Field Guide: De­ter­mined by the river Re­mai Mod­ern

Re­mai Mod­ern

Inuit Art Quarterly - - CONTENTS - by Ali­son Coo­ley

OC­TO­BER 21, 2017–JAN­UARY 7, 2018 SASKATOON, CANADA

De­ter­mined by the river (2017) is the po­etic first ges­ture in the Re­mai Mod­ern’s in­au­gu­ral ex­hi­bi­tion, Field Guide, cu­rated by Gre­gory Burke and San­dra Guimarães. A “first ges­ture” not only be­cause Duane Lin­klater and Tanya Lukin Lin­klater’s smart, col­lec­tions-based in­stal­la­tion urges its au­di­ences to think care­fully about the his­tory and fu­ture of the gallery on the oc­ca­sion of its un­veil­ing, but also be­cause the work oc­cu­pies the Con­nect Gallery, the Re­mai’s free, ground-floor space—mak­ing it the ini­tial (and po­ten­tially only) en­counter for the gallery’s at­ten­dees.

The duo take the Saskatchew­an River as the project’s con­cep­tual core, build­ing the skele­ton of a boat as an al­ter­na­tive dis­play ap­pa­ra­tus, and in­stalling works by In­dige­nous artists from The Men­del Art Gallery Col­lec­tion at Re­mai Mod­ern in con­ver­sa­tion with their own sculp­tural ges­tures. The river, and its ac­com­pa­ny­ing mul­ti­form nar­ra­tives of con­nec­tiv­ity, fer­til­ity, trade, sus­te­nance, mi­gra­tion, ex­trac­tion, set­tle­ment and tem­po­ral­ity, is not only the project’s sub­ject but also its site, with the Re­mai be­ing on the banks of the River Land­ing de­vel­op­ment, which bills it­self as “Saskatchew­an’s premier res­i­den­tial and des­ti­na­tion cen­tre.”¹ Con­fig­ured across the ap­pa­ra­tus of the ship’s frame­work, works by Wil­liam Noah, Irene Avaalaaqia­q Tik­taalaaq, RCA, Eli Tikeayak (1933–1996), Allen Sapp, OC, RCA, Robert Houle, RCA, Ruth Cut­hand, Daphne Od­jig, CM, OBC, RCA, Ge­orge Tatan­niq (1910–1991), Keno­juak Ashe­vak, CC, ON,

RCA (1927–2013), Lau­rent Ak­sad­juak (1935–2002), and Pudlo Pud­lat (1916–1992) are propped across a set of low shelves— a strat­egy that sug­gests a pre­cise par­tial­ness, as if these works could be re­con­sid­ered and re­con­fig­ured based on con­ver­sa­tions and emer­gent re­la­tions be­tween them. The works are not an­chored but ready to move and en­liven each other.

An­gagok Con­jur­ing Birds (1979), by Jessie Oonark, OC, RCA (1906–1985), feels brightly char­ac­ter­is­tic of this re­la­tion­ship be­tween works—con­ver­sa­tional, en­chant­ing, cu­ri­ous. Lori Blon­deau’s Lonely Surfer Squaw (1997) is par­tic­u­larly fa­mil­iar as a key work from The Men­del Art Gallery Col­lec­tion

at Re­mai Mod­ern and its pres­ence in De­ter­mined by the river at­tests to the con­tem­po­rary nar­ra­tives of In­dige­nous art in Saskatchew­an that the Re­mai Mod­ern is tasked with hold­ing. Ima­gio Pi­etatis— A New Wave for Ozone (1990), by Robert Boyer, RCA, is po­si­tioned at the front of the in­stal­la­tion and func­tions like a pen­nant, its geom­e­try bold and bea­con-like. Other works are less force­ful, their con­fig­u­ra­tions more am­biva­lent. Lin­klater’s Er­rat­ics (2017) are framed snap­shots po­si­tioned through­out the in­stal­la­tion—found pho­to­graphs of rock out­crop­pings, formed through an­cient glacial ero­sion, pop­u­lated by smil­ing tourists and fam­i­lies. There’s a strik­ing ten­sion in these small works, which con­trasts the im­men­sity of ge­ol­ogy’s timescale with the mun­dan­ity and im­me­di­acy of strangers’ en­coun­ters with them. The struc­ture of the in­stal­la­tion both in­vites and re­sists closer in­spec­tion of works like these; there is no op­por­tu­nity to climb aboard and ex­am­ine more thor­oughly, and the works them­selves deny the de­sire to see or con­tex­tu­al­ize them. The fig­ures in the pho­to­graphs, their re­la­tion­ship to these far-trans­ported rocks and the speci­ficity of the land­scape in which they ap­pear all re­main un­avail­able.

