Being Out On the Land: Feeds, Streams and Captures

Maureen Gruben, Stitching My Landscape

Maureen Gruben, Stitching My Landscape, installation documentation, photograph by Kyra Kordoski 2017

What: Being Out On the Land: Feeds, Streams and Captures
Who: Exhibition by Maureen Gruben, Christine Howard Sandoval and Krista Belle Stewart, curated by Tania Willard
When: May 21 to August 20, 2021
Where: IArt Gallery, Rotary Centre for the Arts, 421 Cawston Ave

Three Indigenous artist’s video works will screen inside a unique mobile gallery, parked out front of the Rotary Centre for the Arts this spring and summer.  The iArt Gallery will present works by noted artists Maureen Gruben, Christine Howard Sandoval and Krista Belle Stewart, curated by UBC Okanagan Assistant professor Tania Willard, as part of the Indigenous Art Intensive.

UBC Okanagan’s Indigenous Art Intensive gathers artists, curators, writers, students and scholars to engage in contemporary ideas and dialogue rooted in Indigenous contemporary art. Since 2014 the intensive has been offered at UBC Okanagan, located on the traditional, ancestral and unceded territory of the Syilx Okanagan Nation.

The exhibition, Being Out On the Land: Feeds, Streams and Captures, is mounted in partnership with the Rotary Centre for the Arts and the Thompson Okanagan Tourist Association. The Rotary Centre for the Arts Galleria will also showcase Shi kéé, an exhibition of work by Indigenous youth and emerging artists curated by BFA student and artist Maura Tamez.

View Shi kéé HERE

Curatorial Statement

Land Art as a largely American art movement and a reaction to the commercialization of art has always struck me as ironic especially in North America, as I understand it, a colonized landscape, and a grouping of diverse Indigenous territories. In the ideas behind Land Art, relational practices, ecological considerations and more inform the final form or art product, it seems to me that Indigenous peoples have been making ‘Land’ Art since time immemorial. In this series of video works by artists Maureen Gruben (Inuvialuk), Krista Belle Stewart (Syilx) and Christine Howard Sandoval (Obispeño Chumash and Hispanic ) the artists trace out pathways, trails and positions of engaging with the Indigeneity of land. 

In Christine Howard Sandoval’s video Live Stream (2018) the act of following a walking path of previous streams and water bodies is a tool of revealing the Indigenous landscape beneath the settler development on the surface of the site of the Acequia Madre (Taos, NM). Sandoval uses body-mounted cameras and equipment and shows us buried paths that are bound to settler colonial histories, the built environment and the possibility of resurfacing both as shifting water bodies and ecologies.

Krista Belle Stewart’s video work, Potato Garden’s Band (2018) has been shown alongside previous performances and installations that highlights the artists use of natural pigment and works made with earth from her home territories in Spaxomin, Douglas Lake BC. The work screened here as a video feed from 2018 which took place between Stewart’s Spaxomin land, and the 221A gallery in Vancouver BC. Transmitting a live feed of her land from her phone, of a speaker system playing her great-grandmother’s recording, on her ancestral land, her performance indicated a relationality between her family community and land. The resulting low quality video and shaky footage also are read as a gesture of refusal, a refusal embedded in the settler gaze and usurping of Indigenous lands, shown here in a live feed from reserve to major Canadian city. 

In Stitching My Landscape (2017), Maureen Gruben’s significant land work and experimental video the artist drills hundreds of ice holes with a manual ice auger creating multiple points that are then stitched together with red broadcloth over an expanse of frozen sea ice. Over 300 metres of bright red broadcloth in sharp contrast to the snowy landscape in and around Tuktoyaktuk NWT and the Ibuyuq Pingo zig zag across the ice and snow. Preparing the site involved engaging the local community. The artists’ solo, performative process stitching together the holes across the sea ice reveal a pattern that recalls the  beautifully worked delta trim that adorns Inuvialuit drum dancing parkas. Aerial views and drone footage show the scale of the final work and indicate footprints, sled and skidoo tracks, that mark out the active use of land by Inuvialiuktun peoples. The background audio for the film is the sound of a traditional chisel that had belonged to Gruben’s father, working the ice. It has been slowed down such that each moment of contact becomes reminiscent of a heartbeat.

