Bookend, 2024. Courtesy the artist.

Jake Kimble: Walk into the Lake

JUL 16 – DEC 13 2024
SFU Gallery


My lungs are full of spruce trees
but otherwise I am empty, I am here to witness: […]

Dreamt I was a library again,
it is an all-or-nothing calling.
I have language for it,
I have bones
but otherwise am formless before the 7am alarm
held loose on birdsong, briefly
between the low notes on their way to the water.

I am bounded by the geese,
And punctuated by the dwindling of the caribou.

Dreamt I was a river again,
a thread of a glacier unwinding itself in slow motion,
slow enough to dip hands in and drink.

-Matthew James Weigel, Whitemud Walking (2022)


Known for portraiture that asserts a self-imaginary, Jake Kimble’s recent photographic works illustrate an extension of this viewing as inclusive of the land and lakes, connections and kin that form him. Traces of known relations are present in what others might consider a stark muskeg and boreal landscape, or the view of the rough and functional homes that give shelter to the subarctic communities of the North. These photographs acknowledge the tether of connection holding Kimble close to the specificity of these places, palpable despite the artist’s oftentimes geographic distance from his ancestral home.

Pre-engineered steel structures and prefabricated residential dwellings, however, were not able to protect the belongings and families which resided in Kimble’s hometown of Enterprise, Northwest Territories, a small hamlet located near Tu Nedhé (the Dënesųłıné name for the colonial title Great Slave Lake). Although encircled by Hay River—carved from the glacial drainage basis of the retreating Athabasca Glacier over millions of years, which feeds this deepest and largest of lakes—the community was flanked by boreal forests on all sides. That is, until October 11, 2023, when an idling forest fire stretching more than 417,000 hectares near Kakisa, N.W.T. advanced 75 kilometres in a single day. Enterprise was subsumed and burned to the ground, save for only a few homes. Kimble describes the shock and difficulty of returning home, and the eeriness of being able to “see through the distance” of the burnt shards of trees that used to envelope the horizon, impenetrably thick on all sides.

Using an image-making style that might be described as both personal and forensic, Kimble superimposes portraits and archival photographs with letterform phrases that are pregnant with subtext and echo with the lost possibility of response. His works point to both the implications of lived trauma and the power of survivance. “Resilience and self-love,” Kimble shares, “have acted as powerful tools to combat that trauma because if it is mentionable, it is manageable.”

Kimble powerfully describes the importance of humour as a tool in the transfer of knowledge that does not always have to be serious, but frequently is. The disarming humour found proximal to serious subjects within his photographic works demonstrates intergenerational communication and learning: “[it’s] a direct refusal to westernized pedagogy; humour is ancestral and connects us in ways that classrooms never will.” In this way, we are included in laughter shared together with the familiar, present in our collective grief, loss, or pain.

Language reclamation and revitalization has been important for Dënesųłıné, particularly in the decolonizing act of refusing phrases or placenames imposed on them by others. This essential practice of reclaiming language is central to Kimble’s process of asserting his identity and sense of self. By inserting this voice within tropes of western art historical, advertising, or fashion media images with powerful and poignant phrases, Kimble’s artworks open possibilities for Indigenous, queer, and other diverse perspectives. Kimble’s works argue to hold or take back space within these genres of image-making that still function within systemic power structures.

Curated by Kristy Trinier

Jake Kimble is a multidisciplinary Chipewyan (Dëne Sųłıné) artist from Treaty 8 territory in the Northwest Territories whose practice mainly revolves around acts of self-care, self-repair, and gender-based ideological refusal. Kimble currently works on the stolen territory of xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish) and səl̓ilw̓ətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations and most recently attained a BFA in Photography from Emily Carr University of Art + Design. Using the funny bone as a tool, Kimble excavates themes of existentialism, self-imagination, and the strange, offering an invitation to the audience to examine the absurdities that exist within the everyday so that they may exhale, unclench, and even chuckle in the spaces where laughter is often lost.