A sim­i­lar play be­tween de­sire, ex­per­tise and com­fort is at play in the place­ment of sev­eral small steatite sculp­tures (works by Tikeayak, Ak­sad­juak, Tatan­niq and two un­known artists), which are perched del­i­cately on the shelves, near to other works, al­most do­mes­ti­cally. Read cyn­i­cally, this place­ment re­calls mantle­pieces and cu­rios­ity cab­i­nets, ref­er­enc­ing the po­ten­tial hubris of col­lect­ing and ac­knowl­edg­ing the mar­ket for Inuit sculp­ture as a tourist com­mod­ity. Read gen­er­ously, there is grace to this ar­range­ment, hon­our­ing the scale of these works, imag­in­ing hold­ing them, rec­og­niz­ing the his­tory of early Inuit carv­ings as small, por­ta­ble fig­ures.

Lukin Lin­klater’s To­pogra­phies of dis­sent in sev­eral parts (2017), a se­ries of sculp­tural works made from sand, can­vas, tarp, rope, horse hair, buck­ets, stone, plas­tic and scarves, po­et­i­cally and care­fully tugs at some of the ten­sions ap­par­ent in the other works. These works evoke pilling, fill­ing, ty­ing, cast­ing and pulling—their sim­ple ma­te­ri­al­i­ties em­blem­atic of the en­tan­gle­ments be­tween nat­u­ral and man­u­fac­tured, In­dige­nous and set­tler, and power and vul­ner­a­bil­ity.

De­ter­mined by the river is an in­cred­i­ble and deeply nu­anced work. In de­scrib­ing the dis­cur­sive events that ac­com­pany the in­stal­la­tion (fea­tur­ing Blon­deau, Cut­hand, Tasha Hub­bard, Joi T. Ar­cand, Erica Vi­o­let Lee, Billy-Ray Bel­court and El­wood Jimmy), the Lin­klaters ask “What does it mean for In­dige­nous peo­ples to be in re­la­tion to mu­se­ums? What does it mean for mu­se­ums to be in re­la­tion to In­dige­nous peo­ples?” The el­e­gance with which the duo en­folds other artists and the col­lec­tion into this con­ver­sa­tion is im­pres­sive. But, I’m skep­ti­cal that these ques­tions and propo­si­tions are taken se­ri­ously within Field Guide as a whole. Out­side of De­ter­mined by the river, there’s a dis­tinct lack of con­tem­po­rary Cana­dian In­dige­nous work in the far-reach­ing show.

In­clud­ing De­ter­mined by the river as an artist project within the broader rubric of the ex­hi­bi­tion feels op­por­tunis­tic—a strate­gic, in­sti­tu­tional move that doesn’t fully grap­ple with In­dige­nous his­to­ries or reckon with the Re­mai’s longer-term cu­ra­to­rial and or­ga­ni­za­tional re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. The Lin­klaters of­fer an ex­tremely nu­anced and imag­i­na­tive set of tools for re­think­ing and ty­ing to­gether com­plex en­tan­gle­ments of ob­jects, tac­tics and com­mu­ni­ties on the Prairies. But does the Re­mai have the ca­pac­ity to ef­fec­tively com­mu­ni­cate the sub­tleties of the project or the ur­gen­cies of the ques­tions raised by it? And per­haps more im­por­tantly, how is the Re­mai equipped (or will­ing) to en­gage in the real di­a­logue with In­dige­nous peo­ples that De­ter­mined by the river de­mands?

Read gen­er­ously, there is grace to this ar­range­ment, hon­our­ing the scale of these works, imag­in­ing hold­ing them, rec­og­niz­ing the his­tory of early Inuit carv­ings as small, por­ta­ble fig­ures.

THE MEN­DEL ART GALLERY COL­LEC­TION AT RE­MAI MOD­ERN ALL IMAGES COURTESY RE­MAI MOD­ERN

Irene Avaalaaqia­q Tik­taalaaq (b. 1941 Qa­mani’tuaq) — All Dif­fer­ent Thoughts 1978 Sten­cil 56.8 × 76.5 cm

Tanya Lukin Lin­klater (b. 1976 Agw’aneq) and Duane Lin­klater — De­ter­mined by the river 2017 Col­lab­o­ra­tive in­stal­la­tion and dis­cur­sive event

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