Sunday, July 23, 2017

On Turtle Island

Friday's post includes a picture I took of Mariel Belanger's Thursday performance at the UBCO Commons. After posting the picture it occurred to me that something was wrong with the camera portion of my phone, as the image looked fuzzy. Sure enough, some of my e-juice found its way onto the phone's lens, giving the image that soft focus quality used by certain "girlie" magazine photographers in the 1970s who would apply Vaseline to their lenses to achieve the desired effect. Although tempted to delete the picture I decided to keep it because the scopic treatment was aligned with what I thought Mariel was getting at with the colonial princess-ification of indigenous women.

This June Canadian Art magazine released an indigenous "Kinship" issue guest edited by Nehiyaw-Saulteaux-Métis curator, writer, community organizer, Concordia Art History MA candidate and Canadian Art Indigenous Editor-at-Large Lindsay Nixon. On the cover is a photo-based artwork by Dayna Danger entitled Adrienne (2017). Dayna is an artist who, like Mariel, is concerned about the representation, colonization and commodification of the indigenous female body. Here is Dayna quoted in Canadian Art online:

“Space is really important to Indigenous people. If we’re literally waiting to get our land back, maybe I can at least try to claim space in other ways,” says Métis-Saulteaux-Polish artist Dayna Danger. “I really want to challenge the ways in which our bodies have been consumed in a way that doesn’t feel consensual and that doesn’t feel like it’s authentic or that it’s our own.”

Dayna's front cover artwork (shared with a Cree text that translates as "On Turtle Island," as well as a barcode) begins with the photograph of a young woman standing before/within a tan-coloured field, a slight shadow cast inward from her left leg. The woman is naked, her body adorned with tattoos of images and texts. Around her neck is what is commonly called a choker. Her black hair falls over most of her breasts and she is holding the cranial portion of antlers over her groin. Her fingernails are painted, but her toenails are not.

It is an arresting image, made more so by the glossy sheen emanating from the subject's body, an effect perhaps intended to counter the soft focus, low-light treatment given to the bodies of those in period girlie magazines, but one that, at least for this viewer, confuses the intention behind such a (counter-)treatment.

When I first saw Dayna's piece my immediate thought was that the subject's body had been smeared with animal fat (perhaps fat from the animal whose antlers we see?), but for others who have seen the piece some have said that the sheen gives the impression that the subject's body is made of plastic, and if that is the intention, how is that reconciled with what appears to be as a positive, unmediated, decolonized image of an indigenous woman?

Back in 2002 Rebecca Belmore turned the documentation of her Vigil (2002) performance (videotaped by Paul Wong) into an installation entitled The Named and the Unnamed (2002). What made The Named and the Unnamed less a projection was the surface onto which the projected image was held. That surface was not of a (neutral) white screen but a white screen gridded with incandescent light bulbs. Something I would like to see (or if not see, then know something more about) is the lighting regime Dayna used to illuminate the subject of her artwork -- and why she chose to keep the subject's shadow in the picture.

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