Viva Arte Viva

57th Venice Bi­en­nale

Inuit Art Quarterly - - CONTENTS - by Carla Taun­ton

Kanang­i­nak Pootoo­gook, RCA (1935–2010) is the first Inuit artist to be ex­hib­ited at the Venice Bi­en­nale, re­garded as the most pres­ti­gious in­ter­na­tional art ex­hi­bi­tion. As a cat­a­lyst mo­ment, the in­clu­sion of Pootoo­gook’s pow­er­ful and per­ti­nent work as part of Cen­tre Pom­pi­dou Chief Cu­ra­tor Chris­tine Ma­cel’s Viva Arte Viva ex­poses the global arts com­mu­nity to the aes­thetic lega­cies of Kin­ngait (Cape Dorset), NU, and the ways in which Pootoo­gook’s art prac­tice vis­ually doc­u­mented the pro­found changes to Inuit ways of life. Pootoo­gook’s ten ink and coloured pen­cil draw­ings are in­stalled in the Pav­il­ion of the Earth at the Bi­en­nale’s Arse­nale, which is one of nine guid­ing the­matic group in­stal­la­tions, or what Ma­cel has de­scribed as Trans-Pav­il­ions (ref­er­enc­ing the transna­tional iden­ti­ties of the 120 artist par­tic­i­pants). Ma­cel’s cen­tring of this pav­il­ion on “en­vi­ron­men­tal, an­i­mal and plan­e­tary utopias, ob­ser­va­tions and dreams” raises ques­tions about Pootoo­gook’s in­clu­sion in re­la­tion to the Bi­en­nale and, more specif­i­cally, this the­matic pav­il­ion. The draw­ings were pro­duced in the later part of Pootoo­gook’s ca­reer be­tween 2006 and 2010. They high­light the artist’s com­mit­ment to so­cial com­men­tary as well as fore­ground his­toric and con­tem­po­rary Inuit lived ex­pe­ri­ences, in­clud­ing fam­ily his­to­ries and re­la­tions, liv­ing on and with the land, the lega­cies of colo­nial trauma in the Cana­dian Arc­tic and cli­mate change. Scenes from the ev­ery­day in his com­mu­nity, such as Un­ti­tled (He thinks he has run out of gas, but the en­gine is shot) (2009) as well as col­lec­tive com­mu­nity ex­pe­ri­ences of hunt­ing, life on the land, and colo­nial his­tory, il­lus­trated in Un­ti­tled (Suc­cess­ful wal­rus hunt) (2009), in­vite a global au­di­ence to wit­ness snap­shot mo­ments of Inuit life from the artist’s per­spec­tive. While it is clear that Pootoo­gook’s work cen­tral­izes the Nu­navut ter­ri­tory and Inuit ways of en­gag­ing with the land, Ma­cel’s no­tion of “ob­ser­va­tions and dreams” runs the risk of dis­miss­ing thou­sands of years of Inuit pres­ence, in­ter­gen­er­a­tional knowl­edge and on­go­ing com­mit­ment to what is now termed en­vi­ron­men­tal­ism. Trou­blingly, the pav­il­ion does lit­tle to crit­i­cally en­gage with global set­tler colo­nial­ism and the ways in which In­dige­nous


In­stal­la­tion view of Kanang­i­nak Pootoo­gook’s Un­ti­tled (He thinks he has run out of gas, but the en­gine is shot) (2009), Un­ti­tled (Suc­cess­ful wal­rus hunt) (2009) and Un­ti­tled (Tak­ing pic­tures of the Bow­head whale) (2009) in Viva Arte Viva, Venice, 2017

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