Interesting texts about art-formerly-known-as-land-art are popping up. Here is an interview of Alan Michelson (2018) by Christopher Green from last December! I wrote earlier about his video-work “Wolf Nation” (2018) which is discussed in the interview.
MICHELSON: […] I am interested in Robert Smithson’s idea of site and nonsite. But applied to an Indigenous framework, you could say that the Indigenous site is almost always a nonsite, an abstraction or documentary representation of a site that may no longer exist, like the pond in Earth’s Eye or our villages in what is now Upstate New York. So the dialectic between the absence and the presence of whatever is there now has a critical edge to it. […]
How Michelson speaks of the nonsite reminds me a lot about the performance “All Visible Directions Between Sky and Water” by artist Maria Hupfield and poet Natalie Diaz at The Vera List Center for Art and Politics. Diaz made a strong argument that as the Indigenous peoples of America were forced out of their land, their bodies became a site trough which their culture was manifested. Their bodies became equivalent to land! The performance felt like a group consultation session which aimed to problematize categories trough which we experience land. First they drew an endless spatial horizon by reciting questions that referred to the differences between water and air: “Is this water?” “Is this air” they asked and performed a pair-dance, in which they experimented with the distances and arrangements of their hands. The audience was also invited to join. Then Diaz gave a shot lecture that experimented with written language structures as visual, faux-logical patterns. After this Hupfield asked people for stories about water. Many of the speakers were Indigenous and their stories referred to mythologies and believes. Hupfield asked me for a story too.. At the spot I only had a silly personal story to share, which showed how superficial my relation to land is. I felt unconformable. The event did not offer any answers (for me). Which is very good… If we would knew all the answers what would be the point in gathering?
After the event I remember a good story about water (which I send to Hupfield over email):
My friends Topi and Nestori bought a sailboat on a whim. It was very cheep and they spend two summers fixing it up. Neither of them were experienced sailors, so at first they took courses and made small trips in the archipelago. Eventually they developed courage and went on a long trip from Helsinki to Stockholm. There are a lot of boats on the lane and it’s a well documented route – It goes from a small island to the next. They reached Stockholm safely, felt very confident about themselves, had a night out at the town and started their trip home the next morning.
Midway their return trip a pea-soup fog appeared. They only had the visibility of the length of the boat, which meant that they had to rely on sparse boat lane beacons blinking lights, a nautical chart and sounds for navigation. They took turns at the bow of their small boat and tried to listen for other boats and the movements of the water. When there is no wind one can quite very far, but you can hear echoes reflected from the islands shores too. You even might hear your own boat reflected from the distance. They were not moving fast but a collision with a bigger boat or a ship would have been bad. To keep focus they kept completely silent for the day and took turns at the bow, while the other steered the boat.
Topi told me that during that trip, they developed an appetite for the truth. If they would have altered their course on a false assumptions, they would have gotten lost, possibly wondered to the wrong lane and got into a collision with an other boat or an islet. He also told me the most paranoid part of the experience was that, it’s possible all of the other people sailing on their boats were trying to navigate based on sounds too. Which meant that everyone kept silent and collisions were even more possible! When he told me about it we started laughing: If everybody is silently looking for the truth, nobody is safe!
Maintaining Good Relations: Starting From Zero (2017) is a live radio show by Native Art Department International (Maria Hupfield & Jason Lujan). In this episode they discuss the recent trend of cultural organizations starting their public events by acknowledging, that the land the organization stands has been forcefully claimed from the indigenous people. Land acknowledgements are often followed with a moment of silence. Lujan asks what would happen if audiences would respond to the acknowledgements with cheers and applauds (I think I heard applauds after an acknowledgement at an event at the New School). I think cheers are very good response, they indicate that the issue is still vibrant and that every acknowledgement is a step forwards (not backwards).
Without Us There Is No You: A Conversation at Artists Space (2017). Brian Droitcour interview Hupfield, Lujan & Jessica L. Horton about a screening they put together as a response to the protests against the Dakota Access Pipelines near the Standing Rock Reservation.
How Whiteness Works: The Racial Imaginary Institute at the Kitchen (2018) Lou Cornum. A review of an exhibition.
On a huge screen in the main gallery plays “There Is No Then and Now; Only Is and Is Not” (2018) by Native Art Department International, a video that enigmatically evokes the slips between colonial time and being. Dennis Redmoon Darkeem, an artist and member of the Yamassee Yat’siminoli tribe, dances in his powwow regalia and, in large blocks of text that interrupt the footage, comments on his frustrations with being obscured as a black Indigenous man under the current racial and visual regime. The video’s central position in the exhibition was fitting: here in the entanglements of black and Indigenous identities lies the narrative of modernity in the Americas, the creation of categories by a supposedly transparent and self-determining group of European subjects.