16 Mar

Once we enter into a photograph, even for a fleeting glance, we become changed. And if we take the time to look around ‘in there’, imagining the view to the left and right, farther off in the horizon and even back behind us, we can be there with the person who looks out to us. As she/he looks into the camera, we look back to her/him through the lens of the photographer; on a clear day, time and space melt in between.

Most of the photographs that I have seen on writer/journalist Paul Seesequasis’ Facebook postings of First Nations people appear to imply an agreeable exchange between the camera operator and the subject; a mutual collaboration from one side of the lens to the other.[1] That agreement might be the major difference between this archival collection and other pictorial exposés of rural and northern life in Canada, Nunavut and south of the Medicine Line.[2]

Although political, economic, and even geological historical events might be found inside those frames, these are not the perceived focus in the Seesequasis’ photo project. Perhaps equally important, these photos do not speak of relocations of aboriginal peoples from their traditional hunting and fishing territories.[3] Unlike official archival collections of the past, these photographs feature a rich domestic life, the joy of living and spiritual presence.

The collection shows family life and activities of daily life in times of peace, in rural or extreme northern settings. The themes are ones that everyone can find in their family albums. It also forms part of that bigger history of life inside First Nations communities and a sharing of culture. To describe the profound impact of any photograph can be difficult. In this specific project, I both ‘do not know’ the people in the photographs, and I know them. I know some of the time periods firsthand, and I know others from looking through my own family’s albums; archive searches; from studying; and from living some of those events myself.

For several months I have opened Facebook to see the archival postings of Paul Seesequasis. I don’t pass a lot of time on Facebook, I missed some but saw many. During that time, I felt that these photos bring us all to that time; we can share what was happening: We take the wagon home from the blueberry field, laugh with the children and dance in celebration at a community party. The images come from a time when, if someone had a camera, it was a special and important gesture to record an event and to get the photos developed for the album. And yet, they are more than what some call ‘snapshots’.

I wanted to write something about specific photographs in this collection but found that I could not say anything without beginning a whole history of the photograph in which each of these would belong. In the end, I look forward to seeing what Paul Seesequasis says in his book about his photographic posts and the people included in this archival project.


[1] What’s in a name: Indian, Native, Aboriginal or Indigenous? Don Marks, CBC News Posted: Oct 02, 2014 http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/what-s-in-a-name-indian-native-aboriginal-or-indigenous-1.2784518

[2] The Medicine Line, has traditionally been a well travelled North/South route for Native Americans visiting kin above and below the 49th Parallel.

[3] Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, Volume 1 – Looking Forward Looking Back | PART TWO False Assumptions and a Failed Relationship, Chapter 11: Relocation of Aboriginal Communities, p 395. URL: https://qspace.library.queensu.ca/bitstream/handle/1974/6874/RRCAP1_combined.pdf?sequence=5&isAllowed=y

 

9 Mar

For months I have wanted to say something about the crisis of fresh water in Canada’s Northern communities. Some news agencies have brought articles to that focus on problems with children suffering from skin problems and other illnesses. There is the possibility that any such news item will point the blame back to the primary caregivers: the parents of children. Because, there always has to be, someone to blame, if we do not look at the bigger picture.

I lived in Northern British Columbia for seven years and half of that was in a cabin without running water. Although there was an oil burning, electric baseboards, paved driveway suburb down the hill, I felt that the environment in which I lived demanded a kinder approach. I collected snow, packed it into containers and melted it to wash my body, for dishes and for boiling some foods. I hauled drinking water from a spring in the woods, on a toboggan, uphill to the cabin where I chopped wood to heat my cabin. I was not born there and the lifestyle I lived was of my own choice. I do believe that being born in the north, and above the tree line, brings more challenges than choices.

When I began working at a local sawmill, I continued to live without running water for a year. And then I needed it. The eight-hour shifts, especially the graveyard shifts in the winter, reshaped my idea of how to carry out daily chores. For about six months of working at the sawmill, I hauled water from the nearby lake. Using an ice auger of the type that is used for recreational ice fishing, I drilled holes and collected the fresh water in pails. When the minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit set in, I placed a plastic sheet and plywood over the water hole in an attempt to keep it from freezing deeper. It did not really work, and the hole was smaller each time that I returned. One day, I hit the mud bottom of the lake. That is when I gave up and asked for help at a gas station in town. The owners allowed me to draw water from their tap.

Why did I do it? I am not exactly sure, but somehow, it seemed that I had a debt to pay; that I could not expect to live an easy life, with everything provided. That remains to be my story to decipher. I was a young, independent woman and found the challenges of northern living to be invigorating. If I had been a parent with children to care for, I think that my decisions would have been different. I might have decided to live in one of the southerly Canadian cities that I hailed from.

