Nancy Bleck Thesis
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This is a copy of Nancy Bleck's MFA thesis which is about the Witness Uts'am project that I will be presenting on in Newcastle.

This is a copy of Nancy Bleck's MFA thesis which is about the Witness Uts'am project that I will be presenting on in Newcastle.

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Nancy Bleck Thesis Nancy Bleck Thesis Document Transcript

  • Becoming witness Ecology, embodied ethics and artistic practice Thesis for Master’s of Fine Art 2005 by Nancy Bleck, Slànay Sp’ákw’us Hogeschool voor de Kunsten, Utrecht, The Netherlands Open Learning University, London, England 1
  • Contents Prelude In loving memory of friend, mountaineer, conservationist, wilderness educator, One I Situating espistemology and artistic practice photographer, and the funniest man I ever met. Xwexwsélken, John Clarke Two I Interview with Chief Bill Williams Three I Art Context Who showed me a home called wilderness. Four I Summary Bibliography End Notes
  • ways of producing different forms of knowledge, and of visualizing the alternatives. I swerved into unexpected collaboration upon chance meeting with famous mountaineer John Clarke in 1995 in the Elaho Valley, and then one year later, with hereditary Chief Bill Williams, on a sandbar in Sims Creek. I did not originally seek out the communities in which I am now implicated; seamless flows between the arts, first nation’s culture, ecology, and science, have arrived as an unexpected surprise to me. I am deeply grateful, indebted and honoured for the genuine friendships and new knowledge’s that have resulted from a shared commitment to the land. Prelude This in turn brought me to an artistic practice involving documentation as I was stirred by a desire to ‘do something’ about what was happening art, community and public engagement, cross-cultural and interdisciplinary to the land in a rainforest I had in recent years come to know as nexw- collaboration, and to women studies, whose epistemologies provide a ayantsut (Sims Creek / place of transformation) and Nsllwx-nitem tl’asutich critique of Western science and development, wherein the root of the (Elaho Valley), located in southwestern British Columbia, three hours north problem resides. To become responsible at a local level among multiple of downtown Vancouver. It’s environs smelled and tasted nothing like the communities, and therefore ‘together’ answerable to the eco-crisis, is suburban sprawl of Mississauga, Ontario, where I once called home, with where I locate my art practice and citizenship. it’s shrinking agricultural pastures, increasing highways, and massive new housing developments, but even more frighteningly closer to what an ‘environmental holocaust’ may actually imply. Thousands of hectors of clear felling of an ancient ecology, wiped out over a corporate five-year plan, displacing grizzly bears, moose, spotted owls, and numerous other species which depend on the rich valley bottom forests for survival. These include millions of Douglas-fir, Hemlock and Cedar trees, that can be witnessed carted down the G-main logging road for shipment to foreign waters, and all at a high ticket cost for the irreparable loss of life, and damage left for local communities to reconcile and grapple over. As a starting point, asking myself ‘what is to be done’ about the erasure of old growth rainforests, my inquiry led me to seek out non-dominating
  • the world; art that ‘has the power to position itself politically, determinedly and critically in the world, but also to be celebratory’.1 It is my objective as a cultural activist. Antithetical to this belief, I play devil’s advocate, and contradict these ideals by also defending an artistic potential which does not subscribe to the expectations of art to ‘change society’ per se, and the limited role and instrumentalization of art to serve a specific function or Introduction political cause. Instead I will argue for art which is transformative, both for nature and the human. What is the reposition of the artist as a ‘witness’? New and novel transformations among traditionally distinct disciplinary fields My research reflects the form of an embodied and engaged artistic journey; are favouring more interdisciplinary approaches to knowledge production. mapping a specific political terrain of the temperate rainforest in West Coast Rosi Braidotti writes, ‘concepts are nomadic because they have acquired Canada, located in the northern part of the Squamish Nation traditional the capacity to transfer from one scientific discourse to another.’2 One of lands. As a co-founder and artist inside the project of Uts’am / Witness, my wishes as an artist is to find a place of graceful discourse between having spent ten summers of fieldwork in the rainforest: that is engaging the ecology, citizenship and participation. Donna Haraway uses the term public to physically ‘witness’ it, while producing documentation as artwork, ‘worldly practice’, as a way to ‘start talking about any dimension of what my subject position therefore becomes intrinsically embedded within this it means to be worldly – the commercial, the physiological, the genetic, research. I will call up memory, story, photography, conversation, as well the political, [the organic]’3 It is about paying attention to power relations as philosophy and cultural theory, as referents and guides traversing and flow of capital, which tempers the arts, the environment, gender, and informing this exceptional landscape under siege. ‘Ecological ethics’ race, politics and almost everything one can think of. A closer look into and ‘politics of location’ play a discursive role within my artistic research how gendered power relations operate in Western rationale, spins some navigation. interesting discoveries where the environment is concerned, as discussed in chapter one with Haraway’s figuration of the ‘modest witness’. I am motivated to highlight that the artist has particular and responsive ways of perceiving the world, that are indeed different from say a social I will turn to a key player within Uts’am - Witness. One early morning by scientist, mountaineer, environmentalist, feminist, politician, academic, or the beachside, I engage in a video dialogue with Chief Bill Williams, which cultural theorist. However, I consider carefully how the artist may become makes up chapter two, offering insights into the Squamish traditional an active player in the political status of contemporary society in midst practice of calling ‘witnesses’ when there is important ‘work to be done’. of experiencing a long-lasting eco-crisis. In this sense, I encourage and My own stories are expressed through looking back at my photography, endorse art that carries the capacity to empower us to constructively act in as I offer an exchange of ideas, reflecting with a personal narrative on the
  • praxis of my work in chapter three. I cannot explain this process outside of my embedded experience. My voice will shift from the academic, to the personal, as a way to position and submerge my fleshy subjectivity into the conversation between culture and nature. Gilles Delueze, Felix Guattari, Boris Groys, Sarat Maharaj, Amir Ali Alibhai, Donna Haraway, and Rosi Braidotti, provide the philosophical bones and cultural theory for offering more insight into the inquiry. Two recent conferences in 2005 have provided insight into this conversation and research of becoming witness. The first one in January in Berlin, Germany titled KLARTEXT, ‘Artist as political subject’ and the second in April, ‘Arts and Ecology’ in London, England. I attended the first conference, while researching the second, One I Situating Epistemology & Practice with regard to how these translate to the notion of the ‘witness’ rethinking artistic practice in times of eco-crisis. There is so much that could be discussed from these conferences, but for space consideration, I keep my observations to a bare and crude minimum. For future research and inquiry, I am keen to participate in the international debate on the artist’s role to the eco-crisis, and have signed up to the RSA (Royal Society of Arts) for future involvement. Witnessing is seeing; attesting; standing publicly accountable for This investigation serves as a mapping exercise. It is a methodological reflexion and psychically vulnerable to, ones visions and representations. that searches out my own arts practice over the course of the Uts’am - Witness –Donna Haraway, modest_witness@second_millennium…, project, which I will discuss is not about objectivity, representation and presentation in the traditional ‘high art’ sense, but a socially active / animated implicated practice – a course of intensive interconnected activities and unpredictabilities. My personal involvement as a witness within the Uts’am - Witness project, and my own story, which is also my testimony of being called to witness in the Coast Salish tradition, requires some understanding of specific ~~~>>>><<<<<~~~ situated knowledge’s informing my art practice and actions in collaboration with the Squamish Nation community. There is a need here to highlight the personal within the political and vice versa, and to disclose my subject position determined by my experiences and identity as a woman of white, Euro-Canadian, middle-class / working-class, nomadic artist working
  • alongside cross-cultural alliances, producing documentation as art, while deconstructing the grand narratives that philosophical knowledge claims of Western power dominations have produced. I do so to expose my bias informing my knowledge, which does not claim objective truths per se, but highlights a few useful findings for transformation and change. In order to make myself accountable, I call up what Donna Haraway describes as ‘situated methodologies’ / ‘situated knowledges’, positioning oneself, Modest Witness calling for a critical genealogy of subjectivity. This embodied ethical Anti-racist feminist scholar of science, Donna Haraway, in her important standpoint forms the frame of my artistic practice and post-modern political book, Modest_Witness@Second_Millennium.FemaleMan©_Meets_ condition. OncoMouse™, explores the figuration of the modest witness, that in theory is close in practice to the 2000+ year tradition of calling witnesses Throughout my art inquiry, I have acknowledged a decisive need to to events of significant meaning in Coast Salish culture. I borrow from investigate new perspectives on Western dominate rationality, and neo- Haraway the modest witness figuration as one of the main points of entry liberal globalization, not as a rehearsal for a regime of (un)fashionable into the complex discussion of what it means to be a witness in times of political correctness, but to expose and open up inherent misunderstandings standardized brutality of nature. about what is meant by the political, the ecological, of power relations, and opening up of the imagination in regards to these, which often gets From the perspective of the Squamish Nation, calling witnesses in an oral in the way of effecting real change within the real world. The whole point tradition is a form of law and governance and is a legitimate and legal is to attempt to re-imagine the world differently, beyond a ‘colonized ‘document’ in the eyes of the Supreme Court of Canada, which functions imagination’, through the re-construction of socially creative assemblages, as the cornerstone of history keeping and making of contemporary placing emphasis on respect for the differences of our multi-specied world. indigenous cultural practices. I will not speak on behalf of this strong and My desire and hope is an ethical one, which is to ‘care’ ‘fully’ attempt a few rich community. However, I will speak from my own subject position within non-linear pathways, globulocalar steps, towards the goal of sustainable the project of Uts’am / Witness; what it informs and what it contributes and futures. continues to aspire to as ‘value added’ nature–culture integrated system’s that celebrate diversity and difference, while forging genuine connection. Haraway has identified what Squamish people have rigorously practiced ~~~>>>><<<<<~~~ through the very survival of their culture, in the aftermath of genocide of the previous century that ‘the important practice of credible witnessing is still at stake’4.
