Graphics & Design

Curatorial Insiders/Outsiders: Speaking Outside and Collaboration as Strategic Intervention

Speaking Outside, a multi-site outdoor exhibition of collaborative video and performance-based work took place on the beach, in the streets, and on the land across Lekwungen (Esquimalt and Songhees), W ̱ SÁNEĆ, and K'ómoks territories (Victoria
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    Toby Katrine Lawrence, ÒCuratorial Insiders/Outsiders:  Speaking Outside  and Collaboration as Strategic Intervention,Ó in  Insiders/ Outsiders: The Cultural Politics and  Ethics of Indigenous Representation and Participation in CanadaÕs Media Arts , edited by Dana Claxton & Ezra Winton. Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press. Forthcoming. In July 2016, Speaking Outside , a multi-site outdoor exhibition of collaborative video and  performance-based work took place on the beach, in the streets, and on the land across Lekwungen (Esquimalt and Songhees), W  ! SçNE " , and K'—moks territories (Victoria and Courtenay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada). Working as an unaffiliated curator for this project, I was joined by Steven Thomas Davies, a filmmaker  of Snuneymuxw/Coast Salish and European descent, and Iroquois Mohawk multi-disciplinary artist Lindsay Katsitsakatste   Delaronde to produce a series of public interventions. DaviesÕ Written In My Blood   and DelarondeÕs  Bondage  were each produced through collaborative processes, working with  performance, dance, and film as modes of storytelling. Founded on the pedagogical potential of occupying public space through art,  Speaking Outside  addresses fundamental questions around who is and who has been historically allowed to speak, including where and in what forms, and how this has determined contemporary understandings of history and knowledge practices.   Occurring as a stand-alone exhibition project and as part of the Comox Valley Art Gallery summer exhibition program, Speaking Outside  supported artists, curators, and creative  practitioners working inside and outside of gallery spaces, conventions, and positions while simultaneously working together across layered collaborations to share knowledge, input, and  perspectives as cultural insiders and outsiders. This chapter takes Speaking Outside as a point of departure to consider collaboration within curation and art production as an interventionist strategy and as one that necessitates ongoing negotiation of the boundaries and overlap across the numerous roles occupied in the production of art and art exhibitions and events. In the initiation of Speaking Outside , a formative aim was to disrupt the Òdominant culture spaceÓ (Garneau 2016, 35) through collaboration as a method of pointedly unsettling the authoritative and colonial framing and practices that exist within contemporary art systems. Despite the goal of disruption, the complexities of insiders/outsiders politics remained in play. Therein, participants worked from various cultural positions, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, as well as oscillating professional, institutional, and spatial boundaries. I am writing here from my personal perspective as a Canadian of mixed European-settler ancestry, through my role as curator, and as the initiator of the Speaking Outside  project, the British Columbia Arts Council project grant holder, and both the facilitator of and a participant in the process of development and presentation. Importantly, the artists and their collaborators each approached the project through their own intentions and interpretations of the process. Furthermore, the many layers of collaboration meant that not all the participants were direct collaborators; yet there was continuous effort and significance in acknowledging and honouring these voices in the  Lawrence | Insiders/Outsiders | 2019 2 relay of information. An active practice of consultation and collaboration was therefore imperative in determining how and where to best present the artworks and support the range of  perspectives of the artists involved. Speaking Outside  (fig. 1) took the form of a multi-day, multi-site outdoor exhibition over three days throughout July 2016 with a live performance on the beach along Dallas Road near Holland Point Park in Victoria; a video installation with two films projected onto the Langley Street exterior wall of the Yates Street parkade in downtown Victoria; a second outdoor screening of  both films accompanied by a solo performance, as part of a symposium and accompanying exhibition program at the Comox Valley Art Gallery (CVAG) in Courtenay (fig. 2); and then shifting the format again, the films were presented on a television monitor embedded within the gallery space at CVAG for the duration of their summer exhibition.  Bondage  (fig. 3) comprised two distinct performances and an HD video projection installation, under the direction of Delaronde. The primary component was a co-choreographed performance  produced through the collaborations of Delaronde, Margaret August, Naomi Kennedy, and Erynne Gilpin. A group of women and two-spirit artists who identify as Iroquois Mohawk, Sh’sh‡lh, mixed European ancestry, and Saulteaux-Cree/MŽtis/Filipina/Irish/Scottish. The narrative is drawn from DelarondeÕs own personal experiences and the extensive pre-existing relationships she has with each of her collaborators. Focused on the experience of co-creation, each of the characters were developed and performed by the group.  