Category Archives: David Garneau

Blind Field Shuttle

Carmen Papalia is a non-visual artist whose social practice includes engaging participants in exercising their other-than-visual senses. Blind Field Shuttle, for example, is an eyes-closed walking tour in which the artist leads up to forty people on a ramble through natural or urban settings. Participants are coached, and then arranged in a line, their right hand on the shoulder of the person in front of them. Papalia joins the front of the human chain and guides us with his walking stick and voice: “rough pavement coming up; feel the incline as you transition from the sidewalk to the road; tree on the left; low barrier ahead;” and so on.

I was a photographer for a walk Papalia conducted in Kelowna last summer (2016) as part of the University of British Columbia Okanagan campus’ Indigenous Summer Intensive. I witnessed with alarm as he led more than two dozen adults and a few teens onto a pier. When he reached the end of the dock and realized that it was not a bridge, he calmly explained the situation, turned and doubled the line back on the narrow passage. No one panicked. No one fell into the lake. Most surprisingly, I didn’t see anyone open their eyes.

Carmen Papalia, Blind Field Shuttle, 2016, Kelowna, BC, walking tour duration varies. Image: David Garneau.

Carmen Papalia, Blind Field Shuttle, 2016, Kelowna, BC, walking tour duration varies.

Carmen Papalia, Blind Field Shuttle, 2016, Kelowna, BC, walking tour duration varies. Image: David Garneau.

Carmen Papalia, Blind Field Shuttle, 2016, Kelowna, BC, walking tour duration varies.

Carmen Papalia, Blind Field Shuttle, 2016, Kelowna, BC, walking tour duration varies. Image: David Garneau.

Carmen Papalia, Blind Field Shuttle, 2016, Kelowna, BC, walking tour duration varies.

The year before, I went on a Blind Field Shuttle walk in and around Ottawa City Hall. The experience increased my awareness of the scent and sound environments, the unevenness of the ground, and change in wind, sunlight and heat than I would if my eyes were open. We navigate most of our day unconsciously. Our bodies perform routine with little awareness. By voluntarily turning off vision, and surrendering individual agency for a shared trust, Blind Field Shuttle engenders an hour and a half of heightened consciousness: of our bodies, surroundings, and most importantly, our interrelationships.

At first, you struggle against instinct. I reverse blinked at least a half dozen times in the first two minutes. But I soon learned to trust the person ahead of me—or at least submit to their lead—and, feeling responsible for the person behind me, I eased into my role in the collective challenge. Part of the thrill of this work is the suspension of autonomy, submitting to being part of an interdependent organism.

Blind Field Shuttle is art in that we are guided into a familiar world through an artist’s unique subjectivity. Papalia defamiliarizes the routine so that we might better appreciate its nuances and the felt architecture of our senses and sensibilities. Like much art, it exaggerates and condenses a representation of life. But Blind Field Shuttle is also social practice art in that it emphasizes experience over objects, and is more a form of life rather than just its representation. And it is utopic in that it models ideal interrelations.

Carmen Papalia, Blind Field Shuttle, 2016, Kelowna, BC, walking tour duration varies. Image: David Garneau.

Carmen Papalia, Blind Field Shuttle, 2016, Kelowna, BC, walking tour duration varies.

Carmen Papalia, Blind Field Shuttle, 2016, Kelowna, BC, walking tour duration varies. Image: David Garneau.

Carmen Papalia, Blind Field Shuttle, 2016, Kelowna, BC, walking tour duration varies.

Clearly, Carmen Papalia wants us to taste the world as he does. We volunteer to momentarily repress our dominant sense so that we can experience our environment as a non-visual space. But we also get a hint of Carmen’s social subjectivity, not only his experience as a person who is not seeing, but as a person seen as “blind.” I felt anxiety and peril when I turned off sight, but I also felt excitement and growing competency. Fear lessened a little by the middle of the walk. But the sense of being on display, and the stress of not knowing how I was being seen or unseen never expired.

Blind Field Shuttle is a reversal. Instead of a sight-dominant person leading a non-visual learner, this participatory performance has a non-visual learner guiding the sight-privileged. We not only get a faint sense of what his life might be like, we also feel Papalia’s greater authority in this territory. By performing competency, he demonstrates his abilities, his agency ahead of his needs. But he also performs, and has us perform, his preferred means of satisfying his needs.

