Forms of Free­dom

Tanya Lukin Lin­klater’s per­for­mance at the Bi­en­nale de Mon­tréal hon­oured an In­dige­nous prima bal­le­rina, us­ing move­ment to em­power fem­i­nine bod­ies across gen­er­a­tions

Canadian Art - - Contents - By Emily Rid­dle

Tanya Lukin Lin­klater’s per­for­mance at the Bi­en­nale de Mon­tréal cel­e­brated an In­dige­nous prima bal­le­rina, us­ing move­ment to em­power fem­i­nine bod­ies across gen­er­a­tions

by Emily Rid­dle

Rein­vig­o­rat­ing con­ver­sa­tion and pub­licly hon­our­ing his­toric In­dige­nous fig­ures in art re­mains an on­go­ing task for those of us that carry sto­ries and knowl­edge of such peo­ple. With the rev­o­lu­tion­ary work of Osage prima bal­le­rina Maria Tallchief in mind, Tanya Lukin Lin­klater pre­sented He was a poet and he taught us how to re­act and to be­come this po­etry, Parts 1 and 2 (2016) at the Bi­en­nale de Mon­tréal last year. This project is an im­por­tant piece of In­dige­nous fem­i­nist re­mem­ber­ing and mem­ory mak­ing, one in which we en­gage in an “al­ter­nate struc­ture” of Tallchief’s ground­break­ing legacy and the sovereignty of fem­i­nine In­dige­nous bod­ies.

The work’s in­stal­la­tion at the Musée d’art con­tem­po­rain de Mon­tréal fea­tured a short video on Tallchief’s life and ca­reer—pro­jected on a largescale plat­form raised slightly off the gallery floor. Lukin Lin­klater ap­pro­pri­ated the scenes from a doc­u­men­tary on chore­og­ra­pher Ge­orge Balan­chine, Tallchief’s col­lab­o­ra­tor and one-time hus­band. A se­ries of scored dance re­hearsals and per­for­mances re­sponded to this pro­vi­sional stage set as if in con­ver­sa­tion with the video, struc­ture and space. Lukin Lin­klater read an ac­com­pa­ny­ing text ti­tled A Glossary of In­sis­tence (2016) dur­ing some of the per­for­mances, adding yet an­other layer of nar­ra­tive com­plex­ity. As this in­ten­tional col­li­sion of in­ter­pre­tive ac­tions and forms spilled out across the gallery, the work be­came an im­mer­sive ex­pe­ri­ence with in­di­vid­ual ex­pres­sions act­ing in con­stant coun­ter­point to the full­ness of the space. “I felt the power of Tanya’s abil­ity to com­mu­ni­cate her vi­sion to the dancers,” says Erin Suther­land, a Cree-métis PHD can­di­date and cu­ra­tor, on wit­ness­ing the work, “to ex­plain her process and to work with them on pro­duc­ing em­bod­ied re­la­tion­ships.”

Lukin Lin­klater is an Alu­tiiq artist, born in Ko­diak, Alaska, and cur­rently liv­ing in North Bay, On­tario, when she isn’t trav­el­ling across the coun­try and the world to present her work and re­search. She is a mem­ber of the Wood Land School col­lec­tive and her wide-rang­ing projects in­clude per­for­mance col­lab­o­ra­tions, in­stal­la­tions, videos and texts. For ex­am­ple, her in­stal­la­tion with Duane Lin­klater, A Par­al­lel Ex­ca­va­tion (2016), at the Art Gallery of Al­berta was a sculp­tural work that ex­am­ined the gallery it­self, its re­la­tion­ship to In­dige­nous bod­ies and its po­ten­tial as a site of crit­i­cal con­ver­sa­tion. It’s a re­cur­ring strat­egy in Lukin Lin­klater’s prac­tice, where cul­tural, po­lit­i­cal and so­cial struc­tures con­verge across me­dia to open new dis­course and per­spec­tives on his­tory, place and com­mu­nity. Yet even as her work ex­pands, core con­cerns re­main, as she writes in the 2014 poem, “Un­ti­tled”: “To tend to the ideas of ob­ject, in­vis­i­ble bound­aries, and the time it takes to build re­la­tion­ships.”

What is most in­ter­est­ing and pow­er­ful about He was a poet and he taught us how to re­act and to be­come this po­etry, Parts 1 and 2 is how Lukin Lin­klater es­tab­lishes this evolv­ing and ex­pand­ing re­la­tion­ship be­tween her­self and the dancers, and how that re­la­tion­ship then trav­els be­yond the work. As some­one who stud­ies In­dige­nous gov­er­nance and pol­i­tics, it oc­curs to me that there are few spa­ces that In­dige­nous women con­trol in the ter­rain of sup­posed sovereignty. Rarely do we have the en­tire means to de­cide how to en­gage with oth­ers. Trust is the ba­sis for a con­ver­sa­tion in which Lukin Lin­klater pro­vides the con­cep­tual struc­ture that the dancers then col­lec­tively fill with in­di­vid­ual ex­pres­sions of her in­ten­tions and ideas. As she stated in a panel dis­cus­sion at the Cana­dian Cen­tre for Ar­chi­tec­ture as part of the Bi­en­nale: “Dancers of­fer move­ment, and then I make de­ci­sions based on what they of­fer…some­times I go away and just let them work for 10 min­utes and then come back.” This en­ergy ex­tends to the au­di­ence. While view­ers are wit­ness­ing this cre­ative di­a­logue, they too be­come an in­te­gral part of the work, fur­ther em­bed­ding its per­cep­tual claim be­yond the ma­te­rial lim­its of body, per­for­mance and space.

