Visualizing Collaboration: Video Production and Decolonial Curation between the Museum and the University
Aynur Kadir, University of Waterloo, Canada, Kate Hennessy, Simon Fraser University, School of Interactive Arts and Technology, Canada, Sharon Fortney, Museum of Vancouver, Canada, Viviane Gosselin, Museum of Vancouver, Canada, Beth Carter, Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art, Canada, Kwiaahwah Jones, Museum of Vancouver, Canada
AbstractSince 2015, curators at the Museum of Vancouver and the Bill Reid Gallery for Northwest Coast Art in Vancouver, B.C. have worked in collaboration with undergraduate students and faculty from Simon Fraser University’s School of Interactive Arts and Technology to produce short documentary videos that support curatorial engagement with artists, augment access to artworks and collections, and provide new opportunities for public programming. The videos provide windows into the collaborative work taking place between these museum and gallery institutions, Indigenous curators and artists, and university instructors and students. In this paper, we came together to discuss our collaborations with artists and students over the last five years, and the role of collaborative video production processes as a part of decolonial curatorial work and pedagogy across our institutions. The dialogic form of our paper situates our collaborations in relation to institutional discourse of indigenization and reconciliation, raising the question of whether or not institutions like universities, museums, and galleries can claim to advance reconciliation while continuing to function as colonial institutions, and how applied collaborations between our institutions might contribute to the understanding of these dynamics in meaningful ways.
Keywords: Collaboration, video, museums, indigenization, decolonial curation, reconciliation
Visualizing Collaboration: Video Production and Decolonial Curation between the Museum and the University
Authors: Aynur Kadir, Kate Hennessy, Viviane Gosselin, Sharon Fortney, Kwiaahwah Jones, and Beth Carter.
Part 1: Background: Visualizing collaboration between the museums, galleries, and the university
Since 2015, curators at the Museum of Vancouver and the Bill Reid Gallery for Northwest Coast Art in Vancouver, B.C. have worked in collaboration with undergraduate students and faculty from Simon Fraser University’s School of Interactive Arts and Technology (SIAT) to produce short documentary videos that support curatorial engagement with artists, augment access to artworks and collections, and provide new opportunities for public programming. The video projects, which are produced during a one-semester course called Moving Images, provide students with valuable opportunities to work directly with curators and with artists who are featured in the exhibitions, to publicly exhibit their video work in galleries and museums, and to contribute to the Museum of Vancouver and Bill Reid Gallery’s efforts to confront their colonial institutional histories through decolonial practices and collaborations. The videos provide windows into the collaborative work taking place between these museum and gallery institutions, Indigenous curators and artists, and university instructors and students.
Located on the unceded ancestral territories of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations, the Museum of Vancouver, the Bill Reid Gallery for Northwest Coast Art, and Simon Fraser University all share an obligation to address and engage with historical and ongoing colonial violence in British Columbia through their exhibitions, community engagement, and curatorial and pedagogical practices. Canadian universities and museums are both obligated to significantly evaluate and potentially transform their practices in particular as a response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC), which was established in 2008 under the terms of the Indian Residential School Agreement (TRC, 2015). The TRC was mandated to:
- reveal to Canadians the complex truth about the history and ongoing legacy of the church-run residential schools, in a manner that fully documents the individual and collective harms perpetrated against Aboriginal peoples, and honours the resilience and courage of former students, their families, and communities; and
- guide and inspire a process of truth and healing, leading towards reconciliation within Aboriginal families, and between Aboriginal peoples and non-Aboriginal communities, churches, governments, and Canadians generally. The process was to work to renew relationships on a basis of inclusion, mutual understanding, and respect.
(Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, 2015:27)
Museums and universities play key roles in responding to the TRC’s report through their practices as institutions. Among 57 broad-ranging Calls to Action at all levels of Canadian society, the report identifies museums and archives as playing a key role in national reconciliation (2015:297). The report authors write, “As Canada confronts its settler colonial past, museums and archives have been gradually transforming from institutions of colony and empire into more inclusive institutions that better reflect the full richness of Canadian history” (2015:297). For example, as the city’s oldest collecting institution, the Museum of Vancouver is grappling with its colonial history with collaborative approaches to curation, and a proactive approach to repatriation (Miller, 2018:82). The Museum of Vancouver and the Bill Reid Gallery now work in close collaboration with Indigenous curators, including co-authors Sharon Fortney and Kwiaahwah Jones, as evidenced by the exhibitions we discuss in this paper. As a precedent for the collaborations between MOV and SFU, we also point to the award winning multi-sited exhibition c̓əsnaʔəm: the city before the city, which focused on the history of c̓əsnaʔəm, an ancient Musqueam village and burial ground, which includes a multi-year installation at the Museum of Vancouver. The exhibition at MOV features ancient fishing and hunting tools along with video interviews by filmmaker Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers with Musqueam community members discussing the centrality of the Fraser River in the past and today for community identity (Wilson, 2016). The curatorial team for the c̓əsnaʔəm exhibitions, after consultation with Musqueam Elders, adopted the term belongings, rather than artifacts to refer to ancient objects collected by the museum. The videos were used to help communicate this curatorial goal, connecting the tangible with the intangible. Wilson writes:
“Ultimately, our use of the term belongings has multiple intentions: it is a political expression, but aligns with our ways of knowing; it pertains to both the historic and the contemporary; and it connects the intangible with the tangible. It is meant to communicate to the museum visitor our ongoing connection to the past, to the places within our territory, and to belongings held in museum collections. Most importantly, it is meant to convey that our ancestors continue to have a strong connection to these belongings, and that Musqueam community members today feel a deep sense of responsibility for these belongings.” (Wilson, 2016)
As such acts of decolonial transformation are beginning to take place in the museum context, this work is also beginning within universities. The TRC’s Report also includes a call to post-secondary institutions to improve access and funding for Indigenous students (2015:199), and universities in Canada are beginning to work to address legacies of Indian Residential schools and ongoing colonial and racist exclusion of Indigenous students and faculty (Shauneen, 2016). For example, Simon Fraser University’s Aboriginal Reconciliation Council recently published Calls-to-Action for the university aimed at long term transformation and indigenization of the university, and allocated funding to support legacy reconciliation projects (ARC, 2017). Universities have, as Michelle Pidgeon writes, “…a responsibility to Indigenization, that is, to empower Indigenous self-determination, address decolonization, and reconcile systemic and societal inequalities between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians” (2016:77). Professors such as Zoe Todd describe the development of courses that challenge students to position their movements not only within academic institutions but to their homes and all other aspects of their lives to become aware of the “ongoing relationships formed among Indigenous peoples, lands, laws, and those of us who are guests within unceded and unsurrendered territories” (2016:95). However, as Gaudry and Lorenz (2018) show in their study of indigenization policies and practices across Canadian universities, the term indigenization is used by most universities to address inclusion and does not move far beyond it. They present three meanings of indigenization as a spectrum:
“On one end of this continuum, the academy maintains most of its existing structures while assisting Indigenous students, faculty, and staff in succeeding under this normalized order, and on the other end, the university is fundamentally transformed by deep engagement with Indigenous peoples, Indigenous intellectuals, and Indigneous knowledge systems for all who attend.” (Gaudry and Lorenz, 2018: 2018).
In this paper, we came together to discuss our collaborations with artists and students over the last five years, and the role of collaborative video production processes as a part of decolonial curatorial work and pedagogy at the Museum of Vancouver, the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art, and at Simon Fraser University’s School of Interactive Arts and Technology. We situate our collaboration in relation to institutional discourse of indigenization and reconciliation, raising the question of whether or not institutions like universities, museums, and galleries can claim to advance reconciliation while continuing to function as colonial institutions. How might applied collaborations between our institutions contribute to the understanding of these dynamics in meaningful ways? We highlight our long-term relationships as collaborators, and the ways in which these relationships have allowed us to bridge the colonial institutions in which we work ––a gallery, a museum, a university––working towards what Gaudry and Lorenz (2018) call “decolonial indigenization”:
“This decolonial approach to indigenization… ultimately is about the redistribution of intellectual privilege, working towards collaborative relationships that decentralize administrative power. These are certainly longer-term goals, but there are already many research units, land-based learning projects, and research teams that are organizing decolonial principles that university administrators can better support. These projects can be starting points for larger institutional models, which will need support of a broad range of people inside and outside the academy, something that––like all treaty-based ideals––calls upon everyone to think about how we can best live together on a shared landscape (or a shared university) while still respecting the autonomy, independence, and differences of each other.” (Gaudry and Lorenz, 2018:225).
