracle is the principal instructor at Onkwawenna Kentyohkwa, an adult program that creates fluent Mohawk speakers on the Six Nations Grand River Territory in southern Ontario. Zoe Leigh Hopkins, his daughter, is a film-maker and the on-line program instructor at Onkwawenna.

 

This Interview was conducted in the Mohawk language on September 9, 2016.

English translation provided by Karonhyawake (Jeff Doreen)

 

Karahkwenhawi: Oh nonty:ren tsi enw:ton yohsn:re ayonhrnkha’ne’ ne Kanyen’kha ne Onkwawennhne?

 

Owennatekha: Enkarihw:seke akw:kon takaterihwthe’te’ oh nonty:ren tsi enw:ton nhka’k snha yohsn:re ayonhrnkha’ne’ ne Kanyen’kha tsi n:yoht ne ronatya’k:son. Nek tsi e’thhtsi :’i akathr:ri’ n:’e tsi yah teyethirihonnyn:nis, yah tetewtstha ne owennakw:kon. Yah tetewtstha ne owennakw:kon ayethirihnnyen. Tewtstha ne otskwahshn:’a ne kti enw:ton ahoti’nikonhrayn:ta’ne’ ne ronteweyenhst:nes oh n:yoht tayewennakhnyon. Whi, teyotonhwentsyhon ayonnonhtnnyon’ ne Kanyen’kha. Yah ttewehre, yah teykwehre ahonnonhtnnyon ne O’seronni’kha thnon tahatiwennat:ni ne raoti’konhraknhson. Ykwehre ahonnonhtnnyon’ ne Kanyen’kha. Ne kn:ton tk:konte ahonnonhtnnyon’ ne Kanyen’kha; ne kn:ton tsi ahoti’nikonhrayn:ta’ne’ ne otskwa’shn:’a n:ne yakwtstha aetewawennn:ni n:ne tewtstha tayakwawennakhnyons n:ne tekyatthen n:ne snha karihow:nen tsi n:yoht ne :ya. Thnon :ni ne :nen ayethirihnnnyen ne kanktakon tsi niwenhn:seres, yah teyakwtstha ne O’seronni’kha. Yethirihonnyn:ni ahskon ne Kanyen’kha enhniserakw:kon, wisk niwenhn:seres tsi niwn:tes thnon sha’t:kon niwenhn:take tsi niyhseres ne teyohser:ke nenkarihw:seke. Thnon n:’e tsyor:wat ne :ya n:ne wathr:ris oh nonty:ren tsi nhka’k yohsn:re ayonhrnkha’ne, n:’e tsi tk:konte akarihw:seke ayontweyenhste’ k:ron tsi niy:re ayekw:ni ayont:ti’.

 

Zoe: Why is possible to quickly become a fluent Mohawk speaker at Onkwawenna?

 

Brian: It’ll take a long time for me to explain it all why someone could become fluent in Mohawk a little faster than others. But, I should talk about it that we don’t teach, we don’t use whole words, we don’t use whole words to teach. We use root words (morphemes) so that students can understand how to put words together. Right, it’s neccesary for them to think in Mohawk. We don’t want them to think in English and for them to translate in their minds. We want them to think in Mohawk. That means they have to think in Mohawk; that means that they would understand the various types of roots we use to create words, that we use to put sentences together, that are different, which is a bigger issue than others.

 

And as well, when we teach them in class during the day, we don’t use English. We teach them only in Mohawk all day long, five days a week, and eight months a year, for two years. And there is one other issue that talks about why someone would become fluent quickly; because one has to study for a long time before they are able to speak.

 

K: To nhe tahsathsawen ahsatweyenhste’ ne Kanyen’kha?

 

O: Yah oth:nen tekahrnkhahwe shikeneknhteron. Whi, hsen ok nikawn:nake :’i kewennayenterhne shikeneknhteron, hsen ok. Thnon yah tetewakathsawe tsi kate’nyntha akatweyenhste tsi niy:re kay:ri niwhsen wisk na’tewakohseriya’kn:ne. :yenhre tsi ohstnha snha nikar:wes tsi n:yoht ne tewhsen niyohser:ke tsi nhe.

 

Z: How long ago did you start studying Mohawk?

