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Dylan Robinson is a xwélméxw (Stó:lō) writer, Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Arts, and associate professor at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. He is coeditor of Arts of Engagement: Taking Aesthetic Action in and beyond the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada and cocurator of Soundings, an internationally touring exhibition of Indigenous art scores.

dylan.robinson@queensu.ca

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Dylan Robinson | Gatherings
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Gatherings

Disrupting the Legacies of Colonialism and White Supremacy in Music Schools:
A Workshop of Creative Interventions

Co-organized by Dylan Robinson and Jeremy Strachan
July 2020, Online 

Part of the series Dialogues: Decolonizing Sound, Music and Dance Studies, led by Centre for Sound Communities, Cape Breton University.

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There is an increasing amount of dialogue about systems of white supremacy and settler colonialism in academic programs. Some of this talk has been followed by actions. From our situations working in post-secondary music programs and classical / new music organizations this work often stalls before it has a chance to begin. It stalls because the current systems feel immovable, and because of various impasses created by folks seeking to maintain the system, and who fear losing what they love. 

The arts and humanities have become animated with discourse about how we might disrupt white supremacy’s disciplinary legacies: panels, dialogues, publications, and virtual roundtables addressing the continued discrimination against racialized students, musicians, creators, and faculty members have become commonplace. This workshop asks participants to imagine alternatives to dialogue, in the form of creative interventions—actions, events, tactics, participatory strategies that could provide modes of disruption to actually interrupt the mundane, often bureaucratic mechanisms of discrimination and institutional violence resident in music schools, conservatories and presenting organizations.

Participants:
Martin Daughtry
Patrick Nickleson
Leah Decter
Carolyn Ramzy
Ric Knowles
Dylan Robinson
Natalie Loveless
Sarah Stanley
Jake Moore
Christopher Willes

Listenings

Organized by Dylan Robinson
Queen’s University, March 2019

Running alongside the inaugural Soundings exhibition and Ka’tarohkwi Festival of Indigenous Arts, Listenings brought together a range of primarily Indigenous artists, curators, performers, and musicians to discuss Indigenous ways of listening. The format gave time for listening and discussing our listenings: each participant presented a sound/song/piece of music to which we listened together and then responded to.

Confronting the Mis-use of Indigenous Songs in Canadian New Music

Initiated and Organized by Dylan Robinson

April 2017, Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, Toronto
June 2017, National Arts Centre, Ottawa
March 2018, Canadian Music Centre, Toronto

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This multi-part gathering brought together a diverse group of participants from not-for-profit music and arts organizations, Indigenous artists, musicians and scholars, members of the Nisga’a Lisims Government, the Canada Council for the Arts and Ontario Arts Council, and The Canadian Museum of History, the director and staff of the Canadian Opera Company and members of the National Arts Centre. The first gathering was hosted by the Canadian Opera Company and focused on the appropriation of a Nisga’a song in the opera Louis Riel. The second gathering was hosted by the National Arts Centre and focused on repatriating Indigenous songs. In 2018 a gathering was hosted by the Canadian Music Centre that focused on Indigenous methodologies for addressing song appropriation.

All of these gatherings prioritized the perspectives and voices of Indigenous leaders across the arts, and took a format where Indigenous leaders were asked to first set the terms of dialogue, while non-Indigenous participants were asked to take the important role of the witness in Pacific Northwest longhouse work and primarily listen to the words shared by Indigenous leaders. These events aimed to shift power structures of institutional decolonization, where forward momentum becomes derailed through settler demands for Indigenous peoples to spend time confronting ignorance rather than focus on the structural change that needs to be addressed.

Conversations in Indigenous Arts Series

Organized by Dylan Robinson
2015-2019

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Supported by the Canada Research Chair program, the Conversations in Indigenous Arts series brought together Indigenous artists, scholars, filmmakers, performers, and curators from across Canada and the US. Participants included Of particular importance in this series was the conversation “Telling / Dancing / Singing Histories” on February 3, 2016, which featured Mike Dangeli and Dr. Mique’l Dangeli, leaders of the Git Hayetsk Dancers; Peter Morin, Artist and Assistant Professor of Visual Art, Brandon University; Coll Thrush, Professor of History, UBC.