Video 1. Haida Now @ Museum of Vancouver, 2018, film by Hanquao Li, Ian Liu, Amiko Tong.
The collaborative video projects that we discuss in this paper emerged as a tool to support the work of Indigenous curators in their work of decolonizing museum practice, in which interventions that involve language and self representation are an imperative part of the process. The first exhibition we discuss is Haida Now at the Museum of Vancouver. Haida Now featured a significant and under-exposed collection of over 450 works of Haida art acquired by the Museum of Vancouver (MOV) over the past hundred years. The exhibition was guest curated by Independent Haida Curator Kwiaahwah Jones in collaboration with Viviane Gosselin, Co-curator and Director of Collections & Exhibitions at MOV; it also involved the Haida Gwaii Museum in Skidegate which played an advisory role for exhibition content and research protocol.
The 6000 sq. ft. exhibition presented between March 2018 and July 2021 showcased works by historic and contemporary painters, photographers, and print-makers, with most pieces collected in the early 1900s. Over a period of two years leading up to the exhibition, an impressive group of local Haida artists came to MOV to contribute to the interpretive program by sharing their insights and knowledge about these Haida treasures, giving museum staff and visitors the opportunity to experience a new, powerful way to engage with the worldview and sensibility of the Haida people through their art.
The exhibition was organized into groupings of works that highlighted the interconnection between art, language, land, spirituality, resilience, and life in the city. Haida Now displayed woven baskets, intricate carvings, masks, headpieces and jewellery. Large contemporary portraits of the Haida in Haida Gwaii and Vancouver, compelling soundscapes, short films, and interactive displays conveyed a sense of the vibrancy of the culture. The project generated several public programs, and events which became new opportunities for the public to further engage with participating artists and collaborators. A year after the opening, MOV repatriated several belongings including two large carved poles and ceremonial objects to Haida Gwaii at the Haida Gwaii Museum in Skidegate. Seven thoughtful video pieces produced by SIAT students were included in Haida Now. The short films provided a range of angles from which to consider Haida art and the contemporary role of museums in engaging in reconciliation work by following high profile artists in their studio and engaging with the artworks in the collection storage as well as interviewing art dealers, Haida politicians and museum conservators.
Video 2. Haida Now Curator Kwiaahwah Jones, 2017, film by Jessica Fan and Micheal Hofer.
The second exhibition we discuss is Intangible: Memory and Innovation in Coast Salish Art at the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art, guest curated by Sharon Fortney (who is now Curator of Indigenous Collections and Engagement at the Museum of Vancouver), with Beth Carter, Curator. Intangible took place between September and December of 2017, and featured the work of Marvin Oliver (Quinault / Isleta Pueblo), an innovator in contemporary glass work; Tawx’sin Yexwulla/Aaron Nelson Moody (Squamish), who invokes family knowledge of traditional copper use and combines it with contemporary techniques; lessLIE (Cowichan, Penelakut and Esquimault), an artist who focuses on enlarged Salish design elements to magnify issues of identity and colonialism; Sesemiya/Tracy Williams (Squamish), who explores land sovereignty by experimenting with plant, animal, and mineral components and employing them in her cedar weavings; Ostwelve/Ronnie Dean Harris (Sto:lo / St’at’ime), who uses multimedia to explore traditional Salish territory within the urban environment; and, Roxanne Charles (Semiahmoo), a fibre artist, who frequently incorporates live performance to engage the public in contemporary issues. As curator Sharon Fortney explains in more detail in the video below, “Contemporary Coast Salish art is embedded within a traditional cultural framework that includes community, ceremonial life, territory, history and innovation. Six artists challenge our expectations and illustrate Coast Salish art as a thriving art tradition – a dynamic one that demonstrates both continuity with the past and exploration of new ideas and technologies” (Bill Reid Gallery 2017).
