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)
performance by Peter Morin (with Ayumi Goto)
curated by Ashok Mathur
Engaging with a Peter Morin performance is a bit like scooping up handfuls of mercury: globules, resisting containability, slip between fingers, bouncing playfully but with erudition. The performing moments are always something and not-something, a voiced utterance or slight gesture, full of substance and yet floating freely, effortlessly, vaporously. And, like quicksilver itself, such performance produces in the viewer the symptom of dyspnea, colloquially referred to as ‘shortness of breath’ but poetically referenced as ‘air hunger,’ that quality of breathlessness that comes from remarkable experience.
To curate such work is perhaps misrepresentative of the entire process. Rather than a curator-artist relationship, the working connection is more one of collaboration, inspiration, and innovation, all traced through a trajectory of history and artistic intervention. escape stories, presented here at the Algoma Art Gallery, is a performance wrapped around a Cheryl L’Hirondelle installation, Why the Caged Bird Sings: Here I Am, suturing critical political collisions and overlapping politics. Both artists were present at the “Reconsidering Reconciliation” artist residency in Kamloops in July 2013, and both will be resident artists at the “Indigenous Activist Art” summer intensive program at the University of British Columbia, Okanagan campus, this upcoming July. Both these artists often deal with creating spaces for otherwise unheard voices – Cheryl’s installation reflects her work with Aboriginal women in prison enunciating their senses of self, while Peter’s continues his exploration of Indigenous children both within a residential school system and a larger state-orchestrated control of their lives (and deaths). The result is emotionally dense and complex as viewers enter into a cacophonous space that will undoubtedly distress and disturb, as such histories should when they are brought into focus.
While I have known Peter and his work for many years now, a turning point for me, and subsequent curatorial interest, was when we gathered a group of artists here at the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre in the autumn of 2012. One of the most poignant closing moments was when Peter, teaming up with fellow performance artist Bo Yeung, quite literally ploughed the grass with his face as a prelude to speaking back to the residential school. Was this on behalf of the students who could no longer speak? Was it in solidarity with them? Was it a voicing of insistent resistance? I would suggest it was all this and more. Since then, Peter has engaged similar topics with multiple collaborators. Hair, a performance at the Kamloops residency, brought in both Cheryl L’Hirondelle and Ayumi Goto to resensitize us to that moment when children entered residential schools for the first time. And other recent performances in Montreal, London, Vancouver, Penticton, and Victoria have continued to explore various elements of memory, history, and trauma. All of this leads us back to this space in Sault Ste Marie, a return of sorts, and a potential springboard as well. Only a scant few weeks ago, Peter was longlisted for the prestigious Sobey Award, a recognition rarely bestowed on performance artists and a clear indication that his work has touched the minds and souls of those who want art to move us beyond our current frames.
escape stories, an hour-long investigation with frequent collaborator Ayumi Goto, is a multi-faceted engagement with stories that span nations and generations, allowing us to upset colonial sensibilities while paying homage to beautiful lives lived. Through music, song, video, and movement, this performance takes us to places we may not want to go, but where we need to be if we are to understand our futures through our histories.
Peter Morin is a Tahltan artist and educator working at Brandon University.
Ashok Mathur is a writer, critic, and educator working at UBC-Okanagan.