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.
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).View Full Response
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). Some of these things I had heard before, some perhaps not, but I never let him know. We finally reached our destination: a cropping of moss and rock where water bubbled out of the ground from deep places below. I’ll never forget the wonderful taste of the cold, cold water as I drank from my grandfather’s cupped hands. In my mind, I don’t believe I’ve ever tasted anything so pure since, nor do I think I ever will again. But this is what we came for… this fresh and pure spring that gurgled softly in the middle of the woods. This water, nibi, collected and stored in that scuffed Coleman jug, used for good tea and for drinking, until it was time to collect more.
Debwewin. This is an Anishinaabe word that I’ve seen described in different ways, but the one I like most is the way in which Anishinaabekwe curator and word warrior, Wanda Nanibush, explains it: “heart-truth.” For me, debwewin encompasses the way in which I choose to engage—or not engage—with the world. I try to keep in mind that I can only speak about the world as I experience it. While this is true for many writers and artists, for me, it also centers my accountability back to my own family, including those who have passed on, as well as back to my community. Earlier this year, I attended the Creative Time Summit in Toronto, where I had the opportunity to hear Wanda Nanibush speak about our connection to the land stating, “community, culture, language, all these things arise from our relationship with that land.”  Land was a prevalent topic for many of the 2017 Creative Time Summit speakers, as was the topic of food and food sovereignty. So, keeping my own heart-truth in mind, I started to think about my own understanding of the land, and how my connection to it is so closely linked to time spent gathering food with my Anishinaabe grandfather. I began to think about how so many issues surrounding anti-Indigenous protests directly involve our cultural foods and how this continued behaviour—past and present—affects us. Teachings passed on through harvesting have played their part in resisting suppression of culture; Indigenous peoples must continue to push forward against settler Canadians who continually work to oppress Indigenous rights to food.
In “Dancing on Our Turtle’s Back,” Leanne Betasamosake Simpson speaks of Biskaabiiyang (looking back) as a way to work through our own processes of decolonization. As quoted from her book, “Conceptually, [Anishinabek researchers and scholars] are using Biskaabiiyang in the same way Indigenous scholars have been using the term ‘decolonizing’ – to pick up the things we were forced to leave behind, whether they are songs, dances, values or philosophies, and bring them into existence in the future.” There is much being written in Canada about what “decolonizing” means, and for myself, I’ve come to subscribe to the idea that I need to work on decolonizing myself before I can consider anything else. With that in mind, I want to preface by recognizing that some of what is contained within this essay will not and has not been accessible to Indigenous peoples across Canada. I recognize those who have been removed from their communities through the Sixties Scoop, residential schools, and legislation enacted as part of the Indian Act, as well as those who are disproportionately overrepresented in Canada’s correctional systems and those still being unjustly and disproportionately apprehended by Canada’s child welfare systems. I know that there are barriers that are too often unacknowledged for those who live with an intersectional identity, whether that be by skin colour, gender (and non-binary), Two Spirit, LGBT2QQIA, or through a disability. I also recognize that there are many who are financially insecure and/or isolated by other means. In much of the writing surrounding decolonization and Indigenous sovereignty, this lack of acknowledgement to accessibility/inaccessibility presents a problem that I’m unsure how to address. It is my hope that readers of this essay will keep this in mind, as will I, while writing this essay from my own position as a white-coded, Two Spirit Anishinaabe/mixed-race woman.
I’m now 42, and it’s been interesting for me to look back and reflect on the times I spent with my Grandfather and to come to the realization that no matter what we did, everything was a teaching moment. As a kid who eschewed staying clean or indoors, I spent many years traipsing along at my Grandfather’s side. When we were in his shop, I’d learn how to work with tools and wood or watch him weld – all practical things that I’ve come to be thankful for as an artist working in sculpture. When we’d prepare dinner, I’d learn how to fillet fish and while doing so, I was taught how they reproduce and learned of cool secrets, like the “pearls” that exist in the heads of freshwater drum. But I have come to understand that it was when we were out catching fish on the lake or taking long walks to get water or berries, it was in those moments that my Grandfather was passing on his knowledge of the land, which was once passed onto him in the same way. Everything, from the trees to the sky to the forest floor, became an unwritten textbook.
But the ways in which my Grandfather shaped my understanding of the world weren’t always so direct. There were often Nanabozho stories, which were by far my favorite. When I was young, I always thought that my Grandfather was the creator of these oral histories, that he was making them up. It wasn’t until I was older and started seeing these same stories in written form that I realized they weren’t my Grandfather’s fictions, that they possessed a “shelf-life” that outlasted any books or writings. When I’d go fishing with my Grandfather, I’d often ask him to retell the story about how the red lichen came to be on the side of the cliff rocks we’d pass on the lake. While I can’t remember the exact telling of the story today, I recall that it ended with Nanabozho, in human form, having to outrun a fire he created and as he slid down the rock into the water, the skin from his back tore off and remained on the cliff. When I’d visit other lakes with the same rock-side red lichen, I was always curious and wondered how Nanabozho had started so many fires.
In “Indigenous Knowledge Recovery Is Indigenous Empowerment,” Waziyatawin Angela Wilson writes, “The revaluing of our traditional knowledge has to begin in our own communities and among our own people, not only because we are the major holders of the knowledge and the major impetus for decolonization begins there, but also so that we can prevent that knowledge from being appropriated by the colonial system.” Appropriation is a heavily-weighted word from an Indigenous perspective. Appropriated land, appropriated art, appropriated stories, the taking-without-acknowledgement by settlers in this country is continual and crosses many mediums and geographies. Even Canada’s obsession with its own national identity consistently takes from and relies upon Indigenous visual culture, but it also depends on marketing Indigenous food for its own branding. For example, let’s think about maple syrup and how it’s more closely linked to Canada’s national identity, than to the people who have been harvesting it on these lands for thousands of years.
When Nanabozho, the Anishinaabe Original Man, our teacher, part man, part manido, walked through the world, he took note of who was flourishing and who was not, of who was mindful of the Original Instructions and who was not. He was dismayed when he came upon villages where the gardens were not being tended, where the fishnets were not repaired and the children were not being taught the way to live. Instead of seeing piles of firewood and caches of corn, he found the people lying beneath maple trees with their mouths wide open, catching the thick, sweet syrup of the generous trees. They had become lazy and took for granted the gifts of the Creator. They did not do their ceremonies or care for one another. He knew his responsibility, so he went to the river and dipped up many buckets of water. He poured the water straight into the maple trees to dilute the syrup. Today, maple sap flows like a stream of water with only a trace of sweetness to remind the people both of possibility and of responsibility. And so it is that it takes forty gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup.
An excellent book about Indigenous ecological knowledge and the teachings of plants is Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass. In the chapter titled “Maple Sugar Moon,” also known as Zizibaskwet Giizis, she writes about the dependence upon maple trees at the end of long winters, to provide sustenance to the Anishnaabeg in order to see them through the last of the season when game is scarce. This relationship between food and survival also meant that those who depended on this resource, also had to pay attention to the cues that came from the land and from the trees to know when the time to harvest was right. Indigenous understanding of time is cyclical and based on seasons. As such, learning from the cues that came from the land and passing this knowledge down from generation to generation, was a vital necessity. Though the tools and technology became updated, the maple sugar harvest remains an important part of Anishinaabe cultural continuance. Some of my favorite memories were of springtimes spent outside with my family, boiling down sap. Even now, when I’m home on the reserve at the right time of year, it’s wonderful to walk outside and take in the smoky scent of maple syrup being made by my neighbours.
Maintaining cultural connections to land, kinship, and oral histories through food is perhaps one of the strongest anti-colonial strategies employed by Indigenous people from generation to generation—even if done unwittingly. But it’s also important to note that my own understanding of food sovereignty goes beyond just thinking about the ways in which food have positively impacted my community. It also takes into account the history of how food was weaponized against it. The factual evidence and subsequent long-term effects stemming from the lack of nutrition in residential schools have been well-documented by food historian Ian Mosby and are a must-read. I also was once given a written collection of survivor accounts taken from those in my community and in almost all, food was either used as a reward or as a punishment. I mention this to preface the ways in which food is still being weaponized against Indigenous communities and cultures.
“Some of my earliest memories are of seal hunting as a family,” these words were spoken by Inuk filmmaker Alethea Arnaquq-Baril in her 2016 documentary, Angry Inuk, which documents the drive to defend the seal hunt, an important source of sustenance and income for Inuit. Though the film focused on the fur industry and the harms that organizations such as PETA have inflicted, it also outlined the cultural significance to Inuit food sources. This issue once again became a point of discussion when a Toronto-based Indigenous chef put seal meat on his restaurant’s menu. Shortly after a restaurant review was published, a non-indigenous activist took note of it and launched a petition that triggered a network of animal rights activists from around the world who actively began targeting the restaurant’s Facebook page and online restaurant reviews with 1-star ratings and angry comments. This issue garnered media attention world-wide and saw Indigenous and Inuit alike targeted on social media platforms by people who claimed that Inuit should no longer be sustaining themselves on a food source that these activists deemed “unacceptable.” Central to this conversation was the notion that Inuit and Indigenous people should forgo their way of life and practices and come into the “present,” where “harvesting” from grocery stores is the preferred way to live. Overlooked and ignored by these people was their own complicity in the seemingly never-ending colonial violence and racism directed upon the First Peoples of these lands.