 

B: I wasn’t fluent at all when I was a teen. Yeah, I only knew three words when I was a teen. Only three. And I didn’t start trying to study until, oh until I was forty-five years old. That seems like that’s more than twenty years ago.

 

K: Sh:kon ken ynnhe ne onkwawn:na? To nih:ti ront:tis ne Kanyen’kha, Ohsw:ken nn:we, kenh niwenhniseratnyon?

 

O: Kenh niwenhniseratnyon, tyoyann:’en. :yenhre tsi kta ne wisk niwhsen nih:ti ronhrnkha ne Kanyen’kha thnon ratikwnyes ahont:ti’ ne Kanyen’kha. Thnon yah tehonhrnkha, yah akw:kon tehonhronkha’tsher:yos. Nek tsi snha nih:ti ront:tis ne Kanyen’kha nn:wa tsi n:yoht ne tewhsen niyohser:ke tsi nhe. Kh:re nn:wa sha’teh:ti ronhrnhka ne Kanyen’kha kenh wenhniseratnyon tsi n:yoht ne tewhsen niyohser:ke tsi nhe. Nek tsi eh shikah:wi rotiksten’okn:’a ok ront:tiskwe thnon kenh wenhniseratnyon :so nih:ti, :so snha nithotiyn:sa’s, thnon kwah tsi ok nn:we ront:tis, rntstha ne onkwawn:na. Thnon :ni rotiwirayn:ta’s thnon thkara nih:ti shakotirihonnyn:nis ne shakotiyen’okn:’a ahont:ti’ ne Kanyen’kha n:’e tyotyernhton raotiwn:na. ‘tho kti :yenhre tsi ohstnha snha kawenna’shtste ne Kanyen’kha nn:wa tsi niyohtn:ne tewhsen niyohser:ke tsi nhe.

 

Z: Is our language still alive? How many people speak Mohawk at Six Nations these days?

 

B: These days, it depends. One would say that close to fifty people understand Mohawk and are able to speak Mohawk. And not all of them are proficiently fluent. But more people speak Mohawk now than twenty years ago. Probably the same number of people are fluent these days than there were twenty years ago. But back then only the old people spoke.  And these days a lot of people, it’s a lot more young people. And they speak all over the place, they use our language. And they are having babies, and some people are teaching their children to speak Mohawk as their first language. Therefore it seems like Mohawk is a bit stronger of a language than it was twenty years ago.

 

K: Thnon takhr:ri ne tey:ya’ks aorihw:ke n:ne Goldilocks thnon Ohkw:ri yena’tnhkwa, wetyn:ni ne k:ken tey:ya’ks n:ne tahonn:ya’ke thkara n:kon film festivals, :’i takannhton’ thnon :se wahshy:ton’. Oh nonty:ren tsi wahsate’nikonhr:sa’ ahshy:ton ne th:ken ok:ra?

 

O: W:kehre’ ayakyn:ni’ ne tey:ya’ks n:ne ronatya’k:son ahonter:roke. Thnon w:kehre’ ronatya’k:son n:ne ronteweynhstha ahotiya’taknha tsi ronteweynhstha; ahotiya’taknha snha aontyesnhake ahont:ti’. ‘tho kti e’thhtsi ohstn:ha enwatyesnhake ne ok:ra, e’thhtsi ohstnha enwatyesnhake ne owenna’shn:’a n:ne kak:rakon. Thnon :ni w:kehre’ ahonon’whskwen’ ahonter:roke’, w:kehre ahonthst:rihste’. ‘tho kti teyotonhwentsyhon, hstnha :’i takt:ni ne ok:ra ne kti enw:ton snha ayohsterhstake. Thnon :ni ne :nen wa’tekt:ni’ oh nihoti’nikonhr:ten ne ohkw:ri kahw:tsire :’i wa’kheyanonhtnnyon’ ne onkwehn:we, whi, n:ne tsi n:yoht nihotirih:ten. N:’e tsi e’thhtsi ahoti’nikonhro’tnhake. Oh n:yoht ak:ron ne k:ken? W:kehre ahoti’nikonhro’tnhake sha’teyohtn:ne n:ne shakotihsot’okn:’a n:ne ronatohtston.

