On, For, With Structure: Tanya Lukin Linklater’s My Mind is With the Weather

Tanya Lukin Linklater and Tiffany Shaw, Indigenous geometries, 2019, cold rolled steel, laminated ash, paint, matte polyurethane, hardware, 84 x 107 x 107 in. (213 x 272 x 272 cm). Installation view, My mind is with the weather, Oakville Galleries, 2022. Photo: Laura Findlay. Courtesy Catriona Jeffries, Vancouver
Malini Guha explores the work of the Alutiiq artist Tanya Lukin Linklater and reflects on her preoccupation with different kinds of structure across installations, performance, poetry, and video art.

“Perhaps we all yearn for structure. I consider what kinds of structures we choose to abide by and which ones we willfully ignore.” (Tanya Lukin Linklater)1Tanya Lukin Linklater, “The Edges and the Centres”, C: International Contemporary Art (Autumn 2015): 23.

Held in the air I never fell (spring lightning, sweetgrass song). This is the title of an installation by Alutiiq artist Tanya Lukin Linklater that was exhibited at the Toronto Biennial of Art in 2022. Five kokum scarves, each patterned with flowers and foliage on bright fuchsia cloth, are suspended in the air. They are assembled into the shape of a crescent, a shape of holding. The artist refers to this formation as a kohkom scarf sculpture. Below is a circular performance platform made of wood and inlaid with copper.  And between the sculpture and the platform is space that is made and held for the duration of the exhibition.

Tanya Lukin Linklater, Held in the air I never fell (spring lightning sweetgrass song),
2022, kohkom scarf sculptures (kohkom scarves, thread, hide, hardware),
performance platform (ash, paint, copper, hardware), artificial sinew, doweling,
dimensions variable with 120 in. (305 cm) diameter platform. Installation view,
What Water Knows, The Land Remembers, Toronto Biennial of Art, 2022. Photo: Toni
Hafkenscheid. Courtesy Catriona Jeffries, Vancouver

I have heard Lukin Linklater speak about the making of felt structures, which comprises one component of her expansive cross-media practice spanning poetry, video, sculpture, installation, dance and performance.2Lukin Linklater made these remarks during an artist talk held over Zoom at University of Victoria as part of the Orion Fine Art Series on February 9th 2022. She describes felt structures as “atmospheres that hold us”.3Ibid. Akin to atmospheres, these structures are shifting and transitory, ones that, as she says, call out to ancestors while also gesturing toward the present and a time yet to come. Perhaps this installation is an example of a felt structure, but this reading of the work must necessarily exclude me. I am a settler of South Asian descent based in unceded Algonquin territory. The knowledge or teachings that are channeled by a felt structure are not for me. Moreover, this reading of the work is partially refused by the work itself; no explanations are given, thus short-circuiting an extractive gaze. I surrender to this condition of not knowing and understand it as a carefully calibrated invitation into the work. In fact, it is the space that is held between the scarves and the platform that I am irresistibly drawn to. I can’t stop thinking about it long after I have left the exhibition and I return just to feel the possibilities of that space. A few weeks later, my thoughts have seemingly materialized in an image the artist posted on Instagram of a group of children seated around the platform with their teacher and a storyteller. I see how the space is held in anticipation of gatherings, performances and possibilities that exceed what I can presently imagine. I experience this work as a modality of future becoming.

Tanya Lukin Linklater and Tiffany Shaw, Indigenous geometries, 2019, cold rolled
steel, laminated ash, paint, matte polyurethane, hardware, 84 x 107 x 107 in. (213
x 272 x 272 cm). Installation view, My mind is with the weather, Oakville Galleries,
2022. Photo: Laura Findlay. Courtesy Catriona Jeffries, Vancouver