The dialogic form of the remainder of this paper reflects our interest in collaborative work and representation of our process of creating media for exhibition. In the context of Covid-19 restrictions––which during the writing of this paper included full stay-at-home orders and school closures in Ontario and ongoing preventative restrictions in British Columbia, including exclusively online teaching –– the paper represented an opportunity for us to reconnect with each other and represent the kinds of conversations about indigenization, reconciliation, repatriation, reciprocity, documentary ethics, and consent that our collaborations both facilitate and necessitate as we work towards a decolonial approach to the transformation of both the university and the museum.
Video 3. Intangible Memory and Innovation in Coast Salish Art, 2017, film by Justine Crawford.
Part 2: A Dialogue on Collaboration, Decolonial Curation, and Indigenizing Pedagogy
Kate Hennessy: Kwiaahwah and Sharon, could you start by talking about the exhibitions that you’ve curated? What were your goals as a curator? How did these video projects contribute to these exhibition spaces and stories?
Sharon Fortney: Usually I work more with communities than artists. So it was a little bit of a departure for me to do a contemporary art exhibition. And typically the tone of the projects I do is very conversational. A lot of the time I get told I have too much text, because I don’t really like to edit down what the community members are saying. Coast Salish art is not very well known for some reason in the middle of Salish territory. And I think it ties a lot to spiritual beliefs that are informing the work, and the fact that Salish religion is a little bit more private about what can be shared publicly. So, we were trying to get across the spirituality that informs the work, but also that there’s more to culture than what you see in front of you. There’s a lot of unspoken parts of culture, or things that are embedded in language frameworks, and knowledge frameworks that are formed by language. So we’re just trying to invoke all of those things through the title, and the idea of memory and identity. I think that’s, for me, why it was really important that the artists spoke to their work in a conversational way.
Kwiaahwah Jones: The goal was to get as many voices from the archive visits into the exhibition, so that it would really make an impact from one community to another. So I think that that was a huge goal. Another goal was to make a relationship with MOV so that we could repatriate things back to our people. Haida Now has so many facets, and so many kinds of corners and depths to explore. I think the best part about the videos is that they captured the interaction between the artists and the pieces, really intimate moments that I think were quite spectacular. It was really enjoyable to watch Jim Hart and Evelyn Vanderhoop do their thing. Or I really thought with Corey Bulpitt’s video, the intimacy of his studio, and in East Vancouver was really cool. Maurice Nahanee’s story was really great with Bill Angelbeck, who was a star too. And those are really important stories to tell, right? Because they were all kind of part of various themes of the exhibition, and being able to tell those stories within 5 to 10 minutes, I think it was pretty fantastic on the students’ behalf.
It was a real, huge learning experience for me, because I had never worked with film teams before, and we put together seven. I think that the videos really add a really personal layer to the exhibit, that as a curator, I can never provide. So being able to see Jim Hart, and talk about how important ladies are in our society, I think was a big goal. And I think that’s kind of part of decolonizing in a way too, or Indigenizing from, oh, our women hold us up, and being able to kind of decolonize the Vancouver landscapes through the Sisters stories was, I think, really great. I loved all the videos.
Video 4. Haida Now: Jim Hart and Evelyn Vanderhoop, 2018, film by Aynur Kadir, Reese Muntean, Jay Tseng, Brandon Hoare, and Mike Hofer.
Viviane Gosselin: The importance of the urban Haida community was something I only fully realized once I started working with and meeting people through Kwi. There have been exhibitions on Haida art and culture in large institutions. MOV is a medium-sized institution, but the one thing very few cities in the world have is the critical mass of Haida knowledge holders, artists, and public intellectuals that were able to come see, work and make sense of the collection in person. The student videos were able to show part of the process and demonstrate the process of self-representation that drove this project. The Haida Now exhibition is very much part of a larger project for the museum to recognize its role in the colonial project and to foreground indigenous perspectives and representation in very public ways.
