July 29, 2021
By Katie Wilde
Last month GAC and 10C Shared Space co-hosted “Art in Everything”, an artists’ talk that culminates the first phase of their new artist-in-residence opportunity for Indigenous creatives. The online event featured multi-disciplinary artist Don Russell and Elder Peter Schuler, who generously responded to questions posed by moderator and GAC and 10C staff member Paige Bromby. Over the space of an hour, they shared stories and perspectives on both their own creative/cultural practices and the development of the new program.
Paige began by asking each of them about the roles that process and connection to the land play in their work. A theme quickly emerged from their stories; open to discovery, open to change. One example from Peter’s Buckthorn Project demonstrated the value of being curious – and patient – enough to not just lament the invasive buckthorn, but to observe it. To stay listening and engaged, learning from the many teachings it offers. Metaphors ranged from the consequences of colonization, though redefining neighbours, to searching deeper for a spectrum of habits and traits. There is always compatibility to be discovered, as Peter transformed wood into structures and ceremonial objects, he showed how persistence and the will to make something better, useful, is worth the challenges of collaboration.
Don told how in his work, as in life, process isn’t meant to be erased just because the outcome isn’t where we thought or wanted it to be yet. Even after 20 hours on a painting, he may scrape much of it back if it doesn’t feel right. But because he uses translucent wax rather than opaque paint, plenty of evidence of the journey is preserved, and so quite literally the process becomes part of the ‘product’.
Each artist (though this term isn’t one Peter uses to describe himself) offered their personal responses to western views of ‘art’ compared to Indigenous perspectives. Their takes on the evolving lifespan of a created work, and even the very definitions of art-related vocabulary are ideas best absorbed through their exact words and stories. The axiom ‘show, don’t tell’ comes to mind and I found myself glad to hear both men say on multiple occasions, ‘I don’t know how else to put it’.
As conversation wove between personal experience, cultural philosophy, and hopes for the new program, the speakers were asked about the importance of an alternative residency framework, as well as various barriers and priorities to consider. Peter repeated a warning he has offered before, against attempting to fix problems using the same strategies and ideas that led to those very problems in the first place. When Don suggested that direct invitations may prove more helpful and appropriate than just a standard call for applications, I couldn’t help thinking of their discovery stories out on the land and the need to both actively look yet ‘allow things to appear’.
It seemed to me that the talk ended with a shared sense of hopeful anticipation for the development of a flexible and responsive new program, one that offers dedicated opportunities for Indigenous people to create and connect (whatever that might mean) to their own interests, while promoting the cultural exchange and education our general public greatly needs. Again, I think of Peter who ‘starts with a dot’, then takes another step, leaving – or perhaps creating – room for further guidance.
I hope my brief highlights have been a snack that makes you hungry for the meal itself; a 70-minute video recording and transcript are online. I promise that hearing Don and Peter (who slips briefly into Anishnaabemowin) speak and seeing a small preview of their rock collections is beyond worthwhile.