One of the clues for deciphering my choice to live in the north might be that my family lived in Fort Churchill, Manitoba for two years when I was a child starting school. My grades one and two were taken at the Duke of Edinburgh School. The Canadian and American governments shared that strategically placed, armed forces base. Regardless of cold weather hardships, I always believed that it was idyllic in the sense of the ideas fed to me as a young student. In the school curriculum, I was privy to the latest NFB releases, and at the base cinema, I saw Hollywood releases of the moment. Nanook of the North, Paddle to the Sea and Boogie Doodle; were juxtapositioned with Laurel and Hardy, Gone With the Wind, Song of the South, Bridge of the River Kwai and War and Peace. From the shores of the Hudson Bay, I saw whales, polar bears in the churchyard, and I jumped over crevasses too deep to hear the pebble hit bottom.

In the meantime, as I now read, native people were forced to relocate there. They suffered from malnutrition, sub-standard living conditions and physical abuse. The muffled stories turned out to be true and more are coming to light. A glowing star in my northern memory bank is that my younger sister was born there, on International Women’s Day.

Back to the water story: We are currently under a boil-water advisory here in Moncton, New Brunswick, due to a burst water main. It is temporary, but difficult to remember to not brush your teeth, or to wash your face except with boiled or distilled water.

Being born in the north and above the tree line brings more challenges than choices. Communities without water that is clean of bacteria and viruses, or those with water laden with heavy metals, have more to worry about than drinking water. They have to skimp on laundry habits from cleaning bedding and baby clothes to washing hands and food preparation. The solutions that I was able to find are not available above the tree line. Melting snow is a costly venture without wood to burn. The use of imported fuel and high priced detergents must be rationed. It is a terrifying thought; the necessity of protecting children from what we should be able to think of as: life-giving, life-supporting water. Who will take care of our people if we do not?

3 Feb

*Please note that in this document, she / her are used to represent everyone.

To create or not to create, there are times when it seems the wiser decision would be to resist creative inclinations.

For many years I struggled with leaving painting and sculpture as a preoccupation. I wanted to get out of the studio, away from the smell of paint and the sawdust. I wanted to meet and interact with people and the culture outside of my door. And I wanted to work with other artists. Throughout that time, I continued to write: accounts of dreams, particular short passages and occasionally, I wrote essays. Sometimes, I wrote passages into painting and sculpture and buried them under additional layers. Eventually I decided that working with moving pictures was a way to create works that spoke to people and invited dialogue. At that time, I also saw that this form of creation required interactive teamwork. Eventually I made the transition to moving pictures and found that this form of activity helped me to accomplish my goals as an artist. Later, I decided that I preferred video and sound creation over the encumberment of film creation apparatus. My work evolved similarly to my earlier plastic arts in the form of writing texts and layering them within elements of visuals and audio. At first I called the works mood videos. Later, I decided that they were better described as videopoems.

Throughout all of those transitional times, I continued to gather and to clarify my philosophies through writing. In the late 1990’s, my practice expanded to include website creation. That permitted publishing images and writing. Essentially, at that time, the theatre and the walls of the gallery and even the public space expanded outward through the screens of home computer when audiences became able to log onto the Internet. From there, work presented through websites was then able to potentially reach an expanded audience. I enjoyed the freedom of exposure that those early web events permitted and I have a history of publishing works and leaving them out their for sharing.[1]

Since the flourishing of social media, I continue to enjoy exchanging my work through virtual networks. Sending video works to festivals has become far easier and exchanging this work in many internationally curated venues continues to be a satisfying way of idea exchange shared by artists and thinkers around the world. I do not always get paid for sharing my work, but sometimes I do.

Festivals based on the multi-modal creative technique of videopoetry are popping up all over. While the list on Dave Bonta’s Moving Poems site is not exhaustive, it does offer links to many well-known festivals.[2] This form of presenting offers a wide range of solutions for idea presentation through word, music and / or sound with visuals / moving pictures or still photographs to satisfy communication between creators and audiences. Essentially, creators are able to combine techniques of the seven arts with techniques of the seven liberal arts. The results are time-based artworks that travel from the viewer / receiver into the thoughtscape of audiences of one or more persons over the Internet, through personal computers, or in gallery and theatre settings. Although the work satisfies the goals of an increasing number of creators, videopoetry is not in the list of works qualifying under Literature by the Canada Council for the Arts Guidelines.[3] Neither is writing that is published on websites.