Near St. Catherine’s, Ontario, an annual Haudenosaunee hunt at Short Hills Provincial Park works with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) to help control and cull the deer population which “can damage property and protected areas.” Beyond this partnership, the ongoing right to hunt and fish the area is also covered in an agreed upon Treaty that saw control of the Great Lakes area handed to the British in 1701. This, however, doesn’t deter animal rights activists and protestors from showing up to the entrance of the park with signs in protest. They are also fueled in part by an online Facebook group called the “Shorthills Wildlife Alliance” who provide daily updates of the month-long hunt on their page, often referring to the Haudenosaunee hunters as “killers.” The other side of this important hunt, however, speaks to the ways in which this food culture is being kept alive and passed along from generation to generation. A Toronto Star article covering the 2017 hunt spoke of Art Powless and his 9-year-old son, “Like his own father did, Powless is keeping Indigenous traditions alive for his son.” While another hunter named Landon Curly was quoted as saying “There’s a lot more to it than just a fact that you’re hunting, […] We give thanks and burn tobacco before we go out.” Another Star article notes that “some of the meat is used during mid-winter longhouse ceremonies.”
Three hours north of Short Hills Provincial Park lies Pigeon Lake whose watery ecosystems have sustained both Anishinaabeg and manoomin (wild rice) for thousands of years. However, a group named “Save Pigeon Lake,” consisting of cottagers and waterfront dwellers, has been protesting the fact that the Indigenous harvest of this food source has proliferated. The residents say that the manoomin, grown in the water, creates navigational problems for recreational boating and hamper their access to the waterfront. Anishinaabe artist and educator Susan Blight from Couchiching First Nation is quoted in the Globe and Mail stating, “We have a very special relationship with manoomin […] It’s a central part of our philosophy, our governance, our livelihood. … We have a spiritual relationship with it.” This issue was even tackled within Hayden King (Beausoleil First Nation) and Susan Blight’s collaborative “Ogimaa Mikana” project which works through sign and billboard interventions to recognize and acknowledge Indigenous land, culture, and peoples. Their billboard installation titled Anishinaabe manoomin inaakonigewin gosha translates to “wild rice is Anishinaabe law” and was installed in Peterborough, just outside of Pigeon Lake in August 2016.
Along the coastlines of Canada, Alanis Obomsawin’s 2002 documentary Is the Crown at War With Us? highlights Mi’kmaq fishing rights and their fight for access to the east coast fishery—not only as a food source, but also as a source of economic viability for themselves and their families. Centralized in Burnt Church, New Brunswick, the film documents issues surrounding the harvesting of lobster, a species long gathered by Mi’kmaq people without interference until it was no longer considered “poor man’s food.” Not only were the Mi’kmaq people fighting the Canadian government for their right to catch, they were also being violently targeted and confronted on water and land by non-indigenous fishermen who felt the Mi’kmaq would deplete the lobster stocks. This idea of conservationism is a common trope often applied to Indigenous hunting and fishing rights, in spite of the fact that our people have always maintained that our responsibility to the land and animals is of utmost importance.
My own community of Nipissing First Nation (NFN), lies along the shores of Lake Nipissing, an 873 square kilometre lake in Northern Ontario that, over the years, has supported many industries including a commercial sturgeon fishery (caviar) that almost decimated the Lake Sturgeon population. In October 2017, NFN’s Chief Scott McLeod, delivered a keynote address at Nipissing University’s “Challenging Canada 150” Symposium. In this keynote titled “The Impact of Settler Colonialism on Lake Nipissing” he spoke about the use of “Pound Nets,” large lead nets which funnelled the fish into box-like traps. He also mentioned that there were so many sturgeon left over from the commercial fishery, that their carcasses were burned at mills in place of wood. Though these commercial fisheries were eventually shut down due to overexploitation, the sturgeon numbers have not yet returned to the levels they once were.
For decades, our community was not permitted to fish the waters that had sustained our people for thousands of years. After finally re-establishing our rights under the Robinson Huron Treaty of 1850, our fishermen returned to the lake to encounter an active industry of recreational fishermen and subsequent commercial businesses and marinas that relied on this income-generating sport. As time went on, the lake saw a decline in the walleye (pickerel) population, and though the reasons behind the decline and subsequent efforts to rehabilitate the fishery are complex, the general blame coming from settlers in the area has been placed upon Anishinaabeg fishing practices, namely gill netting and spearing. This, in spite of the fact that Chief and Council have been working with MNRF and have imposed moratoriums and changes to gill net size which has also caused other complex issues within the community. Tensions between the NFN community and the local area non-indigenous residents are seen online regularly, when comments sections under almost every article pertaining to the lake inevitably turn into an attack on First Nations people and on the need to, once again, remove Treaty rights.
But none of this is new. Sportsmen and conservationists have been fighting to prohibit Indigenous access to food for decades. Even in the late 1800s to early 1900s, sportsmen and conservationists were lobbying against Indigenous hunting methods in the same way they do now. In “Let the Line Be Drawn Now: Wilderness, Conservation, and the Exclusion of Aboriginal People from Banff National Park in Canada,” authors T. Binnema and M. Niemi note that,
Aboriginal hunting methods were also an affront to sportsmen. Sportsmen developed and adhered to a system of rules intended to guard hunting’s respectability. This meant that animals had to be killed “fairly.” Fish were to be hooked, not speared, netted or lured to torchlight; wildfowl were to be shot on the wing; and game was to be stalked, so that it had a reasonable chance of evading and escaping the hunter.
In the case of the hunt at Short Hills, the Haudenosaunee method of bow-hunting comes under fire and is cited as animal cruelty by the protestors, and even in Pigeon Lake, residents take issue with the fact that the wild rice is not harvested using canoes and paddles. Beyond the opposition to the methods in which food was harvested, Binnema and Niemi also state that “Sport hunters began to argue that no one, not even aboriginal people, had the right to hunt for subsistence […] and that ‘an Indian has no more right to kill wild game, or to subsist upon it all the year round, than any white man in the same locality. The Indian has no inherent or God-given ownership of the game of North America, any more than of its mineral resources; and he should be governed by the same game laws as white men.’”
“We Are All Treaty People” is a slogan that I see written on banners, hash-tagged, and almost too-casually thrown about when it comes to thinking through Canada’s relationship with Indigenous peoples. Though I understand that this is conceptually true, that some of Canada’s lands were acquired through Treaty, I don’t believe it to be wholly and fundamentally true. After all, the only people who seem to have to fall back on Treaty to support their rights are Indigenous peoples and even within that, the ways in which the Canadian government have controlled and legislated Indigenous identity means that not everyone has access to the Treaty rights that were once guaranteed to them. At the 2017 CreativeTime Summit, Idle No More co-founder and lawyer, Sylvia McAdam spoke about her own family’s hunting lands, lands that have been devastated through clear-cutting, a glaring violation of Treaty 6 where “hunting lands are supposed to be protected.” Sylvia states that “treaties are unfinished business,” and challenges Canadians to look to the treaties to understand the violations which have and continue to occur.
There are many sections of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) that can be applied to our rights to continue practices that maintain our connection to the land and cultural continuance through food harvesting; yet we are still waiting for Canada’s government to implement it. I’m reminded of Anishinaabe Elder Garry Sault’s Three Sisters teaching, and specifically his use of Indian Corn as a metaphor for Canada. On each cob there are kernels, all speckled in different colors, but growing together. In his words, “we have to take a lesson from that Indian Corn, because it grows together just as humanity must grow together.” We are all waiting for this teaching to be heeded by Canada and its people.
A recent project titled “2167: Indigenous Storytelling in VR” presented four short films created and shown using Virtual Reality (VR) equipment, fully immersing the viewer in the potential new worlds shown. Scott Beneshiinaabandan’s Blueberry Pie Under the Martian Sky beautifully takes the viewer through a boy’s journey back to his people’s place of origin. Along the way the boy (who is actually you, the viewer) receives instructions and teachings, in both English and Anishinaabemowin, about water and medicines. The Hunt, created by Danis Goulet, imagines a future, post-apocalypse narrative where Mohawk people are still living off the land. The film opens with a Mohawk man, teaching his son how to hunt geese when they are interrupted by an automated orb that challenges his right to hunt.
Past, present, future, these strong colonial attempts to suppress food culture are sure to continue; but our communities have always shown ingenuity and have been inventive in the ways that we take advantage of new technologies to ensure our stories and connection to land are not lost. Our communities, both online and on the ground, strengthen each other with guidance and encouragement in the face of adversity and through everyday kinship. It’s in these supportive ways that we will be able to continue to pass on our knowledge to future generations just as they have survived long enough to be passed on to us.
 Wanda Nanibush, Land (Toronto: CreativeTime Summit, 2017), video, October 18, 2017.
 Waziyatawin Angela Wilson, “Indigenous Knowledge Recovery Is Indigenous Empowerment,” American Indian Quarterly 28, no. 3/4 (2004): 362.
 Alethea Arnaquq-Baril, Angry Inuk (National Film Board of Canada, 2016), film.
 Aylan Couchie and Ian Mosby, “Anti-seal hunt rhetoric ignores facts and suppresses Indigenous Culture,” Globe and Mail, October 12, 2017.
 Julien Gignac, “Local animal rights advocates protest Indigenous hunt near St. Catherines,” Toronto Star, November 14, 2017.
 Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, “A History of Treaty Making in Canada,” April 2010.
 Julien Gignac, “Animal rights groups oppose Indigenous deer hunt,” Toronto Star, November 3, 2017.
 Save Pigeon Lake, “Wild Rice Concerns on Pigeon Lake,” accessed December 10, 2017.