This gathering involved a unique partnership between the Agnes Etherington Art Gallery and the Queens’ Art Conservation program, enabling the Dangelis to dance with an Amhalayt (Chief’s Headdress) that is part of the Agnes Etherington’s historical collection of Indigenous belongings, and for artist Peter Morin to create a new performance piece where he spoke to the headdress, describing what he did as a performance artist.

In the ongoing resistance of many museums to allow Indigenous peoples to perform with our belongings, this partnership fostered a relationship that speaks back to the history of “ethnographic collection” and affirms the vitality of contemporary Nisga’a and Tsimshian artistic practice. For a video of this performance, follow the link below.

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Doing Sovereignties

Co-organized with Candice Hopkins and Kelsey Wrightson
May 2016, Western Front Artist-Run Centre, Vancouver

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The focus of this gathering was to share perspectives on the intersections between Indigenous sovereignty and sound, song, and listening.

 

Panels

Sovereignty: Doing, Sensing & Feeling: Mique’l Dangeli, David Garneau, Beth Piatote, Jolene Rickard, Kelsey Wrightson, Cease Wyss

Theories of sovereignty that are predicated on analogizing Western juridical and political sovereignty undercut the modes of Indigenous sovereignty that include generative and relational practices. Scott Lyons argues that “all nations require three components to exist, the first two coming from within and the third coming from the Other: belief, action and recognition.” (Lyons, Handbook, 178). This session will question of how actions constitute Indigenous sovereignty; we will consider everyday actions, creative processes and ongoing practices rather than objects documents and “things”.

Against dominant western political and legal discourses that presume the legitimacy of Western state sovereignty, Indigenous nationhood denaturalizes the conflation of state, nation and sovereignty, and counters the physical and symbolic forms of violence that the state enacts to produce its legitimacy. The expression of Indigenous nationhood—enacted through various forms of “doing”, sensing, and feeling—acknowledges the fundamentally different ontology (being) that Indigenous sovereignty has.

 

Media: Making, Viewing, Remediating

Part 1 Presenters: Allison Collins, Bracken Hanuse Corlett, Dave Gaertner, Michelle Raheja

According to Michelle Raheja, sovereignty “is a process that is kinetic rather than a rigid set of principles that transcends space and time unchanged. Perhaps it can best be imagined as a “being” and a “doing”.” (Raheja, Native Studies Keywords, 28). To that end she describes sovereignty that is inclusive of the realms of the visual, intellectual and cultural. In this session we extend this conversation to also include auditory modes of sovereignty.

What are the logics of settler colonialism that are countered through the use of new media, and how do these tactics manifest in innovative ways? New media re-territorializes Indigenous cyberspace, and in doing so, generates new relationships while refusing the iterations of colonial subordinations. How is it possible to frame and reframe colonial media for new decolonial ends? What are the differences between media that “preserves” a tradition and the creativity of media that is anchored in, and creatively engages with, a living traditional practice?

Part 2 Presenters: Mike Dangeli, Keane Tait, Dylan Robinson

One of the things we will discuss in particular is the ethnographic video “Nass River Indians”, the song gathering and transcription that took place in Nisga’a territory, and the ways those songs have found their way into other compositions:

min sánit / uqausivut / nitwêwinanân / nindikidowinaan / re seqwlut / t’lo sqwéltel / lii moo niiyanaan / our words / nîyanân pikîskwêwina / lip algik / nilun kolusuwakon / to matou kupu: telling, talking, reading. Presenters: Raymond Boisjoly, Cheryl L’Hirondelle, Dylan Robinson, Laura Wee Lay Laq, Olivia Whetung

Indigenous writing and languages increasingly claim spaces of advertisement, civic welcome signs, and direction markers. In both written and voiced speech, sovereignty is spoken through a resistance to translation, and refuses the quick content-gathering such signs often ask of the reader. If we see these works as using language as a material–for its form–how might such forms engage other patterns of viewing (or listening)? What are the future potentials, limitations and challenges of sovereign language actions in recorded audio and sound work, and through social practice and forms of intergenerational gathering? How do these forms move beyond practices of mere acknowledgement? This session considers the

 

Sovereignty’s Resonance: Singing, Sounding, Listening, Playing.