  • Haraway spins the modernist notion of the modest witness, ‘queering’ the modest in the witness, so as to diffract, displace and problematize this silent self-invisibility, but notes that ‘reflexivity is not enough to produce self-visibility’8. Valid witness depends not only on modesty, but also on nurturing and acknowledging alliances with a lively array of others, who are like and What counts as credible witnessing in times of eco-crisis? unlike, human and not, inside and outside what have been the defended boundaries of hegemonic selves and powerful places. 9 There are two points I would like to acknowledge in discussing Haraway’s To address the violence inherent in a Western prevailing style of term ‘modest witness’ (borrowed from Steven Shapin and Simon Schaffer), development, calls for a closer look at how dualisms function in the with reference to the environment, and that is the problem of invisibility imagination, which Val Plumwood describes in her book, Feminism and the and transparency, and what counts as ‘credible witnessing’ as a source Mastery of Nature, as ‘the instrumentalization of nature, where culture is of vision5. The second is the tension between these privileged forms of always the privileged rank in the hierarchy’.10 In Women, the Environment witnessing, with that of identifying a critique of ‘objectivity’. Shifting the role and Sustainable Development, four feminist writers explain that, “the of witnessing away from knowledge-claims, and toward a collective, public embodiment of the subject is the political standpoint which allows for a and mixed act of witnessing, where all the players, (especially those whose critique of dualism as a form of violence, that is to say, an oppositional visibility have marked them biased and therefore ‘unreliable sources of form of thought which has the effect of psychic warfare” 11 important things’6), precisely means cultural intervention into mainstream modernity’s social power. This calls for a critique of the style of conservation that enforces homogeneity This self-invisibility is the specifically modern, European, masculine, of language in the media, absolutism’s, dualisms and dichotomies of scientific form of virtue of modesty…This kind of modesty is one of ‘us and them’ rationale, and the feeling of exclusion that comes with it. the founding virtues of what we call modernity. This is the virtue that guarantees that the modest witness is the legitimate and authorized Polarization of the different positions is necessary in the maintenance of ventriloquist for the object world, adding nothing from his mere keeping those players ineffective.12 As John Clarke used to point out, ‘the opinions, from his biasing embodiment. And so he is endowed with the days are over when environmentalists can do no harm.’ And so we think remarkable power to establish facts.7 not to become clever, but because thinking transforms life. In a project to do away with the foundation of ‘being’, binary and opposition, Deleuze insists there exists nothing more than the flow of becoming, ‘all beings are just relatively stable moments in a flow of becoming-life’. (Colebrook; 2002)
  • *excerpted from the website below Art that engages critical thinking alongside community participation may do so at a cost to its autonomy, but may also provide a leap forward in what WE HAVE TO LEARN TO MAKE OUR THOUGHT TRAVERSE THE many groups and communities in the *ecosophy 13 field are grappling with. INTERRELATIONS AND MUTUAL INFLUENCES BETWEEN ECO- Rethinking a relationship with the human and nature is not accessible, or SYSTEMS, THE MATERIAL WORLD, SOCIAL AND INDIVIDUAL even possible, without the hard work of melting down stereotypes, forming RELATIONS.” Guattari, The Three Ecologies, p35 alliance by way of dialogue, and intensive interaction as a methodology for sustainable, intelligent practice of radical human care.14 “In The Three Ecologies Felix Guattari extended his definition of ecology to encompass social relations and human subjectivity as well as In a yearning to search out for those ‘unlikely others’, ‘human and not’, environmental concerns, developing the concept *ecosophy as a catalyst ‘inside and outside’ of the environmental discussion, I find myself in line for change with the potential for collective and social reinvention. This broadened concept provides a useful starting point for a conference with the philosophy of Delueze and Guattari, curious about ecosophy, that brought together numerous perspectives on the ways in which becoming-multiple, contradictions, complexities, and the rhizome, just contemporary artists are confronting ecological issues and on the to scratch the surface. To search for the positive ‘others’ who were not relationship of the individual to their cultural, social, economic and natural part of the dialogue; those who were different from the media constructed environments”. Emily Pethick stereotype of a ‘warrior in the woods’, and whose voices were urgently needed, became my primary focus in 1995. What this actually means is http://www.thersa.org/arts/conferences/conference1/visitorResponse.asp getting down to a grass-roots level of non-violent environmental practice and cultural activism, and a look at how ‘globalization is produced locally’15. ~~~>>>><<<<<~~~ Becoming is about repetition, but also about memories of the non- dominant kind.…it is about the capacity to sustain and generate inter- connectedness. - Rosi Braidotti, Metamorphoses, p.8 Recognizing the importance of strategic alliance, while never losing site of her primary objective, the difference women can make, Braidotti allows for an unleashing of the imagination to tackle the very core of the problem of modernity - gender. In my work with the environment and the multiple communities within Witness, I apply nomadic philosophy and hybrid strategies of resistance, for entering into a dialogic relationship; and of becoming-multiple, and becoming witness within my artwork.
  • What attracted me so much to Braidotti’s way of nomadic thought is its willingness to reinvent itself, and to embrace self-criticism, which warns against the ‘complete and unconditional alliance with any philosophy’. (1995: 25) In her own words, ‘nomadism is the actualization of multiple differencesʼ (2002: and, ʻnomadic becoming is neither reproduction nor just imitation, but rather emphatic proximity, intensive interconnectedness’17. In this way I am searching through the question of how and where lie the possibilities for ecosophic transformation in the context of Witness, and I cannot imagine this without assertion for the positivity of difference that women offer. Two I Interlocutors: Dialogue with community Thus, becoming witness is about embracing the messy act of what democracy could look like in a current history struggling toward ‘post- coloniality’. The ‘becoming’ in my ‘witness’ may derive from French philosophers, and Italian-Austrailan-Dutch inspired nomadic theorist, while the ‘modest’ in the ‘witness’ from California anti-racist feminist of science, it is the ‘witness’ in my ‘witness’ that I will appeal to and acknowledge in [Place of transformation] nexw- ‘ayantsut a dialogue with the rainforest, and in an interview with one of the sixteen i) Earth / trees / water / non-human world / wild hereditary chief’s of the Squamish Nation, telàlsemkin/ siyam. This mixing spirit places / conversation with the biological soup of the temperate rainforest together of a 2000 year traditional practice of witnessing, combined with [Protocol] Chicayx a critical analysis of artist as social agent, forms the embodiment of my ii) Squamish people and protocols, Chee-ach , oral subjectivity as an artist. history and law / interview with Chief Bill Williams ~~~>>>><<<<<~~~ Community Arts Practice iii) Roundhouse arts residency, involvement with local artists and cultural workers, community art, artist as political subject* Conservation, Mountaineering and Science Community iv) Ecologists, biologists, geographers, mountaineers and environmentalists on a ‘walk in the woods’ For space restrictions, I will address ii) from the list of my Interlocutors: Dialogue with Community
  • Conversation with Telàlsemkin/ siyam, Hereditary Chief Bill Williams Uts’am - Witness Synopsis Witness is a cross-cultural collaboration in partnership with the Roundhouse Community Arts Centre and the Squamish Nation. Founded by John Clarke, Nancy Bleck and Chief Bill Williams, it became the first arts residency to the opening of the Roundhouse in downtown Vancouver, BC. This community-based project was hugely attended in its first year (nominated for the ‘Ethics in Action’, Award in 1998, and national winner for ‘Best Cultural Event’ from Tourism Canada in 2002). It culminated in BC’s largest-ever exhibition involving 175 artists, professional and not, on issues of environmental practice, first nations culture, and political engagement. It has remained a stable residency project ever since its inception in 1997. Each year FIG. 1 Reportage photo from the ‘verification ceremony’ of calling back witnesses, Sims several hundred people participate in Witness through a mix of Creek, April 2001 cross-cultural dialogue, ceremony, non-violent practice, wilderness The Squamish peoples have gone from a population of approximately 80, 000 camping, art exhibitions, workshops, forums and/ or media events. people, down to 150 upon contact with settler societies, nearing the edge of Over 40 different volunteers run the project each summer through the extinction. Today there are 3 300 Squamish members, and 15 fluent speakers Roundhouse. Celebrating diversity and difference, Witness connects of the traditional language, which is actively being taught in elementary and secondary schools, and practiced during the witness ceremonies. While they have urban city dwellers to their rainforest backyards three hours north, to never ‘ceded or surrendered rights to our traditional territory or the power to make learn more about Squamish traditional lands, and ecological issues decisions within our territory’ (Squamish Nation Assertion of Title), they retain only that affect us all. The project shrinks and expands, depending on the 0.03% of their original ‘house of land’ at the moment. year and events taking place, political circumstance, and / or needs We are shadows in our own land. Anyone can come here and not know and desires of the multiple communities involved. who we are. At a minimum, we have to share who we are and our culture. - Chief Bill Williams Being called to witness in the Coast Salish tradition is a sacred honour.
