Welcome to the village

The latest exhibit at Modern Fuel urges viewers to think about the intersections of memory, identity and culture

A collaborative exploration from a handful of artists with varying backgrounds, Chronotopic Village provokes and inspires.
A collaborative exploration from a handful of artists with varying backgrounds, Chronotopic Village provokes and inspires.
The artists use varying technology and multi-media practices to accurately reflect who they are and the messages they aim to convey.
The artists use varying technology and multi-media practices to accurately reflect who they are and the messages they aim to convey.

I always look forward to the diverse and exciting exhibits at Modern Fuel. The non-profit centre never fails to support innovation and experimentation in contemporary art. Their latest offering, Chronotopic Village, is a testament to the artist-run gallery’s mandate of showcasing provocative work by Canadian artists from diverse cultural backgrounds and communities.

The exhibit combines the work of Nadia Myre, Kevin Burton, Cheryl L’Hirondelle, Darlene Naponse and Thirza Cutland. The title, Chronotopic Village, is an invitation for viewers to engage in various time-spaces to understand the new and ever-changing cultural contentions that exist within the modern nation-state in both cities and rural areas.

Curated by Wanda Nanibush, the pieces speak on a variety of levels. The artists use technology and multi-media practices to bend, mix and blend time-space contours resulting in a more accurate reflection of who they are and the messages they aim to convey.

Entering the showroom is a calming and overwhelming experience. Surrounded by screens, projections and enveloping sound, it’s a challenge to decide where to venture first. With each video piece equipped with personal headphones, the ability to experience each work individually while in the context of the collective Chronotopic Village is a captivating feeling.

The piece I began to absorb the exhibition with was Cutland’s Love and Numbers. A mournful and provocative video breaking down the meaning of numbers and codes, it passes along a significant message about the continuing violation of colonialism. Paired with images of nature, the sky, a hospital and binary computer codes, the narrator speaks of the various messages she receives from her ancestors, doctors and above all, her heart. The first-person viewpoint of the video involves the viewer in a way that introduces and incorporates them into her narrative. With shots of her feet shuffling along a corridor I was given the opportunity to walk in Cutland’s shoes—if only for a few minutes. The non-linear aspects of the film call to the broader picture—the importance of recognizing the impossibility of complete and assumed understanding of another’s perspective.

Moving along the wall I come to the next piece, a three-piece installation media. Facing the piece indulges the viewer in experiencing a small glimpse into Myre world. Three different variations on the image and symbol of the canoe can be seen. The first, Portrait in Motion, creates the illusion of illumination far beyond the normal capabilities of a video installation. With deep images projected from behind a frame of glass, I couldn’t help but get lost in gazing at them. A fog-covered lake a serene and calm image of a woman in a canoe paddles through the open scene. Though she’s not immediately recognizable, she turns to the camera and acknowledges the viewer at the piece’s conclusion.

Adjacent to the video is Myre’s Portrait as a Line, a silent but powerful video depicting the act of drawing a canoe. As the vision of the canoe moves towards completion, it almost immediately reverses and is eventually erased from the page. This erasure highlights the much broader implications of the disappearance of indigenous culture in Canada.

The final piece in Myre’s collection, A Portrait as a Line (Paper), is a sister piece to the video and a literal construction of the image of the canoe embossed in thick paper. The piece is incredibly thought provoking especially in regards to notions of loss and reclamation in a hybrid world.

I placed myself in front of Darlene Naponse’s 4 Directions Series—a collection of short experimental videos. Using differing methods of editing and media technology, Naponse presents nature and the land as a transformative and symbolic notion. Paired with music suited to each segment the videos come across as poetic and in tune with our environment and its relationship with us.

As I placed on the headphones to experience Burton’s video-audio work Nikamowin I was fascinated and blown away. As the piece begins, the audience becomes aware the only form of sound in the video is Cree narration—in both altered and short form. Paired with images varying in speed, visibility and manipulation, the soundscape unfolds with unbelievable rhythmic intonation. The viewer is transported with Burton to a diverse set of spaces. Whether in a canoe or along a highway, like Cutland’s work the piece allows the viewer to identify with Burton’s message and journey.

The piece inspires interest in the language along with the intense sound layering ultimately asking viewers where language arises and how it’s both manipulated, maintained and lost. Representative of this, a powerful statement from Tania Willard cuts through the linguistic soundscape, “You cut my tongue, now only my heart speaks.”

The final piece was Cheryl L’Hirondelle’s media performance work êkâya-pâhkaci (don’t freeze up). A material installation situated inside the exhibit room, L’Hirondelle created a ten by six foot white tent filled with light and an adjacent rug inviting viewers to sit and experience her work. No headphones are provided for the work—its sounds resonate through the entire space. Birds chirping, wind blowing, breath, words and rhythm wrapped me in the piece.

The work is an installation version of a performance of the same name. The audience is invited to witness the soundscape and the installation with the virtual presence of L’Hirondelle’s body and voice. With shadows and light swirling inside the tent, it’s intriguing to see the way the projection acts to simulate the artist appearing inside the tent.

With the artist both present and not, the viewer doesn’t feel alone. The shadows appear so tactile and real that in a somewhat embarrassing moment I approached the tent to confirm it was an illusion.

Though Chronotopic Village may seem overwhelmingly complex, I encourage you to see it for yourself. It’s a truly important, inspiring, inviting and thought-provoking collection of works that carries within it each artist’s negotiations of history and identity while inviting you to engage with yours.

The Chronotopic Village is on display at Modern Fuel until Oct. 17.

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