Presenters: Laura Ortman, Jeneen Frei Njootli, Raven Chacon, Richard Cullen Rath

Songs do things beyond being objects of contemplation and conveying information. They are sung for healing, act as law, and carry our teachings. In other words, they are history, teaching, and law that take the form of song, just as Western forms of law and history take the form of writing.

Given this fact, what are the ways that contemporary songs might function similarly. At what point do contemporary songs not merely narrate our connection to land, but exist as land rights documents? At what point does Indigenous music become less about aestheticizing history, and instead become historical record, as precisely as we consider the function of a book? Should we be developing new forms of improvisation that move beyond (re)conciliation, ones that enact nation-to-nation relationships, or are based in treaty relationships? What are examples of songs that are already functioning in these ways? What new functions might we need our music to serve?

Listening as culturally-specific form of attention.

To disrupt normative forms of hungry or extractive listening we must also re-consider what we think we are listening to.

What does it mean to listen to teachings, to histories, to healing, to law?

How do we understand what it means to listen from our individual, or community- and nation-specific, perspectives?

 

Curating Sovereignty: Instigating, Collaborating, Transforming.

Presenters: DB Boyko, Tarah Hogue, Candice Hopkins, Cecily Nicholson, Pablo de Ocampo.

While there is much written about the practice of curating, very little consideration has been given to how curatorial practice can enable the creation of sovereign spaces. Recent examples include the creation of a distinctly indigenous space for listening and gathering within the Museum of Anthropology for c̓əsnaʔəm, the city before the city, performative actions associated with Cutting Copper: Indigenous Resurgent Practice at the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, the opening events of Sakahàn: International Indigenous Art, which included the carrying of a sacred bundle across the river, which is now housed within the National Gallery of Canada for safekeeping until it is called on again. Arguably none of these spaces were explicitly created with the intention of making sovereign space. Rather, sovereign space emerged through the active engagement of Indigenous people, a presence which transformed the museums and galleries—if only temporarily. Other practices are also important to consider in this context, Bush Gallery, a project initiated by Tania Willard, for example. A temporary gathering of Indigenous artists that takes place on the Secwepemc Nation, the collaborative works created as part of Bush Gallery are in direct response to the ideologies of land-based practice.

With these examples in mind, what are the conditions necessary for the production of sovereign space? How can and does curatorial practice bring questions of sovereignty to the fore?  How can “curating sovereignty” transform institutions?

 

Records from the Archive: Replaying, Repatriating, Reconsidering.

Presenters: Duane Linklater, Peter Morin, Trevor Reed, Krista Belle Stewart

Many of our voices and our songs exist as archives in museums, where they sit silent, for the most part unheard. R. Murray Schafer writes that “so far as I know, no historian has ever listened to history, that is listened to those who were listening…” (Schafer, 1973). Artists are listening and they are sounding the archive.

Michael Ames once observed that when objects are repatriated back to their home communities from museums that they carry some of the ideologies of the museum back with them. With regards to sound: “But what does it mean to repatriate the indigenous voice after it has been alienated from the domain within which it was created?” (Reed, 2009). How can the repatriation of songs, voices, sounds from museum collections free them from the fraught context of the museum? Unlike objects, songs are not placed in another box upon their return—it is not just about returning the physical recording. Songs and sounds are active, they are used—sung in ceremony and shared with families, and the information contained in the songs, concerning language, custom, ideology parsed out and shared. These acts also have the potential of transforming the archive as well. How can we use the information contained in the archive to move towards a de-or non-colonial practice of sound?