  • Entangled as I am between an artistic researcher in love with ‘rhizome rainforests’ and Squamish Nation culture that frames Uts’am-Witness, it is my Euro-Canadian rooted subjectivity that prevents me from voicing a simplistic score here. I am a daughter of immigrants who was born to this land via the gateways of colonization. I have no authority to speak ‘culturally’ on behalf of an indigenous subjectivity, even as Slanay Sp’ak’wus, my adopted Squamish ‘ninahalahin’ name. Nor do I even wish to, unlike the anthropological practice of speaking on behalf of ‘Others’, often in distorted scholastic scores, or over idealized tones. That is the farthest of my intentions, as I firmly believe that voice is best coming from its own authenticity and aliveness; its own cultural survival, beauty and wealth of traditions. Let the conversation begin. Nancy Bleck: August 7th, 2005. I am speaking with Telàlsemkin/ siyam, one of sixteen hereditary chiefs of the Squamish Nation, (and elected chairman of council). Maybe you can state your name and explain your hereditary chieftainship? C.B: My hereditary Chieftainship is Telàlsemkin/ siyam, as given to me by my family and recognized by the community. My driver’s license name is Bill Williams, and my baptismal name is Billy, George, Mario, Joesph Williams, (chuckles) I don’t say that very often, (more chuckles)… … yeah, that’s who I am. N: I will be asking a few questions in regards to the research work that I have been doing in the Netherlands, with my artistic practice, and also with the Utsʼam – Witness project. To begin, I would like to ask you what your motivation is for getting people out to witness the land. FIG. 2, Telàlsemkin/ siyam, dyptch, C-prints, 2004
  • My objective is setting them on a journey. that we do have in our lifesblood as people, because all races have that, itʼs just a matter of generations of loss. If your mother and father, or your I’ve met people this summer who came to Witness for the very first time, grandmother and grandfather were not a part of Mother Nature, or part of and again this summer I’ve met people who I met 8 yrs ago, and this is the surroundings around you in terms of a natural state, and you always their 8th year of a 9 year journey that they’ve continued coming back. So grew up in cities, then thatʼs all theyʼll talk about, thatʼs their history, thatʼs what it’s all about is planting that seed to get out there. Change is slow, their stories. But if you show them as to things beyond that, in terms of people do not like change…people do not like to change their routine. In connecting to the land, then a little spark will jump out in front of them order for people to accept something new, and even with Squamish people, and something will say, ‘I have to go there’, or its been something I heard going out to the land is very new to a lot of them. They grew up in an urban about and I want to be part of, and thatʼs what I was talking about earlier, setting - they grew up beside the second largest drug market in Canada, that seed that we want to germinate to entice people, because getting out in North America, in terms of heroin coming into the land. So being a to the land – once they connect, is fabulous, theyʼll want to go back and back again, but if they donʼt give themselves that chance to connect, then person who would walk out into the Mother Nature setting is terrifying itʼs harder for us to connect with their children because they canʼt pass on for them because they have never experienced anything so close. They the stories. think that a bear is going out jump out behind a tree and consume them, when in reality itʼs actually going to be the tree that is going to consume them, by the beauty of the tree and the wholeness of the tree. And for the tree just being there and putting out the beautiful feelings of all the trees that are out in Mother Nature and it’s not the animal that is going to kill them. And so the change is actually going backwards, the change is going back to Mother Earth; the change is getting out of the urban setting, getting out of the feeling of convenience, getting out of the ability to want immediate gratification. But to actually physically work for something, FIG. 3, Untitled, C-print, canvas heat transfer, 1998 take two / four hours to walk along a trail and finally see something, and then realize that as they are walking back from their journey that they are in fact slowing down and being able to see what is all around them, the grandeur and splendor that Mother Nature offers. And so for us as Squamish people, because we are so urbanized, just like the rest of Canadian society, it’s hard for them to get out of their feeling of comfort, their comfort zone and getting into a new area of something that they’ve never experienced and that’s the wilderness, the real wilderness
  • N: Now in getting to the simple, but complex question of the notion of where you might be coming from, but again, because each individual of witnessing. One of the things that I am researching involves what is is so unique and different, how you or another person would phrase their means to be a witness, or to become a witness. It is a word that gets used words, especially using the English language, it dramatically effects what in contemporary society often –but what it means to become a witness is being said and how people hear it, and so our calling of witnesses with in Coast Salish culture is different from my experience, and requires a people in the Sims, it changes the reality of witnessing – it’s modified, its different level of responsibility. And in the Coast Salish tradition when shortened, the reality is not even the same in its true feeling of a Coast witnesses are called, is when there is important ʻworkʼ to be done. I wonder how that ʻworkʼ has changed or been modified over generations. And how Salish event, we use some terminology that is similar, for instance when do you see ʻwhat is important work to be done todayʼ - how do you see the we call witnesses now – thankfully its called ‘work’. And the reason why importance of how witnesses play a role? it’s called work, is in normal events in Coast Salish it generally takes a year, or four years to prepare, and again the preparation of having the C.B: To be called a witness in a Coast Salish form, has been modified event, whether it’s a memorial, a wedding, a naming, whatever, is the four to take into account today’s culture. People want to get to the ‘ah, ha’ year journey of getting there, its not the actual memorial, its not actual the but they don’t want to spend four days to get to that ‘ah, ha’, they want wedding, it’s going out and getting the food, and going out and getting to have that realization in 30min. To call a Witness event in the Coast the wood, its sitting down and weaving the blankets, it sitting down and Salish way has been modified lots, and they way it’s been modified is weaving the hanker chiefs, its sitting down and practicing the songs; itʼs the method of calling witnesses, and how we wrap up the witness event, the journey, and to call witnesses is the end result. So the modification I has changed dramatically. In the old way of calling witnesses, we call guess is that everything is shortened, thereʼs lots of immediate goals of the witness the same in that we call many people, but in the old days, we wanting a 5 min gratification, a 3min ʻah, haʼ, than really looking at the would call the mature men of each community that is attending the event, journey itself. and no women were called. Today, such as the memorial yesterday, a lot of women were called, so that changed the male and female role in that event. And the other way it’s changed is getting to that 3min ‘ah, ha’, as opposed to the five hour journey, we only allow a certain amount of witnesses to be called. In some instances, to glorify the watch, we would only call four people to speak at the end of the witness event, even though we might have called 400 witnesses, so what we are doing is putting tape over the mouths of those 400 people who were called, and only allowing 4 people to speak, thinking that these four people can actually speak on behalf of FIG. 4, Detail from ‘Witness’ Photo-canvas mural, heat transfer, 3’ x 37’, 1997 the 400 people who were there, but in reality I might have an idea what your thinking is, but I can’t speak for you, and I know the general concept