In A Glossary of In­sis­tence, Lukin Lin­klater writes on Balan­chine: “He de­scribed bal­leri­nas as ma­te­rial. I won­der what this means ex­actly—their po­ten­tial­ity as ma­te­rial? Their strength, agility, and bound­less­ness, which be­comes bounded by the struc­ture of the chore­og­ra­phy or the struc­ture of the body it­self?” Lukin Lin­klater al­lows the ma­te­rial of the dancer’s body to fill spa­ces she cre­ates, and in do­ing so un­binds its po­ten­tial for col­lec­tive self-de­ter­mi­na­tion. What I have learned as an In­dige­nous woman who lives in the world is that my body is my own and that as­ser­tion of self is an act of sovereignty. At the same time, com­mu­nal­ity is em­pha­sized in many In­dige­nous cul­tures—so I be­long to oth­ers in that mo­ment, too. The

Tanya Lukin Lin­klater He was a poet and he taught us how to re­act and to be­come this po­etry, Part 2 2016 Re­hearsal doc­u­men­ta­tion

COUR­TESY BI­EN­NALE DE MON­TRÉAL PHOTO ADERAL PIOT

en­sem­ble of dancers and per­form­ers in He was a poet and he taught us how to re­act and to be­come this po­etry, Part 2 are par­tic­i­pat­ing in a group self­de­ter­mi­na­tion, un­like strict struc­tural con­fines of the bound, lead, and of­ten solo, prima bal­le­rina.

As­ser­tions of strength also mean recog­ni­tion of weak­ness. The con­ver­sa­tion Lukin Lin­klater es­tab­lishes be­tween her­self and her dancers demon­strates this mo­ment of in­ti­macy that is so symp­to­matic of both In­dige­nous gov­er­nance and art. It asks: What if we were all of­fered an al­ter­na­tive struc­ture to work within? What if In­dige­nous women had the abil­ity to dic­tate the terms and con­di­tions of re­la­tion­ships with their body, with their ter­ri­tory, with the peo­ple in our lives, or even with set­tler states? Re­turn­ing to the fig­ure of Tallchief as prima bal­le­rina, whose body is tough, dis­ci­plined and rigid, and in­ject­ing as­pects of flu­id­ity and com­mu­nal­ity asks us to ques­tion why we are not able to do the same? Sim­i­larly, In­dige­nous sovereignty—as In­dige­nous women have of­ten demon­strated in their po­lit­i­cal or­ga­niz­ing—is not ab­so­lute, but a re­la­tion­ship in flux that in­sists we must give our­selves to oth­ers. In­dige­nous women are cre­at­ing spa­ces where we can con­verse with one an­other while also de­ter­min­ing the na­ture of our re­la­tion­ship with non-in­dige­nous peo­ple. Lukin Lin­klater’s work of­ten in­cludes a cri­tique or com­men­tary on the re­la­tion­ship be­tween In­dige­nous peo­ples and the in­sti­tu­tions that house In­dige­nous art. He was a poet and he taught us how to re­act and to be­come this po­etry, Parts 1 and 2 re­minds us that as we in­habit these spa­ces we must also make clear that we re­al­ize the im­pli­ca­tions of in­hab­it­ing them.

In my un­der­stand­ing, self-de­ter­mi­na­tion is a group ex­er­cise. Bod­ies are the means by which we en­gage with the world in art and pol­i­tics (in kin­ship). We are mak­ing our own de­ci­sions within the bound­aries set not only by oth­ers, but also by our­selves. This is how we are joined to­gether through con­tin­ual ac­tions. Per­cep­tion it­self is an ac­tion in Lukin Lin­klater’s work. It is what al­lows us to di­gest the im­me­di­ate, but what we per­ceive is housed within a body that, in the case of In­dige­nous women, con­tains trauma, an­ces­tral mem­ory and al­ter­nate struc­tures that are not fully lived out­side. As she says: “we can’t for­get and yet we’re present, we’re here.” It is a state­ment we all need to let sink in, per­me­ate and re­mind us how it is worth­while to re­turn, to stop and to wait. This is how we cre­ate spa­ces of com­mu­nal self-de­ter­mi­na­tion and lim­it­less po­ten­tial. ■

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