I have come to understand my repeated encounters with this installation, where I work through the critical and affective experiences of wonder, refusal and surrender while also engaging with questions of structure and the spaces they hold, as preparation for my visit to Lukin Linklater’s solo exhibition, My mind is with the weather, at Oakville Galleries (5 June to 28 August 2022). And in this exhibition is another sculpture. Indigenous geometries is a work of Indigenous architecture that the artist constructed in collaboration with Métis artist/architect Tiffany Shaw for the 2019 Chicago Architecture Biennial. The circular structure is made of laminated ash wood from the Chicago area that is curved into what the artist refers to as spines, using Alutiiq steam-bending techniques. As the exhibition text explains, this structure recalls Alutiiq subterranean homes in Lukin Linklater’s homeland in the Kodiak Archipelago (Southern Alaska).4My Mind is With the Weather (exhibition text), 7. There is an opening in this structure, an unmistakable gap between the spines. The exhibition text tells us that the artist kept two of the spines in her home in North Bay in order to keep this home intact. I understand the withholding of the spines as a gesture of refusal, where a yielding of the entirety of the structure to the space of the museum is resisted. There are other spines nearby, positioned on the gallery floor, that make another kind of shape. I find myself contemplating the two structures together, structures that seem to anticipate their own unraveling into other formations and arrangements. This is the second instance where the artist’s sculptural work beckons me with its sense of possibility while holding me at a distance.

On structure

“I was concerned with structure and how we make structure, or how we live our lives within structure—structures of treaties, structures of traditional governance, structures of the land, or constellations”.5Tanya Lukin Linklater, “Slow Scrape (2012-2015)”, Dance Research Journal 48, no. 1 (April 2016): 26. 

A longstanding preoccupation with structure is readily discernible in interviews with Lukin Linklater and in texts written by her. She writes about longing for structure and about structures that are deliberately evaded. She writes about structures that are made to be inhabited while observing that some structures need to shift. Her idea of structures that we live in and through spans domains and worlds, both human and more than human. The exhibition text for My mind is with the weather frames the work in the show, which includes three works for camera6“Works for the camera” is a phrase the artist uses when talking about her videos. in addition to Indigenous geometries, in relation to the colonial histories of this land known by many as Turtle Island and to “the structural violences Indigenous communities continue to withstand”.7https://www.oakvillegalleries.com/exhibitions/details/226/Tanya-Lukin-Linklater

Stó:lō scholar and writer Dylan Robinson uses the term “structural refusal” when writing about the work of Lukin Linklater, among other Indigenous artists.8Dylan Robinson, Hungry Listening: Resonant Theory for Indigenous Sound Studies (Minnesota: Minnesota University Press, 2020), 23. Robinson describes structural refusal as aesthetic strategies that block attempts at “Indigenous knowledge extraction and instrumentalization”.9Robinson, Hungry Listening, 23. Structural refusal is an aesthetic response to structural violence that Indigenous communities endure as a consequence of ongoing settler colonialism. My engagement with two examples of Lukin Linklater’s material structures is an attempt to articulate how I navigate my experience of feeling invited into the work and being refused by it. The moments of blockage that I described lead to a re-routing, to another way into the work outside of the colonial logics of mastery and extraction. Structural refusal, as practiced by Lukin Linklater, leads to an elsewhere and an otherwise, to aesthetic responses that address the possibilities as well as the limitations of structure. 

Translations

A gently moving camera, wielded by filmmaker Neven Lochhead, takes in a scene of stillness and silence at the start of An amplification through many minds (2019), a short video that is exhibited as part of My mind is with the weather. The video begins in a narrow hallway, flanked on both sides with floor to ceiling yellow cabinets. At the end of this hall, a person holds open a drawer located inside one of these cabinets. The camera brings us closer as this person returns to movement, closing one drawer, and opening another. Our attention is directed towards an empty white square in this drawer, suggesting that there was once something there. In the following shot, Lukin Linklater is seated at a table, translucent gloves on her hands, in front of a number of bags. As the camera circles her, we watch her breathe and sometimes speak. Though we cannot hear her, the heaviness of this visit is manifested in her posture, her downward gaze, her breathing. There is a cut to text on screen, which states that little is known about the bags or when they were collected. In this moment, we understand that silence is a choice and it is text that will offer a way into the work.