The Museum of Vancouver has a deep colonial history of collecting. The collection of Haida belongings at MOV is actually made up of several private collections. Several donors collected these pieces and subsequently donated them to the museum. Among the donors there was a missionary, an Indian Agent, several business people, a mining engineer, and a few tourists, most of whom had visited Haida Gwaii in the first half of the 20th century. The last acquisitions include purchases made by the Vancouver Museum gift shop in the 1970s in support of the work of emerging Northwest Coast artists. For the earlier acquisitions, the assessment we made was that we had more information about the donors than the makers of the objects and the larger context of production. While we don’t know the specific circumstances and motivations behind early acquisitions of Haida works, we assumed they reflected a sense of admiration and fascination for the material culture of a people the collectors knew little about. Haida Now became the first show featuring Haida belongings interpreted from multiple Haida perspectives at MOV. As the MOV curator working on the project, I was humbled throughout the process by the generosity of knowledge holders who shared their knowledge to help build greater public understanding of the cultural context in which these works were produced. The student videos featuring these Haida scholars talking about their culture and art through individual pieces in the collection made this process that much more visible.
Beth Carter: The Bill Reid Gallery is a much younger non-profit organization. It only opened in 2008. It’s named after Bill Reid, the very famous and influential Haida artist. In our first 10 years, it was a struggle to survive and start up a new gallery. We have a fantastic core collection of Bill Reid’s work that is mostly on permanent exhibition. Along with that, our niche within the community is to support emerging artists and curators, and to showcase contemporary, Indigenous art from the entire Northwest coast. Our goal is to forefront Indigenous voices in the gallery. When Sharon and I decided that the title of the exhibition would be Intangible, the idea of having videos as part of sharing those intangible messages became very important, since we were struggling with how to make the connection to the intangibility of intangible knowledge.
Kate Hennessy: I think that brings us to the question of how and why it makes sense to collaborate with students in a class as opposed to working with a crew or having an in-house production team. Some museums have in-house production crews, and we know it’s expensive. What’s your sense of why this has been something we’ve chosen to continue?
Sharon Fortney: Well, for me, my projects have small budgets because I often work for non-profits. I like to get as much into the exhibitions as I can. And I think we mentioned that with exhibitions, you’re so limited with what you can do with text, and you don’t always have the availability to have a catalog like we did at the Bill Reid Gallery. So the film really takes a lot of information and creates a different experience for the visitor and puts it all in a small space. I think it’s really important. And I like the idea of sharing knowledge and collaborating with other learning institutions and students in the area, and that we are creating learning opportunities for people in the community. When I came to the MOV, reconciliation was identified as one of the four pillars that guides our work. A lot of people think that’s an empty word these days. How do we live up to that? We have to create opportunities for engagement for the public, where they can in some way, interact with indigenous community members and come to understand “what are the issues that we’re trying to reconcile?” Or at least, “what is it we have to redress.” I think the films are a really strong vehicle for doing that work.
Viviane Gosselin: If I hadn’t worked with you, Kate, on the All Together Now exhibition where your students did amazing pieces featuring private collectors and their collections, I don’t think I would have been keen to work on the Haida Now videos with students; I would have hired a filmmaker. But the trust was there and I was familiar with the sort of progression from very rough work to polished pieces. To your point, Kate, we have to pick the best people for each project. MOV, as an organisation, is still relatively new at developing projects driven and informed by Indigenous voices and so developing new relationships with Indigenous curators, artists and communities and at the same time extending this access to students, is delicate business. So on our side, working with film students instead of professional filmmakers is not just about saving costs. It’s about creating opportunities for meaningful exchanges between the next generation of professionals in the cultural sector and Indigenous artists and communities. These students, who didn’t know much about Haida culture, but were keen and interested, and who happened to study in a field that could help us extend our messaging became makers and contributors of the project. This is the ultimate form of participation if you want, right?
It struck me when working on this project that for some, perhaps most students, this was going to be their first time meeting and talking with Indigenous people. They also created films that are seen by members of the public who may have never had the opportunity to meet and talk with Indigenous people. In terms of what these films bring to the table: they underscore the notion of Indigenous self-representation. Visitors get to see Haida artists talk about their work and their connections to belongings at MOV.
Video 5. Haida Now: Our Past Builds Our Future: Latash-Maurice Nahanee and Bill Angelbeck, 2018, film by Davin Yeung, Ricky Chen, Snow Liu, and Wendy Parng.