 Oliver Sachgau, “Rice farming in Ontario lake sparks fight over treaty and property rights,” Globe and Mail, last modified March 25, 2017.
 Ogimaa Mikana, “Ogimaa Mikana: Reclaiming/Renaming,” accessed December 10, 2017.
 Alanis Obomsawin, Is the Crown at war with us? (National Film Board of Canada, 2002), film.
 Scott McLeod, “The Impact of Settler Colonialism on Lake Nipissing” (keynote, Challenging Canada 150: Settler Colonialism and Critical Environmental Sciences Symposium, Nipissing University, North Bay, ON, October 10, 2017).
 Ministry of Natural Resources, “Lake Sturgeon: Ontario Recovery Strategy Series,” 2011.
 Theodore Binnema and Melanie Niemi, “‘Let the Line be Drawn Now’: Wilderness, Conservation, and the Exclusion of Aboriginal People from Banff National Park in Canada,” Environmental History 11, no. 4 (2006): 730-1.
 Sylvia McAdam, Liberty (Toronto: CreativeTime Summit, 2017), video, October 18, 2017.
 Garry Sault, Land Acknowledgements (Toronto: CreativeTime Summit, 2017), video, October 18, 2017.
 imagineNATIVE, “2167 Indigenous Storytelling in VR,” accessed December 10, 2017.
Aylan Couchie is an interdisciplinary Anishinaabe artist and writer from Nipissing First Nation in Northern Ontario. She is a NSCAD University alumna and received her MFA in Interdisciplinary Art, Media and Design at OCAD University where she focused her studies on Indigenous monument and public art. Her work explores the impacts of colonialism on First Nations people as well as issues of cultural appropriation and representation. She’s been the recipient of several awards including an “Outstanding Student Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture” award through the International Sculpture Centre and a Premier’s Award through Ontario Colleges. Her work has been shown internationally and her public art installations can be found in the City of Barrie and Halifax International Airport.
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.View Full Response
Solidarity Without Lessons
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.
Likewise, the theme of revolution is heterogeneous in its perhaps troubled signification. Citing the Summit’s coincidence with the centennial of the Bolshevik Revolution, Thompson characterized the latter’s legacy as contested, noting that, while it stands as a historical event brought into being through collective struggle, its historical unfolding has been understood as a disruption to the practice and promise of Marxism. Indeed, this legacy is wound up in a prevailing mood and narrative of failure, or “political impasse” as Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri describe it in their recent book. In Assembly Hardt and Negri, who draw upon while reworking Marx, argue that the concept of revolution requires rethinking, as it is premised on “the autonomy of the political” and sovereign power. Revolutionary theory not only imagined its target as sovereign, it often relied upon the presumed sovereignty of a vanguard poised to edify the ignorant masses assumed to be under the sway of ruling ideology. Hence, they insist that a reconceptualization of revolution must be situated in the context of contemporary subjectivities and social production through the dynamic assembly of non-sovereign counterpowers. At the Summit, Lenin and Marx were not the sources to which presenters made primary appeal. Forms of Indigenous resurgence, not accounted for in the inheritance of revolutionary theory, offered powerful responses to the provocation “What does solidarity mean today?” By reconfiguring both thematic terms, presenters considered ways of provisionally learning and redrafting situational tactics and relational vocabularies. Most notably, the senses of solidarity that were activated were decisively anti-didactic. Three striking instances of such anti-didactic aesthetic intervention can be found in Kent Monkman’s Shame and Prejudice exhibition, Victor “Crack” Rodriguez’s performance art, and Postcommodity’s “Repellent Fence,” which all effectively forge breaks with the distributions of sense that govern hegemonic consensus.
Engaging the relationship between art and politics, Jacques Rancière felt it crucial to confront consensus as the defining logic of contemporary governance in the context of economic globalization. A key aspect of his offering is the challenge that it presents to critical art, which Rancière argues has historically oscillated “between two types of pedagogy: one that could be called representational mediation, and another that we might refer to as ethical immediacy.” These aim to transform perception and assume a calculable cause-effect relationship between new perceptions of reality and transformative mobilization. Rancière insists that these effects cannot be calculated in advance. Further, he critically observes the institutionalized neoliberal imperative that art engage in a common world outside itself to fulfill objectives that waning social institutions are abandoning to other spheres.
His concerns perhaps resonate more sharply amidst the rise of post-truth, alt-facts. Against his objections, perhaps the pedagogical emphasis of critical art is needed more than ever. But, does it offer a way out of the narrow polemics that dominate public discourse? Rancière suggests that this tethers art to the very coordinates of arbitration and agreement associated with consensus. At a time when critique itself does not threaten any measurable disruption to the arrangement of hegemonic significations, and instead seems to authorize it by demonstrating its institutionalized invitation to opposing viewpoints or critical thinking, pedagogically-oriented critique is limited in its potential. As the quotation, “Revolution is not a safe space,” that appeared on site of Chto Delat’s Monument to a Century of Revolutions at Nuit Blanche suggests, revolution, however it might be re-imagined today, will not emerge from consensus.
According to Rancière, while consensus entails the application of expert knowledges and formal procedures of arbitration, its reach is more thorough, stretching beyond the concept’s benign quotidian usage that stresses the accomplishment of agreement. Consensus, Rancière contends, is intertwined with the police, and posits what appears to be a self-evident reality. The concept of the police in his usage does not refer to the concrete function of regulation and control but concerns the organization of perception by connoting a “distribution of the sensible” that compartmentalizes places, people, objects, and modes of possible action, while defining the relations between the parts it produces to constitute the appearance of a common world and a “common-sense” that maps what can be said and done within the set parameters of social recognizable communication. The police, defined in this way, produce agreement through the binding of two types of sense: the sensory, to the extent that it presents what can be seen and felt; and, the symbolic, to the extent that it prescribes agreement on what things mean. This thorough consensus is supported by the unqualified sensibility it makes in the ‘real’ world it presumes. In contrast, politics, on this account, involves positing a new space in “the manifestation of dissensus as the presence of two worlds in one,” to impose an inhabitable break in the smooth univocality of the everyday reality that consensus presents.
Kent Monkman’s Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience produces dissensus rather than pedagogy in an exhibition of works that utilize the styles and motifs of classical painting in ways that irrevocably interrupt Canada’s official history celebrated in Canada’s 150 events in 2017. With a delicate formula, Monkman achieves and sustains a ludic gravity as he re-paints history from pre-contact to Confederation, and through to the present. Fittingly, the exhibition takes the form of chapters in its conceptual organization. One of the most striking aspects of this powerful intervention is manifested in Monkman’s use of a dynamic protagonist-narrator Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, whom Monkman describes not only as his alter-ego but as a “gender-bending time-traveller,” a “trickster,” whose cunning appearances position her to “[tease] out the truths behind false histories and cruel experiences.” In this sense, Miss Chief occupies a queer temporality that enables her to traverse and challenge the hegemonic time of a linearity bookended by supposed origins and ends that suggest their own necessity. Thus, he positions her to witness events and to provide counter-narrative testimony that breaks with the hegemonic nation-building story.
Monkman’s works not only disrupt the familiar national narrative, they intervene in the history of art by remixing both its content and form. Recognizable figures from other bodies of art historical work (e.g. Picasso and Bacon) make appearances in his paintings and amplify the intertextual significations. For instance, in Le petit déjeuner sur l’herbe (2014), the viewer finds the appearance of forms from Picasso’s cubist depictions of women in a contemporary Winnipeg streetscape outside a downtown hotel. One of the twisted figures subtly reminds the viewer of the mother and child in Picasso’s Guernica (1937), a painting that brought international attention to the horrors of aerial bombing attacks on civilians and neighbourhoods during the Spanish Civil War and is often referenced in histories of revolutionary art. In this, the ongoing historical violence towards Indigenous women and girls as they move through public spaces is presented as social and historical, rather than individualized.
Indigenous subjects that have been left out and rendered invisible occupy Monkman’s recontextualizations of social and art historical official touchpoints. Monkman describes his motivation for this project as one that aims “to authorize Indigenous experience in the canon of art history that erased us from view.” For instance, by intruding upon the construction of events such as Canada’s Confederation in The Daddies (2016), Monkman’s recontextualized painting of The Fathers of Confederation portrait, Miss Chief effectively mocks the presentation of the foundation of Canada, as well as the procedures and players to which the national history grants reverence. Indeed, The Fathers of Confederation portrait has played a part in authorizing that national history, but its own history records instability in its selective visual narrative construction.
The original image, initially sketched by Robert Harris under commission from the Canadian government in 1883, itself underwent two revisions to add figures as shifting narratives of history deemed them relevant. The government made revision requests in the same year of the original commission by asking for a change in setting and for the addition of ten individuals. Harris’ completed painting enjoyed much ceremony and travel but was destroyed by fire in 1916. In the 1960s, Confederation Life, an insurance company, commissioned Rex Woods to produce its recreation as a gift for Canada’s Centennial. The Woods painting adds three more individuals and an homage to Harris depicted in the portrait hanging on the wall to the left. Presumably, this addition aids in establishing a symbolic continuity with the Harris painting, while dramatically modifying the history for which it serves as an alibi, as it imports a portrait of the artist at his easel into the Confederation scene. Despite the several officially approved modifications, the depiction is perceived to be a stable reflection and documentation of the event as a truth that authorizes the nation. In this, we see what can be added with neither disruption nor offence to official history.
