REVIEW: Geometry of Knowing Part 2

Amy Kazymerchyk | February 18, 2015

On January 14, 2015 SFU Galleries opened Part 1 and 2 of Geometry of Knowing. The reception for both exhibitions took place at Audain Gallery, and included a performance by Jeneen Frei-Njootli and a happening by Kara Uzelman, which activated each of their works in the gallery. 

Jeneen performed with one of two string instruments that comprise Searching for Imagined Futures (2014). Approximating the form of afiddle, the instrument is made from a Caribou antler that is strung with guitar strings, fastened by tuning pegs and turquoise beads. The sound it makes is picked up by a contact mic that is attached to the antler. The signal runs through a loop station and delay distortion peddle before being amplified through a small practice amp.

The antler was harvested by Jeneen’s family and community in Vuntut Gwitchin territory, Northern Yukon, along the migratory path of the Porcupine Caribou herd. Caribou is a central part of Gwitchin culture, providing food, shelter, clothing, domestic and cultural objects to the community. The fiddle was introduced to Gwitchin people in the mid-1800s by Scottish, Irish and French fur traders, who settled at the Hudson Bay Company’s Fort Yukon. Today this cultivation of Indigenous fiddle music across Alaska and the Yukon has become known as Athabascan fiddling.

Jeneen performed three distinct movements in which she experimented with the sonic capacity of the instrument. In the first movement she approached the mic with her mouth, breathing, vocalizing, and using her lips and face percussively to produce thick, cloudy, cavernous sounds. In the second movement she used the violin bow as a percussive tool on the antler itself–bowing, striking, and rubbing the bone, which reverberated through the contact mic to produce muffled, thunderous noise. In the third movement Jeneen bowed the strings, variegating pressure, duration and punctuation of their contact to produce long, sinewy, drifting cries.

Each movement drew our attention to a central aspect of her practice: her body in enactment, performance and protest; the body of the porcupine caribou and its centrality in Vuntut Gwitchin life; the cultural complexity of the fiddle in Gwitchin song and music (as one example of many introduction, negotiation and integration); and noise music as a gesture of interference, aberration and distortion.

For one hour during the opening, Kara Uzelman and Jacob Gleeson (The Tent Shop) hosted a spiritual experience on the 4th floor in a film and theatre props and staging room. Kara and Jacob used elements from student productions, like a hospital gurney, spray painted walls, a framed window and ladders­, as well as Jake’s canvas tent, and a red heat lamp from Kara’s installation re: spiritual experience, to create a site for communion around libations.

Kara shared two small batches of ale, brewed in her hometown of Nokomis, where her partner Jeffrey Allport owns and operates Nokomis Craft Ales. The Gruit Ale was made with wild rosemary, yarrow, sweet gale and wild lettuce, malted barley, yeast and water, and the Wormwood ale was made with wormwood, malted barley, yeast and water. Both these recipes date back to a time when fermented ale was not only pleasurable, but also medicinal and brewed to soothe various physical, psychological and spiritual health ailments. Kara gathered the plants from around her home, a nearby bird sanctuary and in northern Saskatchewan.

The site on the 4th floor was intended to mimic a setting for “participant observation” research, which is a research technique that doctors, such as Duncan Blewett, used at the University of Saskatchewan to conduct experiments with LSD in the 1950s and 1960s. In this technique, the doctors conducting the test participate by the same terms as the subject, thus observing and analyzing from a shared psychological and physiological subjectivity. In 1968 LSD became bureaucratically regulated and banned from psychiatry research at the University of Saskatchewan. In her work, beer, the first psychotropic substance to be regulated, stands in for LSD, as a substance that has had a long history of medicinal, ritual and recreational purposes.

Of interest to Kara and the work’s inclusion in Geometry of Knowing, many artists participated in Bewett’s participant observation research, including members of the Regina 5 painters (Kenneth LochheadArthur McKayDouglas MortonTed Godwin, and Ronald Bloore) and friends including Roy Kiyooka, whose prints are exhibited at SFU Gallery in Part 1. In line with how these experiments influenced these artists’ work, the bottles from the event, as well as ones from previous gatherings with the same ales, composed Kara’s symbolic site of ritual, recreation, fieldwork and research in the gallery.

Situated in a university, which has its own history of radical and reactionary politics, this event – sequestered away from the public gallery space – illustrated the continued institutional regulation of experimentation, inquiry and engagement in education.

For more information on Geometry of Knowing click here.

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