- Soundings: An Exhibition in Five Acts and the Ka’tarohkwi Festival as Participatory Calls for Decolonization
“How can a score be a call and tool for decolonization?” This question, asked by co-curators Dylan Robinson and Candice Hopkins, underpins Soundings: An Exhibition in Five Parts at the Agnes Etherington Arts Centre. Soundings took place alongside the second annual Ka’tarohkwi Festival of Indigenous Arts at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts, also curated by Robinson; together, the two events offered performances, displays, and demonstrations that explored questions of action, decolonization, and Indigenization on the traditional lands of the Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe peoples, in Kingston, Ontario, from January to
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April 2019. From the outdoor public artworks and indoor gallery exhibition of Soundings, to the film screenings, round tables, and live performances (including one by Jeremy Dutcher, the most recent winner of the Polaris Music Prize) of the Ka’tarohkwi Festival, audiences were invited to be witnesses to Indigenous cultural resurgence and participants in responding to calls for decolonization. The effect of the two events occurring simultaneously was uniquely generative: the Soundings exhibition was designed to be accumulative, and its exhibits at times functioned as sites of development for performances that then took place at the Ka’tarohkwi Festival. This served to create a kind of weft and warp of traditional Indigenous cultural practices and imagined Indigenous futures, resulting in a network of artistic encounters that filled the Queen’s University campus, disrupting, highlighting, and negotiating both visible and invisible settler-colonial structures.
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Soundings: An Exhibition in Five Acts
What is the sound of colonization? Soundings curators Robinson and Hopkins begin their introduction to the exhibition with a poem, describing the limestone facades that mark the distinctive style of Queen’s University’s buildings and the ‘hum’ of colonial labour that emanates from them. What, then, is the sound of decolonization? Robinson and Hopkins invite readers of the poem to listen differently—underneath, through, and in between the apparently stolid, immovable limestone. Robinson and Hopkins’s poetic invitation to listen deeply inspired my own questions of what it might mean to engage sensorially, affectively, and spiritually with decolonization: sounds, after all, implicitly call for listening witnesses. As one example of the exhibition’s unique invocation of sensorial experience, on 14 February 2019, attendees could listen to Parmela Attariwala performing Peter Morin’s NDN Love Songs live on violin as they walked through the gallery space, inviting a sonic reflection simultaneous with the experience of the visual artworks.
These questions were the result, in part, of the unique framing of Soundings: pieces ranging from immersive installations, to musical performances, to 2-D and 3-D artworks were commissioned as ‘scores’ and as calls or tools for decolonization, according to the exhibition’s overview. This meant that they might be literal musical scores for musicians to perform, but could also be instructions or invitations, waiting to be animated or activated by artists or audience members. The clear participatory invitation invoked by this framing raises questions of what it means to be active when it comes to reconciliation. Tania Willard’s installation Surrounded/Surrounding called for not only participation and active engagement but interactivity, consisting of a wood-burning fire ring with log seating that invited visitors to sit and talk to one another. This piece was moved to the Four Directions Centre at Queen’s University after the exhibit closed, gesturing to its continued purpose as a site of conversation.
Attending Soundings, I found myself reflecting on discussions of land acknowledgement. This was inspired in part by Dylan Robinson, Kanonhsyonne Janice Hill, Armand Garnet Ruffo, Selena Couture, and Lisa Cooke Ravensbergen’s “Rethinking the Practice and Performance of Indigenous Land Acknowledgement,” which was first a plenary presentation at the Canadian Association for Theatre Research Conference in 2018 and was subsequently published in Canadian Theatre Review 177. Citing Stephen Marche, Ruffo writes, “It’s obvious...