Yet, the unstable representation of Confederation recorded in the official versions of The Fathers of Confederation portrait amplifies the force of Monkman’s The Daddies, which recreates the Woods version but adds a nude Miss Chief presumably posing for the depiction of Harris in front of a canvas (as it appears in the Woods portrait). Miss Chief poses while seated upon a crate draped with a Hudson’s Bay Company blanket. Monkman’s iteration adds a festive element that resonates with the Canada 150 celebrations, as a champagne bottle rests upon the table to the right, and a few glasses now appear in the hands of some of the ‘fathers.’
Not only does Miss Chief’s surprise appearance unseat the portrait’s (as well as Canada’s) false claim to terra nullius via the absence of Indigenous presence in the previous compositions, her positioning as a nude subject for the artist is ambivalent in its signifying force. Miss Chief is perhaps subjugated to the painterly syntax of the western gaze but her very appearance here, potentially as the portrait’s central figure, is subversive. Furthermore, this recontextualization serves not only to unsettle the historical narrative of Confederation proceedings, it deeply upsets the conventions of its representation by re-painting the scene of its own depiction. By posing for Harris as a nude, perhaps in the only mode of presentation that would have permitted her inclusion, Miss Chief brings attention to the hegemonic convention of presenting Indigenous subjects primarily in exoticized and non-agential arrangements, if at all. This latter interpretation, however, is dependent upon the recognition of the central exchange of gazes between Miss Chief and Harris in Monkman’s critical reaccentuation of the Woods portrait. Regardless of the subtle, and easily missed, legibility of the latter implications, heretofore, The Fathers of Confederation portrait can neither maintain its veneers of truth and completion nor stand alone and unchallenged by the spectre of Miss Chief.
In The Subjugation of Truth (2016), Monkman places Chief Pîhtokahanapiwiyin and Chief Mistahi-maskwa (Chiefs Poundmaker and Big Bear) at the foreground of a document signing scene that presumably references the signing of Treaty Six, but they are seated opposite from the white man settlers assembled around documents resting on an ornate wooden desk. Among the men is John A. MacDonald, who cradles a cocktail in his hand. A Mountie, who has attracted MacDonald’s gaze, occupies a curious hinge-positioning to the side of the desk, as his glance rests on the desktop. The Mountie’s hand grips the right shoulder of Chief Pîhtokahanapiwiyin. At the centre of the composition, the pen is poised above paper and framed behind the mutually held glances of the two Chiefs. Shackles and chains on the Chiefs’ ankles carry multiple significations, from the more direct reference to their later arrests to the ambiguous linguistic context of the Treaty’s negotiations, which were carried out during urgent conditions of famine on the prairies. The resonances are not only historical, however, as contemporary government strategies continue to aim for the extinguishment of Aboriginal Title. From a framed portrait on the back wall, where the viewer might expect the requisite depiction of Queen Victoria, Miss Chief, robed in the Queen’s regalia, looks onto the scene as witness. After Monkman’s Shame and Prejudice exhibition, it is the canon’s paintings and the histories they construct and support that appear jarring and strange.
Performance artist Victor “Crack” Rodriguez from El Salvador gave an explicitly dissensual and anti-didactic message when he addressed the Summit through live translation, engaging the audience to be open to ignorance and “distance yourself from knowledge.” Rodriguez described his practice as emerging from his search for new languages: “Languages in the streets, languages that can be in a horizontal space.” He concluded his address with a demonstration: How to fall out of a desk to “make a ritual.” This demonstration arises from his 2013 performance “Lines,” during which Rodriguez falls from a classroom desk one hundred times to enact “the denial of a committed habit” through repetition. The title of the performance generates more than one possibility. While it references the simultaneous rehearsal of information and gesture in the corrective lines that students are often compelled to produce, it also marks the activation of an alternative form of lines in the making of new rituals that Rodriguez proposes. After instructing the Summit’s audience to fall backwards from an old wooden school desk, he offered, “So, we try to liberate ourselves, to throw ourselves into the abyss, because this is what teaches us to be successful because we also have to learn to fail” and then fell from the desk.
In his street performance art, “At the End of the Rainbow” (2013), Rodriguez plays with razor wire as bypassers look on, on a bustling pedestrian street in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. The colourful razor wire coil is “hybridized” as the children’s toy rainbow Slinky to re-accentuate the razor wire, a material commonly deployed in security and policing techniques. In “At the End of the Rainbow,” this material associated with the protection of privatized properties and spaces, as well as the making and regulation of borders as unpassable, is rendered as a more flexible instrument for play. As pedestrians approach Rodriguez engaged in playful manipulation of the rainbow razor wire Slinky, their movements are re-routed, but not essentially halted. Rodriguez places and displaces the razor wire coil as a flexible boundary in repetition. In this way, it mimics popular spatial games, such as hopscotch, but with extended distributions of movement. Some passersby linger to observe; others pause and momentarily participate by assisting in the delicate negotiation of the sharp material when it becomes tangled and momentarily impedes Rodriguez’s actions. Others pretend not to see anything out of the ordinary and pass with muted reactions.
Repetition in Rodriquez’s work doesn’t merely mimic that which produces habitual sense. Further, the distance of the works from any obvious routes of recuperation from initial confusion to finalized meaning suggests that he does not necessarily intend to reveal the force of repetition in the production of subjectivity—this is not its lesson. Rather, Rodriquez’s performances offer no hermeneutic supplement to negotiate the scenes that envelop bystanders’ actions. To the extent that he leaves himself open to interpretation, even risks the appearance of madness through his departures from sense, he abandons any strategy of didacticism that would merely call for spectators’ consciousness of the ritualization of habit and sense. Rather, repetition here serves to stage—or more—to make alternative habits through their very enactment.
The collective Postcommodity challenged the permanence of borders in a different sense with their four-day ceremony and ephemeral land art “Repellent Fence.” “Repellent Fence” traversed the U.S.-Mexican border with twenty-six balloons floating above the land stretching one mile on either side of the border fence and crossing through the cities of Aqua Prieta, Sonora and Douglas, Arizona in October of 2015. The 10 ft diameter balloons were sent up first on either side of the fence and then outward in a choreographed durée, and they floated 100 feet above the ground for the remaining four days of the ceremony. The project had its impetus at least eight years prior, when members of the collective were perplexed by the commercial appropriation of Indigenous iconography for a visual bird repellent product that dons a “scare eye” in medicine colours. They began by imagining reclamation of the iconography in a monument that “mocks the concept of borders.” The project’s concept changed considerably, however, as Postcommodity participated in eight years of diplomatic engagement and worked “co-intentionally” with participants from the two borderland communities of Aqua Prieta and Douglas, communities which stand to be severed by the realization of Trump’s proposed border wall.
While “Repellent Fence” is political in its interventions that target the illegalization of Indigenous movement through the imposition of borders and the “genesis amnesia” that authorizes this delegitimation of movement, the collective aimed for an approach that avoided the conventional tactics of political protest. Member Cristóbal Martínez was unequivocal in asserting that Postcommodity is a collective of artists—not protestors or revolutionaries. As artists, their task is to “mediate complexities,” if not to amplify complex entanglements, where public discourse has been simplified, polarizing, and decisively partisan. But, equally, the bi-national diplomacy inherent to this project is not to be taken as an expression of the ethical immediacy associated with participatory art forms that have often been referred to as social practice. Member Kade Twist has explicitly distanced this work from the concept of social practice, observing that, with their connective approach, they were “just being Indian.”
The ambiguity of the title “Repellent Fence” heightens its force as a provocation for communications that elude both the polarization and didacticism of conventional protest actions. Members of Postcommodity provide only possible interpretations rather than one final and preferred meaning. While “Repellent Fence” as a ceremony “sutures” a community divided by the border, what might it repel? They leave the answer to this question open-ended: perhaps, migrants or the border itself, or perhaps the militia groups in the area. Postcommodity suggests that “Repellent Fence” produces noise and trickery where discourse on the proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall seems to be flattened and simplified. The significations of its form are similarly contradictory and unfinalized. They also acknowledge that the scare eyes on the balloons perhaps connote surveillance in the region, but refuse to anchor the possible implications into singular relationships by specifying who or what is watching, and what or whom is being watched.
In different ways, each of these artworks refuse to be bound to a calculable social function, which would require a coherence faithful to consensus. Instead, these works produce dissensus by displacing the registers of meaning, feeling, and relations that support the selectively negotiated common-sense that establishes a given reality, its salient values, and habitualized conduct. Miss Chief’s testimony to Monkman’s Shame and Prejudice, Rodriguez’s incitement to the making of new rituals, and Postcommodity’s ceremonial fence produce dissensual common-sense as they reframe “the given by inventing new ways of making sense of the sensible” and “precisely because they neither give lessons nor have any destination.” Rancière stresses the latter when he considers whether there is a connection between art and politics. The potential in the relationship between art and politics, or whatever way in which revolution might be reimagined or animated today, perhaps resides in such aesthetic re-arrangements of sense, not in lessons.
 Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri. Assembly. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017, 64.
 Jacques Rancière. Dissensus: On Politics and Aesthetics. Translated by Steven Corcoran. London and New York: Continuum, 2010, 144.
 Ibid., 137.
 Ibid., 144.
 Ibid., 36.
 Ibid., 144.
 Ibid., 37.
 Kent Monkman. Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience. Exhibition Guide. Toronto: University of Toronto Art Centre, 2017, 3.
 Monkman, Shame and Prejudice, 4.
 Mel Y. Chen. Animacies: Biopolitics, Racial Mattering, and Queer Affect. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2012, 218-21.
 Monkman, Shame and Prejudice, 4.
