by Ginger Carlson, Natasha Chaykowski, Helen Lee, and Maandeeq Mohamed
I am fascinated by Erika DeFreitas’s encounters with Jeanne Duval’s spectre in arriver avant moi devant moi. How to approach Duval at all, when she is largely canonized as Baudelaire’s “Black mistress”? She was also a dancer, an actor and, by way of Haiti, she deeply influenced Baudelaire’s writing. DeFreitas is careful not to “recover” or “recuperate” Duval (her marginalia, so caring, rightfully asks: “What does it mean to tell the story (tale?) of someone who hasn’t told it themselves?”). Instead, we see DeFreitas inhabiting and dwelling in Duval’s few traces. At one point, Duval
is superimposed onto the figure of the Black maid from Manet’s Olympia (the maid, too, offers another Black spectre in the canon). I am compelled by how DeFreitas refuses recuperation, and instead sits with the complicated place of Blackness in art historical canons; consider the translation of her title: come before me before me.
DeFreitas’s project immediately brings to mind Charmaine Nelson’s writing on histories of Modernist art in Canada—histories that at once disavow and rely on Blackness. Nelson engages the Art Gallery of Toronto’s (the precursor to today’s Art Gallery of Ontario [AGO]) 1927 censoring of Max Weber’s paintings, for referencing the Hottentot Venus in representations of white women, writing: “To acknowledge this censorship as a racially motivated action within a colonial cultural framework calls for an understanding of the conservatism of early-20th-century Canadian figure painting, the simultaneous politics of representation and censorship, and the historical pathologization of Blackness.” Nelson’s observation on Blackness in Canadian art historical canons resonates. Almost a century after the AGO’s censoring of Weber, Andrea Fatona and Liz Ikiriko hold an urgent conversation in “Speaking Ourselves Into Being,” on the continued lack of sustained critical engagement with Black art exhibited in institutions like the AGO. And so, I am thankful for interventions like DeFreitas’s.
Dear C Magazine,
Lately I have been thinking about listening and the varying ways we listen or do not listen, reflect, remember. For me, much of this thinking swirls around my relationship to depression, which has a bad habit of forgetting: forgetting the good, forgetting the learned, forgetting to remember, forgetting to listen. Sometimes the forgetting gets confused for dreaming and I am left in a state of re-remembering that which did or did not happen in my waking life. Déjà vu is like that too. It’s a feeling that, for me, contains a sense of dreamy urgency, a sense of what has been, in dialogue with what is or what might be.
Part of my preoccupation with listening comes from a recent equity training session, during which we practised looping as a technique for active listening. In looping, the speaker speaks, and the active listener listens, responding only to invite and acknowledge information. According to Larissa Crawford, founder of Future Ancestors Services, who facilitated this session: using looping as a listening tool aims to establish trust, encourage the speaker, clarify and reflect key points and feelings, and avoid communication blockers. Looping is both an echoing and an affirmation of the speaker’s account. Looping can also act as a tool for remembering, for making and re-making visibilities, for amplifying voices.
Here, I am remembering the oscillating sways of an interview, echoes and amplifications that prioritize speaking for oneself (Andrea Fatona and Liz Ikiriko, “Speaking Ourselves Into Being”). Here, I am remembering how buried histories are resurfaced and their imprints reclaimed, reasserted (Jaclyn Bruneau and Aamna Muzaffar, “Trajet: An Interview with Dean Baldwin and Caroline Monnet”). Here, I am remembering the centrifugal and relational weight of rubble passing from hand to hand to hand (Areum Kim, “We Relate, Therefore We Are: Relation-Making in Jin-me Yoon’s Practice”). Here, I am remembering the orthography of writing and its potential for discursively centring voice (Godfre Leung, “Composition: Writing About Douglas Writing About Douglas Writing”).
In urging for a more earnest practice of listening through looping in our labour as cultural workers and critics—especially and necessarily for those of us who hold privileges and levels of power in many possible forms—I am dreaming of us, collectively looping a string around the centre of those cycles of amnesia that C Mag’s issue 144 recalls, and closing it with a knot. An imaginary lemniscate for resisting forgetting and insisting on remembering.
I recently read an article about a group of scientists who, in 2014, found 13,000-year-old footprints fossilized on Calvert Island, a small island south-east of Haida Gwaii, west of Penrose Island, south of the Hakai Protected Area and the traditional and unceded territory of the Heiltsuk and the Wuikinuxv First Nations. While these fossils are some of the oldest known by science, they’re likely not the oldest in North America.
The story starts: “Evidence of what could be the oldest family camping trip in North America has been discovered below the shoreline of a remote British Columbia island,” and I can’t help but cringe in the face of the misguidance it takes to liken these early resilient traces of first peoples to wonder-bread-white family camping, colonial leisure. The footprints were made in grey clay, covered and preserved by black sand; the charcoal from a nearby fire speaks to a kind of resourcefulness science cannot articulate. The article tells me that the child would have worn a size seven shoe.
I was reminded of these footprints when reading Jaclyn Bruneau and Aamna Muzaffar’s interview with Dean Baldwin and Caroline Monnet, whose project Trajet is as critical as it is generous. It is devastating but not surprising that the municipality of Toronto would heedlessly destroy these many-millennia-old traces—the project of colonialism has relied perennially on such destruction.
Yet, here is a project wherein the hopeful aspects of history’s circular nature are highlighted, for time is a circle, not a line. And when we complete a revolution, perhaps déjà vu is always inevitable. I find solace in the knowledge that footsteps—the ones of those who have descended and thrived from the walkers of time immemorial—will once again grace the shores of what we now call Lake Ontario.
Perhaps they will still be visible upon our arrival at this same place in the next revolution. Perhaps it’s more true to say that those who honour the future know that no one can own history.
Over the past year I’ve noted a recurrence of the subject of futurity, re-visitation and archiving in essays, exhibitions and other art programming; I wouldn’t call this a trend so much as an effect.
Recently, I was talking to a curator about archiving, and their position was to question the value of archiving anything when climate change is going to realize total planetary destruction in 50 years. In some ways this sentiment has some validity; what is the point of building an archive in the age of the Anthropocene? Why make plans for the future when there may not be one?
When the future feels off limits, I understand the impulse to configure the present as the past’s future in creative thought and practice; digging back to project forward. But I wouldn’t have thought to articulate this moment as déjà vu. After reading issue 144, I feel differently. The universal déjà vu experience of the mind speaking to itself automatically and unexpectedly singles out the individual—in the sense of both their responsibility, and presence in their own life—and identifies them as the future of their past’s present.
Here, the phrase déjà vu links the temporal questions of futurity and re-visitation to a time that thinks seriously about the end of time. It’s smart in its subtlety, and a rewarding lens through which to read issue 144.