We exceed the structures imposed on us.10Tanya Lukin Linklater, “An Event Score for Kodiak Alutiit 2 (To Aleš Hrdlička)” in Slow Scrape (Montreal: Anteism and The Centre for Expanded Poetics, 2021), 62.

This is a line from “An Event Score for Kodiak Alutiit 2 (To Aleš Hrdlička)”, published in Lukin Linklater’s prose-poetry collection, Slow Scrape. The “us” in this line is not for me. But there is a clear resonance between this event score, where Lukin Linklater describes an Alutiiq person who exceeds archeological sites, exceeds anthropology and finally moves beyond imposed structures and An amplification through many minds. Commissioned by the San Francisco Museum of Art, the video is a documentation of Lukin Linklater’s visit, in the company of three dancers and Lochhead, with Alutiiq and Unangan belongings that live in the storage rooms at the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology.

Lochhead’s camera, hand-held and in perpetual motion, takes us through a number of rooms in this storage facility. The camera follows, glides, hovers, explores, trembles, gently sways and subtly weaves. These are embodied movements that situates the camera itself as another visitor in this space. This camera does not portend to objectivity or distance, two long-standing methods of reducing Indigenous belongings to evidence of a presence relegated to the deep past. Rather, this video is an amplification of these belongings, of their lives in storage and how they touch those who visit them.

There is a sequence where Lukin Linklater visits with the Unangan baskets. She is filmed standing next to them, speaking to them and to others we do not see. We cannot hear what she says, but we see her hand gestures and scrolling text appears on screen. In a published dialogue with Michael Nardone that brings Slow Scrape to a close, Lukin Linklater explains that she uses text in many of her works, including her works for camera, “as a potential way for the viewer to enter into the work; however I balance this access with strategies of refusal”.11Tanya Lukin Linklater, “Documenting Physical Investigations with Language: A dialogue with Tanya Lukin Linklater” in Slow Scrape (Montreal: Anteism and The Centre for Expanded Poetics, 2021), 89. Here, we understand that her words may not always be translated into the text we read. We understand that something might be held back to temper an extractive gaze.

The text that appears on screen tells us what happens to these belongings, including the baskets, when held in these facilities: they are treated with DDT, pesticides, and other toxic chemicals so that they can no longer be worn or held without protective gloves. Though these baskets are not from her homeland, the text explains that she recognizes them; they are made by women and they are made to be held. Lukin Linklater’s text, her presence and her movements amplify the past lives of these belongings, in the communities where they were made, held and shared. We see and feel the way they are now confined. Robinson writes about Indigenous belongings stored in drawers or placed within vitrines in museums and other sites of display and preservation: “…what exists behind the glass goes by other names; they have life, they are living beings, or they are ancestors. Indigenous people have intimate kinship with these beings. As such, the fact that they are ‘held’ behind glass, in drawers, in storage might be understood in terms of the containment and confinement of life”.12Robinson, Hungry Listening, 87. Lukin Linklater’s methods of “speaking to” and “speaking with” enable viewers to feel that these belongings are, as Robinson writes, living beings.

Tanya Lukin Linklater, An amplification through many minds, 2019, single-channel
projection with sound, 32 minutes, 42 seconds. Installation view, My mind is with
the weather, Oakville Galleries, 2022. Photo: Laura Findlay. Courtesy Catriona
Jeffries, Vancouver

In dialogue with Nardone, Lukin Linklater describes her method of working with dancers as a “…back and forth between languages, possibly a kind of continuous translation between the body (which comes with its own series of languages initiated by the dancer), materials (including cultural belongings made by our ancestors), and other forms”.13Lukin Linklater, “Documenting Physical Investigations with Language”, 90. This process of translation is also the basis of an aesthetic strategy that brings bodies, belongings and text into different configurations.