  • N: One of the things I was reflecting on from Donna Harawayʼs book, N: Prior to collaborating with the Squamish Nation, I never thought of Modest Witness, is that the credible act of witnessing is still at stake. I the ʻact of witnessingʼ as a form of governance. What is witness in a am interested is what counts as credible witnessing? In the practice of ceremonial practice, in the Coast Salish tradition? witnessing, how does one become ʻcredibleʼ? To be the eyes and ears of an event, or the eyes and ears of what is happening, how would a Coast Salish C.B: To be called to witness is the actual cornerstone of our Longhouse person be trained over a lifetime to be that credible witness? tradition of what we call Chicayx [chee – ach], chicayx is our foundation of our law, of how things get done. And in order to verify our law, we C.B: It is fairly simple – its wanting to be recognized, just like any other need people not just within our family, our community, but people from community. In the Coast Salish ways they’ve always tried to include outside our community to come in and to verify that the event that is taking everybody when you go to an event. In today’s society, if there is 400 place is something that they will bring back to their community to their people, then they’ll call 400 witnesses, and in the old days they would only family, eventually, that says yes this event did happen, and yes they did call a very specific few, and especially of you have ancestral name, you call witnesses, they did have a Speaker, yes they did have a doorman , yes are very happy to be called and recognized on the floor by a Speaker in they did have someone looking after the fires, and yes they did feed us, front of 200 or 400 people, for the very first time, and you know because so that everything that they did was is in the same way fashion and form your name is called is something very special because it is an obligation as in our community, and that there was no conflicts - nobody standing up that you are now given, and it isn’t an obligation that’s given to you, it’s a and saying that they have a problem with this event, and because of the recognition by other people that you have the ability, the wits around you people that were there 200, 500, 1000, and that there was no issue taken, to know that being to called as a witness you have that responsibility and then it is all a good qualified event that is part of the chicayax, part of the because you are being called, other people know that ‘yes, that person culture, that is handed down orally through our aunts and uncles, through has that responsibility and can act accordingly and can do the job that our grandmothers, grandfathers, that gratifies our chicayax, our history, of we are asking of that person to be the eyes and the ears and remember how things should be done. this forever and a day’. It is that recognition of people who are outside of yourself who would call your ancestral name to verify that you are N: It is the closest thing to what I understand what democracy could actually responsible and you can remember and echo things in a way that will not look like. (chuckles) You talked before about naming and the recognition vary from the real work that is taking place in that particular instance. It of witnesses being called in an ancestral name, and we witnessed Drew is that recognition and is that time in having people know that you can Leathemʼs naming ceremony a few weeks at the closing event for Witness handle that responsibility. this summer. I have a few questions around the naming process, particularly the difference between a ʻninahalayanʼ name and an ancestral name. What has changed in giving a name to a person that isn’t of First Nations heritage? John Clarke, myself, Finn Donnely, Princess of Lichenstein, and Drew, those are the people that I know that have adopted Squamish
  • names, there could be others that I donʼt know. What has changed in the because I know the history of Squamish, and back in 1880, members of the culture to recognize people outside of the culture to give them a little name siyam’s (chiefs) of the day, they adopted people into the Squamish culture and (ninahaylahin)? allowed them to marry inside the culture and allowed them to be members inside the community. (end of tape) C.B: Ummm, absolutely nothing (laughs). The only thing that has changed is that those people that you mentioned are now aware of Squamish. They In the way of giving names - there are two ways of giving names, one way is never knew anything about Squamish, and all these peoples have attributes giving an ancestral name, and that one is fairly simple, in that it’s the name that mirrors Squamish thinking in some respects, and mirror things that a of one of your ancestors, so the connection is immediate. The other way is to Squamish person should carry, and these people that you mention have give a name such as the name you have, and if we give out a name that is not sediments of things in their heart and their mind that they do on a day to an ancestral name, then what we have to do is sit down and talk about it. And day basis that mirror the Squamish culture and because of that members talk about an individual’s strength, and to come up with words that would of our community have said, ‘well let’s do something about that’. It shows encompass those strengths in a way that can be seen. The name that you have that you can be recognized by our Squamish siyam’s (chief’s) and have the Slànay Spʼákwʼus, [female eagle] or eagle woman, is a name that directly ability to be adopted and carry a Squamish title. What you’ve witnessed reflects the work that you do, through the eagleʼs eye, we were looking at that in the names of the people you know who are outside of the Squamish meaning. We all know that an eagle can see very far and very detailed what is within your generation. There are generations before that I know that is all around, but an eagle can also from far distance zero in and see very people who carry names of distinction, like Senator Austin, and he worked specifically that little field mouse in the whole field and be able to go down and with the late Percy Paul, in that age group, to do things that benefited pluck it out, or just watch it, and that is a reflection of what we think that you Squamish, and that time in the 1950’s and 60’s, they gave out names in have, in being able to take a look at a bush in a forest and be able to single out just the same way that Sekyu siyam and myself and other members in our one aspect of the forest that you feel is important, and through that ability… community are doing, in recognizing peoples attributes, and showing how because not a lot of people can do that, they’ll always see two million bushes their true spirit of the heart is, and because of that we have to continue there, or two million trees, and not be able to see the old red cedar there, or looking not only inside our community, but outside our community to see the yellow cedar, or see the blueberry bush, it’s just a whole bunch of benefit our community in ways that our members canʼt. And look at people green to them. So that’s the thinking behind giving the names that are not who do show a personal level of commitment that we know that in 50 ancestral names, names that would fulfill the attributes of the individual that years from now, if they are still living, those attributes still will be strong, they’ve already developed, that they’ve already been using in their life and they are not going change and that the generations of youth will benefit nothing will change from that, so what we have to do is be able to recognize over that time period, so it is just an extension of the Squamish culture and that attributes that they posses, and in the case with Xwexwsélken (mountain an extension of today’s thinking, but still mirroring some of the thinking goat), John Clarke, it was immediate, bang it was there, he lived that for 25 +years before I even met him, and upon recognition of what his history was it of our membership. Squamish is unique in accepting people, I think, only
  • was very easy to identify the name for the late John Clarke. Other people back to the community, these things should be done in a way that reflects it takes a bit more to bring out, or to recognize the attributes that person is what they’re doing in the truest sense of the work that they do, is to bring utilizing, especially if they are younger, because they still haven’t really out the culture, while bringing out the culture capturing them in that time developed their own thinking and their own patterns of life to an extent capsule of that film. And that work that you have been doing recently where a name can be brought out very easy, so it takes a bit longer to captures that. Not the film of those nice burning bushes or the film of the recognize those attributes that something in fact is going to be life-long. clear-cuts, but more of the people, of the ways of capturing who we are N: Part of the work that I am now doing which is a reflexion on work that I and where we come from have done before. I am looking at some of my photographs again and how it informs my process, looking at a visual image as a form of intelligence and how it starts to talk back. It often takes a long time in order to know what is being investigated, or the inquiry, or the curiosity and sometimes it takes awhile to actually hear what the images have to say. Can you comment on an image that I have done that for you started to talk back? C.B: There are a number of images that have helped…the capturing of moments in time has always been hard to do with indigenous cultures, because what is happening is there is a capturing of time or image through FIG. 5, Untitled, Duratrans, Light Box, 12” x 30”, 1995 eyes that are not of the same culture, and what is seen is some of the images that you have taken are getting close or right bang on, in terms of N: I read a book in Holland during the Masters course called ʻUnderstanding wanting to capture an image of time of our cultural events that need to be Media Theoryʼ and it goes right from describing the first media of captured through our eyes. Because the medium that you use, the camera spoken language, to our hyper-mediated world today, and how with each is so relatively new even though that they’ve had cameras in 1880’s or transformation of media ,how it is built upon the previous media, whether 90’s or whenever they had them, the first images, it’s still something that that was the spoken, the written, the printed, etc, and itʼs a very delicate thing because it informs differently, a different kind of intelligence our culture hadn’t taken on in the same perspective of ‘recording the day’. happening through the media, whatever is being mediated, and maybe you If you look back to the images that we have, of the early images of the could say something about how that change has happened so quickly from Squamish peoples, we have dozens of nice images of St. Paul’s church, an oral traditional culture, which is still being practice today, alongside but we don’t have pictures of our events, we don’t have pictures of our living in a hyper-mediated world, and still working with those forms of children, other than the residential schools when they are all lined up technology also. really nice in their uniforms, we don’t have them playing at the beachside with the canoes (..) we don’t have them intermingling in a natural setting, up until recently we didn’t have our Speakers in the middle of the ‘work’ being recorded, those are the things that in my mind should be brought