 

Z: And tell me about the movie called Goldilocks and The Bears. We made this movie that they would show at a few film festivals. I directed it and you wrote it. Why did you decide to write that story?

 

B: I wanted us to make a movie that others would watch. And I wanted it to help some students in their studies. To help them to speak easier. Therefore it should be an easier story, there should be easier words in the story. And I also wanted them to enjoy watching it, I wanted them to laugh. Therefore I needed to change the story a bit so that it would be funnier. And also when I changed the bear family’s mindsets I thought of native people, right, their culture and ways, because that’s the way their mindsets should be. How do I say this? I wanted their mindsets to be the same as their deceased grandparents.

 

K: Thnon takhr:ri ne Youtube aorihw:ke. Oh nah:ten :ya enw:ton ayonter:roke eh nn:we n:ne wetyn:ni. Oh n:yoht enw:ton’ ayetshn:ri’ ne Onkwawenna Kentyohkwa a’are’k:wa thnon Youtbehne?

 

O: :yenhre tsi kta ne wisk niwhsen n:kon tey:ya’ks n:ne ronteweynhstha Onkwawenna raotityhkwa n:ne wahonnn:ni’ thnon enw:ton nhka’k ayonter:roke’ ne Youtbehne. Thnon ‘tho nn:we enw:ton ayetshn:ri’ ne Onkwawenna Kentyohkwa Youtube channel. Thnon :ni yonkwanktayen ne a’are’k:wa n:ne www.onkwawenna.info tsi nn:we enw:ton ayetshn:ri’ ne :ya tsyor:wat n:ne Onkwawenna aorihw:ke.

 

Z: And tell me about Youtube. What else could you watch there that we made? How could you find Onkwawenna Kentyohkwa on the internet and on Youtube?

 

B: It seems like Onkwawenna students made close to fifty videos that you could watch on Youtube. And you could find them there on the Onkwawenna Kentyohkwa Youtube channel. And also we have a site on the internet at www.onkwawenna.info where you could find other things about Onkwawenna.

 

K: Thnon. Oh nah:ten sanonhtnnyon n:’e tsi tetenihthrha ne Kanyen’kha thnon skhne yonkeniy’tens aetenn:ni’ ne tey:ya’ks n:ne ahskon Kanyen’kha?

 

O: Akwah :ken tsi wakatshennn:ni, akwh :ken, n:’e tsi enw:ton nhka’k :ya :’i tayakenihth:ren’ ahskon ne Kanyen’kha. Thnon wakatonnhhere n:’e tsi ne kheyn:’a enw:ton tayakenihth:ren. Wakateryn:tare tsi :so nih:ti ronhronkha’tsher:yos sh:kon ronnnnhe nn:wa ne Kanyen’kehak:ke n:ne yah ‘tho thayekw:ni. Yah than:ton tahnihth:ren ne shakotiyen’okn:’a. Thnon akwh :ken tsi yo’nikonhrksa’t. Thnon akwh :ken tsi wakatonnhhere n:’i tsi :’i aetenikw:ni. Thnon snha wakatshennn:ni n:’e tsi enw:ton skhne ayonkeniy’teke, ne kti enw:ton aetenn:ni ne tey:ya’ks, kahyatonhsera’shn:’a, ok nah:ten n:ne a’are’k:wa aknhake, ne kti enw:ton nhka’k :ya :yontste’ ne kti enw:ton ahonwatiya’taknha’ snha ahonhrnkha’ne’ ne onkwawn:na.

 

Z: And. What do you think about you and I speaking Mohawk and working together making movies all in Mohawk?

 

B: I’m really happy, really, because I can speak with someone else all in Mohawk. And I’m excited because it’s my daughter that I will be able to speak with. I know that a lot of very fluent people that are still alive in Mohawk Territory that can’t do that. They can’t speak with their children. And it’s really sad. And I’m really excited that you and I are able to. And I’m happier that you and I can work together, that we can make movies, books, things that could be on the internet, so that someone else could use it, in order for it to help them to become more fluent in our language.

 

K: Wa’tkonnonhwer:ton.

O: Yo.

Z: Thank you.

B: You’re welcome.