A look at the guidelines for two calls for poetry reveals that works published on the Internet are indeed classified as published by both organizations. Under the Eligibility Rules for the Montreal International Poetry Prize competition, it is clearly stated: (under Publication Defined) that any work that has appeared on the Internet or in print, or has been broadcast in any format is considered published and is therefore ineligible for the Montreal prize.[4] Granta -The Magazine of New Writing states in their current call for submissions: We only publish original material, i.e. first-ever publication. We cannot run a piece that has already appeared on the web or elsewhere in print. … [5] The calls for work by both the Montreal International Poetry Prize competition and Granta Magazine appear to put forward a case for including the Internet as a valid publishing venue in the 21st century. Although formats are developed and evolve over time, the principle of exchanging ideas within communities persists. As documented as the history of the world, our human development includes sharing spoken and written language. One problem that seems to persist and occasionally holds up the free flow of ideas and invention is the recognition by funding bodies that we might expect to support the process.

The structure through which the Canada Council for the Arts currently executes its mandate [6], through pre-screening, requires applicants to prove profiles for pre-approved access to funding competitions, brings questions to mind. For example, if a visual artist aspired to create through the written word, why would it not be possible for that person to qualify by presenting examples of proposed texts along with visual examples proving dedication and peer-judged success? (i.e. exhibition history) Why make it necessary for individuals to navigate through a bureaucratic maze of permissions? The Canada Council: Arts in a Digital World Conference, scheduled for the Ides of March in Montréal, is proposing to bring a discussion about the transition and transformation of the Canadian arts sector to thrive in the digital era. I sincerely hope that under the umbrella topic – aspirations of artists, legitimizing Internet publishing for liberating, empowering and sharing will be given status worthy of its market share and weight in the worldwide cultural mosaic.

The sheer number of books published each year is daunting to a writer in search of an editor. The temptation to self-publish promises the chance to move forward without being blocked. The website of the Association of Canadian Publishers states:

Approximately 10,000 books are published each year in Canada, almost all of which are initiated by publishers. Publishing firms take calculated financial risks every time they publish a book, laying out money for the editing, marketing and production of a book before the book earns any sales. Most publishing houses are inundated with unsolicited manuscripts on a regular basis, so becoming a successfully published writer takes a lot of determination, research, and a little luck.[7]

Claiming visibility through words is a personal freedom and arguably an extension of the human condition but having those words sanctioned is another gauntlet to run. In the end, when you get past the questions of whether a piece of writing is technically well written and whether it has been edited by other than the writer and her colleagues, the questions remain of whether it proves its point(s) and ultimately, is it any good at all?

Unresolved:

Going ahead with discernment to publish online or store your words in a file, does self-publishing leave you nowhere in the world?

When a person decides that she could say something, which authorities decide that she cannot?

As artists, risk taking goes with the territory. So if an author puts her original work out on the Internet, what are the consequences?

At best: someone who the reads texts, sees the visuals, listens to a soundwork or views a video might show further interest by inviting the creator to take part in a festival, or – to publish in book form.

At worst: The right to witness, and the right to author is something in the world, but if you are not carried by an editor outside of your friends or colleagues, it might seem that you are in Limbo. Topping that, if the Canada Council for the Arts does not recognize publishing on the web and / or the texts in videopoetry, you might have to face the fact that the rug is being pulled out from under you just when you start to think that your creative work and your philosophies are giving you legs to stand on.

– Valerie LeBlanc-Feb-2-2017

[1] http://www.timetravelinthismoment.com/

http://basicbruegel.com/purplefireworks/purplefireworks.htm

[2] List of poetry video festival sites posted on Dave Bonta’s Moving Poems:

http://movingpoems.com/poetry-film-festivals/

[3] http://canadacouncil.ca/glossary/fields-of-practice

[4] http://montrealprize.com/competition/rules/

[5] https://granta.submittable.com/submit

[6] www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/canada-council-for-the-arts/

The Canada Council for the Arts, located in Ottawa, is the federal government’s principal instrument for supporting the arts. The Council’s mandate from the Parliament of Canada is “to foster and promote the study and enjoyment of, and the production of works in, the arts.”

[7] http://publishers.ca/index.php/get-published

28 Jan

The Moncton Times and Transcript
Entertainment, Saturday, January 28, 2017, p. E4

New Brunswick Art Bank acquisitions exhibition on until Feb. 6
Margaret Patricia Eaton

Every two years, the New Brunswick Art Bank presents a touring exhibition of its recent purchases. It opened at the Dieppe Arts & Culture Centre on Jan. 12 and will remain until Feb. 6, after which it moves on to Fredericton, Florenceville, Edmundston, St. Andrew’s, Saint John and Campbellton, wrapping up in October in Miramichi.