Lukin Linklater’s gloved hands are shot in close up as she traces the details on the handles of one of the bags and points to its distinguishing features. Her hands move across the lines on the bag’s surface. These movements are translated into text:

lines || cuts || strips

There is then a cut to her gloved hand moving in wave- like and then circular fashion over the surface of a belonging. Text on screen translates her movements into written language and grants access to her thoughts:

-directional couplets-

I wonder about the number of times something is repeated

. one :: two…three

. one :: two…three

. one :: two…three

. one..two…three…four

Lukin Linklater choreographs a vocabulary of gestures with and for these belongings, followed by text that assumes the shape of these movements. These gestures are made by her hands; while she can no longer hold these beings in the way they would have been held in their communities, her hands move in accordance with their shapes and surfaces, creating a physical language that is both an emulation and a translation. The text bends to these movements and to these belongings rather than being imposed on them through a cataloging process. This performance of translation simultaneously critiques and exceeds the structural constraints posed by a collection facility in an anthropological museum. Translation is a method of amplifying the life force of these beings, showing viewers that these belongings and their visitors are bound together in relationships of reciprocity.

Later sequences involve movement vocabularies in the form of dance. Sound returns during these scenes so that we see and hear the dancers in motion. One such scene takes place at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s White Box, where Lukin Linklater conducts an open rehearsal with Ivanie Aubin-Malo, Ceinwen Gobert and Danah Rosales.

“I’m interested in what happens when we watch dance. We breathe differently, we experience a kinaesthetic response to dance, which allows motion within our own bodies, and alters our relationship with the work.”14Tanya Lukin Linklater, “the the: Tanya Lukin Linklater” by Tasha Hubbard, BlackFlash 33.3 (2016): 9.

Gobert leans against the studio wall, tracing its surface with her arms as Aubin-Malo bends towards the studio floor, occasionally reaching upward. Gobert turns quickly but returns once more to the heaviness of her initial movements. Rosales runs toward the wall and then stops herself with her hands. Movements are developed against the wall by Rosales and Gobert: sometimes they lean in, other times they push themselves away, and they also move along its surface. Later Aubin-Malo and Gobert move together, holding onto one another as their bodies assume different shapes. They lunge carefully towards each other, foreheads touching. One hand is placed upon the other’s chest. Gobert’s face briefly rests on Aubin-Malo’s arm. Aubin-Malo lifts Gobert into the air, their arms wrapped around one another.

The dancers convey the feeling of what it might mean to stay in motion even while confined, a feeling that is amplified by Lochhead’s slowly moving camera. The dancer’s movements enable a continuation of the atmosphere convoked by this difficult and wondrous encounter between Lukin Linklater and these belongings. Abstract dance becomes another modality of amplification as translation. It is a form that refuses and re-routes. While definitive meanings are difficult to ascribe to such movements, as Lukin Linklater writes, watching dance can yield another kind of affective response, one that is experienced within the body of the viewer. As I watch the dancers, I feel an overwhelming sense of heaviness and constriction that is held in balance by a recognition of continuous movement, movement that can never be made to stop.

Aubin-Malo faces one wall of cabinets in the narrow hallway, staging a return to the place where the video began. The camera slowly pulls back as she begins to dance. Her movements are grounded in rapid footwork. She is building a rhythm. Aubin-Malo leans into the locked cabinets, dancing to them, her body brushing up against them. She dances down the length of the hallway, the camera keeping pace. Her footwork gathers speed. She returns to her starting place and initiates a second iteration of this sequence and then a third, ending as she rests her head against the cabinets and breathes. In this sequence, the dancer enters into a different relationship with these belongings than in the sequences that precedes it. The hallway is transformed into a site of performance as Aubin-Malo brings a sense of liveness and vitality to these beings living so far away from home, moving and breathing to and for them. 

“Combustion is the hidden principle behind every artifact we create”15W.G. Sebald, The Rings of Saturn, trans. Michael Hulse (New Directions, 2016): 170.