  • C.B: Well what is happening today is that our teachings, our chicayx is a zone of urgency, and now itʼs different, its gone deeper, and Iʼd like to still the same, they havenʼt changed, what has changed is todayʼs culture hear your thoughts on what that place of transformation [nexw- ‘ayantsut], on how that information is recorded, and how immediate that information what that actually involves, what that means. can be transferred from that event to the rest of the world, and Chief Xalek / Sekyu siyam always says that, ʻTransformation and change is needed, C.B: What that means is a two step process, maybe even three. What that itʼs requiredʼ. The evolving culture of today had to take into account our means is that first of all, you recognize who you are first, and in recognizing culture, and in order for us to make those changes we have to go back who you are you recognize your values, and your foundation, and once to the foundation of our chicayx, to make sure that it still in tact, that you recognize who you are what your values are, then you can go out the foundation layer is there, but the modification of that culture is the and explore to see where your values fit, who do your values fit with. transformation of who we are today, and we only can do that successfully And to get an understanding of other people and whether or not your are in order for tomorrow’s children to recognize who were are today, is to be really way off the wall, or whether your values are so attuned with the able to make that change. If we don’t make that change then we are trying culture of today, then your values are of common interest to a lot of people, to freeze ourselves in time, and in an ever-evolving world that we live in or are your values off to the left or off to the right of what mainstream today and if we try to do that, we will marginalize ourselves, because we society thinks? It really doesn’t matter, but what matters is the change of would never be able to keep up with how information is being exchanged being able to accept the things that come into your life that you’ve never today. Ten years ago we would never thought of carrying our pictures on experienced before. And these changes will ultimately always benefit you a CD, and be able to transform those pictures digitally around the world and they will always make your foundation stronger, because you have a instantly. If we always tried to keep things in our comfort level, then bigger thicker base to build yourself on, and if you have a bigger, thicker change would never happen, and again we get back to that discussion in base then the more you’ll be able to accept, because you are already order for us to change successfully, we have to adapt, and recognize how comfortable with your foundation, and how you’ve gotten to where you the foundation of our culture can remain the same yet still be able to take are. The more you are able to reach out and feel what that part of the up these new tools to evolve our culture, to explain who we are and where envelope you are pushing will feel, because you know that even if you we come from yet once again, but through a different medium. break and open that part of the envelope and you didn’t want to, you can still draw yourself back to the foundation of who you are, and where you N: On the understanding of what is a transformative process, when we come from. And that change, that transformation, if you don’t break that are up in the Elaho, the name of that area is called, nexw- ‘ayantsut envelope what you do is you build yourself a higher level of foundation, so [place of transformation], and it interests me a great deal – change and you can push yourself even more in different areas. So that transformation transformation, its one of the things I am most interested in. I see art as a and that change is within everybody, but not everybody is willing to take transformative process. I used to see it in different ways. I think through those chances, willing to say that ʻyes, itʼs a beautiful day out today, but the course of working on Witness in the last ten years, has very much there are a lot of children crying in the world, and I want to help that. I transformed me personally. I started to come at it in the beginning more as
  • donʼt feel comfortable with me just sitting here where I am - I want to do N: Do you think because the old-growth forest is so ʻnewʼ to settler- something about it. Or yes, the forest is beautiful and we are growing new societies, that it makes it that much easier to exploit? trees around us, but there is something about an old-growth forest that will always remain unique and different and maybe we should not log it, or not C.B: well, what makes it easy for exploitation is the get rich quick put roads into those areas but just leave it alone and let Mother Earth take mentality, of a majority of our culture today, where they can see that rather care of that area’, and every once in awhile bless ourselves to be able to go than waiting one-hundred and twenty years for a tree to grow, they would into that area and really feel what an old-growth setting is all about, and rather go cut a tree that presently exists that might be one-thousand years go in and feel the oneness with Mother Earth. Knowing that where you old to fifteen-hundred years old, and they don’t have to do nothing about it, are going now, if its put aside, or not being developed, is something that is they just have to cut it and not wait like they have to with a majority of the so unique it ultimately becomes like our ancestors, or becomes what our wood today. So it’s more of a get rich quick mentality and not committing elders are all about, who are in fact the jewels of our community, because themselves to sitting there and manicuring the forest over a hundred and they are so unique and so different and carry so much wealth in terms of twenty years to let it to grow in a way that it should grow and putting in information of what happened to them during their lifetime, and how their the time to really appreciate the wood. life changed, and yet still remained the same, because we as Squamish people live in this area and this is our home, and other people who come N: With your experience and time put into Witness as a project, through the Roundhouse Community arts centre, how have you changed through here they feel for the first time the newness of an old-growth forest, they that process yourself personally? feel the freshness of a glacial spring, that they have never even considered before in their lives, and they all of a sudden realize that they are walking C.B: I’ve had to change to put myself out in the limelight, I’ve never in to something that to us as Squamish people is old-school, to them their seen myself as a person who is there leading people and pointing in a bursting their envelope, their bursting their feeling of comfort, their in an direction of where we should be going and what we should be doing. I’ve area that they’ve never experienced before, but our elders just shrug their always seen myself as a leader who leads without doing those kinds of shoulders and say ‘it always been there’. And the same with what we’re activities, who would sit down and do all the background work and make trying to tell our youth, to our children, it’s always been there, it’s only sure something gets pulled off and in a successful way, and not necessarily up to them as individuals to experience, and to get comfortable with their standing there and being the person who is pulling things together to be foundation of who they are and where they come from, and once they are the focal point of the event, and that’s changed, because in order to have comfortable, then they will go out into the land, and go do the baths [early work being done, to hire a Speaker, and call witnesses, you need a family, morning glacial river baths], and they will find out more of who they are you need a group or an individual to create the reason for the event, create and where they come from in a positive way that will not only benefit them the reason to call witnesses. Because our culture has not been put out in as members of our community, but it will benefit our community because the limelight the way that we put our culture out in the witness project it will make our community stronger.