Beth Carter: When I approached Sharon, we wanted to recognize our connection to the local host territory, but we also wanted to bring more awareness to the idea of the breadth and size and scope of Salish territory. When we were brainstorming who were the artists to invite and what sort of stories we wanted to tell, we did want to represent artists both from the host nations (xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations), but also from other areas of Salish territory. We included several artists from Vancouver Island, and Marvin Oliver from south of the border into Washington State. With the videos, as well as hearing the artists speak, we also got a sense of their territory and they helped to bring the landscape into the gallery. And the videos really were a huge part of sharing those stories. We have been blessed to work with Aynur and SFU on a couple of other projects as well.
It’s surprising to me because people come in and they just glance at the art, but then they’ll sit in front of the videos and really spend time listening to them. We showed the videos on a loop in the gallery, and sometimes people would sit and watch all six videos through and really enjoy and expand upon the experience of visiting. This documentation of the time and the place and the values and the people speaking is very special, and the artists love having the videos. When Marvin sadly passed away a couple of years ago, his wife contacted us because she loved the video so much and they really wanted to show it as part of their memorial service. The videos live on and they’re very important to the gallery, to the artists and to the visitors.
Video 6. Intangible Artist Feature: Marvin Oliver, 2017, film by Justine Crawford and Aynur Kadir.
Kate Hennessy: It’s so interesting just to hear all of you reflecting on video as this intermediary space, where on the one hand, the artists and the people that you have connected our students to to interview are generously sharing knowledge through these projects, and on the other, the videos create a public view into the work of the museum and its collaborators. It’s incredible to watch and to experience in our role as instructors. But I think there’s a possibility that the students themselves are actually transformed by that experience. In fact I would argue that some of them do leave the course having had a transformative experience. We see the students encountering worlds, ways of thinking, art practices, and histories that they are not familiar with. Our students generally have deep deficiencies in education and teaching in colonial institutions about our colonial context, and it is possible that many students will go through a degree program and not learn anything about it. So the majority of our students come into our class having never collaborated with an Indigenous community or organization before, or having never been on to a reserve. I think it can be a bit of a surprise to them that we are asking them to work with us and to develop these stories. But I see it as a serious opportunity to become invested in a project that goes so much deeper than they would ever be able to go without the guidance of you as curators, and your connections to the communities and to the artists.
Video 7. Haida Now: Corey Bulpitt, 2018, film by Yu-Chief Tseng, Brandon Matthew Hoare, Bohan Li, and Mengran Song.
Aynur Kadir: The word reconciliation is definitely used a lot in both universities and museums. As professors and curators, we are aiming to make meaningful change within our institutions, in the way we teach, and in the ways that museums work with Indigneous communities and the wider public. How do you see students benefiting from the collaborative media work we have been doing? How does this work potentially benefit Indigenous partners in these exhibitions and the museums and galleries you are a part of?
Kwiaahwah Jones: I found it was a really fantastic experience working with students during this film production. It really hit home what reconciliation is kind of trying to figure out. I’ve watched as students transformed within a three-month window, that will change them forever. What I’m finding is that the students that I talk to are finding out about residential schools for the first time, or smallpox, and they go into these kinds of deep dives. They do that spiritually. So I think there’s a lifeboat aspect to the videos that can kind of guide people through those horrific realities, because so many students, first year, second year students, they’re like, “We didn’t learn any of this in school.” So I think it serves as a spiritual lifeboat for people who are struggling with these truths. And I think that the most rewarding part is that it’s changing them. For reconciliation, I’m like, we don’t need to change, Canada needs to change. Settlers need to change. And so if that happens, that kind of inner universe for each student, then that’s a win for every Indigenous person.
Sharon Fortney: Students needed a lot of support in terms of history and ideas of protocols. For example, during the making of videos for Intangible, when (Sesemiya) Tracy Williams and I met with students at the Seymour longhouse, some didn’t dress properly. One of the fellows who came to the longhouse, dressed in a three-piece suit and his dress shoes, and then they were making fish leather. So at one point they had to go down to the Seymour river and we’re walking through the woods and he’s got his shiny leather shoes on. And that was quite humorous, but he was really game. He just felt really privileged, I think, to be there, which I thought was nice. But then other times there were things that they just didn’t pick up on. Like they were offered hospitality multiple times and they all brought their own lunches. So they just kept turning it down and it was like, just go get something, go and get a drink at least, but I could not get those boys to accept hospitality from the people who’d invited us into the longhouse, which was a little bit embarrassing for me. There’s a lot of learning that happens when you leave the museum, which I think, really benefits the students, to see that things don’t always go to plan and you have to adapt and really listen to the people you’re working with.