Bondage , in DelarondeÕs words, transmutes the oppression and colonial history of the people and land through body movements and dance. It is a story that embraces the power of the human spirit. The spirit we all carry within us desires the universal teachings to fully understand itself.  Bondage  is a collaborative work bringing together multiple narratives, personalities, and experiences, co-creating a new narrative that is reflective of our multi-cultural experiences on this territory of the Coast Salish peoples. É We as Indigenous people are  bound to the land, Mother-earth carries the oldest of stories and with those stories comes teachings and knowledge of how to live in harmony with all our relations.  Bondage  is a way of giving back the gifts that we all carry within us and the ever-changing narrative of Indigenous identities (2016). In the choreography of  Bondage , each performer embodies a different character and teaching: the helper/guider, in the form of the Raven; the cleanser/purifier; the extractor, represented by segments of red cloth; the builder, in the form of a horned beast; and Delaronde, as the central  Lawrence | Insiders/Outsiders | 2019 3 figure, representing the nature of the human soul in the form of a galaxy. At the outset of the  performance, DelarondeÕs body is painted as though fully covered in earthÕs matter to signify our human srcin from the earth and the love and nurture of being enshrouded in the darkness of the womb. The soul is guided by the helper and comes into her own through the rituals of birth, aided by the character of the cleanser who cleanses the soul with the Salish Sea. DelarondeÕs interactions with each of the performers produces a new narrative through their public and  private relational experiences, in addition to the transmission of experience between performer and viewer. In her artist statement Delaronde further explains the importance of situating the  performance on the beach, in the land. This new narrative represents the in-between space of colonialism. The power of movement and rhythm of history are symbolic of breathing. Constantly extending our narrative as Indigenous people to the masses to respectfully reinforce our presence, is the motivation for this piece. Using archetypes, natural elements, and nature as storytellers in  bringing forth an Indigenous approach to performance art, through dance. We acknowledge the interconnectedness we have to the land, spirit, and animals and value the teachings from all aspects of life. Dancing and performing our histories is what Indigenous peoples have been doing for centuries (2016). A second component of  Bondage  (fig. 4) was produced from video documentation and was screened as part of the projection installation in Victoria a few days later, alongside DaviesÕ film, Written In My Blood   (fig. 5). Produced in collaboration with Jeanette Kotowich and Dani Zaviceanu, Written In My Blood   is a non-linear exploration Òhonouring the importance,  practices, and histories of Indigenous women that have been obscured by colonial agendas and recordsÓ (Davies, 2016). Centering the matrilineal tradition of his Snuneymuxw ancestry, DaviesÕ artist statement explains, ÒIn this ode to the matriarch, a contemporary Indigenous woman in a colonial city transcends to the wilderness and backÓ (2016). Accompanied by a remix by Dean Hunt of the Heiltsuk Nation,   the film features srcinal choreography and  performance by Kotowich, a Cree MŽtis contemporary dancer, and is influenced by traditional and contemporary dance forms. The work was filmed on private property in W  ! SçNE "  territory, at Open Space in downtown Victoria, and in and around Bastion Square adjacent to the Yates Street parkade where it was first screened, creating a layering of spatial experience through the screen imagery as it moves between interior and exterior urban spaces and the land in its natural state. KotowichÕs artist statement communicates her distinct choreographic approach, Returning to an Indigenous knowing body our movement has the ability to transcend and decolonize previous patterning.  Written In My Blood   expresses longing and belonging through how we relate to the environment around us. At any moment, we arrive to where we are with all histories/territories accounted forÑand we reference identity from this  Lawrence | Insiders/Outsiders | 2019 4  place. The movement score is derived from deep listening and reverence for land; all of that which sustains us (2016). The centralization of storytelling through  performance, dance, music, and film in the works  produced by Davies and Delaronde and their collaborators displaces the historical primacy of certain archival modes and the perpetuation of dominant narratives of truths and justice within the colonial model of Canada. Carmen Robertson (2016) affirms: ÒDeciding who tells a story, how that story is told, and the roots of story remain central to the creative process because,  perhaps more than any other epistemological tradition, the relationship between the visual, oral, and textual, implicitly informs Indigenous aesthetic traditionsÓ (14). Correspondingly, stories impart belonging and support self-identity and self-determination. Further, for Marjorie Beaucage (2005), ÒStories are medicine, they are our connection to the sacred power that is in all thingsÓ (139). Storytelling is significance in reflecting lived realities and the roles in which identity and memory play in navigating the inseperability of relationships and