Canadian Art - - Re­views -

The first time I saw one of Joi T. Ar­cand’s il­lu­mi­nated signs in Cree syl­lab­ics was at Wood Land School’s sec­ond ges­ture for “Draw­ing a Line from Jan­uary to De­cem­ber.” It bathed Elisa Harkins in pink light as she per­formed elec­tronic rave mu­sic about a pey­ote cer­e­mony, and shone on Tsema Igha­ras as she han­dled rebel-rock rat­tles made of clay and sewn hide. The hot-pink elec­tric glow of the neon en­com­passed Mar­i­anne Nicolson’s The Sun is Set­ting on the British Em­pire (2016)— po­si­tioned over Brian Jun­gen’s draw­ings of gay sub­cul­ture in­spired by Grindr pro­files, so that the fall of the British Em­pire is brought about by gay sex—cre­at­ing an am­bi­ence for the In­dige­nous feminist per­for­mance and cu­ra­tion through­out.

Af­ter the ges­ture, In­dige­nous women and non-bi­nary folks lined up to take pho­tos in front of Ar­cand’s work. When I asked Ar­cand if she had cre­ated it for such an au­di­ence, she said, “The con­tent and un­der­ly­ing mean­ing of the words may get lost when folks are us­ing it as a prop. In that con­text, it could say any­thing. But what it does say is very de­lib­er­ate and in­ten­tional.” While each in­stal­la­tion in the se­ries takes on a dif­fer­ent mean­ing de­pend­ing on where it in­ter­venes, Ar­cand’s in­ten­tion with her se­ries is also to il­lu­mi­nate an on­go­ing and in­ter­nal dia­logue that cen­tres on her per­sonal re­la­tion­ship with the Plains Cree lan­guage.

Ar­cand’s Banff in­stal­la­tion, which spells out a phrase given to her by Cree teacher Dolores Sand, will be the third in a se­ries, and there is a fourth un­der­way. The artist re­sists trans­lat­ing her syl­labic in­stal­la­tions into English—an adamant as­ser­tion of In­dige­nous pres­ence. While the colour of Ar­cand’s Banff in­stal­la­tion matches the snowy tops of the na­tional park’s moun­tains, thereby cre­at­ing an as­so­ci­a­tion with the known touris­tic and com­mer­cial­ized land­scape of Banff, this is a fa­mil­iar­ity dis­rupted.

Ad­ver­tis­ing aes­thet­ics be­come a medium to in­ter­vene on col­o­nized space and un­set­tle pre­sumed own­er­ship over the ter­ri­to­ries Banff now re­sides on. For a fleet­ing mo­ment, the set­tler viewer who can’t read syl­lab­ics and doesn’t know the Plains Cree lan­guage is Other. They are forced to un­com­fort­ably con­sider their re­la­tion­ship to the land they stand on, and what their pres­ence has cost Ar­cand and the Plains Cree peo­ple: their words. —LIND­SAY NIXON

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