Carmen Papalia, Blind Field Shuttle, 2016, Kelowna, BC, walking tour duration varies. Image: David Garneau.

Carmen Papalia, Blind Field Shuttle, 2016, Kelowna, BC, walking tour duration varies.

Non-Visual Artist

Carmen describes himself as a non-visual learner. The phrase emphasizes the senses he does employ rather than the one he does not. It calls attention to his abilities. Papalia is critical of institutions that follow a rehabilitation model, one that has disabled persons strive to pass for ‘normal’ while clearly destined to fall short. This way of thinking is designed, in part, to make disabilities and the disabled less visible, less disturbing, less of a bother to the able-bodied. But when Papalia replaces his cane with a megaphone, as he does in White Cane Amplified (2015), or with a marching band Mobility Device (2013), he goes in the opposite direction; he increases the spectacle, he hyperbolizes difference. Is it possible to witness Blind Field Shuttle and not have the popular metaphor, “the blind leading the blind,” spring to mind? What’s his game beyond ironic art fun?

Carmen Papalia. Image courtesy of the artist.

Carmen Papalia. Image courtesy of the artist.

In a rather subtle and yet profound way, Carmen Papalia displays both his competency and his needs. That he can navigate his city and travel to others, make art and a living without sight—that he can lead a group of eyes-closed participants across busy streets, through a park, onto a dock and back without the loss of life or dignity is a marvel. But what takes this work far beyond novelty is how he shows that what disables us most is not the loss of a sense but the reduction in humanity that too often accompanies physical and mental difference.

Blind Field Shuttle is a generous gift to the sight privileged. We learn how ocular-dominance reduces the meanings and pleasures offered by our other senses. But more importantly, the work demonstrates how an egocentric, individualistic social ideology can separate us from intimate, interdependent community. Papalia shows without saying that we all have limitations that require help from others. Some have greater needs; others have a greater ability to assist. There is a delicate dance in this interdependent relation. How do we ask for help while maintaining dignity? So many people withdrawal from care because requesting it can be humiliating, debilitating.

In all his works, Carmen Papalia shows us what he needs, what we all need: to be assisted according to our changing individual needs, to be in a community of mutual care. Critical care is a heightened sense of empathy that anticipates need rather than waits for a request.

I had read about Blind Field Shuttle, saw the photographs, and thought I had a good sense of what it was. You can imagine what the experience is like, but you can know it without participating. And you can’t participate without suspending your agency to become a participating subject. This is the difference, I suppose, between helping a blind man cross the street and being in relationship with another person who would like to go for a walk with you.

Blind Field Shuttle, 2012, walking tour duration varies. Image: Jordan Reznick, courtesy of the artist.

Blind Field Shuttle, 2012, walking tour duration varies. Image: Jordan Reznick, courtesy of the artist.

Open Access

Carmen and I have given talks together at the Ottawa Art Gallery. At the Dunlop Art Gallery, and at the University of Alberta, we recently held a public conversations. Our friendship began at a symposium he co-hosted with Gallery Gachet (2015). http://gachet.org/exhibitions/the-new-access-consortium-presents-a-collective-audit-of-the-vancouver-art-gallery/

His talk about his “Open Access” project ideas resonated with me concerning my interest in Indigenous possibilities and impossibilities in art galleries and museums still haunted by their colonial imaginaries and desires.

For the last few years, Carmen has been developing, testing, and promoting five tenants for “Open Access” which are premised on his experience of being disabled less by his physical limitations than by those imposed upon him by institutions dominated by an ocular-centric regime. This experience and insight led him to band with fellow disenfranchised allies who, due to a range of physical and mental differences from the normalized range thought to compose the ‘publics’ of these spaces, also felt similarly unacceptable to these spaces.

However, rather than simply advocate for physical inclusion. Carmen and his crew did an informal inventory of the Vancouver Art Gallery, not looking for missing ramps, too many artificial scents, and other disabling devices, but for numerous other subtle—to the non-marginalized—disabling conditions. This includes, for example, the steep entrance fee, which filters the poor. Most rigorous and surprising, though, is their edit of a didactic panel about the work of Christos Dikeakos that focused on its whitewashing of Indigenous presence and colonization—features the audit saw as disabling to Indigenous visitors. That the group would be sensitive to this made me–as Metis—wonder about more intersections between the Indigenous and disability activism.

