Points of Return: A Conversation with Kablusiak and Jesse Tungilik
In the summer of 2018, the TD North South Artist Exchange provided two custom residency opportunities for one artist living in Southern Canada and another living in the North. In this interview, the recipients discuss their respective residencies as well as shared returns to places and bodies of work.
Points of Return: A Conversation with Kablusiak and Jesse Tungilik
CLAYTON WINDATT: The first thing that I’d like to ask is since for each of you the TD North South Artist Exchange was a return—a return home or a return to a previous site of work—why did you choose to complete the residency in these specific places? Why Inuvik and why Banff?
KABLUSIAK: I wanted to go to Inuvik because it was a place, a home, that I haven’t been back to in 20 years. I went up during the Great Northern Arts Festival [GNAF], so I was able to catch more people and be more involved in the art scene in Inuvik while I was there.
JESSE TUNGILIK: I chose Banff because the Banff Centre had the creative spaces, studio spaces and the specialized equipment and technicians that I needed and don’t usually have access to and which I required for the projects that I wanted to do. CW: Could you discuss the particular projects you each worked on? JT: I mainly focused on contemporary sculpture. I did a second companion piece to my assemblage Nunavice Flag (2013), which is a recreation of the Nunavut flag using found objects. This time around I used chocolate bar wrappers, pop cases and chip bags for Pop, Chip, Kukuk (2018). I also worked on a series where I 3D printed and bronze cast a figure of an Inuk man and suspended him in clear resin inside of a bottle. And I also did a little bit of ceramic work. I started my artistic practice as a ceramic artist at the Matchbox studio in Kangiqliniq (Rankin Inlet), NU, when I was a child. It was pretty fun to get back to some familiar work in ceramic and then try some new things with the 3D printer and bronze casting. Overall, I had a really fantastic time. K: While I was in Inuvik, I made four new carvings for the series Uyarak//Stone, and I was also able to continue Untitled (That’s A-Mori), a photo series of myself in a ghost costume. It was pretty straightforward. It felt satisfying just to be able to add more to those two projects. CW: As both of you revisited your specific bodies of work during the residency, what new things have you been able to accomplish in a different physical place? And what do these residencies mean for your practices?
K: I think just being in Inuvik was really important because of the time and the space to make the work. I don’t really have those opportunities in Calgary, just with studio rentals and the issues regarding air quality that come with carving. And then, with the photos, the landscape was really important for that series in this iteration of it.
JT: Well, like I mentioned earlier, the Banff Centre has really excellent artist studios that just don’t really exist here in Nunavut. It’s really a big problem for artists that do not have the proper space to work in or the required specialized tools and implements, so being able to take advantage of all that was pretty amazing for me, and really makes me wish we had access to that locally. It really helped me bring my artistic practice to the next level.
It was a really big deal to have access to 12 labs. As well, the location of the Banff Centre is pretty special. It’s in a kind of bubble of its own. Being able to focus solely on the work was so useful to being able to get it done. Plus, Banff is beautiful, so it was pretty ideal.
K: I think the support, not only from the folks who helped out when I was in Inuvik, but even from the Canadian Art Foundation and the selection committee for the residency, that support to create is really helpful to being able to continue your practice. 1
It was hard for me after ACAD [Alberta College of Art and Design] to find the time and space where you’re not exhausted from working your jobs and trying to exist as a person as well as an artist. I think mostly the time and the space was really beneficial. CW: How did seeing or engaging with other artists during the Great Northern Arts Festival and with those completing other residencies at the Banff Centre affect you? K: It was kind of funny working at the carving tent area at the GNAF, as it was mostly folks from one family. I believe they were from Tuktoyaktuk, NT. Most of their carvings were traditional carvings you would see in any shop that sold Inuit art. There were really beautiful carvings of bears and wolves and other northern animals. They saw what I was working on—at that point, I was making the Listerine bottle—and they would be like, “Oh, what are you working on?” Then they would just start laughing when they realized what that shape was. It was jarring for everybody to be like, “Wow, this person is making such different artwork.” Even though they were giggling at my Listerine bottle, they were all really supportive— lending me tools, helping me get set up with everything and finding me a space. I think it was more of a DIY-type situation.
JT: The atmosphere at the Banff Centre is always so busy. There’s such a large number of people coming and going from so many different backgrounds. During my residency, there was also a cohort of Outdoor School residents that I spoke to. The artists there were from all over the world and working in all sorts of different disciplines. It made for a really cool, creative atmosphere, where everyone was just kind of hanging out and trying out new things with each other, which was pretty neat. I wanted to focus on very contemporary things and play around with new materials and techniques. That was great. CW: How do you think the residency impacted your work, particularly concerning the skills you developed through the residency? K: Skills-wise, just being able to do more carving. Definitely, the more you do something, the better you get at it. That was a good time to hone my carving skills. The way it has impacted my practice? I think just being in Inuvik made me think about the way I’ve been framing my work for the past couple years or so. I usually frame it as a loss or diasporic feeling of being in cultural limbo. I’m thinking that post-Inuvik, I owe it to myself, and my practice, to frame things in a different way. More of a reclaiming of something, rather than a loss of something.
JT: In terms of new skills, I’d never done any 3D printing or bronze casting before, so that was new territory for me. Both of those are things that I’ve been wanting to try for quite a long time but haven’t had the opportunity to here in Nunavut, so that impacted the work that I was able to do. Moving forward, I’d like to continue to make a contemporary and contextual sculpture using a number of different materials. It was really important for the development of my work and my artistic career. CW: What would you like to say directly to Inuit artists about why they should pursue residency opportunities? JT: I think residencies are really important for Inuit artists who want to bring their artistic practices to the next level and just be able to try new things and create a good network with other artists.
I’ve often felt pressured by how often and easily Inuit art gets pigeonholed by people. I don’t really agree with that. I think more artists, in my opinion, need to be going out there and pushing the boundaries of what art is. I think residencies are important for that.
K: I feel exactly the same way. I think it’s good for not only the artist, who’s having the opportunity to work on their practice and build those connections, but also for the people hosting the residencies. Also, I don’t know if this is going to sound harsh or whatever, but I feel like it makes them look good to have Inuit present, because I feel like our presence is not necessarily as widespread.
CW: Well, that’s definitely something that I think a lot of people think about. I’ve been asked a lot, lately, about what a decolonized exhibition space or art space looks like. And I’ve been really interested
LEFT Installation view of work by Jesse Tungilik during Open Studios at the Banff Centre, August 2018 PHOTO TABITHA RHYASON
BELOWJesse Tungilik discussing work with artist Nicole Kelly Westman and Stride Gallery Director Areum Kim, 2018 PHOTO JESSICA WITTMAN
RIGHTListerine (from the series Uyarak//Stone)2018Steatite and tung oil 17.8 × 8.9 × 4.5 cm
—BELOW Buttplug (from the series Uyarak//Stone)2018Steatite and tung oil 12.1 × 5.7 cm