reality (Beaucage 2005, 139; Wilson 2008, 7). DelarondeÕs work extends her connection to Kahnawˆ:ke   and participation in community and ceremony and is simultaneously positioned within a pronounced history of performance and media-based Indigenous artists. Equally, DaviesÕ work follows a history of Indigenous artists working in film and media arts to address stories and issues significant to Indigenous communities, broadly, and specific to his personal communities. The aesthetic and conceptual elements of  Bondage and Written In My Blood  , developed through collaboration, story, and with community in mind, enact RobertsonÕs theorization of Indigenous art, wherein Ò[c]oncepts that maintain the diversity of Indigenous arts in relation to notions of interconnectedness, considerations of future impact, performative gestures, elements of ceremony, and the realities of colonial oppression inform theoretical discussion of Indigenous artÓ (15). The subtle symbolism in the costuming conceived by Kotowich for her performanceÑher carved silver and beaded  bracelets and beaded earringsÑfinds balanced and contrast in DelarondeÕs bold use of black  paint covering her entire body to illustrate a direct tie between the human body to earthÕs matter. As Delaronde moves into the Salish Sea, cleansing earthÕs matter from her body,  Bondage  establishes ties to the land, as well as a personal connection with the territory Delaronde and her collaborators currently inhabit. The story realized by Davies, Kotowich, and Zaviceanu presents a parallel linkage to home and territory through choreographic and editorial decisions. KotowichÕs movement back and forth between environments, and the echoing gestures that  bridge the oscillation, express a contemporary reality of Indigenous lives. Each in their own approach, the geographical positioning, process, aesthetics, and stories captured in both artworks demonstration the multi-vocality and continuum of Indigeneity connected to land and tradition in  present-day forms (Rickard 2005, 70).  Lawrence | Insiders/Outsiders | 2019 5 Critique of the social and political frameworks of the archive, combined with ongoing issues around accessÑspecifically the extent to which access is permitted or prohibited in pubic arts organizations and spaces, public archival holdings and collections, and even public outdoor spaceÑis reflected in a number of exhibitions and artistic interventions that have taken place in and around Victoria in recent years. In particular, this line of inquiry calls to my mind conversations with Dana Claxton while working on bringing a selection from her  Indian Candy  series to the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria (AGGV), 1  as well as research and conversations with Charles Campbell in preparation for a catalogue essay for his Open Space exhibition, Transporter  , 2  and the ways each of these projects call historical and colonial representation to task. ClaxtonÕs project mined the popular archive of the internet for images and documentation relating to buried histories of Indigenous peoples, enticing viewers to consider, among many things, the problematics of the adaption and appropriation of Indigenous culture and iconography for consumption and exploitation. Claxton intervenes through her enlargement and manipulation of the source images and documents, using saturated candy-like colours to draw viewers into the seriousness of the content. This work highlights the types of imagery and historical documents relating to significant events in Indigenous history that are accessible to the general public with relative ease. A month prior to the opening of the exhibition in Victoria, select works from  Indian Candy were re-formatted and installed on billboards in six cities across Canada for the 2014 Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival. CampbellÕs work for Transporter   magnifies the politics of public spaces and the variant visibility of specific histories by re-imagining Buckminster FullerÕs iconic utopic geodesic dome to amplify Black histories and futures within the colonial spaces of the provincial capital. For his  Declarations , Campbell took the conversation outside of the gallery space. The politics of public space, public archive, and public narrative were palpable in aspects of the response. These works were installed as interventions, without pre-approval from the sites or the city. Some remained in  place for quite a number of days, while others such as the piece that enveloped  Homecoming  , a  bronze sculpture located along VictoriaÕs inner harbour of a crouching naval officer with outstretched arms and a young girl running toward him, was removed almost immediately. Earlier interventions highlighting access and entitlement to public space were installed as part of the AGGVÕs group exhibition, Throw Down . 3   Tyler HodginsÕ Sleeping Bag  , a series of coloured cast-ice sculptures of a human figure reposed inside a sleeping bag, were placed on sidewalks and benches around the cityÕs downtown to draw attention to the realities of homelessness. Installed in January, the sculptures remained throughout the winter as daily reminders for regular and one-time passersby, until they melted. A Ôspecial eventÕ permit allowed the ephemeral artworks to stay their course. At the same time, a City of Victoria bylaw prohibited homeless  persons from sitting or lying on these same benches for longer than 30 seconds (Hodgins 2018).
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