In the final part of the video, the scrolling text unfolds an entire process of making, offering another way in for the viewer. We learn about Lukin Linklater’s visits with these belongings, about open rehearsals with dancers and about conversations with curators and collections managers. But we also learn about the severely truncated nature of the making of this video because of planned blackouts sparked by wildfires barreling through the Bay Area. The text informs us that these blackouts are implemented by power companies in California to prevent wildfires whose root cause lies in their own equipment. We learn that this strategy ultimately failed to prevent wildfires from spreading. One of these fires, known as the Kincade Fire, scorched an area twice the size of San Francisco.

Dance, gesture, breath, physical presence and translation are the forms and methods Lukin Linklater employs not only to surpass the structural constraints of the storage facility but also to introduce ways of being with these belongings that are not legible to this space or to its logics. Lukin Linklater’s practice of structural refusal protects this experience from an extractive gaze while still inviting viewers to understand these belongings as living beings. The video positions bodies, text and movement as themselves structural, as containers that can be made to amplify the life force of these beings through reciprocal gestures that disrupt the atmosphere of rigidity and stillness that envelops the hard and clinical surfaces of the storage facility. But this final text situates the making of this video within a broader context of infrastructural failure, an increasingly common phenomenon as the climate emergency unfolds along a largely unfettered trajectory. Echoing Black scholar and writer Robyn Maynard, what would it take to build structures for “livable worlds”, ones that nurture human and more than human life?16Robyn Maynard and Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, Rehearsals for Living  (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2022), 28.

Tethering

The two spines removed from Indigenous geometries make their presence felt in the exhibition space, but in representational form. This moment an endurance to the end forever (2020) begins with a series of movements performed by Lukin Linklater in her home alongside the two spines that are positioned by her feet. These spines make a similar formation to the ones laying on the gallery floor, drawing a definitive link between material and representational domains as one seemingly reaches towards the other. Lukin Linklater moves in a series of waves. She reaches toward the spine at her feet, her arms hanging, her hands about to make contact before she pulls herself back up again, head tilting towards the sky. Her waves become smaller, faster, her hands open, reaching for the spine before she returns to her initial languid pace. As she tilts her head, there are cuts to shots of clouds moving in the sky. In later sequences, she develops a lateral movement in relation to the spines. She sways her entire body forwards and backgrounds; she sways her head, arms and shoulders in place; an arm sometimes reaches toward the second spine. These movements are intercut with shots of trees nearly obscured by the blazing sun, whose leaves sway and ripple in the wind. The editing enacts a process of tethering, holding together the spines, Lukin Linklater’s movements and elements of the natural world.

Lukin Linklater’s movements suggest that the spines are more than mere physical objects. They inspire movement and perhaps crave movement in return. It is a feeling that extends outward, beyond the projected video, towards Indigenous geometries, which is similarly more than a sculpture in a gallery. The exhibition text tells us that this structure, in its resemblance to an Atlutiiq home, holds within itself a worldview that transcends the gallery space.17My Mind is With the Weather (exhibition text), 7. The text cautions us that words must be spoken with care when near this structure and must articulate a reverence for all life.18My Mind is With the Weather (exhibition text), 7. There is a porosity to this structure and as we learn from An amplification through many minds, possibly in all structures, that both permit and deny entry. Moving from the sculpture back to the video, the spines are a trace of another mode of habitation that now resides in Lukin Linklater’s home and on screen. The spines exemplify a deep interconnection between multiple life forms that becomes palpable in the moments the editing tethers the movements of the landscape to those choreographed by the artist.

The opening sequences are silent and shot on Super 8, an overture perhaps for the second part of the video that brings together bodies, landscape and their sounds, where dancers Aubin-Malo and Gobert are filmed by Lochhead near the edge of a river. Early on in the video, text on screen once again offers viewers a point of entry.

We inhale swell billow fall.

We exhale shiver pulse weep echo

This breath, this life

all around us.

