Imagined Canada

Imagined Canada



Laakkuluk: Does living in Canada as an artist make you responsible for how Canada is being imagined?

Matthew: The answer is yes. This is more of a citizen question really.

Laakkuluk: Ha ha ha! Now Sarah and Michael know they shouldn’t ask us yes/no questions

Matthew: And I was thinking about this before the question arrived, so maybe this process of chatting is sinking into the bones or something.

Laakkuluk: interesting! What do you mean by citizenship?

Matthew: I was sitting in a restaurant looking at people. The way one people watches and I was thinking that these are average people. And by that I mean they are just normal, probably good-hearted people who do or don’t engage with the arts. And likely not with the kind of alternative to the mainstream stuff we/ Skam sometimes do. And I wished they would all engage, because they are responsible for how the arts are imagined in Canada

Amy: I guess by not engaging with the arts you mean not producing art or thinking consciously about it?

Matthew: Yes, not producing or engaging/ consuming/ supporting.

Amy: I think about the music of a place, the crafts of a place, the theatre and visual art. Artists for the most part, or I think at least, reflect their experience, what they see, hear, or eat for that matter. This is reflected in their art. So I don’t know if we are responsible, but I think artists do reflect who we are, how we live, what we do, and that does leave impressions on the world as to who we are. Does that make sense?

Matthew: Sure.

Laakkuluk: I think that as artists we both help create and challenge popular culture which kind of goes back to our conversation about artists as activists. I think that no matter what, “Canada” is going to be shaped by popular culture. and it is our job to explore the extra-ordinary – outside of popular culture.

Matthew: Can either of you think of irresponsible artists who don’t imagine Canada well?

Laakkuluk: I think more of the irresponsibility of curators and galleries more than the artists.

Amy: Ah, I understand that Laakkuluk. I never thought about an irresponsible artist! Judgement?

Matthew: Judgement is ingrained in our jury systems.

The Rooms ,St. John’s NL. On each of the three panels the heading is “This is our place” each representing an exhibit in the Gallery.

Amy: Yes, judgement is in our jury systems. Our audience judge us and decide something about our work. They like, they don’t like, what it is, what it represents. This is sometimes how we know a successful artist or piece of art.

Matthew: Yes, Amy, to a degree. But I expect we all know artists we feel should be more “successful” in the public eye.

Laakkuluk: of course there are individual artists that perpetuate colonialism, racism, misogyny that are a part of the Canadian fabric but I find that it is the people that group together artists into projects – books, shows, galleries and whatnot that can amplify “irresponsible” imaginings of Canada.

Amy: What is an example of irresponsible imaginings of Canada? The seal hunt comes to mind. Are we talking something like that? Misunderstanding?

Laakkuluk: That’s a good example of misunderstanding

Matthew: Not artistic, but yes, a good egg.

Amy: But the images that come from the seal hunt, sometimes are art. They are media for sure. Is media an art?

Laakkuluk: maybe media is popular culture.

Matthew: When I think of irresponsible imagining I think more of projects that fail rather than artists. So sometimes a project does not succeed and that is difficult. Audiences are let down and fellow artists are let down. I think this is more about performance than visual art. If the painting does not work, one can choose not to display it, but generally the theatre piece does not stop once in motion, even if on a track for long-term development. Part of our responsibility has to be learning to recognize when the process is not working.

Laakkuluk: That makes me think about this play I read about in Edmonton about the Robert Pickton murders. A lot of people in Aboriginal communities were distraught that the play was written, directed and acted with out any Aboriginal people whereas in reality, most of Pickton’s victims were disenfranchised Aboriginal women.

Amy: I guess that certainly says something about our country! Trying to portray that story without an aboriginal voice!

Matthew: Seems an obvious oversight. The subject matter requires huge responsibility. Something like that is too big for me.

Amy: Yes, if you take that on as an artist that is a huge responsibility. Puts me in mind of the movie about Polytechnique in Montreal.

Laakkuluk: It was also very controversial because as an audience member you basically watch a snuff/murder on stage.

Matthew: ew.

Laakkuluk: it is artistic to watch such horrifying violence?

Matthew: Not in my mind.

Amy: horriying. That is a very good question Laakkuluk.

I would be too fearful to go see it, but that is not to say, it should not be said.

Matthew: Depicting the murder for entertainment sake, or financial gain?

Amy: Do you believe it is for entertainment or financial? Maybe an artist needed to tell it for some other reason? or do you believe this stuff should be kept to diary?

Laakkuluk: so as the chat develops, I think we are saying that there is responsibility in how we make art.

Amy: Yes. That is a good way to say it Laakkuluk.

Matthew: I do see merit in examining the state of mind of victim and perpetrator but it is not for me.

Laakkuluk: I think there are so many different ways of approaching that story that have more integrity.

Matthew: Yes, I think it was David Oyie who, at a conference, said that the feeling of going to an opening night and seeing a show that misses its mark leaves you with the feeling that the artists have ‘broken the code’.

Laakkuluk: The code of touching someone with a deeper understanding?

Matthew: I take that to mean not delivering the goods, a good show.

Amy: Interesting. But don’t we all fail sometimes?

Laakkuluk: Yes we all fail – and it’s frustrating.

Matthew: Yes, we fail.

Amy: Laakkuluk, the show you speak of, did you see it?

Laakkuluk: I didn’t see the show and I don’t think I could, but I read about it.

Amy: I could not see it either. So, who does go see that?  Art then is a big responsibility.

Matthew: The responsibility lies in maintaining high standards for oneself. Being able to speak clearly to why something failed, too.

Laakkuluk: I like Matthew’s definition of artistic responsibility.

Web slinging

Matthew: Makes me think I’ll send in a photo of Spiderman.

Amy: As theatre artists our standards are always high and we are our own worst critics. When is it ever ready? Opening night, whether it be or not!

Matthew: With Great art comes great responsibility.

Laakkuluk: ha ha. I think you should wear a Spiderman mask and have a picture taken of yourself. a Spiderman selfie!

Matthew: Oh yeah, I’ll get right on that.

Amy: Have we answered the big world question?

Matthew: Yes, the answer is yes.

Laakkuluk: I agree – we started off with yes and discussed yes and ended up with yes.

Matthew: Hey, Really nice chatting and meeting you two.

Laakkuluk: It’s been wonderful! Thanks so much!

Matthew: Thanks Sarah and Michael, too.

Amy: Ditto!




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About the Authors

I am an advocate for the deep human need for all people, but especially post-colonial indigenous people to express themselves at a level of creative excellence. A mother, student, writer and performer based in Iqaluit, Nunavut. I live in a household that speaks Greenlandic, Inuktitut and English. My work includes uaajeerneq – Greenlandic mask dancing, music, drum-dancing, storytelling and acting. Hunting, camping and eating wild foods are all activities that figure largely in my family.
Amy House’s theatre career spans forty years. I know - she does not look that old! A comedienne, writer, actor, arts advocate, and Artistic Animateur of RCA Theatre Company in St. John’s, Amy has created several one-woman shows including: The Seven Faces of Amy with Maxim Mazumdar, ’Tis Not Human, To Be What You Want To Be, and Scratch and Pull.