  • itself, it has forced me to be that focal point, to be that person of calling C.B: That process is still on track, it has slowed down a lot only because of witnesses and hiring the Speakers, and making me more vocal than I ever what’s called ‘due diligence’ meaning that they have stated that they have wanted to be. a certain value, in Interfor’s mind, that what the TFL 38’s net worth is, and we have to go in a sound out whether or not that value has any credibility N: Do you see your role changing in the future with that? to those numbers. I thought it would be a quick process of two months, and it looks like it will be more of a process of 8 months to a year, before things C.B: I see it changing in very positive way, and it’s changing today with resolve. But buying timber forest license is one half of the equation. Even the introduction of the ambassadors in the last two years, the ambassadors though Interfor has a right to log in TFL 38, which is the majority of our are a group of young people [majority of young women] in our community traditional territory, they have to follow the provincial guidelines, and the who are going out in the land, who are putting themselves forward in front provincial guidelines say that their annual allowable cut is still 240, 000 of the mainstream society and putting themselves out and saying who they cubic meters a year, which hasn’t changed, which also includes the cutting are and where they come from, and its beautiful because they are taking of all the old-growth in our traditional territory, and until we change that over my role as being the person to call the witnesses, to hire the Speakers, number, our Wild Spirit places are in jeopardy, and those negotiations are they taking over that role because they themselves are being the Speakers, going on simultaneously with the buying of the TFL 38 license is going they themselves are the family who is calling the gathering together to on, so we won’t know until January ’06 whether or not we can take the call witnesses, so hopefully in the next three to five years, they themselves Wild Spirit places out of the annual allowable cut. If we can’t it would be will take over completely all the roles and responsibilities that I have been a great benefit to Squamish to buy the TFL 38 and not log, and just take the carrying in the last nine years of pushing the Squamish culture forward penalty of not logging, and look at other people to help us pay that penalty, and that they, all 14 or 16 will then be carrying that role and responsibility because ultimately the provincial government wants money for the old- in their day to day activities. Then I can step back and maybe focus on growth forest, so if we give them money and not log, then my thinking is other segments of our traditional land holdings that need to be highlighted that provincial government wouldn’t really care, as long as they get their or further light shed upon those issues. money. So we have to look at other groups and organizations to help us, with that, but if we can negotiate the Wild Spirit places out of the annual N: yes, we were in email conversation about some of the things that Interfor allowable cut, then that’s the best world we would be in, because then we (multinational forest company) was negotiating with the Squamish Nation, wouldn’t have to worry about the cutting of the old-growth forests ever and that is the buying back of the TFL 38 [tree farm license 38 – meaning again. What we could do then is focus not on the fight of trying to keep 38 thousand hectares of land] in which these old-growth forests reside in, the old-growth forests, but focus on the fight of introducing the old-growth how is that process going? forest to our children. ~~~>>>><<<<<~~~
  • How does this impact on my art practice? Until recently I have understood my artistic practice as straightforward as a ‘contemporary photo-based arts practice’, which in the context of Witness, displaces my community cultural work as simply another extension of my commitment to the eco-crisis, falling into the old hierarchal trap which always privilege’s culture over nature. Not surprising, considering my training at the Emily Carr Institute in Vancouver, BC, where I was inspired first-hand by the Jeff Wall’s, Ian Wallace’s, Stan Douglas’s, Ken Lum’s, and Three Jin Me-Yoon’s. Since Documental XI, however, my practice can be better I Art Context understood as ‘art documentation’ where the ‘artwork’ itself is located elsewhere, that is, intangible outside of ‘experiencing it’. The essay by Boris Groys, in Documenta XI, ‘Art in the age of Biopolitics: From Artwork to Art Documentation’, questions the very distinction between art and life, and argues that ‘today’s art is to become life itself’. The changing role of contemporary art to find reconnection back to life- Art has deep and difficult eyes and for many, the gaze is too insistent. issues, (which contradicts my love for the those luscious, over-sized, Better to pretend that art is dumb, or at least has nothing to say that makes modernist, all-encompassing photo-based ‘high-art’ works), has actually any sense to us. - Jeanette Winterson, Art Objects been the privileged rank in the binary for most of my work in the development of Witness. Desire to place myself in the context of the gallery-museum We have turned ‘art’ into ‘pictures’ in effort to mask its potency. conformity of the high-art world, took a back seat, (but remains a desire - Beth Carruthers, p.23 none-the-less), which complicates and confuses my ethics in practice. The artist becomes a compassionate activist, collaborator, listener, celebrator and educator. In the context of community, art is no longer In light of recent shifts in the art world, using the example of Documenta dead; it is reborn. - Amir Ali Alibhai, p. 42 XI, curator Sarat Maharaj bravely sidesteps ‘art in terms of the gallery- museum system’. Maharaj posits the Duchampian paradoxical question, “Can one make a work of art that is not ‘Art’?” I have personally struggled with the question of such ‘art today’, well before reading his text, ‘Xeno- Epistemics: makeshift kit for sounding visual art as knowledge production
  • and the retinal regimes’. My bewilderment is reflected in so much as I Community Centre, who has written about Witness on several occasions, grapple constantly between the prospect of ‘producing’ tangible artworks takes a different spin on the artist as ‘compassionate activist’ and community in a gallery-museum style approach, with that of actually ‘becoming’ a animator, which I have shared upon multiple occasions. ‘Community work in and of itself in relation to a larger community. is not a static entity ‘out there’, but is manifested through action – it is practiced’.20 They whip us up to see-think-feel weather fronts-new affects, subjectivities, Witness fulfills the roles described as the ‘territory’ of community art feelings, emotional eddies and tidals – that trigger transformative thought, practice, depending on who you ask. Witness is Public Art, Activism, action and behaviour. Let’s look at them as art-ethical processing plants Empowerment, Education, Collaboration, Celebration and Community churning out options and potentials for chipping in, action and involvement Development, simultaneously... Perhaps the simplest explanation for why community art practice has emerged recently is the need to in the world. contemporary society for us to find a space to speak – to participate in the public sphere in critical dialogue, and not in a manner that is The difficulty within a process-oriented possibility or ‘art-ethical processing bureaucratized, surveillanced, not about consuming products, and not plants’ lies in overcoming traditional notions of producing a singular work removed from our embodied realities. – Amir Ali Alibhai, p.35 of art. That is to say free-association to create irregular, odd, eccentric, idiosyncratic imaginings. Art to most people, especially within a ‘community Former director of the Songbird project, artist and friend, Beth Carruthers, context’, must be ‘understood’ to be recognized as art. There is a judgement writes in an unpublished essay titled, “Returning the Radiant Gaze”, that value placed upon a work immediately, which can also shut down a more “we have outlawed art, burned art and glorified art...not because art is experimental, unregimented attempt. a mirror, a narrative, or a representation, but because art is something more”. It is this ‘something more’ that I am always trying to touch with the Jan Verwoert, professor of Contemporary Art at the Academy of Umea, art process. I become irked when art is downsized to a ‘task’, assigned a points out that art has an ‘implicit critical potential’ which is different from ‘mission’, or reduced to grand-scale ‘propaganda’ for a political message. an ‘explicit political effect’. The ‘implicit potential is the artist’s ability to It is insulting to the art practitioner. This was the case in many of the un-frame existing definitions of art and artistic competence. Placing the artistic presentations at the KLARTEXT conference in Berlin of this year. artist in the social context defines the criteria of competence for the artist It is not the elitist commercial criteria for ‘high art’ that I argue for, but as negotiator, visionary, communicator, which limits this potential18’. If the transformative repositioning of the creative process to have effect in artist’s are those working from the ‘inside-looking out’, whereas of neo- society, beginning with the plane of community. liberal globalization from the ‘outside-looking in’, then what Robert C. Morgan suggests to artists, is for an awareness of the limitations of his / her involvement, and to ‘think inwardly in terms of what we can transmit to the outside.19” Amir Ali Alibhai, artist, curator and arts programmer at the Roundhouse
  • Community art practice emerges at a time when globalization and the There have been thousands of pictures taken. I rummage through a pile dominant culture of consumption threatens the diversity and integrity of contact sheets from the panorama camera, searching for images I have of distinct cultural communities and our traditional mechanisms for over-looked in previous years; images which through time and distance, community-building and maintenance (ie: the ‘public sphere’), and indeed our sense of being active agents in society. begin to speak to me again. Years of collecting now become a recollection. The photographic paper onto which the integral tri-packs and dye-couplers – Amir Ali Alibhai, p 39 have adhered themselves to, are metaphorically symbolic of the residue of an ancient ecology and lumberyard of ghosts. It almost stopped me For me personally, art is not an easily understood relationship. Perhaps it once from making more images, upon the realization of the absurdity of is one part of my jobs as an artist and cultural worker – to assist people in it all. ‘Ha la, Nancy, I mean that civilization is a nonsense you know’... I feeling comfortable with not understanding. What differs between cultural hear Vera’s heavy Czech accent sounding in my memory, laughing as she practice and artistic practice is that to be considered ‘culture’ is to already speaks with alarm. I continue sifting through the piles. operate from an accepted canon, or a tradition drawing from its own rich historical reclaimed roots. Whereas according to Mika Hannula ‘artistic Two trees stop my search. research is a new area a field within university studies that deserves to be called social innovation21’. Such artistic practice carries that very difficult ‘WildLife Tree’ and ’98.8’, (FIG 7 & 8), both of them neatly labeled with blue task of reinventing culture or social innovation, in the here and now, and spray paint as if done so onto a chalkboard inside a giant classroom. One therefore becomes ‘both a possibility and a risk’ (Hannula; 2004: 70). It of them was photographed in the time-span of a weeklong solo trip I made does not have the stability that ‘culture’ carries. Borrowing heavily from the into the ‘rock shelter’ area of the Elaho Valley back in the summer of 1999. cultural past, but far from being traditional, artistic research is about creating The whole area of forest was taped off by Interfor as ‘special management new situations and new knowledge’s from a self-critical and self-reflexive zone’. I was asked by telalsemkin to photograph the area shortly after it framework, combining theory, practice with anarchistic experimentation was discovered, and archeologist Yumks, Rudy Reimer, declared the area (Hannula; 2004), and thus offering new ways of negotiating the world. It as a Squamish sacred site. Before I entered the rock shelter area, Splash, Aaron Nelson-Moody prepared the songs and tumulth for the ancestors, is a risky business. And because of this high risk factor, there also exists acknowledging to them of my presence in the forest with the camera. I a great potential for failure, which is also part of the inherent process of was told that this neighbourhood of the mountain was used for people community intensities and reinventing a whole other social imaginary. who would leave their village sites and spend anywhere from 4 months, to 4 years, and even up to 16 years alone in the forest, conversing with the natural world, learning how to become more human. I formed alliance with the trees.