These words hint at a vocabulary for movements that we have seen and for those yet to come. They inspire a revisiting of Lukin Linklater’s performance in the language of breath. She inhales and exhales, moving toward and away from the spines. She pulses and echoes, offering a bodily translation of the movement of the swaying leaves. In the following sequence, Aubin-Malo stands on a rock, the camera positioned just above her forehead, holding her tightly within the frame. Her shirt billows as she gazes towards the ground. Gobert kneels on the soil, its residues clinging to her feet. Her hair mingles with the earth as her body reaches upwards, across, and towards the plants in front of her. She gathers her arms, as though taking in breath.

In keeping with Lukin Linklater’s practice of structural refusal, text on screen is only ever a partial opening. The exhibition text explains that Lukin Linklater and the dancers drew on Alutiiq breathing traditions in the choreography of these movements. What we see are the movements themselves, in the absence of explanation. Alutiiq traditions are protected through Linklater’s refusal to explain but the text mobilizes connections between their movement vocabularies and the language of breath, gesturing towards a process of translation that is also at work in this video. The question of how we might imagine relationships between land and beings that are anchored in multiple forms of reciprocity moves across Indigenous geometries, the spines that appear at the start of the video and the video’s second half. How do we move through landscapes and how do they move through us? What does it mean to understand all life through the language of breath?

We reach for a breath repaired.

This moment an endurance to the end forever

Other lines of text in the video are a preparation for these final words. Lukin Linklater writes that we long for moments that “are only ever now with no memory and no end, no density of time in the body”.  She writes, “we feel sense discern an endurance an insistence a continuance a history that is ever present and always now”. These lines appear over shots of the landscape, where we are treated to images of light pulsating on water or reflected onto rocks, transforming them into surfaces of projection. We sense an endurance and a continuance in these images and in this work, one that is heightened by Lochhead’s slow and steady camera work, by the images that gradually fade in and out, by the text that similarly fades in and out, and by the iterative nature of the movement vocabularies developed by the dancers. Moving images have long been theorized as the medium for duration, for an experience of images that always feels like now. It is an ideal medium for this work.

When we consider an accumulation of time, we acknowledge the painful histories and current conditions of colonialism in Canada. We also consider and remember the significance of Indigenous knowledges that are rooted in place and shape our present.19Tanya Lukin Linklater, “Determined by the river” in Slow Scrape (Montreal: Anteism and The Centre for Expanded Poetics, 2021), 75.

These lines are from Lukin Linklater’s poem, Determined by the river, that is, in many ways, a companion piece to this video. The history and ongoing nature of settler colonialism is akin to the density of time, while an endurance speaks to the continual presence of Indigenous life and knowledges, which are of the now, as much as they are of the past and for the future.

Tanya Lukin Linklater, This moment an endurance to the end forever, 2020, single-
channel projection with sound, 23 minutes, 17 seconds. Installation view,
My mind is with the weather, Oakville Galleries, 2022. Photo: Laura Findlay. Courtesy
Catriona Jeffries, Vancouver

This moment an endurance to the end forever. Gobert’s final sunset dance seems choreographed for this line of text. We hear her take in breath as she makes a series of circular movements, her body and the trees behind her in silhouette, framed by a purple sky. Her arms reach outwards, upwards, her body moving past the edges of the frame as the camera moves closer. She rises again and again, body circling upwards, hair flying, as though she were taking in breath with the entirety of her being. She shows us a continuance through these movements.

How do we build structures for “livable worlds”?20Maynard and Simpson, Rehearsals for Living, 28. Robyn Maynard uses this phrase in a letter to Michi Saagig Nishnaabeg that the scholar, writer and musician Leanne Betasamosake Simpson published in their collection of pandemic letters, Rehearsals for Living. Maynard writes, “I’m hoping, mostly in writing you, that maybe this grounding, together, will help remind me, remind us, that we and ours have been building livable worlds all along, despite and against forces aligned to steal our light and that we will continue to do so no matter what comes our way”.21Maynard and Simpson, Rehearsals for Living, 27–28. Maynard articulates this hope against the backdrop of ongoing environmental catastrophe, soon to be joined by COVID-19 at the time of writing. This moment an endurance to the end forever is a work of the pandemic. The filming of the video began just before the first round of lockdowns were implemented in 2020 and the process of its making involved rehearsals conducted over Zoom. But this is also a work about breath. The exhibition text provides ample context for situating in this work within and against the events that have unfolded over the last few years, including the newfound dangers breathing assumes during an airborne pandemic, the lynching of George Floyd and the way that Black and Indigenous life is routinely extinguished by carceral systems and diminished air quality resulting from uncontrollable forest fires. The effects of this last phenomenon were already felt in An amplification through many minds.

