Congruent bodies: O k’inadas panel discussion

Karolina Bialkowska and Tomas Jonsson

What body memories and body futures are posited (and possess) your art practice?

panel 3

In framing the discussion of the 3rd panel of the O k’inadas residency, Ayumi Goto asked what it means to acknowledge territory, to be here, to move through, how we walk together on the land. She recounted a story by Syilx Elder and knowledge keeper Richard Armstrong.  His story conveyed a lesson his uncle passed on to him as a child about water. Spending hours looking at a river he felt he had figured out the lesson, that the water was eternal, never changing. His uncle admonished him, stating that the water is always changing, that what he looked at was not the same river.  A parallel was drawn to the flow of the residency.  Many bodies, individuals, gatherings and practices are continually forming and reforming.

Olivia Whetung spoke of the changing names framing territory.  In 1885 Mossum Boyd of the Trent Valley Navigation Company held a contest to name the region now known as Muskoka ‘cottage country’. Martha Whetung, a relation, won with gaa-waategamaag, translating as Land of Reflections. This was transformed to Kawartha, a name that contained sounds not found in their lands, and translated into Bright Waters and Happy Lands. As a prize, she won a free tombstone and free passage on steamship.  The act a transparent attempt to exploit and disappear bodies.

Olivia showed us images working bodies, depicted in a book entitled Crafts of the Ojibwa.  Within the context of the book, these bodies were never named, or recognized as artists; denied agency and historicized.  She wondered whether a book is a tombstone.

Seen another way, the photos depict bodies not posed but at work and in motion. Olivia was interested in the stories these hands know, the narratives that their body know.

Drawing on Judith Butler’s notion of a radical equality of the grievable, Olivia wonders, was Martha’s body grievable? Could there have been another relationship possible? What would relationships look like if we truly recognized reconciliation, and love?

Mark Igloliorte expressed appreciation of the act of acknowledgement of territory, of collective, of the efforts to navigate institutional and administrative bodies to make this gathering possible. He acknowledged the crisis of suicide that afflicts Inuit communities; acknowledged the political leaders that for years have carried this issue forward, to represent in the context of Canadian politics and society.  He acknowledged Olivia’s comment on grievance and radical equality, and echoed: what would this look like?  He recognized a solution within the opening remarks at the Earth Line Tattoo School exhibition, that reviving art would give people in his community power to reclaim and form connections to fight against this.

He recounted attending events in Hopedale, Labrador, bringing his one-year-old son. A space with familiarity and openness; babies falling into aunties and cousin’s arms, their feet never touching the ground. This relationship stood in sharp contrast to his experience in the Montreal graduate program.

He spoke of the importance of making representational observational painting. Photographs depict a fraction of a second, life sliced down to moment, whereas in painting hours, days are poured into their construction. In the time that is required to make a painting, the shifting, moving body results in shifts in perspectives.  Each move points to a multitude of possibilities.

Mark spoke of using art as means to stay connect to culture and community, a way to transfer knowledge.  Through a public art project in Charlottetown PEI, the public could tether their dogs to a Kamatik dog sled and model for a painting.  The act was an empathy building exercise, participants were able to consider their pets in relation to the cull of sled dogs implemented by RCMP, part of a government policy of relocation of Northern communities off land. The project was a way to talk about difficult issues, with empathy, to affect their way of being in the world.  He concluded with his plans to work with the kayak which has become part of West Coast culture, intrigued by how we can make part of life, build connection, and open possibilities for engagement.

Screen Shot 2016-07-22 at 12.30.56 PM      haruko 2

Haruko Okano came to the stage silently, setting a small arena set with flour and wrapped fabric. She stared intently at audience, in a combative stance, stamping her feet on the flour. Then she gleefully moved into the space of the audience, row by row, gifting dried and fresh  seedpods, each inscribed with conjoined words; independent words sharing a common letter and incongruent definitions.

Through the course of the panel, an adjunct space had been created by younger bodies in the back of the theatre.  Under a table, an imaginative playful dialogue meshed with the discourse on stage.  These two individuals, Tania Willard’s children, joined her on stage as she began her presentation.  Their presence in the space was a challenge to the convention of the academic lecture theatre. Like the museum, this space is constructed to carefully regulate bodies; preferring still, adult bodies.

Like Mark’s observation of the urban academic space in contrast to the community space, Tania’s Bush Gallery was born out of a desire to create a space the acknowledged diverse bodies and attentions. The logistics in child care is still quite difficult to engage in contemporary art, reflected in design of institutional spaces institutions, for normative, adult bodies.  How these small bodies and hers relate; grown in, fed from, part of, but incongruent to spaces they are not premised on.

Bush Gallery is a container collaboratively produced with -and in recognition and value of- children, with the land. How do we create spaces for contemporary art outside of the spaces and infrastructure where they usually exist, making time for the daily mechanics of the way we live.

We were invited to respond to bodies outside, the air, the plants around us, to make a contingent Bush Gallery space on the grass outside of the theatre.  The space was demarcated with small flags, and we negotiated our bodies in relationship to each other, and in relationship to the aural limitations of nearby buildings and transportation. As the conversation continued, Tania’s children ran through and engaged with us, in a more equitable space.

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