 “The Fathers of Confederation.” History, Arts and Architecture. House of Commons, Parliament of Canada. Accessed November 19, 2017.
 John Leonard Taylor. “Treaty Research Report: Treaty Six (1876).” Treaties and Historical Research Centre, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, 1985, 6-7 & 16-17 (food); 31-34 (language and Treaty Six land surrender clause). Accessed November 19, 2017.
 Arthur Manuel and Grand Chief Ronald Derrickson. The Reconciliation Manifesto: Recovering the Land Rebuilding the Economy. Toronto: Lorimer, 2017.
 Crack Rodriguez. “Lines.” The Fire Theory. Accessed November 16, 2017.
 Crack Rodriguez. “At the end of the rainbow.” The Fire Theory. Accessed November 16, 2017. http://crackrodriguez.com/attheendoftherainbow/
 “Artist Talk + Op-Ed Launch: Postcommodity.” Walker Art Center, March 20, 2017. Accessed November 19, 2017.
 Rancière, Dissensus, 139.
 Ibid., 140.
Kimberly Mair is Associate Professor of Sociology and teaches in Cultural, Social, and Political Thought at the University of Lethbridge. Her research is primarily concerned with the aesthetics of communication and posthumanist critiques of biopolitics. Her book Guerrilla Aesthetics: Art, Memory, and the West German Urban Guerrilla (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2016) emphasizes the sensorial aspects of guerrilla communications in the 1970s. In her current project, she examines fugitive modes of communication to consider how mundane spaces were indirectly endowed with discretionary deliberation over informal asylum in WWII Britain.
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.View Full Response
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.
A Monument to the Century of Revolutions, in its clunky industrial composition, was comprised of shipping crates that contained twenty-one life-sized, dioramic installations, half of which were designed by Chto Delat to represent various revolutions that occurred throughout the twentieth century, including the Russian Revolution, the revolutionary events of 1968, the Perestroika, the Mexican Revolution, the Zapatista Uprising, the Chinese Communist Revolution, and the Cuban Revolution. The installation fulfilled both pedagogical and ideological function, in particular for the local artists who were invited to envision the contents of half of the crates on display. “What does revolution mean to you?” was the question posed to invited participants, a question variously taken up to completely different effect by artists including Syrus Marcus Ware, Carole Condé and Karl Beveridge, d’bi.young anitafrika, and Tings Chak, to name a few. The physical space of the crate permitted for the physical execution of revolutionary ideology.
What does revolution mean to you? What is to be done? Invited presenters and audience participants circled around these questions throughout the two-day Summit. Chto Delat, a novel written in 1863 by Russian critic Nikolai Chernyshevsky, incited a call to industrial production spawning from socialist cooperatives rather than from capitalism. Vladimir Lenin’s 1902 Chto Delat is believed, by many, to have inspired the political energy leading to the Russian Revolution more so than Marx’s 1848 Communist Manifesto. In art history, the signal event of artistic Modernism is largely believed to be World War I (1914-1918); as Hal Foster, Rosalind Krauss, Yve-Alain Bois, and Benjamin H.D. Buchloh observed in Art Since 1900, “modernist art’s drive toward abstraction might not signal its withdrawal from reality so much as reality’s withdrawal from it.” The Russian Revolution, a series of revolutions in Russia in 1917 that dismantled the Tsarist autocracy and led to the creation of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, also led to its own art movement. Productivism’s proponents devoted themselves to designing improved environments for the citizens of Soviet Russia, and artists became determined to play a role in helping to create this new society. The belief, for the Productivists, following Suprematist founder Kazimir Malevich, was that non-objective art was the aesthetic solution. The earlier Proletkult (Organization for Proletarian Culture), founded in 1906, adhered to the belief that “art is a social product, conditioned by the social environment,” which could only be enacted following the Russian Revolution.
Despite the disparate political events of Eastern and Western Europe, similar artistic experiments with form and abstraction were underway prior to these events; Foster et al argue that they almost seem to anticipate the aesthetic strategies that would become predominant in the ensuing years, pointing to Soviet artist Vladimir Tatlin’s observation that, “What happened from the social aspect in 1917 was realized in our work as pictorial artists in 1914, when ‘materials, volume, and construction’ were accepted as our foundations.” Following experiments, in the earlier part of the decade, with relief sculptures comprised of industrial materials including wire, stucco, and glass, Tatlin revealed his model for Monument to the Third International (1919-1920), the effects of the 1917 Revolution well underway.
Tatlin’s Tower was unveiled in Petrograd on November 8, 1920 and was subsequently showcased in the building hosting the Eighth Congress of the Soviets in Moscow. The accompanying pamphlet written by art historian Nikolai Punin detailed how the finished tower was to have been a glass and metal construction approximately 1300 feet high. Tatlin’s model is, of course, most well-known for its tilt, executed by the inclusion of two conical spirals, themselves supported by vertical wooden slats. Within this structure, four glass encasings were stacked on top of each other, with each level intended to house a different branch of the Comintern, the Soviet organization whose task was to “spread […] the revolution” to other countries. In its realized form each register would rotate at a distinct pace. This “monument,” it was believed by Tatlin and his supporters, would diverge in form from earlier monuments to the Revolution in its adherence to Soviet Russia’s new “culture of materials.” In other words, the monument would not only be symbolic, but also functional, and would represent the momentum of the Revolution.
The advent of Postmodernism in itself signaled a wariness of signal events. To this effect it is fitting, yet contradictorily monumentalizing, that a monument to the signal event of revolution was never realized. The monument is the signal event made manifest, yet we might also question, and imagine how, in the twenty-first century, to signal the event (or revolution) that has yet to occur. One hundred years after the Russian Revolution, we seem enduringly caught up in the desire for an aesthetic strategy signaling the political moment of the twenty-frst century, even in an artistic climate in which aesthetic form once again follows (political) function, and not the other way around. This was reflected at the Creative Time Summit in the stage installation by Toronto-based artists Public Studio (Elle Flanders and Tamira Sawatzsky), in collaboration with Haida lawyer and artist Terri-Lynn Williams Davidson who, together, wrote The Rights of Nature, a manifesto of sorts advocating for the recognition of the significance of nature, culminating in the Creative Time Closing Ceremony, beginning with a song and Haida prayer by Davidson and a participatory choir performance of The Rights of Nature led by Public Studio, Hiba Abdallah, Ange Loft, and Davidson. On the Creative Time stage, the red, black, and white hard-edge figurative constructions of nature, animals, and human-made tools recalled the symbolic political abstractions of El Lissitzky but also suggested an awareness of the specific urgencies of the current moment, in the context of present-day Toronto/Tkaronto, the Mohawk word “Tkaronto” meaning “where there are trees in the water,” its English translation to “Toronto” an enduring reminder of the historical and ongoing colonization of Native land. Part theatre set, part stage director, the uppercase letters spiraling through the installation mimicked popular agit prop fonts from the early twentieth century, the ideological dimension of revolution served here as a backdrop but also brought into relief multiple forms of engagement with the living embodied proponents who animated the stage throughout the day—representation made real.
What are the aesthetics of present day incarnations of revolution? What happens before activism, before action? What is to be done? In his 1992 essay “Notes on Gesture,” political theorist Giorgio Agamben argued that “politics is the sphere of pure means, that is, of the absolute and complete gesturality of human beings.” I want to consider the various ways in which “revolution” underlines the interplay between embodied performance and activism and the daily aesthetic interventions that play out on the public stage. Where do we locate the political body in relation to the sentient body, and how do we conceptualize and feel through theories and histories of sense and perception toward a view to politics, political action, and political formation as stemming from lived experience? How do we conceptualize “revolution” in relation to the material, social, and political body? How do we resist the aestheticization, as well as anesthetization, of political urgency? How does the body move in time with political revolution?
Revolution—from historically-specific events, to ideological pursuit, each vested party aligned across time and symbolically mobilized in any present toward emancipation, was evidenced in manifold ways at the Creative Time Summit. Issues and urgencies of locality, Indigeneity, and geographical specificity helped to outline specific overlapping and cross-temporal geographic conditions of aesthetics and revolution under the invisible organizing framework of revolutionary sentiment. Considerations of “homelands,” in conjunction with multidimensional considerations of “revolution,” lent themselves to the specific social and political conditions experienced by each presenter. To consider “homelands” alongside “revolution” reflected an increasingly complex and complicated view to the world in the context of globalization, its media and forms of culture alongside its conflicts, compromises, and conciliations, revealing nuanced, embodied strategies for political response. The El Salvador-based artist Crack Rodriguez may have illustrated this point most pointedly by performing an exaggerated form of political refusal, demonstrating how to throw oneself to the ground while sitting in a classroom desk. The body is a laboring body, as evidenced by Carole Condé and Karl Beveridge, whose oeuvre has been devoted to “represent[ing] activism in our community, with specific focus on the labour movement, social justice groups, and those working in culture, and the turn, in their own practice, from Minimalist sculpture, to political art. Fictional accounts, the artists explained, are employed to protect vulnerable workers, but also because it allows them to say more. The body of the artist becomes a historical vessel, a witness to the specific local social, political, and artistic strategies of a given location, but is also a tool itself, occasionally, also, the target, bearing the traces, imprints, and traumas of political resistance.