What if structures and our relationships with them were modeled upon the landscapes that surround us? What if structures were based on principles of reciprocity, where porosity is built into their very form? These are structures that move, change and breathe. What if repair rather than combustion guided the making of structures for livable worlds?  The foundations of livable worlds already exist in Indigenous cosmologies and traditions and this seems to be the basis of both Indigenous geometries and This moment an endurance to the end forever. While I do not and should have access to these epistemologies and ontologies, this work still enables me to contemplate what it might mean to follow the natural world rather than dominate it.

There is a sequence that we see several times over the course of the video. Aubin-Malo and Gobert are seated side by side on a rock, their bodies mingling and yet remaining separate from each other. The camera is behind them as they lean toward the other rocks in front of them, the edges of the river running between them. Their posture tethers them to the landscape which their posture seems to emulate. Tethering is a form of continuance and in these works, bodies, landscape and structure are held together in configurations that suggest other possibilities for a world in need of repair.

Notation, re-notation

, not like us. Not like us, (2022) is the third work for camera in the show. This video draws from a poem, Not like us, published in Slow Scrape. While I have enlisted poems in Slow Scrape as a companion for my writing about this show, this video mobilizes aspects of this poem as lines of departure for conjuring different shapes of place, childhood and home that are tethered together through the editing. This is a poem video as much as it might be a dance video, or even a music video, where Lochhead, Aubin-Malo and Gobert are once again brought together as collaborators with Lukin Linklater.

A dark green band of colour moves across a black screen. From within this shape, lines of text begin to rise:

we hide in the spruce trees our tiny bodies in branches above a black sand beach

Words are bolded and unbolded, shifting in emphasis as they ascend. The ethereal score is gradually overlaid with the sound of roaring waves. A hand, held perfectly still, nails done in dark polish, emerges from this shape and these words. The band of colour gives way to a beach in low light, providing a new backdrop for this hand. The text eventually fades and the scene fades to black.

The band of colour is in the shade of spruce, but its shape is akin to the rippling water that we see when the beach appears on screen. The gradual rising of the text suggests it was in fact hidden within this shape. Structural refusal takes a different turn in this work. I am mesmerized by these images, words and sounds. I am held by the work and I surrender to this experience. This opening sequence refuses my normative understanding of the boundaries between different mediums of expression as well as between imaginative and material conjurings of place. These boundary dissolving processes summon understandings of place, childhood and home as acts of making, unmaking and remaking. 

This is my childhood unmade and made, the oldest of three girls, hold hands skip stones catch minnows swim naked cool creeks salt lagoon.

We fly away from our home village to women’s resource centre that low income housing Kodiak, ocean on all sides my relatives in Aleutian Homes thick smell of canneries near tent city, I am five.22Tanya Lukin Linklater, “Not like us” in Slow Scrape (Montreal: Anteism and The Centre for Expanded Poetics, 2021), 8.

There are other words found in the poem, Not like us, that are entirely suited to the video. Re-pattern; notation; re-notation. These processes are activated as the video binds assemblages of place to outdoor locations. Gobert and Aubin-Malo respectively dance in two different installation-like settings that come to life through their movements and those of the camera. While their dance sequences divide the film into two, this boundary is porous as the editing interweaves the two segments together with a third series of sequences shot on the beach featuring the hand with its dark nails from the opening sequence. The presence of home enters the exhibition space through Indigenous geometries, but here I find myself drawn to the question of how moving images provide a particular kind of structure for this presence. 

