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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 | Projects
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Projects

Soundings Exhibition

Curated by Candice Hopkins and Dylan Robinson 

How can a score be a call and tool for decolonization? Soundings: An Exhibition in Five Parts features newly commissioned scores and sounds for decolonization by Indigenous artists who attempt to answer this question.

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Photo: Tania Willard (Secwépemc​) Surrounded/Surrounding, 2018. Wood burning fire ring, laser etched leather, wood, vinyl transfer. Collection of the artist.

How can a score be a call and tool for decolonization? Curated by Candice Hopkins (Tlingit) and Dylan Robinson (Stó:l?), Soundings: An Exhibition in Five Parts features newly commissioned scores and sounds for decolonization by Indigenous artists who attempt to answer this question. The scores take the form of video, objects, graphic notation, museological objects, and written instructions. At different moments during the exhibition these scores are activated by musicians, dancers, performers and members of the public, gradually filling the gallery and surrounding public spaces with sound and action. Soundings turns up the volume on voices that don’t always have the stage allowing their actions to reverberate through gallery walls and within visitors’ bodies. The exhibition is accumulative, gaining new artists and players throughout the run of the show. Soundings artists include Raven Chacon and Cristóbal Martínez, Sebastian De Line, Camille Georgeson-Usher, Cheryl L’Hirondelle, Kite, Tanya Lukin Linklater, Ogimaa Mikana, Peter Morin, Lisa C. Ravensbergen, Heidi Senungetuk, Olivia Whetung and Tania Willard.

Soundings is accompanied by a postcard publication of scores designed by Sébastien Aubin and a public listening series entitled “Against Hungry Listening,” which will include notable composers, musicians, scholars and artists discussing de-colonial, queer, feminist, black and Indigenous-specific forms of listening.

Public art installations by Raven Chacon, Camille Georgeson-Usher, Ogimaa Mikana and a curatorial score written by Dylan Robinson are on view on Queen’s University main campus.These outdoor artworks are generously supported through the Isabel & Alfred Bader Fund of Bader Philanthropies and the George Taylor Richardson Memorial Fund at Queen’s University.

Soundings is affiliated with The Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts’ concurrent Ka’tarohkwi Festival of Indigenous Arts. Visit their website for more details on a diverse array of performances by acclaimed Indigenous artists working across theatre, dance, music, film and performance art.

Soundings is one of the 200 exceptional projects funded through the Canada Council for the Arts’ New Chapter program. With this $35M investment, the Council supports the creation and sharing of the arts in communities across Canada.

Presentation History
2019 locations:Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Queens University; Gund Gallery, Kenyon College, Ohio
2020 locations: Kitchner Waterloo Gallery; Belkin Gallery, UBC
2021 locations: Kamloops Art Gallery

More information here

Ka’tarohkwi Festival

Curated by Dylan Robinson 

The Ka’tarohkwi Festival is an exciting multi-disciplinary blaze of Indigenous creativity at the Isabel celebrating the music, film, dance, multimedia, theatre, visual art, and virtual reality stories from the top Indigenous creators in Canada.

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Photo: Jeremy Dutcher, winner of the 2018 Polaris Prize, will be performing at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts during the Ka’tarohkwi Festival of Indigenous Arts.

The Ka’tarohkwi Festival of Indigenous Arts (pronounced Cat-ar-oh-qui) is grounded in the land on which we gather, the traditional territory of the Anishinaabeg and Haudenosaunee peoples. Imagination takes flight as Canada’s leading and diverse Indigenous artists bring us outstanding and original cultural experiences inspired and shaped by the wisdom of hundreds of generations. Embark with us on a greater quest for a deeper knowledge of Canada’s Indigenous cultures through a spectacular array of music, dance, theatre, and film, and engage in thought-provoking conversations that will arise with our increased understanding of Indigenous peoples across the land.