The body is also a body inextricably tied to land. Wanda Nanibush, an Anishnaabe-kwe curator who, since her installment as Curator of Indigenous Art at the Art Gallery of Ontario, has been one of the most radical curatorial voices in Toronto, and whose 2016 inaugural exhibition Tributes and Tributaries remapped the city of Toronto via a consideration of its buried waterways, was an appropriate first presenter, opening the morning’s panel on “Land.” Reflecting on the term “homeland” in relation to Anishnaabe language, she said, “We’d have to make a word up for ‘homeland’,” and considered “the way of being with the land and with each other.” About the land, Nanibush stated, “it’s hard to see it as something separate from myself, or something separate from the way I think about community, the way I think about love, the way I think about caring…” emphasizing a “deep and profound bodily relationship to it.” Unpacking the implications of what it means for Indigenous people in Canada to own approximately 2% of the land in Canada (according to Arthur Manuel), Nanibush reminded the audience that that land, as her certificate of possession represents, is ultimately held in trust by the Canadian government. She recounted the emotional experience of stepping back onto her land when she was twelve years old, and the incredible occurrence, presently, of Indigenous people going back out onto their rightful land beyond the government-set confines of the reservation: “We are not in a space of dispossession, fundamentally, because the land is still here.” For artist and writer Coco Fusco who, with Creative Time curator Elvira Dyangani Ose, spoke together, “homeland” in Spanish translates as patria which, as Fusco points out, is a “masculine, patriarchal term” and how homeland, in her experience as an exile with no right to return to Cuba, homeland refers to the property of the state, rather than of the people.
Hong Kong-born and Toronto-based artist Tings Chak, whose formal training is in architecture, presented on her graphic novel, Undocumented: The Architecture of Migrant Detention, which turned attention toward questions of space itself and the coercive means by which bodies are policed in geographic space via the biopolitical force of containment within migrant detention centres. Chak asked, “How does the criminalization of migrants take form in our built environment?” This was an important reminder, as were many that were made that day, about the bodies absented from participation in the Summit, absented from the conversation, and absented from spaces of legibility through diverse and impressively effective strategies of physical containment, expulsion, and force.
Syrus Marcus Ware’s artistic practice fuses a wealth of affective and political experiences, from his activist love letters to activist portraits, as well as ongoing community engagement as an organizer of Black Lives Matter TO. Ware spoke on love—an important reminder of what, for many, is the root of political action and the pursuit of a more just world—the recognition of love’s power—a means and an end. Ware’s presentation was a punctuating moment for a consideration of the impetus for political activism, and the affective connections that incite us to action. A city’s aesthetics are influenced and informed by our specific political and social conditions, and Ware is a significant contributor to a conception of Toronto’s aesthetics in the present day. His activist portraits, presented with participant sitters the following day, presented the possibility of a portrait as one built jointly by artist and sitter, a relationality, intimacy, and vulnerability made visible by bonds of respect and trust, Ware creating space, both in the presentation and in the portraits themselves, for the recognition of the political and artistic contributions of often-overlooked artists and activists of colour working in Toronto.
By the time Chto Delat took the stage in conversation with Nato Thompson, a view to a working definition or consideration of revolution in the present day seemed almost belated, the presentations throughout the day complicating a view to a singular originary view to the join of aesthetics and revolution. As Olga Egorova stated, “the world is changing,” and that we need to “refresh our knowledge of revolutions.” Thompson reflected on “what it means to look back at one hundred years of revolution” and offered a view to the difference between an abstract and a specific form of resistance, nodding in particular to “local activists who start naming names.” He argued, “you can’t speak about the history of revolution without speaking about local struggles.” About aesthetics, Chto Delat argued, “it’s not about beauty, it’s not about nice, it’s about sublime. And sublime is a dangerous thing.”
In her midday keynote address, postcolonial scholar Gayatri Spivak underlined Lenin’s assertion that “the ruled classes have to want in a communist way … revolutionary upheaval moves in a counterrevolutionary direction.” The historiographical positioning and centralizing of revolution has opened up to reveal that revolution occurs in many forms, and concurrently in various locales. It is not one signal event and the effects of that moment, which, when even felt, are often belated, and just as painful in the aftermath as are its gains worthwhile. Different revolutions take different amounts of time. We often think of successful instances of revolution as those that mark history, yet we neglect to consider revolution’s everyday occurrence at the grand scale and in the everyday, within the individual and the collective body, and within accidental and overt aesthetic gestures and provocations. Tatlin’s Monument to the Third International was a model for a monument whose registers moved at different speeds, nevertheless constituting the same drive. Tatlin’s tower is thus an appropriate metaphor for present day conceptions of revolution: visionary and oftentimes unrealized, yet always turning in pace with the urgencies of the political moment.
 Hal Foster, Rosalind Krauss, Yve-Alain Bois, and Benjamin H.D. Buchloh, “1916a,” Art Since 1900 (New York: Thames & Hudson, 2004), 141.
 Proletkult, The Organization for Proletarian Culture manifesto, 1906.
 Tatlin, quoted in Foster et al, 125.
 Foster et al, 175.
 The building itself was never realized; at the time it existed only in wood and metal models and now, only in drawings, photographs, and reconstructions.
 Giorgio Agamben, “Notes on Gesture,” in Means without End: Notes on Politics, trans. Vincenzo Binetti and Cesare Casarino (Minneapolis & London: University of Minnesota Press, 2000), 59.
Erin Silver is a historian of queer feminist visual culture, performance, activism, and art history. She obtained a PhD in Art History and Gender and Women's Studies from McGill University in 2013. She is the co-editor (with Amelia Jones) of Otherwise: Imagining Queer Feminist Art Histories (Manchester University Press, 2016), and co-edited (with taisha paggett) the winter 2017 issue of C Magazine, “Force,” on intersectional feminisms and movement cultures. She has curated exhibitions at the FOFA Gallery, the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives, and the Doris McCarthy Gallery. Silver is an Assistant Professor of Art History at the University of British Columbia.
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.”View Full Response
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.”
A glance was sufficient to surmise that the arch had been built in Great Britain; later, I learned that the temporary monument was called “The Wheat Arch” and that it had been erected in 1902 in the Whitehall district of London as Canada’s contribution to the celebration of King Edward VII’s coronation. Shortly after the coronation, the arch was re-purposed to promote emigration simply by inscribing it with the alluring offer of “free homes.” As it happens, my recollection of the inscription was not entirely accurate. Looking at the photograph again, I see that the arch was actually inscribed with “Canada” in large capital letters at the top, followed by “Free Homes for Millions” below, and underneath that, the conventional salutation, “God Bless the Royal Family.” My memory had not retained the correct order of the words, but it did preserve the monument’s essential message: for the working masses—the millions—freedom took the form of a home, and it could be gained only by emigrating. By means at once strident and subtle, the monument declared home and homeland to be utterly incompatible; one, it proclaimed, had to be sacrificed to win the other. The masses could have home or homeland, but not both. Never both.
For me, this photograph epitomizes the powerful forces that drove Anglo-Canadian colonization in the early twentieth century. Even before studying the topic, I knew enough about the English system of land tenure to realize that, in this context, “free” did not mean without cost; rather, it had the more specific, limited meaning of a home that was unencumbered by a lease, which is to say, freehold, as opposed to leasehold. For contemporary Canadians accustomed to a simple property system, this distinction may require historical explanation, especially if its importance for the formation of Canada is to be appreciated. Indeed, the English system of land tenure is so arcane that it’s tempting to regard it as something curious, trivial, or even quaint, like separate taps for hot and cold water, tea trolleys, or croquet. To do so would, however, be quite incorrect; the English land-holding system drove a global project of colonization and thus had consequences that can only be described as world-historical in scope.
The best and briefest way to explain this system is to quote the concise account of it written by the German architect Hermann Muthesius, who served as the cultural attaché at the German Embassy in London at the turn of the twentieth century. Returning to Germany in 1904, not long after the coronation celebrated by the arch, Muthesius published a three-volume book titled Das englische haus. No ordinary architectural history, the book was written as an official report to the Prussian government on the English way of life, which was presumed to hold the key to Britain’s success in industry and empire. In order to describe English dwelling as comprehensively as possible, Muthesius elaborated its foundations in property, which led him directly to history. Indeed, he introduced the section “Laws of land-tenure” with the bold claim that, “If anything will bring home to the English every hour of every day the fact that their history has continued without a break for close on a thousand years, it must be the present conditions of land-tenure.” He described William the Conqueror’s confiscation of the common land of England, which he then granted to his barons in fief. The barons, in turn, sought to make their land “not only hereditary, but inalienable from their descendants, thus securing the prestige of their families by preserving its real basis.” This enterprise was so successful that, at the beginning of the twentieth century, Muthesius could write: “By and large, land is still as inalienable as it ever was. A good two-thirds of the land in the United Kingdom is still entailed. This means that half of England is owned by 150 landlords, half of Scotland is owned by seventy-five and half of Ireland by thirty-five.”
Muthesius proceeded to explain that the condition of inalienability put the property system at odds with the process of industrialization—i.e., the forces of capitalism, the industrial revolution, the emergence of the working class, and the growth of the modern metropolis, all of which initially appeared and took their most advanced form in England. Leasing land, which permitted development without threatening the landlord’s possession, was the solution to this problem. Land leases made home ownership more accessible by reducing the initial investment needed to build a home, but the terms invariably favoured the owners of property, often to an extraordinary degree. The most consequential condition required that, at the termination of the lease period (which was commonly 99 years), any and all leasehold improvements were to be returned to the owner of the land in good, habitable order. This meant that a house built on leased land had to be fully repaired, and in many cases substantially rebuilt, at the end of the lease in order to return it as if no time had passed. A house thus became progressively less attractive as the termination date of the land lease neared, and increasingly likely to be rented by those who most ardently aspired to have a home—often those least able to bear the cost of its repairs. Many families were ruined in this way. Likewise, considerable hardship faced tenants who wished to remain in a house that, in some cases, had been their home for decades, since renewal of a lease was usually at exorbitant rates designed both to compensate for the undervaluation of the land in the preceding years and to anticipate the inflation of its value during the nearly century-long period of the next lease.