That the group would focus on Indigenous issues intrigued me. It suggested that there was something in their methodology that exceeded their informing conditions; that is, in looking for conditions that made them not want to be in that space, or be troubled by it, opened them to aesthetic, intellectual, emotional, and physical engagements that required a radical empathy that exceeded self interest.

And this is what moves my most about Carmen Papalia’s work. He is not only advocating for greater access to public institutions by disabled persons, he is showing how these spaces and limit most of us. Importantly, his work implies that radical inclusion would alter many of the paradigms of these places. For example, creating access through audio descriptions of visual art so non-visual learners can “access” visual art is a thoughtful and generous idea—until you think about it, and it becomes strange. No audio description can create in a listener’s mind an image remotely resembling a specific physical picture. If you are a visual learner and have a repertory of visual images and know what Impressionism and Monet are, you can get a pretty good sense of a Monet you haven’t seen before through a word description. But it is going to be a pale and unreliable version. Now imagine your visuality ceased before you knew that art.

To get a sense of what Open Access might look like, Carmen offers Eyes Closed walking tours of museums and art galleries. A group meets at an art gallery. Carmen coaches them about what is ahead. We pair up. One person leads the other, whose eyes are closed, in a fifteen-minute audio tour of an exhibition. Then we switch roles. Rather than listen to a device with the same message for everyone, each tour is customized. There is also touch and friendship. Rather than reinforce the supremacy of sight and curatorial authority, the sensibilities and paliaerceptions of the visitor and guide are centered.

Recently, Keavy Martin hosted Carmen and I at the University of Alberta. As part of our visit we went to a discussion group about Treaty Six and how acknowledgement of Treaty can be an active part of university life and scholarship. We recognized many affinities between Carmen’s Open Access methodologies and Indigenous ways of being in territory. Indigenization and Open Access have in common the need to slow down. Colonial institutions prize efficiency. They work best with and for normalized bodies and minds. What Indigenous and disabled persons offer is an older and expanded sense of humanity. It’s less in a hurry. Both privilege visiting. Both prioritize relations, not just between people but also with all the beings around us, and seek to experience the world through our knowing subjectivities more than through the social codes that shape our perceptions.

For the past four years I have been working with Keavy Martin, Dylan Robinson, Ashok Mathur, and Jonathan Dewar on a SSHRC-funded project called Creative Conciliations. In our various ways we have been looking at and making work about relations between Indigenous and Settler peoples following the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Much of our work has looked beyond the expected Indigenous to European-Settler relations, and toward the many other peoples who share these territories. The thinking is that we are more likely to find common ground among minoritized peoples, that we might be able to move toward tolerable futures when we listen to, learn and collaborate with people who are less invested in domination. I look forward to future collaborations with Carmen Papalia.

Text by David Garneau.

Feature Image: Carmen Papalia, Blind Field Shuttle, 2016, Kelowna, BC, walking tour duration varies.

Indigenous Acts: Art & Public Space Workshop

Indigenous Acts was a workshop organized by Stó:lō scholar Dylan Robinson and Candice Hopkins, curator, writer and member of the Carcross/Tagish First Nation. This gathering took place August 4 – 8, 2014 at the Sty-Wet-Tan Longhouse at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC. The workshop provided space and time for artists, scholars and curators to think and create together. Each morning participants gathered to discuss questions, followed by site visits across Musquesm, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh territories now known as Vancouver to consider the ways in which Indigenous histories and current practices inform and shape the urban landscape. Guiding the gathering was an engagement with David Garneau’s concept of “Irreconcilable Spaces of Aboriginality”, collective consideration of how Indigeneity is represented in public space, and working towards a more perceptive understanding of Indigenous public art and performance actions in public spaces.

