by Jac Renée Bruneau, Ginger Carlson, and Natasha Chaykowski
The story of this issue begins with the provisional confluence of C Magazine and a committee of the Alberta Association of Artist-run Centres (AAARC) who have spent more than two years planning a gathering called Lands to Travel Through (LTTT) in partnership with the Artist-Run Centres and Collectives Conference (ARCA). Following an early April editorial advisory meeting, it became clear on C’s end that the shifts brought on by the pandemic and the groundswell of Black Lives Matter activism would come to have inextricable influence on the formation of the Autumn issue: specifically, the paradox of so urgently, vitally, needing to convene, during a time with unparalleled restrictions on gathering. Scheduled for August 2020 in Mohkinstsis/Calgary, LTTT was to address many facets of artist-centred organizing, including a focus on resources: limited resources, sharing resources, resources in the context of capitalism’s perennially churning demand of growth and accumulation, and integrally: how can such logics be resisted through artist-centred models? When the physical gathering had to be postponed as a result of the pandemic, AAARC sought to pursue a project that would honour and extend from plans already made, while also considering the gathering’s concerns in concert with C’s editorial team’s own, replete with distinct yet overlapping conditions, contexts, and contributors. After many conversations among us, and an agreement to share resources (itself a form of radical collaboration that is rather unprecedented at C, and an enactment of some of the central aims of LTTT), the “Gather” theme was established, and we began to think anew of what the word means at its very core: not only for us humans, but all of “us”—stones, gravestones, Prairie grass, comets, seeds, travelling envelopes, berries, buried jugs of water, frozen pixels, iridescent sheets of acetate, bees—who comprise the many concentric circles of our shared world.
The issue opens with an interview with Elders Jerry Saddleback and Jo-Ann Saddleback, who together own and operate Câhcacêp Art & Tea House in Amiskwacîwâskahikan/Edmonton (Treaty 6 territory). Throughout their discussion with Dawn Saunders Dahl, they “illuminate the importance of intentionality in all aspects of life,” and emphasize how the pandemic has forced us to pay closer attention to the ways we gather. As Jo-Ann puts it: “I think we have a great opportunity to really pay attention to the space that we’re occupying, especially the space between us. Like our Old People say, there are a million deities that we can’t even see between you and me.” Such a fulsome examination of the amorphous, universal, and specific experience of sharing space with others sets the stage for many more contributions that home in on the profoundly complex, sensuous, and shimmering nature of gathering, within and exceeding the particularities and impossibilities imposed by our current pandemic- engendered life.
“Spaces like [this] don’t just appear, they must be painstakingly created and maintained,” writes Kelsey Adams in “My Words Will Heal You: On RISE Edutainment.” Here, she’s referring to the many spaces created by Randell Adjei, the founder, director, and host of RISE Edutainment, who has spent the past seven years ardently organizing and empowering folks from marginalized communities—largely from the outskirts of Toronto—through music and performance. Boasting 28,000 guests since the organization’s start, “Adjei himself is unsure if he’ll ever fully grasp the impact that RISE has had on artists and the general community throughout the city.” Closing one’s eyes for a moment, the immensity of the endless speculation of this impact blossoms out. How do we affect each other? How do we leave impressions, breadcrumb-like, as we move through our lives? How do these impressions unfurl into unseen constellations constantly? How can we connect with these constellations in times of separation? RISE did partner with the Art Gallery of York University and Jane Street Speaks to mount Remote Control—a version of their regular performance series, but sited on Instagram—which functioned as a candid and deeply felt arena for folks to process what was transpiring in the wake of George Floyd’s death, an arena for “transmuting pain into power.” Ultimately, Adjei “wants to leave behind a legacy, one rooted in community care,” and his reflections on how to centre that sparkle with wisdom, hope, and joy.
Indeed, our ways of gathering have shifted just as the shared world we inhabit has evolved, adapted, and existed in symbiosis for many billions of years. In her in-depth consideration of Christina Battle’s ongoing project seeds are meant to disperse (2015–), Mercedes Webb considers the nutritious-yet-punk methods Battle uses to disseminate seeds as a form of anti-capitalist resource sharing. Battle uses seeds to create virtual, ancestral, anarchist, and physical spaces of gathering, all in the form of gardens: feral, small, connected, expansive, related. “seeds are meant to disperse is an unrulier endeavour, one that summons the whims of seeds outside of the auspices of human control,” as Webb writes. What is the role of humans within the multiple agentic systems that make up our shared realities? And how can we shift our ways of being to better enact reciprocity with and care for our other-than-human relations? To put one’s hands in the earth, to care for tender sprouts, to nurture growth is, after all, such a communion, and outside of colonial-linear time. To plant a seed is to gather with those who’ve come before us, and those who are to come still.
Diffuse forms of gathering and the handling of living matter to unite geographically disparate communities are similarly considered by L. Sasha Gora in “Cooking the Books: Recipes by Artists.” In it, she takes us on a grand tour of several decades’ worth of artist cookbooks and asks: “How are these [cookery] collections venues for communication, ways to gather? How do recipes connect people, plants, and places, both near and afar?” Whether documents of meals past, instructions for future ones, or one of many wild card approaches to the recipe format, Gora’s colourful examination of this specific strain of art publishing reminds us of the invisible choreographer behind every recipe, “pull[ing] and push[ing] our bodies like each limb is attached to a string.” The intimacy (sometimes playful, sometimes pressuring) inherent in the relationship between recipe writer and reader is touched upon, as are the power dynamics entrenched in local, national, and international food-production systems. Food, cooking, eating: all ways in which we are all eternally connected.