  • FIG.8, “Wild Life Tree”, C-print, 3’ x 8’, 2001 FIG.7, Cedar 98.8, C-print, 3’ x 8’, 1998
  • Ten thousand years since the last ice age, the temperate rainforest is an My referral to this image (FIG. 10) is two-fold: on the one hand I reflected ancient ecology that has been evolving since time immemorial. ‘Rhizome on Emily Carr’s “Scorn be timber: beloved as the Sky”, a painting that rainforest’ inspired by Deleuze, metaphorically mirrors a delightful ecosystem the well-known BC artist produced in the 1950’s, as a critical comment as a living, breathing meme spreading beneath the forest floor, and springing on the logging industry and practices at that time. I climbed on top of the up back onto itself, as a ‘thinking agency’, alive and teeming with memory, cabin of the truck for a better perspective, of the view down the Elaho non-hierarchy and fusion. Which is closer to the way nature actually works Valley, at mile 60, when I saw her painting in my imagination. It was as – a highly sophisticated process of ‘becoming-other’ than what is not itself; if nothing really changed in the forest management practices code in a hybrid course of action. “Have Fun!” mimics the blue spray paint markings the course of fifty years. A lone cedar tree stands isolated among a bare on the cedar tree scheduled for clear-felling, and logger culture of Squamish. ruin of newly erased land. With the next lightening storm, this cedar tree wouldn’t stand a chance of not being blown down, lacking shelter and foundational support from a larger ecosystem. Inferfor has support of the law, when conducting forestry in this way. Unfortunately, what happened the following week of taking this photograph was that the entire cut- block ignited into a blazing inferno initially caused by a storm, and the gasoline cans that were carelessly left on site. All the trees that had been felled in the cut-block were left lying on the ground for more than half a year. When the storm hit, and the fire started, everything, including Interfor’s invested profits of horizontal timber, became a massive pit of black ash. FIG. 9, Have Fun! Photo-canvas heat transfer, 4’ x 5’, 2000
  • Secondly, what became clear to me after my week of solo time in the rainforest was that I was actually never ‘alone’. There was a constant hum of activity going on all around that I was not accustomed to noticing living in the city. I had instruction to photograph the site for the Squamish Nation. Soon I became aware that I was not the only ‘modest witness’ to this place and time, but that in my brief presence of being there, I too was being witnessed and recorded in the memory of the land and those species living there. What I was witness to was not simply a motionless cedar tree rooted there in the nutrient-rich soil for the last 1500 years, but a cedar tree endowed with a memory, history, agency, interdependent relationships, all in a course of continuous unstable events in constant processes of becoming change and transformation. The life-span of this cedar tree was close to, or more than a millennia in age when the storm struck, and lacking the support of a neighboring infrastructure, fell prey to the expansiveness of wind and open air. There becomes a different intelligence being included in the whole process, where the visuals start to talk back. - Katherine Dodds, notes from conversation, 2005 FIG.10, Cedar Elder as witnessed by daughter of immigrants, photo-canvas, 3’ x 8’, 2000 FIG.11, Daughter of immigrants as witnessed by cedar elder, photo-canvas, 3’ x 8’, 2000
  • FIG.13, Kal’kalhil wild woman of the woods eating her children, Photo-canvas B&W portraitof mask and colour panorama landscape, 3’ x 10’, 2000 FIG.14, Breach of protocol, Photo-canvas B&W portrait of William Nahannee and colour panorama landscape, 3’ x 10’, 2000 FIG.12, Untitled, Photo-canvas heat transfer, 6.5’ x 5.5’, 2000 I started with packing a 4x5 inch, 35mm and 6x6 medium format cameras, along with a good supply of film. Walking alone for hours through cedar groves, douglas firs and hemlocks forests and back into the clear-cut where a base-camp had been set by the Western Canada Wilderness Committee. My main concern was how this was being reported in the media - the language that was being used and constructed, who was doing the talking, and as a result - what social groups did that privilege or silence?
  • In light of the injustices of cultural genocide in Canadian history with regards to indigenous peoples, I think about how Squamish people are so receptive to sharing the oral traditions of their history, land and culture. Strange plant becomings, becoming tree. This is not the transformation In what ways are those duties and responsibilities brought to the public of one into the other, but something passing from one to the other. This sphere, to encompass a shared history, and understanding of the land in something can be specified only as a sensation. contemporary times? If history itself is a story of the winners, how then -Gilles Deleuze, A Thousand Plateaus, p. 173 is it possible to (re)write the script of the past, (re)invent the present, and to (re)imagine a future? Not separate from one another, but rather The artist is a seer, a becomer. How else would he recount what simultaneously, as if a triple person in a triple time, beginning with a past, happened to him, or what he imagines, since he is a shadow? He has a future and a present (Homi Bhaba). We are responsible for our bodies, seen something in life that is too great, too unbearable also, and the mutual embrace of life that threatens it. our race and our ancestors – which include the stories of those that have -Gilles Deleuze, A Thousand Plateaus, p. 171 been marginalized, silenced and made irrelevant. If art and culture have any impact, how then can artists trained in traditional schools (as practiced in Squamish culture, based on tradition, practice and apprenticeship) and contemporary schools (based on praxis [theory / practice], and artistic research) collaborate to find effective ways of communicating a new social reality? A shared reality, which includes a shared responsibility? FIG.15, Untitled, photo-canvas heat transfer, 3’ x 10’, 2000
  • Four I Summary ...constant interaction with what used to be called nature, what used to be called culture, through the mediating factor which is universal technology that we are moving in and consequently drawing into the environmental issues, drawing on the political question of new technologies, drawing on the kind of spirituality and issues of spirituality that are so important if we are going to make sense of this real cultural upheaval we are going through. And keeping in mind, basically and most naively, the importance to reassert the difference woman can make. This, for me, is the central issue: to go on reasserting a sexual difference as a positive factor of dissymmetry between men and women. We have got something else to offer and it may not sound very post-structuralist, but I could care less because it is ultimately that political passion that is going to carry through. - Rosi Braidotti,Metamorphoses, p. FIG.16, Love, loss and permutation, Photo-canvas transfer, 3’ x 8’, 2005
  • The artist is a translator; one who has learned to pass into her own to mention them all. Getting people ‘out there’ to witness for themselves language the languages gathered from stones, from birds, from dreams, was tiresome work. Failures in fundraising and communication resulted from the body, from the material world, from the invisible world, from sex, from death, from love. in canceling a scheduled international exhibition in Prague in 2004. Or - Jeannette Winterson, Art Objects, p 146 the burn-out that comes from long-standing, fast-growing community ‘work’, with promises of forever taking the breath out of you; both in the exasperating sense, and in the most positive, transforming and inspiring sense imaginable. Summary Each chapter re-instates the question for investigation, from another angle, from another locality, what is the repositioning of the artist as a All the above mentioned challenges and struggles dim by comparison ‘witness’? My thesis does not attempt to provide concrete, fixed answers to the positive rewards of genuine human-nature connections made, as such, but operates instead toward highlighting a direction and way of strengthened by a renewed relationship to the land, and by the different thinking of art today that is spreading the world over. Stemming from local forms of knowledge’s that have surfaced from dialogue across cultures, modest initiatives, with project-based works, such as Uts’am-Witness, and across species. The re-positioning my ‘artwork’ as a ‘witness’ is in its emphasis is clearly placed upon comprehension toward the intention relation to a larger community, that stretches beyond the art world, of a political, environmental and artistic work in process, instead of the where the visual outcomes have a real affect in the way that the critical presentation or representation of a work in relation to the commercial art engagement of community is practiced. And the political enactments market and gallery-museum conformity, and instead of a quick-fix solution via the exhibition space to enlarge the scope for a thinking audience, is to the many and multiple socio-ecological problems we face on a daily also