 

Drawing Rainbows In Unequal Air by Aryen Hoekstra

02 Trickle-Down Theory of Growth and Development_WEB

This text by ARYEN HOEKSTRA was published alongside RICHARD IBGHY + MARILOU LEMMENS Drawing Rainbows In Unequal Air exhibition.

Drawing Rainbows In Unequal Air
By Aryen Hoekstra

The graphs and diagrams quoted by Richard Ibghy and Marilou Lemmens in their exhibition Drawing Rainbows In Unequal Air engage with data as a processed image of social and economic relations. By processed I’m here referring to the sorting and scrutinizing of originally collected raw data; the condensing of abstract events and correlations into legible visuals that can quickly and clearly be read. Data visualization models universalize these abstractions in part so that non-experts can make future decisions based upon this collected information, regardless of a lack of knowledge or resources that would otherwise be necessary to interpret and understand these in their pure statistical forms. This allows administrators, investors, managers, politicians, etc. to analyze and reason as though wholly informed. In this processual operation, outliers are identified and removed while individuals are reduced to categories and quantities. The result is that the gulf between the human actors generating this data in the physical world and their numerically visualized representations is obscured, and their potential to be otherwise is hidden behind a series of coloured bars and points of intersection. If however, it is possible to reassert this contingency within the medium of data visualizations, we can instead look at these models as the landscape architect James Corner does mapping, as something that is, not prescriptive, but infinitely promising.[1]

Ibghy & Lemmens’ exhibition at YYZ Artists’ Outlet does just this, as their models reintroduce the conditional nature of these data points by revealing the hand of their makers in each sculptural assemblage. Rather than present these graphical representations concerning inequality as fixed diagrams, they are built as contingent propositions that, ‘are this way, but could be otherwise.’ Composed of wood, string, ink, and coloured gels these small sculptures are expertly precise, yet their evident hand-making leaves them purposefully suspicious. Each model, or cluster of models, rests upon a simply constructed desk labelled with a hand-lettered title card. Like each model, the written cards not only acknowledge the labour of their creation, but also that this labour is an active form of constructing ideas and relations. Despite this straightforward labour, their building refuses to distract from the content represented in each model, which includes data drawn from a wide range of disciplines, economics and sociology, as well as management and gender studies. What is reflected is a spectrum of statistics that point to an unequal distribution of wealth and opportunity, as it is increasingly consolidated within the hands of a few.

Paradoxically, Elie Ayache theorises a similar form of writing taking place where much of this wealth is syphoned from, by stock traders on the market floor. Ayache proposes that the market should not be considered as being founded upon probabilistic theories, but rather upon the notion of contingency. He argues in The Blank Swan: The End of Probability that despite the countless researchers and PhDs providing traders with quantitative analysis of asset and derivative values,[2] because they are traded in variance of their theoretical value, that their true value is in fact written on the market floor beyond any probabilistic modelling. Or rather, a probabilistic model is needed, but the trader must then exceed that medium, which is the market. He offers as a literary example, Borges’ character Pierre Menard who spends the last 20 years of his life writing two chapters of Cervantes’ Don Quixote, word for word and line for line. Borges is convincing in his description of Menard as not simply producing a translation of or copying Cervantes, but rather that he has created a wholly new and original work, which is of course neither really new nor original. Though the story of Don Quixote is already known to Menard, as told by Borges his is still an act of creation. Ayache asks where the creativity lies in this authorship and answers back that, like the trader, it is in the writing where this act takes place. Specifically, Menard does not copy what he has read from Cervantes nor does invent something new, but it is through the medium of writing that he is able to produce a materially new work. In the case of Menard this writing as the medium of creation is revealed through the actual writing of two chapters of Don Quixote. Ayache’s trader writes on the market floor with each exchange. Both exceed the probabilistic tools they employ, Cervantes’ original and the derivatives’ theoretical exchange value, and find themselves in the middle of an event, outside of any spatial or temporal location, of which they themselves have authored.