Presentation History
Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts, 2019

View Festival Brochure

nuyamł-ił kulhulmx (singing the earth)

A Concert Installation by Anna Höstman, Dylan Robinson and Patrick Nickleson

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Photo: Dylan Robinson

An Overview of Collaborative Process Dylan Robinson

After collaborating together for many years as part of the intermission interarts collective, in 2012 Anna Höstman and I were commissioned by Continuum Contemporary Music to collaborate on a new work. Anna and I had recently been discussing our family histories the embodied and sensory connections with the Indigenous lands where we grew up, and the settler colonial histories and present day settler colonialism on those lands. We decided to make this the focus of our work. Supported by funding from a SSHRC Partnership Development Project, we embarked on a creative process that involved several trips to visit with Anna’s family and members of the Nuxalk community in the Bella Coola valley, with the intent to piece together a composite portrait of intertwined settler and Nuxalk histories of this place where Anna’s Norwegian ancestors were the first settlers, and to which I was an Indigenous visitor without prior connections.

For just over a century Canadian composers and artists have been fixated upon conjuring in sound and image the landscape of this place we now call ‘Canada’. Between 2011 and 2013 Anna, Patrick and I were guests in Nuxalk territory in the towns of Bella Coola and Hagensborg. We were both the guests of Anna’s friends and family who call this place their home and of the Nuxalk people who assert their unceded sovereignty to these lands. Prior to our project, I had not visited Bella Coola, nor had any connections with the Nuxalk people. I wondered whether, being xwelmexw (Stó:lō), I would share views with the Nuxalk people I met, for instance around resource development or language learning, or whether I’d be treated with the same suspicion that many First Peoples have when we are approached by academics and artists who want us to share our knowledge.

As much of my research has examined the collaborative practices (and lack thereof) between Canadian composers and First Peoples, I was interested to undertake such a process of creation where I would be met with the same challenge. While we were there, we met a lot of Anna’s friends and family. We spent a significant amount of time interviewing people, and just visiting. In all of those visits I felt people’s love for the valley, the waters and lands; in other visits I felt trapped and experienced racism that was referred to as just “small town-ness”. One particular memory that stays with me is of someone saying “If you guys are sticking around for while you should go see Cindy on the Rez. She’ll show you a good time.”

After conducting a number of interviews, we decided to turn the camera on ourselves, put each other in the ‘hot seat’ and ask each other challenging questions about what we were doing, how we were collaborating, how we were failing. In our conversations with each other, as well as in our ‘hot seat interviews’, we debated issues of cultural appropriation and racism. I wondered how we might include our own disagreements about these issues as part of the piece itself.

When I began working on nuyamł-ił kulhulmx, my hope was that the creative process would entail was finding ways to affirm the sometimes irreconcilable differences between Indigenous and Western ideas of art, song, and epistemology. In my experience of Indigenous intercultural creation, there is often a focus upon the blending of cultural difference, or their seamless integration. While aesthetically this may lead to interesting results, to treat Indigenous and Western cultural practices with the same criteria is to enact a kind of epistemic violence upon the other. While I believe Singing the Earth does act as a collection of differences, I not sure we were able to convey the sharpness of difference between our experiences and values.

The process of collaboration was not what I imagined it would be. By the time of our last visit we were only just beginning to develop deep relationships with members of the Nuxalk community. This of course is exactly the challenge with any collaboration with new people, but even more so in Indigenous communities where trust has been eroded by instances of ‘fly-in, fly- out’ research in which scholars have not considered the reciprocal relationships they have with the people they work with. First Nations culture, in these instances, becomes an artistic resource not unlike the natural resources coveted by the state. Like the extraction of natural resources from Indigenous territories, artists also risk extracting Indigenous culture to enrich their work. With the extended visits we made to Bella Coola, we reached a beginning. While the piece itself addresses many important aspects of Nuxalk history, and current issues the community faces, it has not lived up to my desire to define more tangible benefits to Indigenous people through creative work. Despite this, aesthetically, the process of creating nuyamł-ił kulhulmx resulted a sensorily rich depiction of this place, and an accurate account of our work and challenges associated with piecing together a layered history from dialogue, archive, and immersion in place.