This series of work acts against the perceived notion of the erasure of Indigenous lands as scholars Eve Tuck and Wayne Yang assert, “Everything within a settler colonial society strains to destroy or assimilate the Native in order to disappear them from the land.” Here the artist’s work in video and in their performative acts on the land act to question the invisibility, erasure and dispossession of Indigenous lands. Through experimental video, alternate forms of filming, body-cameras, drones and handheld cell phones, the artists enact land claims, the continuum of ancestral connection to territory is marked by their acts.

  1. “Decolonization is not a Metaphor”, Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society Vol. 1, No. 1, Eve Tuck, K. Wayne Yang, 2012, pp.1-

About the Exhibition

Christine Howard Sandoval

Live Stream, 10 Min Clip, TRT: 32:00, 2018, Sound design by Luz Fleming, Commissioned by The Paseo Project, Taos, NM

LIVE STREAM is a live-streamed performance and video using surveillance technology as a tool to channel disappeared migratory paths and waterways in and around the site of the Acequia Madre (Taos, NM). I use my body to physically trace buried paths that have been disrupted by ongoing notions of land ownership, boundary systems, and the built environment. Navigating these contested spaces with a wireless camera attached to my body, a video installation transmits my remote exploration as a disorienting but potentially “grounding” viewer experience.

Can an authoritarian technology be transformed by a bodily perspective? Through the use of video and performance, Live Stream attempts to perceive beyond the surface of the built environment through the act of walking, to uncover and reclaim the vitality of ecological resources that continue to exist today.

This project was made possible by the guidance and permission of Bobby Jaramillo, the Mayordomo of the Acequia Madre (Taos, NM) and Taos Town Councilor George “Fritz” Hahn. The project was curated by Erin Elder  for We Are All Space in Time and commissioned by the Paseo Project, 2018.

Krista Belle Stewart

Potato Gardens Band

With novel musicality, Krista Belle Stewart’s ongoing project Potato Gardens Band, has evoked critical questions regarding the nature of cultural ownership, archives, and truth itself. Each of the three iterations in this series, have incorporated the singing voice of Stewart’s great-grandmother, which was in 1918 recorded on wax cylinders by the anthropologist James Alexander Teit.  Along with this ancestral voice, came jaw harp and tin whistle music, performed by the elder woman’s group, the ‘Potato Gardens Band.’ Over consecutive iterations, Stewart and her collaborators have widened the scope of the complex ancestral dialogue enabled by those recordings. The piece has thus become a fluctuating incantation, of intersecting personal, familial, and cultural memories.

In so being, Potato Gardens Band echoes deeply felt historical knowledges, and the technocratic, colonial, and exploitative factors that often beset them. Case in point, the project’s compromised first iteration. Having contributed a video work to the 2014 group exhibition ‘Music from the new Wilderness,’ at Vancouver’s Western Front gallery, Stewart gave a musician colleague, who was also participating, access to digitized versions of her great-grandmother’s recordings. She later found the material incorporated into his work, without acknowledgement paid to her with the lending of the recordings. In this way, the historical and ongoing negation of — especially non male — Indigenous voices, was reproduced by a white male artist, through the quintessentially modern technique of appropriation. That fraught incident became the unlikely inauguration, of Stewart’s own Potato Gardens Band project.

The work’s second iteration comprised a multi-generational collaboration, linking Stewart with her mother, great-grandmother, and two fellow artists: Jeneen Frei Njootli, and Laura Ortman. In the basement of Winnipeg’s historic Hudson’s Bay Department store — as part of Plug-In Contemporary’s ‘Stages’ performance festival — the artists communed musically with ancestral, cultural, environmental and mythological pasts, held in land and material. The effort released affective truths, inaccessible to the distanced procedures of modern anthropology. Stewart used a contact microphone to play a bucket of dirt, from land gifted to her by her mother, at Spaxomin, otherwise known as Douglas Lake. In turn Frei Njootli used a combination of abrasion and vocal technique, to draw sound from a caribou antler, originating in the artist’s Old Crow Nation. A celebrated violinist, Ortman played an instrument inherited from her grandmother, which transmitted both musical frequency cultural memory, specific to the White Mountain Apache. Cohering the performance were the recordings of Stewart’s great-grandmother, played alongside those of her great granddaughter’s dirt bucket, when the artists were absent.

