On Wednesday July 12 the Summer Indigenous Intensive featured keynote presentations by cultural studies scholar Monika Kin Gagnon followed by artists Chris Creighton-Kelly & France Trépanier. Although indigeneity was at the forefront of both presentations, each took a different form, with Monika adapting an illustrated three-part expository essay (introduction, body, conclusion) and Chris & France enacting a polemical, if somewhat overlapping, “grand narrative” point-counterpoint dialogue that included “live” camera, projected intertitles and ceremonial regalia. While tempted to discuss the relational subject position achieved in Chris & France’s work, it is Monika’s presentation that I will respond to.
In this year of anniversaries (150 in Canada, 375 in Quebec), Monika chose the 50th anniversary of Expo ’67 to dedicate herself to both a book on this Montreal-based world’s fair (of which she is a co-editor) and a visual art exhibition (of which she is a co-curator). Her aim here is not to celebrate the fair, but to “rethink” it in relation to current events, with a particular focus on the fair’s inclusion and representation of indigenous peoples as manifest in the Indians of Canada Pavilion.
In her presentation Monika provides a cursory introduction to Canada’s colonial history and how world’s fairs have been used to entwine technological innovation and commerce (she misidentifies Edward Said’s Culture and Imperialism, 1993, as Culture and Empire), before turning to a brief history of the Indians of Canada Pavilion, her “culture jamming” exhibition at the Musée d’Art Contemporain, then, finally, a hurried conclusion that emphasizes the collaborative potential of research-creation between artists and scholars (she appreciated Ashok’s mention of “creative archiving” in his introduction). Only later, during the Q&A, did Monika remind the audience that “in my field of Cultural Studies we’re interested in conjunctions,” a methodological detail that could have appeared at the beginning of her presentation, to orient the listener, not at the end, as if to justify what was left unsaid.
My critical response to Monika’s presentation is based largely on what I have come to see as a general failing in a lot of modern art discourse, where art is seen as autonomous, unbeholden to contexts such as siting, which, like the museumological white cube, is considered a neutral space. What I wanted to hear more of concerned the siting of Expo ’67, the contested land on which it was mounted. I suppose this is why my Q&A question focused on the affect Vancouver’s Expo ’86 had on Monika’s “rethink” of Montreal’s Expo. Those present will recall Monika’s response: “I wasn’t living in Vancouver then -- I didn’t move there until 1990.” But as many Vancouver culture workers know, the negative consequences of Expo ’86 remained present long after the fair closed its doors -- just as the negative consequences of Expo ’67 remain present in Montreal today.