The cruelty and injustice of this exploitive system beggars the imagination; suffice it to say that it was so onerous, and so thoroughly entrenched, that, for those unable to reconcile themselves to it, emigration appeared to be the only alternative. Free land was a powerful incentive; Britain’s overseas colonies in nominally “unoccupied” lands such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand, offered millions of aspiring, working-class people the opportunity to gain freehold title to a home on a small plot of land and to rid themselves of the inevitability of its reversion to an entrenched class of landlords. The colonies offered land without leases, land that could be held and enjoyed in perpetuity, just as it was by the happy few in England.
To obtain a home with this status—a free home—was the typical motive of the overwhelming majority of British immigrants to Canada, especially during the time of rapid growth in the late nineteenth century, which ended with the First World War. This historical phenomenon has been somewhat obscured by the much more diverse immigration that has prevailed since the liberalization of Canadian immigration law in 1965, but it is important to recall that, in 1901, four out of five immigrants to Canada came from Great Britain. From the vantage point of a century after Muthesius, it is possible to recognize the significant role that the middle- and working-class quest for freehold home ownership played in Britain’s colonization of the globe. Emigration to the colonies functioned like a relief valve, reducing political and social pressure to reform the British property system. The option to migrate to a free land—one that maintained all the other social and cultural norms of the homeland—was the ready answer to dissent, and it effectively dissipated the energies of the movement for property reform that had waxed and waned since the failure of the English Revolution in the seventeenth century.
Canada and Great Britain were accomplices in this scheme, which seems to mirror perfectly the sort of genteel, Fabian socialism that it was devised to forestall. As Muthesius put it, “The present state of affairs is the result of two specifically English national characteristics: the tendency to cling to tradition and the disinclination of the public at large to think of the long term or even to protect their interests.” While Canada became a sovereign nation in 1867, its sovereignty was predicated on its conforming to the will and interests of the motherland. For many decades after Confederation, Canada’s actual political condition was closer to suzerainty than independence as such. The inscription on the arch said as much without explicitly saying so. Whose voice was it that promised “Free homes for Millions”—Canada’s or Great Britain’s? A nation does not usually exhort millions of its citizens to leave, nor does it usually accept another nation actively advertising its own benefits. Yet, at the beginning of the twentieth century, Great Britain and Canada were active collaborators in a colonial scheme that benefited both parties. In addition to all that colonization provided England, it was also a remarkably efficient and effective counter-revolutionary measure. For Canada, it propagated a cultural fixation on the freehold home that was the negative imprint of the failure to revolutionize British property relations. The dream of a free home led Canada to have one of the highest rates of private home ownership of any nation in the world, but it also produced unplanned suburbs crowded with shoddy, owner-built homes inhabited by desperate new immigrants who chose to endure the hardships of displacement rather than overturn the patently inequitable system of their homeland.
At the time of my encounter with the photograph of the triumphal arch, I was living in a large house on Bellevue Avenue in Toronto’s Kensington Market—a house nominally shared by three people but dominated by the outsized personality of the lease-holder, Ida Carnevali. The house was shabby and infested with termites, but its plan was elegant. It was a rare example of a type of home designed for a merchant, with a shop facing the street, and it retained the original, tall, draughty display windows and a recessed central door with an enamelled tin sign. The shop space served as the office of Ida’s theatre company, and its windows were inhabited by giant papier-mâché puppet heads that she used annually in her production of a winter solstice procession through the market. The shop entrance aligned with the door to the living room, which aligned with the arch leading into the kitchen beyond, and that aligned with the door of a large scullery, which aligned with the rear door, forming a perfect enfilade. The ground floor was precisely level with the yard, so when the doors stood open on fine fall days, leaves would blow straight through the house.
Ida had worked as a journalist, a performer and a theatre producer and she had a history of radical, marginal, and communal lifestyles. An Italian Jew born near Mantua, she combined an Italian sensibility for the quality of everyday life with the hippie generation’s instincts for the residual value in good architecture. In London in 1963, she married Tom Burrows and the next year, they moved to Vancouver when Burrows returned to the University of British Columbia (UBC) to study art history. The couple shared a house with Gloria and Toni Onley for two years before returning to London, where Burrows undertook graduate studies in fine arts. Offered a job managing the UBC art gallery, Burrows returned to Vancouver in late May of 1969. Inspired by the anarchist spirit of 1968 in Paris and motivated by a shortage of available housing, he resolved to build a house for his family in the coastal tradition of squatter settlement, which was then nearing its final phase. Working on weekends and during long summer evenings, he began to build a house on the Maplewood Mudflats alongside the home of a friend he had frequently visited during his student days. He claimed a wooden platform on piles in the intertidal zone near the treeline at the mouth of a creek and, using salvaged materials, enclosed and completed an existing, partly built dwelling space. Water came by hose from a pump in a fresh water spring that his friend agreed to share, but there was no electricity and the only light was provided by candles and gas lanterns.
Ida arrived in Vancouver at the end of the summer with the couple’s infant son, Elisha. She was dismayed by the tiny, primitive home that greeted her, and shocked by her first encounter with North American hippies and their countercultural style. She was also daunted by the prospect of raising a baby under conditions that made demanding tasks of daily chores. Burrows admits that, “The person who really knows the experience of the Mudflats is Ida, dealing with diapers with no hot water. She bore the brunt of living on the Flats.” With access to university facilities, Burrows often stayed overnight nearby to avoid the long commute home, so Ida also experienced considerable isolation. She describes Linda Spong as her only true friend on the mudflats. Ida’s time was occupied by caring for her child, and she was consoled by the natural rhythm of the tide passing under the house and the ever-changing objects the water left behind.
Even as Burrows undertook to consolidate and expand a home for his young family—he soon raised the roof to make a loft-like bedroom—the mudflats were under assault by the forces of modernization and suburban bureaucracy. Vancouver’s long-standing tradition, dating back to the mid-nineteenth century, of informal shacks and shanties on the tidal flats that fall between the land and the sea initially accommodated communities of sailors and fishermen. These dwellings proliferated during the desperate years of the Great Depression, when the West Coast attracted displaced workers seeking easier climes, and they provided refuge again during World War II and its immediate aftermath, when returning veterans failed to find jobs and establish homes in the emerging suburbs. The informal communities around Burrard Inlet also attracted a coterie of writers seeking refuge from urban life. The expatriate British writer Malcolm Lowry was the most famous inhabitant of the small community that developed at Roche Point, a few kilometres down the Dollarton Highway from Maplewood.
By the early 1950s, the bureaucrats of the suburban District of North Vancouver viewed such informal dwellings with growing disapproval. After the Lions Gate sewage treatment plant opened in 1961, criticism intensified and all residences in the North Shore suburbs were required to connect to new sewers. Lowry’s home at Roche Point was demolished in 1954 and the remaining houses were cleared by 1957, so the re-appearance of squatters’ shacks a decade later at nearby Maplewood was undoubtedly regarded as a return to bad old ways.
The struggle escalated when Mayor Ron Andrews announced plans for a large commercial development on the waterfront land at Maplewood. Meanwhile, conditions were rapidly changing within the Mudflats community. Burrows learned that the platform he had claimed had been constructed by a World War I veteran with fantasies of constructing a shipyard; at that time, the man had been institutionalized and he died shortly thereafter. Burrows interpreted his passing as signalling a fundamental change in the type of community that had occupied the mudflats. He denounced staged events such as the Dollarton Pleasure Faire, a hippie gathering held on the mudflats in August 1971 and again the following year, as evidence of a rapidly devolving atmosphere of “late hippie baroque floridity.” Nevertheless, he fought to retain his home, taking his case to the British Columbia Supreme Court. He lost the case, and city officials took action before he could launch an appeal. Despite Burrows’ last-ditch effort to relocate the house, shifting it ninety feet onto a patch of alluvial silt that did not appear on any maps, the house, along with a number of others around it, was burned to the ground on December 17th, 1971.
Ida and Tom separated in the early 1970s. Tom had begun to build another home and studio on Hornby Island in 1972, and moving there in 1974, he embarked upon a long-term project to document the international squatters’ movement. His artistic practice was varied, but in 1989, he returned to making monochrome translucent resin panels similar to those he first made as a student in England. Ida pursued various forms of theatre, including a stint as a circus performer. The artist Ingrid Baxter, who lived nearby on Riverside Drive, recalls that, “Ida was a great spirit! I was happy when she split off into her clowning career.” With a theatre troupe that bred Clydesdale horses, she lived for some time on a communal farm in the Okanagan Valley; the horses were used to transport the performers across the country in a wooden cart. At the end of the summer season, the horses would be sold to livestock collectors in order to fund the enterprise and the troupe would retire to the farm for the winter.
Ida’s enthusiasm for theatre contrasted sharply with Burrows’s disdain for the events staged on the mudflats; she seems to have been inspired by the idealistic aspects of the events she witnessed, and to have interpreted them more generously as a continuation of European traditions of street performance and variety theatre—which tended to be itinerant, integrated with agrarian festivals, and overtly political—that she recognized from her youth in Italy. Where Tom saw spectacle, Ida saw carnival, and she took up her surname as a vocation. Her seasonal and nomadic, implicitly feminist approach to theatre culminated in the values of the solstice festival that she produced in Toronto in the 1990s: communal, processional, participatory, informal, and poly-cultural, with strongly neo-pagan and pantheistic overtones. Her unique, highly personal fusion of the local and global suited Kensington Market perfectly, and she pursued it with an assurance born of the belief that it was available to all for the taking. It’s no surprise that the festival continues today—her legacy to Toronto.