In “Reading Images Against Racism,” Su-Ying Lee gives a critical overview of the representation of yet another meeting place—wet markets, or shìchǎng in Mandarin—in western media following the hypothesis that COVID-19 was born of one in Wuhan, China. After being stricken by her art world peers’ unscrupulous sharing of articles that employed images that augment racist content, Lee identifies an urgency to return to the essentials of visual and media literacy. In doing so, she traces the connections between wet markets—which “reflect and affirm the cultures and traditions formed by communities over hundreds of years”—and the internet as gathering places, and the tangible impacts that one’s behaviour in the latter has on the former. “Ultimately, the condemnation of wet markets is merely one example of how gathering spaces are besieged by whiteness and other forms of normativity that are corroborated by poor media literacy, denying groups their essential places and ways of living and being together.” Following discussions with curator Heather Rigg about the politics of the representation of marginalized people in photography, Lee leaves the reader with the imperative for embodied reading as a methodology to counter white supremacist propaganda, “taking agency to unravel imperialistic images and their claims to veracity.” Readers are called to consider the ways that images are sites of congress, and thus to acknowledge their responsibilities to those with whom they gather through images, those who are imaged.
To think further about the ways that the body can spur new conditions, Christiana Myers turns to the roles that artists and institutions alike can take up in creating spaces using lenses of accessibility that are sincerely empowering, and advance artistic discourse. In “Crip Hope,” she begins by outlining some of the logics by which disabled and chronically ill audiences and artists have been, and continue to be, left out of conversations and spaces that seek to be perceived as inclusive and open to all. As the pandemic precipitates a shift in how institutions understand and attend to the safety and vulnerability of bodies, Myers asks: how might this shift translate into concrete changes that “allow for fluid, intuitive, and flexible access,” with “the capacity to enrich the engagement of a diverse range of visitors, blurring the hard lines between disability accommodation and alternative gallery experiences”?
Aislinn Thomas’s artist project (one of, exceptionally, two in this issue) A convex, minutely puckered surface could be called a vertical sea unfolds across media, between the physical pages of this issue as video stills intersected with writing by Daniella Sanader, and online, where the video may be viewed in full with or without closed captioning. Riffing on the accessibility format known as visual description, the project captures an abstracted portrait of Thomas’s domestic space, which is continually re-rendered in words read aloud by writer and poet Anna Bowen. Her imaginative musings, metaphors, and other non-literal interpretations amount to an expansive, experimental visual description that conjures “clouds in long white streams overhead” and “blown glass hot out of the fire” from unassuming forms. As Sanader reflects, Bowen’s “vocal description is not secondary to Aislinn’s video—not a reactive measure or a quick attempt at compliance—but rather, the two formats are deeply entwined. They grow and adapt; it’s an ongoing conversation.”
The first of two Composition columns (another reflection of this issue’s unusual, abundant nature) is a collaboration by Mackenzie Ground and Robert Jackson, a nehiyaw writer and a settler writer, respectively, who use a shared poetry practice to attempt to cut trails through the dense bush. “Alongside Underbrush” is one outcome of their mutual effort to unearth, understand, and rewrite settler-Indigenous relationships—especially as they have been and continue to be oriented around treaties—and to work toward futures that have purposefully severed the tendrils of colonial oppression. The second Composition column, by Jenna Swift, uses the sturdy warp of loss, loneliness, “a house where only wind lives,” with a weft of ineffable wonder to weave a rare material of words that holds the way Prairie wind smells in the dark, the way water feels on parched lips. “Our many overlapping breaths accumulate. Dreams trace their circular logic through the air. I imagine what is under each breath as being weighted under a cairn. What traverses the pleural space among a pile of rocks?” she writes.
In this issue’s One Thing column, “A Rock Isn’t Always a Rock,” Henry HeavyShield writes about his first visit to the inexactly named Iniskim Umaapi, a 5,000-year-old medicine wheel in what is now known as Treaty 7 Territory, lands that the Blackfoot have called home since time immemorial. “In researching the etymology of Iniskim Umaapi, I have been unable to find an adequate [Blackfoot] translation for the name’s second half. After consulting with family and knowledge-keepers, I find the closest word is aomoii’pi: which means ‘to gather all people to one spot,’” he tells. The medicine wheel, then, is one of the oldest architectures of gathering, on these lands, and indeed, in the world. Its annular form, as well as its relationship to Prairie lands and histories of gathering, flows through Faye HeavyShield and Lauren Crazybull’s collaborative artist project, Miinakii and me, which considers the interconnected nature of the world we are all part of and thus beholden to. In their corresponding conversation, Faye says, “I remember one time, years ago, thinking that if nothing else happened to me from that day on, I would still have all these stories, experiences, and references to make art about and with.” Together, they invite us to consider reaching back to our formative pasts, our memories, our lives—lands in their own right, that can be travelled through—with gratitude, as we move forward through confluences of uncertainty, perennially unfurling universes of shifting conditions. To create a circle with this time, a gathering within and among us, rather than a line.