Just as this project in the Hudson’s Bay basement incanted memories and truths latent in land and material, it also offered a powerful riposte to the murder and displacement of Indigenous people, from their North American territories. Through their role in the colonial fur trade, the Hudson’s Bay Company is complicit in the genocide of First Nations people. For its part, Winnipeg has been a particularly intense location, within a horrific ongoing crisis — the hugely disproportionate killing and abduction of First Nations women. More than simply drawing attention to these white supremacist histories, Stewart and her collaborators contested the grip that they hold on indigenous life and self-knowledge.

So too did the final iteration of Potato Gardens Band, which in 2018 took between Stewart’s Spaxomin land, and Vancouver’s 221A gallery. Asked to stage a performance, Stewart transmitted a live feed from her phone, of a speaker system playing her great-grandmothers recording, on her ancestral land. This performance expressed kinship between individual and ancestral pasts. But crucially, it also constituted a gesture of refusal, directed at the expectation that one’s history and trauma be reified into a cultural commodity, within the neo-colonial industry. The piece’s power lies in this equivocal negation.

Maureen Gruben

Stitching My Landscape (2017); Video (6:10mins). Commissioned by Partners In Art for LandMarks2017/Repères2017. Curated by Tania Willard.

Stitching My Landscape (2017) is Gruben’s first large scale work of land art and it is deeply tied to memory, family, and healing. The core visual elements of red material stretched across ice are embedded in a recollection Gruben has of her brother harvesting seal: during the processing a long, vivid, red string of fresh gut was flung out taught against the white snow. Consisting of 111 ice holes connected with red broadcloth, Stitching My Landscape extends for nearly a thousand feet. It was installed April 23rd, 2017 on an expanse of the frozen ocean surrounding Ibyuq Pingo. Pingos are ice-filled hills created by permafrost, that have functioned as navigational aids and hunting viewpoints for generations of Inuvialuit people. Ibyuq is part of the Pingo Canadian National Landmark and is a defining feature of the horizon south west of Tuktoyaktuk. It is estimated to be at least 1000 years old and features deeply in local cultural memory: Mangilaluk, a man who Tuktoyaktuk elders refer to as the community’s first chief, passed on the story of three polar bears who came to Ibyuq Pingo looking for women to be their mothers.

Ibyuq has been a site of profound comfort and healing throughout Gruben’s life. In 1997, she spent a night on Ibyuq with a friend. They had crossed the channel that winds around its base on a driftwood raft lashed together with a rope her father had given to her specifically for that purpose. That night, she used a needle and a thread coated in charcoal from their campfire to hand-stitch a traditional Inuvialuit facial tattoo that would ultimately consist of three lines on her chin: one mark for each of her sons. Thirty years later, in stitching the surrounding sea ice with red broadcloth, the artist has expanded an intimate, personal moment out into a communal, global context via entwined sculptural and performative events.

Gruben prepared over 300 metres of broadcloth in a labour intensive method that involved splitting it in half by hand and rolling it into large balls. Preparing the site took a small team of community members. The artists’ solo, performative process of rolling the cloth across the ice from hole to hole was an act of endurance and of careful devotion, as her body physically generated the familiar pattern both of raw stitching, and the beautifully worked delta trim that adorns Inuvialuit drum dancing parkas. Aerial views reveal the sheer scale of the piece. They also reveal stunning marks in the snow: footprints, and sled and skidoo tracks. These are the usually invisible traces left by the artists’ process, by everyone who was involved in supporting the process, and by those who visited the piece after it was created. The background audio for the film is the sound of a traditional chisel that had belonged to Gruben’s father, working the ice. It has been slowed down such that each moment of contact becomes reminiscent of a heartbeat.

Exhibition curator Tania Willard has written about the piece: “In skills-based arts the act of making something beautiful also becomes about valuing what you have, the gifts and harvests from the land. Principles of hard work and relationships to the environment are expressed in traditional art forms.” Drawing on a simple aesthetic of white ice and red lines that zigzag across the landscape, the work simultaneously evokes suggestions of traditional clothing and means of subsistence; the strength of family and community; and the potential for healing, and for being healed by, the land.

– Kyra Kordoski

Excerpted from ‘Shift; Rise: Maureen Gruben’s UNGALAQ (When Stakes Come Loose)’ a catalog essay for Maureen Gruben’s solo exhibition UNGALAQ (When Stakes Come Loose), on view at Vancouver’s grunt gallery, June 9 – July 29th, 2017.