When the tour ends the 18 acquired works will become part of the permanent collection of the Province of New Brunswick, which was established in 1968 to celebrate and promote outstanding contemporary art. As such, they’ll be displayed in government offices, boardrooms and public spaces in provincial government buildings. Some of the works may also be included in the VanGo Program, a series of exhibitions which tours public schools throughout the province.

This biannual exhibition is one I enjoying as it provides an opportunity to see the work of artists from across the province. More than half of the artists represented ­ 11 of 18 ­ are from southeast New Brunswick, suggesting there is something special going on in the art scene in our region. Out of the five selection collection members only one is from Moncton, Jean­ Dénis Boudreau.

The evening presented an opportunity for me to get caught up with some of the artists I’ve profiled in the past, including Dominik Robichaud, who’s completing her degree in art therapy and will be mounting a major exhibition at the Dieppe Arts & Culture Centre on Feb. 11. It was also an opportunity to meet other local artists that I knew of, but hadn’t met. As a result I was able to speak briefly with internationally acclaimed fibre artist Anna Torma and the multidisciplinary team of Valerie LeBlanc and Daniel Dugas, who told me about a recent journey to Kenya where they were invited to read poetry. I’m hoping that within the next few months I’ll have an opportunity to get to know them better and feature them here.

The Artists
Marjolaine Bourgeois, Moncton, fibre arts, printmaking;
Marsha Clark, Fredericton, paint and mixed media on Mylar;
Daniel H. Dugas, Moncton, literary arts, media arts, digital technology;
Alexandrya Eaton, Sackville, painting;
Paul Griffin, Sackville, sculpture/photography;
Denis Lanteigne, Caraquet, installations, photography;
André LaPointe, Moncton, sculpture/ land art, photography;
Valerie LeBlanc, Moncton, visual, film and digital arts;
Mario LeBlanc, Moncton, sculpture; Mathieu Léger, Moncton, photography, video and installation work; Ann Manuel, Fredericton/St. Andrew’s, multidisciplinary;
Paul Mathieson, Saint John, painting;
Shane Perley­Dutcher, Nekootkook (Tobique) First Nation, weaving, wood carving, silver work; Dominik Robichaud, Moncton, painting;
Neil Rough, New Brunswick born, Toronto­based, photography;
Karen Stentaford, Sackville, photography;
Anna Torma, Baie Verte, fibre arts;
Jennifer Lee Weibe, Fredericton, painter.

The Selection Committee

Ned Bear, Fredericton. During his 35­year career as an Aboriginal artist, Bear has focused on contemporary interpretations of traditional spiritual beliefs as expressed through masks and sculptures. He is a graduate of the New Brunswick College of Craft & Design, NSCADU and UNB. He is also the recipient of a 2006 fellowship from the Smithsonian Institute.

Jean­Denis Boudreau, Moncton. After studying animation before graduating with a visual arts degree from l’Université de Moncton, Boudreau was the Atlantic region finalist for the 2007 Sobey Art Award and has participated in numerous group and solo exhibitions.

Élisabeth Marier, Caraquet. Marier holds a degree in graphic arts, worked for over 20 years in glassmaking in Montreal at Éspace Verre and is a founding member of Caraquet’s Constellation bleu, an artist­run centre.

Michael McEwing, Carlton County. McEwing holds fine arts, multimedia and education degrees and is co­founder of the River Valley Arts Alliance and Woodstock’s annual DoorYard Arts Festival.

Jean Rooney, Fredericton. Rooney achieved a Master of Arts in Ireland, has exhibited internationally and in addition to her studio practice is an instructor at the New Brunswick College of Craft & Design.

Margaret Patricia Eaton Margareteaton16@gmail.com A freelance writer, photographer and poet, Margaret’s weekly column focuses on artists, galleries and art issues in southeast New Brunswick.

http://mediapackboard.tumblr.com/post/158274060278/new-brunswick-art-bank-acquisitions-exhibition-on

21 Dec

New video poem based on participation in the Kistrech Poetry Festival.

About Valerie LeBlanc

Originally from Halifax, Nova Scotia, pluri-­disciplinary artist and writer Valerie LeBlanc has worked in Canada, the United States, Europe, and Australia. Her creations travel between poetry, performance, visual and written theory. Valerie LeBlanc has been creating video poetry since the mid 1980’s, and is the creator of the MediaPackBoard (MPB), portable screening / performance device. In the fall of 2012, she published her play The Raft, through Basic Bruegel Editions.

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