Indigenous Acts:
Art and Public Space Workshop

Co-ogranized by Dylan Robinson and Candice Hopkins
August 2014, University of British Columbia, and various locations across Vancouver

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Indigenous Acts was a workshop that provided space and time for artists, scholars and curators to think and visit together across locations in Vancouver / Lhq’a:lets / Senakw. Each morning participants gathered to discuss questions, followed by site visits across Musquesm, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh territories now known as Vancouver to consider the ways in which Indigenous histories and current practices inform and shape the urban landscape. The gathering consideration of how Indigeneity is represented in public space, and working towards a more perceptive understanding of Indigenous public art and performance actions in public spaces. David Garneau’s concept of “Irreconcilable Spaces of Aboriginality” served as a prompt for materializing sovereignty, to consider how space might be  “otherwise occupied” by Indigenous folks.

 

Areas of Discussion:

The Politics and Histories of Naming and Re-Naming 

In the Americas, the landscape is known by many names reflecting different moments in history and worldview. Rather than commemorating individuals, Indigenous place names often reflect specific knowledge systems, understandings of the land and its use. Vancouver is home to several public artworks that reflect the linguistic diversity of First Peoples in the Pacific Northwest. The extends to other public markers including the Cultural Journey project, the much-publicized Olympic re-naming of Squamish place names along the Sea-to-Sky highway. While few who travel along the highway can read the Squamish words, for Chief Ian Campbell the presence of Squamish language in public space re-asserts a visual sovereignty. “For far too long we have been invisible in our own lands,” notes Campbell, while Squamish Chief Gibby Jacob has asserted that the increased public presence of Squamish language “puts the nation’s mark back on [our] lands”. (The Chief, July 2, 2010). 

This session will thus question the degree to which placing Indigenous language in public space asserts sovereignty at these sites. What are the limitations of this strategy; what is the potential? Does the public claim these works as another marker of “multicultural diversity”, or the “flavor of the street”, despite the artist’s intentions to intervene in other ways? Do such inclusions risk becoming a kind of linguistic ornamentation for the neoliberal politics of multiculturalism?

Given the importance of naming within Indigenous ceremonies as a way to honor individual and community achievements, and affirm our histories, what does it mean when Indigenous names are co-opted by the military and consumer culture? For example, weapons are commonly named after US tribes (the operation to capture and kill Bin Laden was infamously called “Geronimo”), and are used to market other objects of consumer culture. What are the deeper impulses at play within these gestures? 

Presenters included: 

– Raymond Boisjoly
– Marianne Nicolson
– Lorna Brown

 

Public Action, Public Ceremony

During 2012-2013, significant forms of physical and artistic occupation occurred across Canada and the United States in mall atriums, rail-lines and bridge border crossings as part of the Idle No More movement. Taking the form of Round dances, Slahal and bone games, and copper-breaking ceremonies, these actions extend our traditions into prominent public spaces, spaces that are not necessarily “authorized” for use for nation-state celebrations.   

Idle No More is part of a long history of public gatherings, ceremony and Indigenous resistance movements. This session will look to both the historical and contemporary examples of public actions and ceremony from treaty days and civic parades, to the use of performance art as a way to generate awareness about Indigenous histories and injustices. 

Presenters included:
– Peter Morin
– Mique’l Dangeli
– Karyn Recollet
– Leah Decter

 

Creating Indigenous Spaces, Reclaiming Territories

When considering Indigenous public art and actions, it is important to also reflect on where this art and actions are taking place. This session will ask how public art can generate knowledge and cross-cultural understanding about a place and how these places can in turn become sites of cultural affirmation. 

Key to this session is the question of how we define Indigenous space. Is Indigenous space physical, imagined, and/or delineated by customary law and traditional use? How are Indigenous spaces being reclaimed now? What is the potential of public art and actions to educate and engage Canadians about Indigenous histories and the social and political concerns of Indigenous communities today? 

