Lee Henderson put on a great show last night at The Candahar, the first of our two-part Writers Research series, where novelists are asked to present not their books but their research towards them. For his show Lee arranged a (projected) loop of photos and archival materials from early Vancouver coupled with readings he gave from interviews between City Archivist Major Matthews and local chief August Jack Khahtsahlano, amongst others. Following Lee, Jeffrey Allport’s minimalist trio (harmonium, percussion, driftwood) performed Oregon style, which is to say seated on a rug.
After Lee and Jeffrey I found myself in a series of conversations regarding our opening night, specifically the Rebecca Belmore-led “Indians Only” occupation of the Candahar bar proper, a gesture that created an incredible amount of tension -- only to be raised a tone with the overlapping performance of Ensemble Sisyphe’s word-by-word, tone-by-tone cumulative looping piece, based on the line “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of god.” Because the piece involved recorded tones that were sung and played prior to current “live” measures, evidence of the Belmore junta could be heard throughout. For every abo whoop, an abo shush was heard to follow.
The best of last night's conversations concerned the overlap, something I had arranged in advance with Rebecca and Ensemble Sisyphe, a decision that had me accused of “bad curation” by an art historian. When asked to elaborate, the art historian suggested that I was disrespectful to Rebecca, that I should have left a space between each performance. To which I replied (somewhat defensively), A space for what? A border? Are we not restricted enough by such borders, be they political, economic, social, aesthetic?
But I knew what the art historian was getting at, just as I did not anticipate how the overlap might create a new tension, both in the audience and amongst Rebecca’s crew, most of whom are involved in the arts. Like I said, for every whoop, a shush. Politics, aesthetics, respect. First Nations people have been given symbolic power, but not the constitutional right to political and economic self-determination (these rights are entrenched but not defined). For me, this is a question worth arguing over.