There is a similar writing that takes place behind and through the graphs and diagrams found in Drawing Rainbows In Unequal Air. First there are of course the human authors that are obscured by the general field of data visualization as described in the opening paragraph; individuals reduced to statistics, but that once acted and were recorded, though they could have acted otherwise. Second, that in the repetition of these models, Ibghy & Lemmens are writing new data visualizations, though they already exist, and that their wood and string sculptures go beyond the probabilistic tools (the cited graphs and diagrams) they employ. It is only through this evident making that these models are exceeded. Take for example the three-dimensional modelling of Top Marginal Tax Rates across Europe, English Speaking Countries and Japan (1970-2010), constructed of coloured string and supported by a wooden armature. Though each statistical notation is carefully knotted and pulled to represent a specific marginal tax as it descends toward (x, 0), their crafting ultimately capitulates and the ends of each string are left unclipped so that they pool on the tabletop.

Further, not only is statistical accuracy compromised in these models, but so too is time. Graphs and diagrams typically exist within Cartesian coordinates and find plottable demarcations distributed evenly across the x- and y-axes (and in 3-d models the z-axis as well). The x-axis commonly reflects the passage of time. Again this is undermined in Drawing Rainbows In Unequal Air, as the passage of time is not regimented and fixed, but rather these composed models subvert a standard chronology. The typically regimented and dispassionate time of the diagram is reanimated so that the clock might move in multiple directions. In Income Inequality in Emerging Countries (1910-2010), which is too composed of wood and coloured string, the number of subjects represented is exceedingly complex. This complexity begs for the legibility of a systematized conception of time, yet the deliberate imprecision of using string to fix string in place renders the accuracy of this temporality unreliable, and so time exits and the recorded actors are freed to move either forward or back.

Drawing Rainbows In Unequal Air attempts to wrest power away from its contemporary consolidation. Further, it seeks to return this agency to those that are obscured by the machinations of world finance or that have been erased by it altogether. The exhibition asks, if diagrams can create forms of thought, how might they otherwise be written? Ibghy & Lemmens reintroduce the hand as a tool to write a contingent relation that might yield alternative futures, but in doing so they also acknowledge the hands and bodies and relations of those that are not represented. As this system continues to break down the opportunity then arises to act, or not to act, or to rewrite our current condition as something yet unknown.

 

ARYEN HOEKSTRA is an artist and writer based in Toronto, ON. Recent solo exhibitions include Celestial bodies at 8-11 and Choreography for Screen at Mercer Union (both Toronto). Other recent exhibition venues include, Scotiabank Nuit Blanche (Toronto); the Art Gallery of Alberta (Edmonton); Gallery 44 (Toronto); Forest City Gallery (London); Modern Fuel (Kingston); Blackwood Gallery (Mississauga). He has written for Susan Hobbs, COOPER COLE, and Daniel Faria Gallery, and his art criticism has appeared in Canadian Art, C Magazine, Border Crossings, and Magenta Magazine. From 2014- 2016 Hoekstra served as the Director of G Gallery. He is currently a contributing editor at Towards.info and his new exhibition space, Franz Kaka, opens this fall.

RICHARD IBGHY & MARILOU LEMMENS have developed a collaborative practice that combines a concise approach to the form and construction of the art object with a desire to make ideas visible. Spanning across multiple media, including video, performance and installation, their work explores the material, affective and sensory dimensions of experience that cannot be fully translated into signs or systems. For several years, they have examined the rationale upon which economic actions are described and represented, and how the logic of economy has come to infiltrate the most intimate aspects of life.

Recent solo exhibitions have been held at the International Studio & Curatorial Program (New York, 2016), Leonard and Bina Ellen Gallery (Montreal, 2016), VOX Centre de l’image contemporaine (Montreal, 2014), Trinity Square Video (Toronto, 2014), among others. They have participated in a number of group exhibitions including the 14th Istanbul Biennial (Istanbul, 2015), La Biennale de Montral (Montreal, 2014), 27th Images Festival (Toronto, 2014), Manif d’art 7: Quebec City Biennial (Quebec City, 2014), and the 10th Sharjah Biennial (Sharjah, UAE, 2011). They live and work in Montreal and Durham-Sud, Quebec.

 


[1] J. Corner The Agency of Mapping: Speculation, Critique and Invention, in D. Cosgrove (ed.) Mappings (London: Reaktion, 1999) 213-53: 214

[2] Of which a universal agreement about their theoretical valuation can typically be found.