Of Homelands and Revolution

June 14, 2018

Introduction

Shawn Van Sluys

Shawn Van Sluys

Shawn Van Sluys is the Executive Director of Musagetes, a foundation that makes the arts more central and meaningful in people’s lives.

I wonder if the theme Of Homelands & Revolution can be considered an aphorism. It doesn’t form a complete sentence as aphorisms must, but it does place two things in relation to suggest a general truth: that our home is a revolving planet, and that homelands are the sites of revolution. Philosopher Jan Zwicky wrote in Wisdom & Metaphor (2003) that “an aphorism invites its readers to look at things a certain way; a collection of them invites her to see connections for herself. — That is, aphoristic writing cultivates our ability to see-as.”

This collection of four essays commissioned by ArtsEverywhere on the occasion of the Creative Time Summit (Toronto, September 28-30, 2017) responds to the convening’s title, Of Homelands & Revolution. The writers were invited to explore the relationship between the two aspects of this aphoristic theme—to make connections for themselves and to cultivate our ability to see-as. The result of this challenge is a set of texts that cross-sect reflections on home, food, resistance, land, history, colonization, labour, settlement, the body, monumentality, love, solidarity, and migration.

Aylan Couchie’s essay, “When Textbooks Are Held Within Forest Floors,” begins the series by sharing her personal experience of debwewin—a way of engaging or not engaging with the world. She writes about Indigenous knowledge as being inseparable from the land, the nourishment of the body as concurrent with nourishment of culture, and the purity of water as a central part of spiritual life. Couchie cites examples of Indigenous sovereignty and rights being trampled through the appropriation of culture, the destruction of the land and waters, and colonial violence.

Kimberly Mair’s essay, “Solidarity Without Lessons,” observes that the Creative Time Summit tended to focus more on land than on homelands—that the urgency of global migration crises, mass surveillance, and nationalist state sentiment underlies any consideration of what it means to live within the political bounds of nation states. Similarly, she draws attention to revolution not only as a challenge to political and sovereign power, but also in terms of Indigenous resurgence and decolonizing action. To illustrate this, she draws on Kent Monkman’s trickster paintings that insert a queer Indigenous temporality into classical history paintings.

Erin Silver’s essay titled: “What is to be Done? Of Signal Events, Monumentality, and Revolution,” draws on Lenin’s Chto Delat (What is to be done?). A Russian collective, also named Chto Delat, installed “Monument to a Century of Revolution” at Nuit Blanche, concurrent to the summit. Silver analyzes this work alongside works of avant-garde art and Indigenous thought as a provocation to consider the body as a site of revolution and a site of love. Silver asks, what is the interplay between revolution in its historical and global import, and revolution as an act of local struggle?

Kenneth Hayes’s essay, “Freehold,” takes a different approach altogether. He doesn’t address the summit directly, but, as an architect and art historian, he riffs off the concept of freeholds (land ownership) as they characterize the settlement of Canada over decades of British emigration. The promise of free homes lured British emigrants frustrated by the leasehold system that kept property in the hands of a few. Hayes translates this into a narrative of the “freehold, suburban, counter-revolutionary house on which Canada was built” and the “wider vision of freedom that, in the late 1960s, briefly presented radical, intransigent, militant and even revolutionary alternatives for dwelling.” He further depicts this in relation to Canadian art history.

Of Homelands & Revolution might be summed up in the words of Tim Lilburn, from a collection of essays titled Going Home (2008), as he pondered his resettlement on the prairies of north-central Saskatchewan. “I worried a single thought for ten years: how to be here? The more I turned things over in my mind, the more the conviction grew that attention to eros seemed more promising than commitment to any ontology or any ethics.”

ArtsEverywhere is an official media partner of the Creative Time Summit in Toronto, September 2017.

RESPONSES

Aylan Couchie

When Textbooks are Held Within Forest Floors

Clink. Clank. Whisk. Stones kick up off the dirt road, hitting the wheel wells and bouncing back out. The smell of dust mixed with old leather seats blows through the open windows. It’s a late summer morning as my Grandfather’s old truck pulls to a stop at the side of the road. Grabbing the old green Coleman jug, my Grandfather looks at me. “Let’s go Neekole.” He rarely called me by my first name; I still don’t know why. Trudging further and further into the woods, we’d pick wintergreen to chew. My Grandfather would stop every now and then to point things out to me, like sumac and the type of lichen you can boil for tea. How to find food hidden in and beneath the trees, or how you could tell that a rabbit had recently passed by (spoiler alert: it’s not hard to spot).

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Kimberly Mair

Solidarity Without Lessons

Kent Monkman - The Daddies (detail)

During the opening address to the 2017 Creative Time Summit: Of Homelands & Revolution, artistic director Nato Thompson posed the question: “What does solidarity mean today?” This provocation was situated in themes that provided contradictory points of departure. Today, the theme of homelands cannot but resonate with the ongoing global refugee crisis, the urgency of coordinated and concrete acts of anti-colonization, the rising salience of nationalist state sentiment, and the spectre of ubiquitous surveillance and global policing under the auspices of security. At the Summit, land had a stronger resonance than homeland. Participants stressed that land is animated and intertwined with its inhabitants: land as a teacher of being and caring, for Wanda Nanibush; and land as a living history book, for Cannupa Hanska Luger.

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Erin Silver

What is to be Done? Of Signal Events, Monumentality, and Revolution

A striking moment occurred during one of the final presentations of the first day of the Creative Time Summit, convened in Toronto September 29-30, 2017, with three members of the nine-member Russian political art collective Chto Delat (What is to be done?) sitting in conversation with Creative Time Artistic Director Nato Thompson. They were discussing their Nuit Blanche installation, A Monument to the Century of Revolutions, which would open that weekend. The installation was jointly conceived by Chto Delat and Thompson, designed by Moscow architect Yury Avvakymov, and might be considered the centerpiece and unofficial political headquarters of the 2017 Creative Time Summit. During this discussion, an image of Russian avant-garde artist El Lissitzky’s 1919 Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge flashed on the screen. In an audience of hundreds, smartphones appeared overhead as several Summit attendees attempted to capture the invisible, yet palpable, historical significance of this confluence: present-day art and politics converging with the red, white, and black geometric shapes of Suprematism—a momentous looking one hundred years backward while theorizing and strategizing how to move forward.

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Kenneth Hayes

Freehold

While leafing through anonymous vintage photographic prints at the (then-new) Steven Bulger Gallery in Toronto many years ago, I encountered an image that made an indelible impression. The picture showed a large, lightly built and evidently temporary triumphal arch—spanning a street lined with buildings liberally festooned with bunting, it was presumably intended for a large parade or procession. The scene appeared to date from the early twentieth century, and displayed an atmosphere of ceremonious jubilation that is now quite absent from public events. At this point, I don’t remember the features of the arch itself, but they were not particularly notable, nor to the point. What I recall so vividly is an inscription across the top of the arch that proclaimed, “Millions of Free Homes” and, below that, like the punch line of a joke, “In Canada.”

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