LandMarks2017: Art + Places + Perspectives. Landmarks are meeting places. They can be features of the landscape—a tree, a mountain, a waterway, a boulder—or part of the built environment. The land is marked by time, by the elements, by the habits of animals and peoples. Landmarks define boundaries and echo multiple histories, stories and beliefs. They give shape to our collective memories. A landmark is a turning point for change and a legacy for future generations. Landmarks help us find our way. To mark is to act.
LandMarks2017/Repères2017 is a network of collaborative, contemporary art projects across Canada’s national parks on the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation in 2017.
This anniversary marks an occasion to reflect on a land much older than 150 years, and to address the legacies of colonialism, the complex relationship between nationhood and cultural identity, as well as our relationship to nature in the face of present day environmental and climatic crises. Using art as a catalyst for discourse and social change, LandMarks2017 looks forward, and provides an opportunity to imagine, to speculate, and to invent our futures through the eyes of artists, art students, communities, and through the spirit of the land.
We acknowledge our unique situation globally—an incredibly culturally diverse population spread over an immense landmass, with over 200 languages spoken across nearly 10 million square kilometers. LandMarks2017 speaks from multiple positions, using difference, rather than unified national identity, as a starting point. We recognize Indigenous Nations and relationships to land as foundational. Our shared stories are, at their heart, about land, belonging, languages, and cultures that stem from our interconnectedness with the earth.
LandMarks2017 creates a forum for collaboration, knowledge sharing, negotiation of differing perspectives, Indigenous methodologies, and the creation of new frameworks of understanding through a coordinated art curriculum in universities across the country. At the hub of LandMarks2017 is an interactive digital platform for the circulation of ideas, activated by artists and art students, to form a web of discourses addressing concepts of place, environment, and the construction of identities.
LandMarks2017 engages people and activates communities, situating contemporary art practice outside of gallery walls, in natural sites and through digital networks.
What does it mean for a team of contemporary art curators to work on a collaborative national art project created to inspire conversations about the people, places, and perspectives that have shaped 150 years of the colonial project of Canada? First, let us explain what this project is not, in order to help you understand what it is
It is not a party. There are no birthday cakes or sparklers. Rather, it is a deep reflection by artists, curators, and communities of what the last 150 years mean – the good, the bad, and the ugly. How many zeros would be added if we were to consider Indigenous histories, deep geological time, or the measure and witness of tree rings?
It is not simple. It is layered, complex, political, celebratory, empowering, contradictory, and visionary –all at once.
It is not just artists making objects. It is collaborative and active, requiring dialogue, shared conversation, and a deeper investment to explore the relationship with and interconnectedness to the land, Indigenous territories, and diverse communities and cultures.
Any meaningful project examining the occasion of Canada at 150 is necessarily complex, multi-faceted, and divergent. When we approached this contentious anniversary, we made a collective decision to take a lead from Indigenous epistemologies, in which time is deep, land is central, and rights areunresolved. We imagined working with contemporary artists whose practices would challenge dominant narratives, engage with communities, and enrich an understanding of unique localities across this land, and who embody these concerns in their hearts and in their work. Expanding beyond the dominant narratives of this country’s “official” beginning 150 years ago, we are excited to witness lesser-known stories and non-linear histories that connect us more strongly to the land and its multiplicity of voices.
A hundred and fifty years is not a long time. Marked mammoth bones found just south of the Vuntut Gwitchin community of Old Crow, where artist Jeneen Frei Njootli’s Being Skidoo was filmed, suggest that the first humans inhabited Turtle Island over 28,000 years ago, 10,000 years longer than originally thought (though preserved in Indigenous oral tradition since time immemorial). To put this number into perspective, if we were to condense Indigenous culture on this continent into 24 hours, then Canadian Confederation took place only about seven and a half minutes ago.
The ten projects commissioned and realized over the course of a year for LandMarks2017/Repères2017 recognize the significance of this décalage – the immense time lag between Indigenous and colonial worldviews, and between the linear time of written history and the layered, cyclical complexity of oral memory that is so often connected to the land. Our intention was to stretch time in both directions and to create moments of connection between ways of encountering land and time – into the deep past that reaches far beyond 150 years, the current moment, and many generations into the future.
The curatorial impetus to de-centre and disperse the geography of Turtle Island and the messaging of Canada 150 served as our starting point. This diverse and great land allowed for commissioned works to take place in distinct places and communities: rural towns, Indigenous managed lands, wilderness, national parks, and historic sites.
Together, the projects of LandMarks2017/Repères2017 revisit dominant histories and reintroduce narratives that write more inclusive ones. They propose intersections between bodies and territories, whether through the works themselves or by the artists being in or becoming the land. They draw on personal and familial histories as a valid way to think about the intersection of disparate identities. They inhabit the land, initiate movements, and seek a coexistence of different temporalities. They care for and nurture sites on both concrete and symbolic levels. They consider nature as an interlocutor –the water, the plants, and the animals, the winged and the swimmers. They allow for a sensorial experience of the land. They are presented to us in ways that are collaborative rather than singular, ephemeral rather than monumental, and process-driven rather than predetermined. They act as markers for the need for humility before nature and communities, and a consciousness of the circumstantial and partisan writings of history that can be challenged by many forms of social engagement. Discrete, subversive, accessible, and thoughtful, the resulting works are extremely rich in the ways they come together conceptually, thematically, and aesthetically.