Video 8. Intangible Artist Feature: Sesemiya / Tracy Williams (Squamish), 2017, film by Pete Miao, Hengrui Zhang, and Won Im Jong.
Beth Carter: I know we talked a lot about reconciliation, but I also think a lot about reciprocity, and I feel that these videos and the production processes are a form of reciprocity, because we need the help. We can’t usually afford to pay professional film crews thousands of dollars, our budgets are very tight. So from a purely practical point of view, the work of the students is fantastic because they jump in wholeheartedly and they put extra time and effort into it that a professional group might not be willing to have that extra willingness to massage it. But really, that’s part of that reciprocity. We get amazing films to include in our show.
But from an actual time management perspective for the curators, it’s a lot of time. Thank goodness Aynur was with us at the gallery as a New Media curator when we were going through the making of our most recent videos. Because the students are learning. It can take a bit longer, but we’re willing to put in that time and also share with them, and the artists we’re working with are so generous sharing their thoughts and time, and this back and forth that occurs between the students and their learning and the artists, and they’re having a chance to speak out and have their voices heard in different ways in a broader realm. Many of the videos are going on to be very useful for education programs and education purposes, because teachers in the classrooms are just crying out for materials that are authentic and thoughtful, and also not too long. They don’t want hour-long videos shown in their class. They really appreciate 10-minute shorter videos that they can then dig deeper into discussion. So that’s a very long lasting effect of these, beyond the immediate public and visitors to the gallery , especially now as we all move in COVID times into online education.
Viviane Gosselin: The relationship between Indigenous––individuals, and communities––museums and universities is very old, but the idea of reciprocity is not. Now I think there is a better understanding––that in order to sustain and grow, the relationship has to be mutually beneficial for all parties involved. In this case, the museum is able to provide opportunities for student work to be used in a real museum project. The museum is used as a bridge for students to meet and learn from incredibly strong and generous Indigenous artists. The museum in return gets these cool short documentaries and additional raw footage to include as documentation. Indigenous artists and communities when the curatorial work is done right, I’m hoping, feel they are heard and valued and that the exhibition and videos play the role of megaphone. They help carry their voice further. A practical thing: they receive copies of these short films to keep for their records and share with families and their community.
Certainly in these kinds of collaborative productions with universities, museum staff are mentoring the students. They have to explain where the student projects fit in the exhibition project and how in return their films help fulfill our public education mandate. Curators have to guide students throughout the interviewing process, from creating the interview questionnaire, to attending the interview sessions to providing feedback throughout the production. The mentoring is time consuming, but I find that film students have often been more responsive to feedback than professional filmmakers. I also know that instructors are playing a huge role in ensuring the students are responsive to our feedback! At the end of the day, if the student film projects don’t meet the expectations of the participating artists or the curators, they are graded by the instructors but they are not included in the exhibition. So there is that pressure!
Kate Hennessy: You have to put a lot of faith in us. I’m very grateful that we’ve had that opportunity to work together over the years. When I reflect back on working on other media projects with Indigenous communities and organizations that I have been fortunately to be a part of (for example Sq’éwlets: A Sto:ló-Coast Salish Community in the Fraser River Valley (2017); Inuvialuit Living History (2012); Dane Wajich: Dane-zaa Stories and Songs (2007)), they’ve all come out of deep relationships. They are not necessarily my relationships, but that of my collaborators who have many decades of work in the communities. The projects are successful because of the relationships that are created and then maintained. So, I think continuing to build our collaboration over the years is also a huge part of this. Keeping the relationships going does give us more opportunities to do better work and to continue to think about the role of video or collaborative media making in potentially transforming institutions. The videos seem to work as a bridge to the communities, especially because of this digital, online world that we are all in now. The videos do have quite interesting lives that we don’t fully understand right now, but are good to think about into the future.