Gobert dances on sand covering the surface of a studio floor. Behind her are bands of colours, in the shape of rippling water, projected onto a large box-like structure. Albums and a gold skirt are buried in the sand, their surfaces peeking through. Aubin-Malo sets up her space in the studio. She paints her nails a dark purple and slides on a gold and pearl flower shaped ring. She places books on the table: The Poetics of Relation by Edouard Glissant; a book version of Daughters of the Dust. She lines up albums against the wall. Blondie. Later joined by Patti Smith. We have seen the Smith album previously when the hand with its prominent purple nails sweeps across the sand, revealing the album underneath. Aubin-Malo picks up a guitar as we hear the lyrics from Billy Idol’s “White Wedding”, a strong contrast to the ethereal music accompanying Gobert’s sequences. Gobert’s abstract movements are further contrasted with Aubin-Malo’s, which elicit unruly teenage energy. She eats, moving her feet to the rhythm of the music. She wears the gold skirt that we first see buried in the sand on the studio floor. This same skirt is pulled from the beach outdoors, sand running through it as though the skirt were its vessel. Lines from the poem are used during these sequences but the images and sounds do not illustrate the text. Instead, they convoke the atmospheres that this past holds, oscillating between what feels like intense longing and nostalgia on the one hand, and joyful rebel energy on the other.

A structure is made in this work where notations and re-notations of the past are completely entangled. Here, I am reminded of Ben Highmore’s writings about the urban, which can be extended to understandings of place as sedimentations of material locations and their symbolic counterparts.23Ben Highmore, Cityscapes: Cultural Readings in the Material and Symbolic City (Red Globe Press, 2005), 5. Lukin Linklater’s black beach is elicited through the intermingling of material locations and their reconstruction in a studio setting, neither of which are made up of black sand. It doesn’t matter. Beaches are sites of sedimentation and in this work, the beach is both a place of the past and a place for the past, from which traces of childhood and teenage memories rise to the surface. The beach is both of these things at all times. This past is a lived metaphoricity, a rendering of ‘home’ that both draws on and offers a continuation of the principle of porosity conveyed by Indigenous geometries.

Structures by other names

In The Hawthorn Archive: Letters from the Utopian Margins. Avery F. Gordon argues that the vocabularies in popular circulation for expressions of long held desires and overtures towards the otherwise and the elsewhere are often “underdeveloped and unmoving”.24Avery F. Gordon, The Hawthorn Archive: Letters from the Utopian Margins (Fordham University Press, 2017), 54. For Avery, words like social justice, equity or anti-racism, words we cannot do without, nevertheless are perhaps too abstract to fully evoke “what stands, living and breathing”.25Gordon, The Hawthorn Archive, 54. In these works by Lukin Linklater, a vocabulary emerges, alongside methods of depiction that are grounded in movement and that, in turn, move us as we watch, listen and feel alongside them. Words like translation, tethering, porosity, notation, re-notation and reciprocity constitute an active, moving vocabulary for ways of being and living in the worlds that we inhabit and inhabit us. They offer ways of thinking about the structures that we need and those we might want to abolish. 

In moving beyond the works themselves to the question of their making, Lukin Linklater’s practice is deeply collaborative, involving the input and skills of the dancers, and Lochhead, among other artists, which models the theme of reciprocity that moves across these works. This is another understanding of structure as practice, one that holds beings together in methods of making that moves one step closer to the dream of building “livable” worlds for us all.

…i am labouring now and we are labouring to make space for others we labour not only for ourselves we labour for a futurity we insist26Tanya Lukin Linklater, “i fall into this place between body and song” in Slow Scrape (Montreal: Anteism and The Centre for Expanded Poetics, 2021), 77.

Notes[+]

Guha, Malini. "On, For, With Structure: Tanya Lukin Linklater’s My Mind is With the Weather." Mediapolis: A Journal of Cities and Culture 7, no. 4 (November 2022)
Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.