These central concepts of LandMarks2017/Repères2017 informed the curricula of sixteen universities across this land, creating a forum for knowledge sharing, negotiation of differing perspectives, Indigenous epistemologies, and new frameworks of understanding. Through innovative coursework, faculty and students developed projects that took root in the classroom and branched off from there, through conceptual and collaborative works in local green spaces and nearby national parks and historic sites. This unique platform for experiential learning showcased to the public the diverse talent of emerging artists.
The artist projects, university curricula, and collaborations extended to the surrounding communities. Whether taking place in urban centres or remote rural locations, LandMarks2017/Repères2017 built encounters between communities and contemporary art outside of the usual framework for its presentation and reception. Shifting away from sites whose audiences are familiar with the visual language of contemporary art, the projects resonated and engaged with many people on a radically different level. Sharing of resources, spaces, and knowledge contributed to building relationships and collaborations with local artists, creators, businesses, and residents. LandMarks2017/Repères2017 nurtured and generated new modes of understanding through acts of reciprocity and engagement, demonstrating the transformative power of contemporary art to engage varied publics in conversations that reach far outside of its immediate context to create a lasting legacy.
LandMarks2017/Repères2017 asks urgent and complex questions: What can we learn from the blood of a caribou on the ancient rocks of an ancient river? What do we owe for our experiences within Indigenous lands and diverse communities? How do we address Indigenous injustice and futurity while being inclusive of refugee justice, immigrant realities, non-binary genders, diverse cultures, and different beliefs? How do we relate to another’s territory without the burden of colonial history that unmaps belonging? How do we give back to the land? And there are many more.
This Kanata is layered and contradictory. Rather than concrete answers, what remains most important is that we centre our connection to the land, its veins – rivers and tributaries – its breath – the winds – our bodies and our waters. Through this exchange, we can begin to re-examine our relationship with the land and with one another. This brings things full circle, back to what LandMarks2017/Repères2017 is and to what really matters: land, time, community, family, and ecology, and the ways in which we reach out, collaborate, touch, and teach, and how together we mark that which connects us all.
Meet the Curators
David Diviney, Ariella Pahlke, and Melinda Spooner (a.k.a. ACT)
David Diviney, Ariella Pahlke, and Melinda Spooner (a.k.a. ACT) are a curatorial team of arts professionals from Atlantic Canada.
David Diviney is presently the Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in Halifax. Ariella Pahlke is an independent documentary and media artist, curator, and educator. Melinda Spooner is a socially-engaged artist-researcher and instructor at NSCAD University. As a curatorial team for LandMarks 2017/Repères 2017, they are interested in a holistic approach to the exploration of local histories, natural habitats, and cultural heritage. They aim to connect people to a sense of place and ecology through a participatory framework centered on ideas of sustainability and community building.
Véronique Leblanc is a Montreal-based independent curator, writer and lecturer at Université du Québec à Montréal.
She is interested in context, process and relational-based practices as well as connections between art, ethics and politics. Her recent curatorial projects include: Richard Ibghy & Marilou Lemmens, Putting Life to Work (Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery, Montreal, 2016), Polyphonies (Optica, Montreal, 2015), and faire avec (AdMare, Magdelen Islands, 2013). She holds an MA in Art History from the Université du Québec à Montréal and was awarded the 2015 Prix John R. Porter from the Fondation du Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, as well as the Canadian Art Writing Prize in 2011.
Natalia Lebedinskaia is the Curator of Contemporary Art at the Art Gallery of Southwestern Manitoba in Brandon, MB.
Since joining the gallery in 2011, she has produced projects and exhibitions by David McMillan, Greg Staats, Kevin Conlin, Jillian McDonald, and Peter Morin, among many others. She holds an MA in Art History and a BFA in Art History & Studio Art from Concordia University, and has previously held internships at the Banff Centre for the Arts. Her research focuses on negotiations of personal and collective memory within the public sphere, and her curatorial approach aims to build communities — both ephemeral and lasting — through exhibitions and programming.
Kathleen Ritter is an artist and writer based in Vancouver and Paris.
She was an artist in residence at La Cité Internationale des Arts, Paris, in 2013. Her art practice broadly explores questions of visibility, especially in relation to systems of power, language and technology. Ritter was the Associate Curator at the Vancouver Art Gallery until 2012, where she organized the exhibitions Beat Nation: Art, Hip Hop and Aboriginal Culture (with Tania Willard); How Soon Is Now; and Rebecca Belmore: Rising to the Occasion (with Daina Augaitis). Ritter has lectured and published on the work of artists nationally and internationally, with texts appearing in numerous catalogues and journals, including ESSE, Open Letter, C Magazine, Prefix Photo, and Fillip.
Tania Willard, Secwepemc Nation, works within the shifting ideas around contemporary and traditional, often working with bodies of knowledge and skills that are conceptually linked to her interest in intersections between Aboriginal and other cultures.
Willard has been a curator in residence with grunt gallery and Kamloops Art Gallery. Willard’s curatorial work includes the national touring exhibition Beat Nation: Art Hip Hop and Aboriginal Culture, co-curated with Kathleen Ritter at the Vancouver Art Gallery. In 2016 Willard received the Award for Curatorial Excellence in Contemporary Art from the Hanatyshyn Foundation. Willard’s selected recent curatorial work includes; Unceded Territories: Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun, Nanitch: Historical BC photography and BUSH gallery as well as the upcoming LandMarks 2017/Repères 2017.
Curated Project: Bellevue House: Many Voices