encouraging. (Witness Arts Exhibition, curated by Amir Ali Alibhai, basis. Roundhouse Community Arts Centre 1998; 2001) I remain unfixed between the different worlds; straddling them, holding on, Chief Bill Williams is unique in the community from which he comes from. letting go at times, and whirling around the philosophical terrains between Trained in both spiritual values and political negotiation, and a leader for ‘old worlds’ and ‘new’, of artistic practice, ecology and citizenship. I am a community undergoing massive health transformations, he was the first wary of ‘art with a mission’, yet at the same time, my desires to create to ‘bravely side-step’ his own comfort zone, and form alliance with a lively sustainable futures become political by default. array of ‘Others’, we the ‘newcomers’. As a leader, both elected chairman of the Squamish Nation Band Office and hereditary chief, I observe his Intuition and rigorous ideals have guided my actions and energy leading to how strength of skills traverse the different worlds in a seamless way. He a community, grass-roots project that has enormously enlarged over the is a political force that ‘moves across established categories and levels of years, with its humble beginnings rooted in the simple form of a creative experience: blurring boundaries without burning bridges’. (Braidotti.1994: 4) while opening up new possibilities for emergence and change. response to the eco-crisis. Mistakes were made along the way; too many
  • This understanding is so critical for awareness of how to move from one To navigate the world in such weird and wonderful times, artists are experience to another, from one category of social group to another, in an becoming even more flexible and alert, and finding home in ‘places, spaces active way. Which is to be at once a guest, and at home, among multiple and scales’ that multiply their role. This means acknowledging complexities levels of experience, communities and subcultures; and to mobilze groups and contradictions; acting upon a critical awareness of inconsistencies to of people to dialogue with one another, who don’t normally get together, form alliance and interconnection with different cultures, and to transform on issues concerning the land. (ie: Scientists, Loggers, CEO’s of multi- ourselves ethically. This opens a space to give consideration for artistic national corporations, Native Chiefs, environmentalists, housewives, artists, practice that embraces a radical renewal of our sense of responsibility. Art legendary mountaineers, intellectuals, homeless, drug addicts, geologists, that contributes to the circumstances allowing for unique and unexpected biologists, media press, spiritual leaders of the Longhouse, urban native properties to emerge; which is to say, art that loosens up the binary knot youth, medicine people, lawyers, schoolchildren, community organizers, between nature and culture, community art and high art, sexual difference volunteers, tourists, etc.) This nomadic risk taking and community undertaking and power relations, development and sustainability, spiritual and is what I have been busy with in my practice for ten years, which has intellectual, fuels my hopes, and expands my creative journey. taught me that the singularity of art, coupled with social responsibility, and combined with Chicayx / protocols and nomadic becoming, can transmutate to become more fluid, multiple, more lively. Nancy Bleck, Vancouver, BC, Canada, August, 2005 And it is essential to situating the Uts’am - Witness project, how it formed during its infant stages through an environmental crisis, then to a watchful awareness of wilderness ethics, First Nations protocols, and artistic methodologies. I say this as a means to locate a path-finding, so as to insert a new methodological map and fresh route, that in the future for Uts’am - Witness will be made by entirely new-sprung subjects. Further research, participation and involvement is underway to access the international debate on the changing role of the artist in times of eco- crisis. One of my long-term goals is to connect these issues into a broader international scope. I plan to respond to future symposiums organized through the RSA, Arts & Ecology in London, and submit our project online to link with other projects.
  • Bibliography Leir en Boog, Henk Slager and Annette W. Balkema, Eds., Series of Philosophy of Art and Theory, Artistic Research, Volume 18, 2004, p. 70 Primary Sources Haraway, J. Donna, 2000. How Like a Leaf: An Interview with Thyrza Nichols nexw-ayantsut (Sims Creek) Goodeve, London and New York: Routledge Conversation with Telàlsemkin/ siyam, Hereditary Chief Bill Williams, August 7th, Haraway, J. Donna, 1997. Modest_Witness@Second_Millennium.FemaleMan© 2005 _Meets_OncoMouse, London and New York: Routledge Scale, Place and Space, workshop with Joanna Regulaska, Heim, Wallace, “Locating Change, ecologising art, but nature overlooked: a University of Utrecht, June, 2005 commentary on the launch of ARTS & ECOLOGY”, 2005, published on the internet view download Secondary Sources http://www.thersa.org/arts/conferences/conference1/visitorResponse.asp Alibhai, Amir Ali, “Locating Community Art Practice”, unpublished essay, Maharaj, Sarat, “Xeno-Epistemics: makeshift kit for sounding visual art as Vancouver, Canada, 2001 knowledge production and the retinal regimes”, Documenta XI Braidotti, Rosi, 1995. “Feminism and Modernity”, Free Inquiry, Spring Issue, Mulder, Arjen, 2004.Understanding Media Theory, Language, Images, Sound, (1995) Behaviour, V2_Publishers/NAi Publishers, Rotterdam Braidotti, Rosi, 1994. Nomadic Subjects: Embodiment and Sexual Difference in Contemporary Feminst Theory. New York: Columbia University Press Plumwood, Val. 1993: Feminism and the Mastery of Nature. London and New York: Routledge Braidotti, Rosi, 2002: Metamorphoses: Towards a Materialist Theory of Becoming, Cambridge, UK, Oxford: Polity Press Winterson, Jeannette, 1995. Art Objects: essays on ecstasy and effrontery, London: Jonathan Cape Braidotti, Rosi, 1994. Women, the Environment and Sustainable Development: Towards a Theoretical Synthesis. Zed Books Ltd, London Conferences & Websites Carruthers, Beth, “Returning the Radiant Gaze”, unpublished essay, Lancaster, Uts’am-Witness Project, 1997-2005 (ongoing) England, 2003 http://www.uts’am-witness.ca Colebrook, Claire. 2002. Gilles Delueze, London and New York: Routledge KLAREXT! Artist as political subject, Curators Marina Sorbello and Antje Weitzel, Berlin, Germany, January, 2005 Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F. 1987, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Trans. B. Massumi, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press Arts and Ecology, RSA London, England, April, 2005 EastLink Symposium, “The Third Space in the Fourth World”, Eastlink Gallery, 2002, p 48 http://www.thersa.org/arts/conferences/conference1/visitorResponse.asp Responses by: Jan Verwoert and Emily PethickEnd Notes Groys, Boris, “Art in the Age of Bio-Politics” Documenta XI Hannula, Mika, “River Low, Mountain High, Contextualizing Artistic Research”,
  • End notes 17 Heim, Wallace,“Locating Change, ecologising art, but nature overlooked: a commentary on the launch of ARTS & ECOLOGY”, 2005, p. 4 1 If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution, Press Release, e-flux, August 1st, 2005 18 EastLink Symposium, The Third Space in the Fourth World, Eastlink Gallery, 2002, p 48 2 Braidotti, Rosi, 1994. Nomadic Subjects: Embodiment and Sexual Difference in Contemporary Feminist Theory. New York: Columbia University Press 19 Alibhai, Amir Ali, “Locating Community Art Practice”, unpublished essay, Vancouver, Canada, 2001, p. 39 3 Haraway, J. Donna., 2000. How Like a Leaf, Routledge, New York, London, p. 10 20 Hannula, Mika, “River Low, Mountain High, Contextualizing Artistic Research”, Leir en Boog, Series of Philosophy of Art and Theory, Eds. Annette Balkema, Henk 4 Haraway, Donna. 1997: Modest_Witness@Second_Millennium.FemaleMan©_ Slager, Artistic Research,Volume 18, 2004, p. 70 Meets_OncoMouse London and New York: Routledge 5 Ibid 6 Ibid 7 Haraway, Donna. 1997: Modest_Witness@Second_Millennium.FemaleMan©_ Meets_OncoMouse London and New York: Routledge. p. 24 8 Ibid. p. 268 9 Ibid. p. 269 10 Plumwood, Val. 1993: Feminism and the Mastery of Nature. London and New York: Routledge 11 Braidotti, Rosi, 1989: Women, the Environment and Sustainable Development. p. 174 12 Ibid.p. 4 13 Guattari, Felix: The Three Ecologies, p. 35 14 Braidotti, Rosi, 1989: Women, the Environment and Sustainable Development. p. 5 15 During a workshop at the University of Utrecht, Joanna Regulaska introduced me to the concepts of scale / place / space; concepts I had been busy with in my practice throughout the early years of Witness, of forming the very difficult interconnections across multiple-communities, bridging people who didn’t normally talk, yet alone get together. Building connections across scale, breaking boundaries of the ‘fixity’ of community – the ‘jumping scale’ of bridge building and of ‘local embeddedness’, and shifting the focus of ‘global’ to ‘specific’ through social / cultural dynamics and flows of ideas across scale. 16 Braidotti, Rosi, 1994. Nomadic Subjects: Embodiment and Sexual Difference in Contemporary Feminst Theory. New York: Columbia University Press. p.5