Areas of Discussion:

The Politics and Histories of Naming and Re-Naming

In the Americas, the landscape is known by many names reflecting different moments in history and worldview. Rather than commemorating individuals, Indigenous place names often reflect specific knowledge systems, understandings of the land and its use. Vancouver is home to several public artworks that reflect the linguistic diversity of First Peoples in the Pacific Northwest. The extends to other public markers including the Cultural Journey project, the much-publicized Olympic re-naming of Squamish place names along the Sea-to-Sky highway. While few who travel along the highway can read the Squamish words, for Chief Ian Campbell the presence of Squamish language in public space re-asserts a visual sovereignty. “For far too long we have been invisible in our own lands,” notes Campbell, while Squamish Chief Gibby Jacob has asserted that the increased public presence of Squamish language “puts the nation’s mark back on [our] lands”. (The Chief, July 2, 2010).

This session will thus question the degree to which placing Indigenous language in public space asserts sovereignty at these sites. What are the limitations of this strategy; what is the potential? Does the public claim these works as another marker of “multicultural diversity”, or the “flavor of the street”, despite the artist’s intentions to intervene in other ways? Do such inclusions risk becoming a kind of linguistic ornamentation for the neoliberal politics of multiculturalism?

1 Examples include Henry Tsang’s Chinook-inspired “Welcome to the Land of the Light”; the inclusion of three dialects for hayčxʷə (thank you) in Halq’emeylem and Hun’qumi’num in “Systems of Sustenance” by Collective Echoes (beside Science World); Edgar Heap of Birds’ Native Hosts series on the UBC campus, Christos Dikeakos’ naming of False Creek as Skwachays, and Sheila Hall’s prominent use of the Halq’emeylem word lheqto:lestexw, in her work “To Connect”.

Given the importance of naming within Indigenous ceremonies as a way to honor individual and community achievements, and affirm our histories, what does it mean when Indigenous names are co-opted by the military and consumer culture? For example, weapons are commonly named after US tribes (the operation to capture and kill Bin Laden was infamously called “Geronimo”), and are used to market other objects of consumer culture. What are the deeper impulses at play within these gestures?

Invited presenters included:

Raymond Boisjoly

Marianne Nicolson

Lorna Brown

Public Action, Public Ceremony

During 2012-2013, significant forms of physical and artistic occupation occurred across Canada and the United States in mall atriums, rail-lines and bridge border crossings as part of the Idle No More movement. Taking the form of Round dances, Slahal and bone games, and copper-breaking ceremonies, these actions extend our traditions into prominent public spaces, spaces that are not necessarily “authorized” for use for nation-state celebrations.

Idle No More is part of a long history of public gatherings, ceremony and Indigenous resistance movements. This session will look to both the historical and contemporary examples of public actions and ceremony from treaty days and civic parades, to the use of performance art as a way to generate awareness about Indigenous histories and injustices.

Invited presenters included:

Peter Morin

Mique’l Dangeli

Karyn Recollet

Leah Decter

Creating Indigenous Spaces, Reclaiming Territories

When considering Indigenous public art and actions, it is important to also reflect on where this art and actions are taking place. This session will ask how public art can generate knowledge and cross-cultural understanding about a place and how these places can in turn become sites of cultural affirmation.

Key to this session is the question of how we define Indigenous space. Is Indigenous space physical, imagined, and/or delineated by customary law and traditional use? How are Indigenous spaces being reclaimed now? What is the potential of public art and actions to educate and engage Canadians about Indigenous histories and the social and political concerns of Indigenous communities today?

Invited presenters included:

Raven Chacon

Joar Nango

Mimi Gellman

Public Art in/with/for Indigenous Communities

Public art and social practice within Indigenous communities remains an underexplored area within the broader genre of contemporary art, yet forms of public art and public acts—storytelling, ceremony, song, and visual art—have played a central role in our communities since time immemorial. With this continuum in mind, what are possible definitions and methodologies of Indigenous social practice? Are there different conditions and considerations for public art within Indigenous communities? Does art play a role in creating communities (temporary or otherwise)?

Invited presnters included:

Cheryl L’Hirondelle

Dylan Miner

Tania Willard

Gabrielle Hill

All Our [Public] Relations

This session, Public Relations or PR for short, considers the public face of Indigeneity. What are existing spaces of negotiation between Settler publics and Indigenous peoples? How might we negotiate what David Garneau has identified as “irreconcilable spaces of Aboriginality?” in public space? Can public art practices create a platform for Settler publics to claim “intergenerational responsibility” towards historical injustices? What are examples of public art works, performances, and interventions that have shifted understandings of the land, human / non-human relations, the subject / object divide?