I moved out of the house on Bellevue in 1994. By that time, Ida had already begun to express a desire to return to her ancestral home in Campagnolo, a village south of the Lago di Garda. Her eventual departure was hastened by the landlord’s resolve to demolish the dilapidated house. Ida resisted this plan for a few years, and during my occasional visits, she would enlist me to research ways and means to preserve the house—programmes for termite remediation or the pursuit of heritage designation, which the house undoubtedly merited. Ultimately, she lacked the conviction for another long battle. After she departed, the landlord boarded up the windows, fenced off the front yard, and let the house sit vacant. Untended, the house quickly became covered in graffiti and its decay accelerated. An abandoned house was an odd, melancholy and even surprising sight in Toronto at that time; property values were just beginning to escalate, teardowns were as yet unheard-of, and homes, no matter how ramshackle, were preserved and inhabited. A few years later, the house was demolished, and the lot remains vacant. All that is left of 45 Bellevue is the pair of magnificent chestnut trees in the front yard.
Ida’s experience of dwelling in Canada began and ended with the strife of eviction, but it deserves to be remembered as a radical pursuit of freedom. The last, Toronto, phase of her domestic struggle left barely a trace, but the house in which Carnevali and Burrows lived on the Maplewood Mudflats has attained historical significance through the current revival of interest in the radical alternatives of the (now not-so-) recent past. A retrospective of Burrows’ career, held in 2015 at the very gallery he managed at UBC, has renewed interest in the house he built, even inspiring a one-day symposium called Spatial Politics and the City. The house and the struggle over the mudflats is also featured in a comprehensive documentation of the era in the website Ruins in Process: Vancouver Art in the Sixties. In 2014, Presentation House Gallery exhibited a selection of the more than seven hundred photographs that Bruce Stewart made of the Dollarton Pleasure Faires in 1971 and 1972. Most of his pictures had not been seen since they were first exhibited at Erol Baykal’s Gallery of Photography in December 1973, but they have now been published in an exhibition catalogue titled West of Eden. Ida and Tom appear in one notable sun-dappled image from 1971: they are seated on a flowered carpet that is spread on the ground and draped over a log that they rest against like a bolster; in a gesture of casual intimacy, Ida reaches over to brush Tom’s face.
As the hippie era recedes into the past, it has gained the attention of those in Vancouver who have been excluded from the city’s housing market by its wildly inflated housing costs. In fact, the powerful economic forces in Vancouver’s housing market have given the house in which Ida lived on the mudflats a strange afterlife in a work by Ken Lum. In 2010, an exclusive, sixty-storey condominium building called Living Shangri-la offered the Art Gallery of Vancouver the use of a site at the tower’s base. The gallery commissioned Lum to create an installation, and he chose to reconstruct three informal dwellings from Vancouver’s history—homes that had belonged to Margarie Bonner and Malcolm Lowry, Ida Carnevali and Tom Burrows, and Linda and Dr. Paul Spong—at three-quarters of their original scale. Lum brought his characteristically acerbic wit to the idea of reconstruction; by mimicking the role of set designer and employing scenic techniques characteristic of the film industry, he not only implicated the film industry as an antagonist in the city’s housing crisis, but also recalled its origins in the hippie carpenters and salvage ethos of Maplewood. The work’s title, from shangri-la to shangri-la, underscores the ease with which an Orientalist sobriquet once applied to the Maplewood Mudflats has been recuperated by a luxury condominium. There is no small irony in the fact that it was another mayor of the District of North Vancouver, Richard Walton, who was instrumental in having Lum’s sculpture permanently installed in the conservation area at Maplewood, very close to the site of the original houses.
It is uncanny to see the demolished houses in Lum’s diminished scale on their original site, but if any particular work has entrenched the Maplewood Mudflats in the memory of Vancouver artists, it is the hand-tinted photographic triptych from 1973 by Ian Wallace titled La Mélancolie de la rue. Wallace had been a student with Burrows in London, and on his return to Vancouver, he documented the sculptures that his friend made from flotsam and jetsam on the mudflats. He also made a number of photographs of the houses on the mudflats, and he incorporated one of these images in the picture that is sometimes regarded as the foundation of the Vancouver school of photo-conceptual art. This work features, from left to right, an image of people assembled in front of a newly completed Brutalist-style art gallery; a conventional suburban house on a hillside; and a pair of houses, isolated against the sky and the water, out on the mudflats.
The two homes depicted in the work present a stark contrast. Despite the fact that the house in the centre image was probably built sometime in the late 1960s or even in the early 1970s, it has white painted wooden siding, a two-storey pediment with double columns, and a Sheraton-style handrail on the flat roof of the prominent two-car garage. It is detached from other houses and from the landscape, which has been completely cleared in order to facilitate construction. Every feature of the house asserts an anachronistic, colonial neo-Palladianism apparently designed to reinforce the Britishness of British Columbia. The house in the picture on the right is, in fact, two houses; the one on the left was occupied by Burrows’ friend Peter C., and was later purchased by Dr. Paul Spong and his wife Linda; the house on the right belonged to the mudflats activist Helen Simpson. Both of these houses were built largely of salvaged materials in response to the views, sunshine and winds of their highly exposed intertidal location. The dwellings privilege tenure over title, and, in fact, they are opposed to property as such, claiming no solid ground. Fluctuating between abjection and a heroic isolation, they are adamantly free homes, unbound by property, propriety or convention.
“Free homes” was, and might still be, Canada’s greatest promise, but the parameters and ultimate meaning of this freedom have shifted over time and will continue to do so. Ian Wallace’s picture confronts two iconic alternatives—the sort of small, freehold, suburban, counter-revolutionary house on which Canada was built, and a wilder vision of freedom that, in the late 1960s, briefly presented radical, intransigent, militant, and even revolutionary alternatives for dwelling.
 Hermann Muthesius, The English House, ed. Dennis Sharp, trans. Janet Seligman (New York: Rizzoli, 1979), p. 71.
 Richard Harris, Unplanned Suburbs: Toronto’s American Tragedy, 1900 to 1950 (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980).
 Muthesius, The English House, p. 74.
 For an illuminating account of this situation, see Harris, Unplanned Suburbs.
 Burrows’ autobiographical timeline is available online. Accessed Jan. 11, 2018.
 Additional biographical details appear in a forthcoming text by Scott Watson titled, “Tom Burrows: Windows,” to be published by the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery in 2018. My thanks to Scott Watson for sharing the draft of his text.
 The following accounts paraphrase comments recorded by Elisha Burrows in interviews with his parents, published as “Life on the Mudflats: Ida Carnevali and Tom Burrows,” in West of Eden, by Bruce Stewart (Vancouver, BC: Presentation House Gallery, 2014), pp. 30-37.
 Ibid., p. 35.
 Richard Walton, “Nature and Culture at Dollarton’s Mudflats,” in West of Eden, pp. 9-13.
 Elisha Burrows, “Life on the Mudflats: Ida Carnevali and Tom Burrows,” in West of Eden, p. 36.
 Ingrid Baxter, “In the Wilds of the Art World: Riverside Drive,” The Capilano Review 3.8 (2009): 185.
 For a brief account of the theatre movement that led to events such as the Dollarton Faire, see Bill Jeffries, “West of Eden: The End of Days at Dollarton,” in West of Eden, pp. 41-45.
 The work is similar in conception to Liz Magor’s public sculpture Lightshed (2006), which is a half-scale maquette of an old industrial shed raised on thick wooden piles, all cast in aluminum.
 In 1971, the director Robert Altman hired carpenters and salvage artists from the Mudflats to build sets and provide décor for his revisionist Western film McCabe and Mrs. Miller.
 Richard Walton, “Nature and Culture at Dollarton’s Mudflats,” in West of Eden, p. 12. The permanent installation was inaugurated July 23rd, 2012.
 For a selection of these photographs, see “Ian Wallace, Maplewood Mudflats Documents,” The Capilano Review 3.8 (2009): 60-65. The image on pp.64-65 is an alternative view to the one in La Mélancolie de la rue.
 Scott Watson makes this claim in the essay, “Urban Renewal: Ghost Traps, Collage, Condos and Squats,” available at http://vancouverartinthesixties.com/essays/urban-renewal. Accessed Jan. 11, 2018. Note that Watson mistakenly identifies the house in Ian Wallace’s work as Tom Burrows’s.
 The contrast is heightened by the omission of any middle ground, which could have been represented by the regional modernism of post-and-beam architecture. Several visual artists of the 1950s and 1960s in British Columbia lived in architect-designed homes in suburban North Vancouver. See Robert Kleyn, “Proving Ground for Modernity,” The Capilano Review 3.8 (2009): 152-165.
Kenneth Hayes is an architectural historian and critic of contemporary art who lives and works in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada. He studied architecture at the University of Waterloo and McGill University in Canada, and completed a Ph.D. in Architectural History at Middle East Technical University in Ankara, Turkey in 2010. His book-length essay on milk splash images in photo-conceptual art from 1965 to 1985, titled Milk and Melancholy, was published by Prefix and MIT Presses in 2008. His current research is on the development of mining photography since 1973.