Saturday, July 22, 2017


Drove north from UBCO yesterday to see Scott August's completed exhibition at the Lake Country Art Gallery (the now demolished bandshell shown in an earlier post was located on the West Kelowna bluffs and was known to host concerts by bands like Trooper and Cheap Trick).

After that, a haircut in Vernon, and then to the ranch, where preparations are underway to bring the Airstream down from the hay barn.

In the meantime, dull stuff like laundry: turning fitted sheets into jelly fish.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Undoing the I Do

Yesterday at 4:30 p.m. Syilx artist and FCCS MFA classmate Mariel Belanger gave a performance at the UBCO Commons. Entitled Undoing the I Do, Mariel arrived at the foot of the Commons pond dressed in her wedding gown and carrying with her a woven bowl that contained a tin pot full of soil and/or ashes and a small box of soap, as well as a bouquet. To the tune of Lesley Gore's "You Don't Own Me" Mariel "washed" herself, the bouquet and the dress of that colonial fantasy known as "Indian Princess".

Thursday, July 20, 2017

CRWR 520 (5)

Although originally billed as keynote presentations by Jeannette Armstrong and Shawn Wilson, we were told by the afternoon’s emcee Stephen Foster that Richard Armstrong would be opening for Jeanette, followed by Shawn, and that pleased me some because Richard’s July 14, 2016 introduction to Syilx cosmology, preceded by Carmen Papalia’s Blind Field Shuttle (July 12, 2016) and followed by Fahreen HaQ’s Being Home performance at the Alternator Gallery (July 15, 2016), had a profound effect on how I have come to understand everything from indigenous land pedagogy to relationality to collaboration.

One of the more remarkable things that happens when listening to Richard, something that is rarely experienced these days when in the company of even the most experienced public speakers, is the complete lack of “ums” and “uhs” in his presentations. Could it be that Richard, who reminded us more than once that the knowledge he carries is not generally found in books, has rehearsed his words to the point where they flow in and out of him as naturally as bats from a cave? As someone who is always considering the presence of form as content in writing a work of art, in writing on a work of art or, increasing, in writing with a work of art, I have come to experience what Richard says of the land’s participation in our growth as human beings an instance of Richard performing that land. Or if not the performance of that land, then perhaps more humbly its embodiment.

It is my understanding that Richard gave a more recent introduction to Syilx cosmology last week, as well as took part in what emcee Foster described as an “inspiring” conversation with visiting artist Alex Janvier at the FINA Gallery. But as there likely were details about art and artists that occurred to Richard after his conversation with Alex, details particular to the Syilx people, Richard no doubt saw the need to address these things to an Intensive comprised as much of artists as scholars. And so it was for this reason that, after a few words about who he is (a Syilx knowledge-keeper) and where he comes from (an Okanagan Valley divided into two colonial spheres by a politicized 49th Parallel), he announced that he would speak to art and artists.

“Are there things an artist should not be doing?” Richard asked rhetorically. And then of course the answers.

The first answer began with some context concerning that reductive popular cultural mediator known as Hollywood. Richard told us of Hollywood’s persistent use of red ochre face paint when depicting indigenous people in its films. “Red ochre is sacred,” Richard began, and from there he told us how it has particular uses, like the marks found on petroglyphs. Artists can mix red ochre to make paint for use in paintings, he added, but red ochre should never be applied to one’s face. The second verboten concerns the use of a deer’s dew claws in the making of an artwork, for these, too, are sacred. “These are used to make rattles for the Winter Dance,” Richard told us, before moving on to what at first sounded like the unrelated topic of “land law,” but was, as we have come to know (also) through the writings of Oglala Lakota theologian Vine Deloria, Jr and more recently through those of Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg scholar, writer and artist Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, another contextual introduction to how stories are told both of and from the land, and if “[a]rtists can use stories to make art,” as Richard encouraged us to do so, then the laws of the land that provides us with such stories must be observed.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Alex Janvier

As part of UBCO's Summer Indigenous Intensive, Dene Suline and Saulteaux artist Alex Janvier was invited to use the Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies' FINA Gallery as a studio. In recognition, Alex invited interested participants to visit him.

When I stepped into the gallery yesterday Alex was just pushing off from his work table after cleaning his brushes. Before him hung twelve recently completed paintings tacked side-by-side to the wall. "Sit down," he said pointing to a chair. I introduced myself and from there, as the song says, "I fell into a dream."

Forty-five minutes passed, and when I left, I knew something. I knew I knew less, not more, than I knew before, and that I needed to let go of more, and how difficult it is to go about it.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

CRWR 520 (4)

A collaboration that begins with entering the word (collaboration) into a computer search engine so ubiquitous (Google) as to transcend its function (search engine) and provide that which is shown below (though reformatted):


the action of working with someone to produce or create something.
"he wrote on art and architecture in collaboration with John Betjeman"

traitorous cooperation with an enemy.
"he faces charges of collaboration"

I am familiar with the first example -- working with someone to make a book -- but the second example feels pejorative. Could not “the action of working with someone” in a “traitorous" capacity be better expressed in a word like conspiracy? Bad enough that the world has for so long looked down on literary collaboration as a transgression of the romantic notion of singular genius than to find it maligned through its “cooperation with an enemy.” Is this the market talking, where the preferred form of literary authorship -- or indeed of authority in general -- privileges the one above the many?

But returning to the first definition: Is it necessary that “the action of working with someone” has that "someone" limited to another human being?

Scholars from Oglala Sioux theologian Vine Deloria, Jr. to Secwepemc artist Tania Willard have written and spoken of the land as a sentient being -- a parent, a teacher, a collaborative agent able to “produce or create something.” I suppose the same could be applied to that artificially intelligent landscape known as the internet, which in the early 21st century gave us poems "mined" from unusual word pairings entered into search engines. The name given to this style of poetry is flarf. The  name given to stories born from the land varies from community to community, but among the Syilx-speaking people of the Okanagan they are known as captikwl.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Forest Fire As Sunset Enhancer

First it was a cold and snowy winter, then it was spring floods, now it is summer fires. What will the fall bring?

If we are to believe that the land is a living being, like a teacher or a parent, what lessons remain of a land that is pushing itself to extremes in order to help us understand?

"To every season, turn, turn, turn..."

And with fall around the corner -- does anything ever happen in the fall? Could it be rains this year?

Sunday, July 16, 2017


While at Lake Country (Winfield) last Friday I visited the Lake Country Art Gallery to speak with curator Wanda Lock and artist Scott August, who were installing.

Scott's exhibition, entitled Furbish: Remnant Themes of Post-Amusement, is a re-imaginging of the work of Okanagan-based Peter Soehn, who for many years animated the region, as well as parts of the Lower Mainland and Alberta, with eye-catching billboards and moulded sculptures, like those commissioned by the former Kelowna Zoo and Old Macdonald's Farm.

The picture atop this post is an inset from a larger montage Scott created for Furbish. In addition to the concrete concert stage that once stood at the centre of this whispering field are billboards, not just those managed by media giants like the Pattison Group, but by local companies as well.

I had hoped to have more to say about this former concert stage (information I thought I might gather from my visit to the gallery this afternoon), but when I arrived the door was locked, and it was only then that it occurred to me that the person in charge of sitting the gallery was likely delayed due to the wildfire that broke out last night at the other side of Lake Country (Okanagan Centre) -- which sadly turned out to be the case.

In a couple of weeks I should have a more comprehensive piece written on Scott's exhibition. In the meantime, thank you to Scott and Wanda for allowing me to photograph the exhibition in the midst of its installation.