Fillip 7 — Winter 2008

Notes of student curator Erika Lake.

Smooth Space Provisions: Multiple Voices in Curating
Charo Neville

Boundaries, by definition, “indicate the farthest limit, an area, border”: they delineate, define, and mark the margins of the physical (divisions of land) and the metaphysical (race and class relations).1 Boundaries are intrinsically defined by systems of inclusion and exclusion—access and restriction to money, knowledge, power. This centre/periphery model can be explained in terms of a series of closed circles with, for instance, Eurocentric history on the inside (and non-European history on the outside), wherein dialectical exchange between the centre and periphery is limited.2 Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari have described the centre and the margins (or “the state” and the “war machine”) in terms of “striated” homogeneous space, which is quantitative and fixed, and “smooth” heterogeneous space, which is characterized by its fluidity, continuous variation, and plurality of directions.3 Following this metaphor of geometrical configuration, Deleuze and Guattari’s terms have been explained as the relationship between points and lines, where striated space is something between two points, and smooth space, by contrast, “gives priority to the line and treats points simply as relays between successive lines,” so-called “lines of flight” or “deterritorialization.”4 The continuous winding red line that extended along the walls throughout the Kamloops Art Gallery’s April–May 2007 exhibition Overstepped Boundaries: Powerful Statements by Aboriginal Artists in the Permanent Collection, visually syntheses Deleuze and Guattari’s theory of spatial determination—a line delineating smooth space, mirroring the project’s attempt to break through closed circles and transgress boundaries.

Overstepped Boundaries began in January 2006 with a public call for young participants within Kamloops’ Thompson-Nicola Regional District school system: “The Kamloops Art Gallery has over 200 works of art by Aboriginal artists in its collection. A public institution, the Gallery holds this work in trust for everyone in the community, and particularly for the young people, who hold the keys to the community’s future. The Kamloops Art Gallery wants to work with young people to build relationships and build our future together.”5 The project began with nine participants and a core group of three fifteen and sixteen-year-old First Nations women—Ayla Joe, Erika Lakes, and Julienne Ignace—stayed committed until the end. Described in a Kamloops Art Gallery handout as “an experiment in access and pedagogy,” the exhibition developed out of a series of workshops held over a fourteen-month period.6 These workshops were facilitated by Kamloops’ curator Jen Budney, Secwepemc artist and teacher David Tremlay, and artist, educator, and social worker Kathie McKinnon. The three participants who curated the exhibition realized early in the process that the work that held the most significance for them was not the traditional carving in the collection but the contemporary Aboriginal art. In the curatorial statement included as wall text in the exhibition and in the exhibition publication, the curators’ learning process was made evident. The young women admitted that “when we started this project, we knew practically nothing....Now we understand that art can make strong statements and change people’s ways of thinking.”7 Identifying art they saw as making “strong statements” about issues such as racism, colonialism, identity, and appropriation, the curators decided to frame the exhibition around the theme of boundaries which they saw the artists overstepping in their work in personal, cultural, spiritual, natural, or ecological ways, involving common themes of land, family, and perception. They chose work from the collection by ten Aboriginal artists of various backgrounds, reflecting a variety of forms and styles including installation, photography, sculpture, and painting. The work of Carl Beam, Rebecca Belmore, Joanne Cardinal-Schubert, Fred Johnson, Jim Logan, Mary Longman, Teresa Marshall, David Neel, Jane Ash Poitras, and Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun was displayed with extended labels written collaboratively by the curators. Often thematic exhibitions can feel contrived, but here the notion of “overstepping boundaries” was apparent in the visual metaphors of each work: whether directly, in the most traditionally based work in the exhibition, David Neel’s two faced carving The Mask of Greed and Good (1993), or intuitively, in Rebecca Belmore’s minimalist photographs of women bound by white and red fabric, Bloodless and White Thread (2003). Echoing the overall outreach approach of the project, the exhibition also attempted to extend its engagement outside the confines of the institution by addressing visitors before they entered the gallery. In giant red letters, an excerpt of text taken from the curatorial statement covered an expansive gallery wall facing the exterior windows, announcing “an exhibition of art that makes strong statements.”

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Image: Notes of student curator Erika Lake. Courtesy of the Kamloops Art Gallery

About the Author

Charo Neville is a graduate of the Critical and Curatorial Studies program in the University of British Columbia’s Department of Art History, Visual Art, and Theory. Formally a curatorial assistant at the Vancouver Art Gallery, Neville is currently Assistant Curator and International Exhibition Manager at Catriona Jeffries Gallery.

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