Aynur Kadir: As an immigrant scholar, I have learned a lot about the colonial history of Canada and am only beginning to understand what it might mean to decolonize and heal from an Indigenous perspective. Going into these video and multimedia projects, what were some of the main challenges that participants faced?
Beth Carter: We tried to do too many films at once. We’ll never do that again. Right? It’s better if we can do fewer, because doing more than that at one time, I mean, we’re just a couple of people. I do think that Viviane’s point about relationships is so important. We talked already about trust and building trust and having trust with the community members and artists being featured and among. But I think also the relationships here: that Sharon knew Kate from school;, and Sharon’s now working at the MOV; and Kwi used to work at the Bill Reid Gallery. Aynur is now spreading it out to Ontario and there’s this lovely cross building of connections. There’s just something very important about the relationships that are built and the continuation and continued growth of those relationships that makes this project special as well.
Sharon Fortney: I’d also like to say, I actually appreciate the consent process that the universities make the students go through. Recently, I was asked to assist another cultural organization in the city, and it just kind of fluidly happened where the artist showed up and wanted to film me, and I’m so agreeable, so I went along with it. And then afterwards, I’m like, “Geez, I didn’t sign a consent form. What’s going to happen with this footage?” And then I asked for a consent form, and it was the first time the person had ever considered that they needed me to sign consent. And then when I received the consent form, it was like I was signing away the footage forever and he would be passing it on to his heirs.
And I was like, “No.” I’m crossing out things on the consent form. And even now with that project, things pop up on the internet, and I haven’t seen them first. I haven’t really had a chance for feedback. So it’s really uncomfortable, and it makes you a little bit more reflective, and a little bit more careful in your own work when you’re working with community members, because you just don’t want them to come away feeling like they’ve lost control of what they’re saying or how it’s framed, and they have no clue what’s happening with their words. So I think it’s really important that we pay attention to consent.
Kate Hennessy: Through our conversation today, it’s reminding me that there are so many different ways of thinking about the consent process, and I think we need to do better with the development of resources for students in their work with the museum to develop more appropriate consent frameworks. I really agree Sharon, I think it’s very interesting to bring, say, a boilerplate university film release into a situation which asks you to look at it carefully, and think about what a big institution like SFU might normally assume about recording someone, and how much that doesn’t feel right in a situation, say, within the context of these exhibitions. But we know there are alternative more respectful, more collaborative models of consent and giving consent that are being developed and implemented from a decolonizing methodologies perspective that more formally be a part of this work. For example, I am thinking of film production and writing by Jessica Hallenbeck and Rosemary Georgeson (2018) and Jules Koostachin (2019). As someone designing course syllabi, I can see how important it is to have a week or two only about consent forms and consent. Or a whole course! Going forward, as a part of the curatorial work and media making, each project might have a different approach to consent and archiving. This could be very generative.
Kwiaahwah Jones: I really enjoyed the fact that the Haida Gwaii Museum got copies of the raw footage of the engagements between the Haida and the collection. I think that that is going to be valuable information for the future, because it’s not that long that museums have been that kind to Indigenous people, and some are still struggling.
Kate Hennessy: Kwi, I hear what you’re saying, and I remember that was something we talked about right at the beginning of the work on Haida Now–– that all of the raw footage that the students created would be archived on hard drives and then brought back to the museum for Haida Gwaii. I think the raw footage brings a whole other dimension to the work, because while the focus of the course is largely on how the students work with curators and artists to interpret and through editing, all the footage remains extremely valuable in home communities.
Viviane Gosselin: Yes. I think the documentation aspect of it is another strong point of this collaboration. You have the edited, polished pieces but you also have the raw footage that I consider documentation. That is so precious because we were not going to ask these Indigenous artists or knowledge holders to do two sessions, one for documentation and one for the student film project, right? When we have knowledge holders visiting the storage and willing to share with us, we usually either take written notes, sound record or do simple video recording. Having the students filming the session with two cameras and better lighting, makes for better raw footage. So that’s very precious, lots of great, great material to document specific items of the collection.
Kate Hennessy: We are generally critical of this term–– reconciliation––but perhaps there’s a way through this kind of storytelling with video, and the way it can support repatriation processes in the museum to do some of the bridging and connecting that could be at the core of it. This has been a small experiment in working together. The question is, where do we go from here?
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