Presenters included: 

– Raven Chacon
– Joar Nango
– Mimi Gellman 

 

Public Art in/with/for Indigenous Communities

Public art and social practice within Indigenous communities remains an underexplored area within the broader genre of contemporary art, yet forms of public art and public acts—storytelling, ceremony, song, and visual art—have played a central role in our communities since time immemorial. With this continuum in mind, what are possible definitions and methodologies of Indigenous social practice? Are there different conditions and considerations for public art within Indigenous communities? Does art play a role in creating communities (temporary or otherwise)? 

Presenters included: 

– Cheryl L’Hirondelle
– Dylan Miner
– Tanya Willard
– Gabrielle Hill

 

All Our [Public] Relations 

This session, Public Relations or PR for short, considers the public face of Indigeneity. What are existing spaces of negotiation between Settler publics and Indigenous peoples? How might we negotiate what David Garneau has identified as “irreconcilable spaces of Aboriginality?” in public space? Can public art practices create a platform for Settler publics to claim “intergenerational responsibility” towards historical injustices? What are examples of public art works, performances, and interventions that have shifted understandings of the land, human / non-human relations, the subject / object divide?

Presenters included: 

– Duane Linklater
– David Garneau
– Michelle Raheja

Collision Symposia on Inter-arts Practice and Research

Co-organized by David Cecchetto, Nancy Cuthbert, and Julie Lassonde and Dylan Robinson.

September 2005 and 2006, University of Victoria.

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In  2005 and 2006, the Collision Symposium presented artists’ talks, lectures, performance-lectures, creative works, collaborations, workshops and roundtable discussions focussed on interarts research and practices. 

Collision, a term that denotes the forceful impact of masses moving in different directions, and at the same time towards each other, has been chosen as a theme for the kinds of interarts processes used increasingly to create and merge art forms. Often by design, and sometimes by chance, these processes do not result in seamless integration of the arts, but instead create a productive friction of disciplinarity that promotes rupture or erasure and creates detritus that exists in liminal states. The Collision Symposium will encourage inter-arts practitioners to participate in developing the meaning of these kinds of processes in their own ways by providing a forum for discussion and collaboration at the University of Victoria.

In 2006 the Symposium was organized around eight themes, each designed to raise issues that lend themselves to interdisciplinary artistic investigation:

 

1. Practice and Performance as Research, Theory as Performance/Art: Following the Art and Language group, philosopher-artists have taken an approach to research and discourse that presents theory as a performance or creative work. What are the current forms that these practices take?

2. Interdisciplinarity as a Social Force: How do theories of power, legitimacy, and inclusion change when applied in an interdisciplinary context?  How is gender performed interdisciplinarily? How does intersectional feminist theory inform inter-arts work? Is activist art inherently interdisciplinary? How can inter-arts practice enrich or transform community-based or site-responsive projects?

3. First Nations Inter-arts Creation: What is the role of participation, interaction and community-building in First Nations inter-arts practices? How are storytelling practices transformed in inter-arts creation?

4. Technology: What are the roles, potential, and dangers of technology in interdisciplinary artworks?  How do information and communications theories intersect with artistic practices?

5. Between Architecture and the Arts: Artistic explorations of built environments or imaginary structures. How do artists and performers integrate architecture as a part of their practice?  

6. Conscious Interdisciplinarity: Current academic and artistic research, art production, and performance are often interdisciplinary almost as a matter of course. So what does it mean to refer to one’s practice as ‘interdisciplinary’? How is this label strategic? Aesthetic? Fetishistic? 

7. Non-Western Interdisciplinarities: What might we learn from non-Western manifestations of interdisciplinarity or inter-arts practice (or from cultures where the concept of artistic disciplines may not even exist)? 

8. Interdisciplinary Art and Spirituality: Where does ambiguity in art intersect with spirituality? Are there parallels between interdisciplinary creation and spiritual pursuits (eg. art as process)?  Can nonverbal artistic imagery for which no authoritative tradition of interpretation exists become a catalyst for spirituality?