Perspectives on O k’inadas// Critical relationships by Aaron Franks

Willard's "#haunted_hunted" is part of her BUSH Gallery exhibition.

Willard’s “#haunted_hunted” is part of her BUSH Gallery exhibition.

Aaron Franks (AF): David [Garneau] said over dinner ‘the land doesn’t speak.’ I paraphrase here a bit, but he shared his ideas about how social relationships—interpersonal relationships, intergenerational relationships—those are the relationships that transmit information about us and the land. He doesn’t feel the phrase “the land speaks to me” has any meaning, or maybe the right meaning. So that’s a pretty powerful statement for some people at the Intensive.

But we actually didn’t talk about that during the panel session [on land], it was something that came out in dinner conversation. What [Garneau] and others would call the ‘spaces of criticality’—territorial, social, pedagogical—where are some of those here in the Intensive?

Tomas Jonsson (TJ): I think one of Tania Willard’s provocations was her speech while having her children in the space. Even the fact of having your children in the space was a critique of the institution, they played under the table and their play was interfering with the conversation on stage but also useful. And then having us move outside for a more equitable space for all parties—well, more equitable for the kids than us! I thought that was a nice illustration of this as well.

Ashok Mathur (AM): Yeah, that was a wonderful one. And Tania and the Bush Gallery itself, that concept is moving us in different directions.

TJ: And then you bring Tania here to UBC Okanagan [for her Masters]

AF: What do you think of this, this idea that a certain space of non-conflict has to exist for a time, before a space of conflict can be useful and not harmful—

AM: —well, one thing is this friction, friction caused by different opinions, right? It can be seen as conflictual, or it can be seen as, for example, Stephen and I talk about a certain idea, and we have different takes on it, respecting each other’s position on it, but also saying, ‘you know Steve I think you’re wrong on this’, and that can happen, and it has to. And the dangerous thing is if I listen to Steve and nod when he says something—but I disagree with it and I’m not saying anything, that is the avoidance of conflict.

I think we need to be in that place, but it’s difficult because academia too is not built on [disagreement]—sure it’s built on critiques, but its often also built on, especially in North America, on just politeness. You say things like “I have a question for you…” and you may slightly turn it in a different way, but you rarely say “That’s fuckin’ wrong!”

AF: But you, Ashok and Stephen [Loft] are peers and have known each other for a long time, and you also have a fairly protected kind of status in a way right? Tenured professor, or Canada Council, you know you are accorded a certain amount of status or whatever by whatever structures.

What about those pedagogical spaces where there’s a lot of uneven power relations, and between artists too. Could you talk a little bit about, ‘senior artist,’ ‘student artist,’ ‘mentor artist,’ and ‘emerging artist’…those relationships?

Stephen Foster (SF): I think there are some embedded hierarchies in what we’ve pulled together this year, but I think you’re always going to have a bit of that. And you’re also dealing with people who operate on the margins of academia, they sort of come in and out of it, and they’re not fully recognized in these spaces. Like an artist coming into academia is not necessarily fully recognized as a scholar, and their work is not necessarily representing scholarly research or things like that.

AF: ‘Research-creation’, ‘the other’!

SF: Yeah we talk about that, ‘research-creation,’ because that’s something that’s preserved within the institution, preserved—did I say preserved, I mean reserved—for people inside the institution like academia. You don’t find artists out there in the world, working away, talking about ‘research-creation,’ they talk about their process, but not unless they’re attached to an institution do you start hearing the phrase ‘research-creation.’

I think that’s interesting you know, and when we originally started the Summer Institute that was an area we were trying to capture. We were trying to, you know, ‘capture’ these people who were working at the margins of academia and try to bring them into academia, and get them credentials so they had that kind of recognition in that space.

Stephen Loft (SL): I would argue as well—I like this idea you have of research-creation—yeah its outside kind of the vocabulary, however coming from an Indigenous perspective, I would suggest that there’s a large number of Indigenous artists who engage in that type of activity because they’re mining this cultural history—

SF: —they’re also engaging in a kind of criticality too right—

SL: —a trajectory. So if you said that to them, that would make perfect sense in terms of a process-based artist’s work that was rooted in customary practice: it’s rooted in research that is familial, it’s communal, it has to do with their relationship with the state, I mean it’s very fraught.

I think that’s one of the things that really marks the aesthetic of Indigenous artists writ large is that that’s part of it. The ‘academic-speak’ aspect of it doesn’t really work, but if you work from a methodology point of view it works perfectly.