Invited presenters included:

Duane Linklater

David Garneau

Michelle Raheja

Indigenous Acts workshop presenter Mique’l Dangeli speaks with workshop participants

Indigenous Acts workshop presenter Mique’l Dangeli speaks with workshop participants

 

Projection on Burrard Street Bridge, at Senakw, Vancouver, BC

Projection on Burrard Street Bridge, at Senakw, Vancouver, BC

 

Projection on Burrard Street Bridge, at Senakw, Vancouver, BC

Projection on Burrard Street Bridge, at Senakw, Vancouver, BC. Photo courtesy of Cheryl L’Hirondelle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pedagogy of Place — UBCO Summer Indigenous Intensive, 2015

The 2015 Summer Indigenous Intensive course at UBC-Okanagan is entitled Pedagogy of Place, and focusses on differing ways to encounter space/place in Indigenous contexts. Many guests, many faculty visits, many thoughts circulating!

Tannis Monkman Nielsen, course coordinator of Pedagogy of Place.

Tannis Monkman Nielsen

Tannis Monkman Nielsen

David Garneau visits Indigenous summer residency to work with Westbank community.

David Garneau visits indigenous summer residency to do work with Westbank community

David Garneau visits indigenous summer residency to do work with Westbank community

Peter Morin and David Garneau at the Woodhaven retreat.

Peter Morin and David Garneau

Peter Morin and David Garneau

Jason Lewis, artist in residence at Woodhaven.

Jason Lewis

Jason Lewis

Stephen Foster introduces Jason Lewis and Skawennati Fragnito.

Stephen Foster

Stephen Foster

Skawennatti Fragnito presents her work at Pedagogy of Place.

Skawennati Fragnito

Skawennati Fragnito

Stephen Foster adjust the data project during Pedagogy of Place.

Stephen Foster

Stephen Foster

In Regina #decolonizemyheart

peter-blue morin-monotone

The performance by Peter Morin, today. Right now he is about to give a talk, Art for Lunch at the University of Regina, home for artist/curator/critic David Garneau, who

morin-books-collage

is co-curating the Moving Forward, Never Forgetting show at the Mackenzie Gallery. Funnily enough, as we prepare for this, Garneau and I were talking about grad schools and art, and David says he wants me to pitch UBCO and its MFA program to his 4th year students, which I’m always glad to do. Hope i convinced some to come on in! I’ve tapped in a collage of Peter’s racist books, drawn from posts he’s been uploading to facebook for the past little while. Here in Regina, he does workshops with folks who want to work with him on this decolonizingmyheart project. What will happen? He tells us he will wash the books. He tells us he will cleanse them. He tells us some folks have trouble that he is doing this to books, but he says he doesn’t want to hurt the books but to change the books, what they mean, and how they can change just as we can. This is the project.

 

 

#decolonizemyheart

#decolonizemyheart: performance and response

#decolonizemyheart: performance and response

 

Thinking toward a project — writing, photo, reflection, social media — in response to Peter Morin’s new residency work, #decolonizemyheart, at the Moving Forward, Never Forgetting exhibition curated by David Garneau and Michelle Lavalee at the Mackenzie Gallery. His performance will be Feb 27, so will be packing up my kit and travelling from Kelowna to Regina the day before to talk and walk beside this performer. Last we worked together, I was semi-curating a piece he did at the Algoma Art Gallery, Sault Ste Marie. I say ‘semi’ because while the intent was to help develop the work with him, it was really pretty much a project that rolled out as he worked with the gallery and folks like Jonathan Dewar at Algoma University. I did write a brief ‘curatorial’ piece on that work, copied below, but this piece will be quite different. I hope to use a variety of social media and non-mediated modes of communication, combatting the essaying nature of talk-about-art, and trying to float more into a space of talking-around-concepts. An experiment which can lead nowhere, logistically, because it won’t exist as a singularly-housed piece, bloggish or otherwise. SO, remains to be seen. Let’s see where this takes us. (If you want to see the earlier writing on Morin’s ‘escape stories’ piece, click on more)

-ashok mathur
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