Category Archives: Colonialism

Beverly Buchanan, Marsh Ruins (1981)

Beverly Buchanan (1940-2015)

This text originally appeared in ART PAPERS Fall/Winter 2020, Monumental Interventions, as part of a special dossier highlighting seven artists who have fought—and continue the fight—to transform their public spaces by uncovering suppressed histories, resisting oppression, and telling formerly silenced truths. 

Beverly Buchanan’s practice referenced southern vernacular architecture to interrogate relationships between Black people, history, and the landscape. In 1981 Buchanan (1940–2015) placed a triangular formation of three sculptural mounds on the edge of the tidal marsh in Brunswick, GA. Titled Marsh Ruins, the large amorphous forms were made by layering concrete and tabby—a concrete made from lime, water, sand, oyster shells, and ash—and then staining the forms brown. This grouping is the most referenced work in the series of sculptural markers Buchanan placed in Georgia to memorialize sites of Black presence. Buchanan often explored the concept of ruination to uncover the transformative powers of distress and destruction. These markers symbolically bear witness to the 1803 mass suicide of enslaved Igbo people who collectively drowned themselves off the coast of nearby St. Simons Island. Although their exodus was forced by the traumatic capture and abuse of their bodies, their act of defiance made them free. The work remains visible to the public, though it is not clearly marked and blends in with its natural surroundings.

Tabby was used throughout the American South to construct shacks and quarters for enslaved people. This material functions as a protective shield for Marsh Ruins. Buchanan’s use of tabby, rather than such enduring materials as marble or steel, gestures to the material historically employed to construct Black people’s homes, which she revered. Vulnerable to nature and unstable marsh ground, these forms were intended to be lost to erosion. Buchanan welcomed nature to shift, fragment, and disintegrate her sculptures, knowing that, like the body, they would one day be completely obscured or forgotten. Succumbing to the earth, the materials live on in new forms. Marsh Ruins rejects the representational form of conventional monuments and memorials to speak poetically through the languages of materiality and ephemerality.” (credit)

There is also a 96-page book on this artwork.

Public Studio, The New Field (2017)

August 1-September 27, 2017: The Walk

In the New Field, Public Studio walked the entirety of the 900km Bruce Trail while actively exploring the question: What does decolonization look like?

Along the trail, Public Studio invited by artists, activists, scientists, writers, curators, philosophers, and youth groups to join them and activate the footpath as a way of sharing knowledge across a diverse public. Indigenous writer and “geomythologist” Lenore Keeshig lead Public Studio across the unceded territory of the Chippewas of the Nawash; artist and theatre director Ange Loft lead a tour that included theatre warm-up exercises and a discussion of land acknowledgments; Geologist and director of the Bruce Trail Conservancy Beth Gilhespy chronicled land formations, activist and artist Syrus Marcus Ware led thirty five kids on a botanical drawing walk; multidisciplinary artist Diane Borsato brought art students, a western botanist and a traditional Indigenous medicine woman into dialogue; and writer and critic Amish Morell’s graduate students walked, read poetry and reimagined the land at a reconstructed Iroquoian village archaeological site.

September 28 -30, 2017
The Creative Time Summit: Of Homelands and Revolutions
Stage Design & Closing Ceremony

On September 30, 2017 a public choir demanded the end to extraction and colonial destruction, to war and displacement driven by economic greed. On this day we demanded the earth be re-centered together with people and that the Canadian government include the Rights of Nature into the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Public Studio together with Hiba Abdallah created the set for Creative Time Summit and with collaborators Ange Loft and Terri-Lynne Williams-Davidson staged the performance of the Rights of Nature, a document based on Haida ideology demanding that nature be inscribed in Canada’s constitution.

Check out the Rights of Nature publication here.” (credit)

“Public Studio is the collective art practice of filmmaker Elle Flanders and architect Tamira Sawatzky. Public Studio creates large-scale public art works, lens-based works, films, and immersive installations. Grounded in the personal, social, and political implications of landscape, Public Studio’s multidisciplinary practice engages themes of political dissent, war and militarization, and ecology and urbanization, through the activation of site. Public Studio often works in collaboration with other artists.” (credit)

Hock E Aye Vi Edgar Heap of Birds, Most Serene Republics (2007)

Hock E Aye VI Edgar Heap of Birds, (Cheyenne/Arapaho, 1954-)

This work was a temporary memorial for Native Americans who died in Italy as part of Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show in the late nineteenth century, and was installed at the Venice Biennale in 2007. It consisted of a series of 16 outdoor signs to remember and honor their loss, 8 outdoor signs that serve as commentary, several signs in the water-taxis encouraging repatriation of the Native people’s bodies from Europe to the U.S., as well as a large billboard at the Venice airport that stated ‘welcome to the spectacle, welcome to the show’ as a faux welcoming sign, which was visible as people walked through the airport check point. These Lakota warriors were formerly imprisoned in the U.S. and were given the choice to remain in prison, or go perform in Europe, which was not much of a choice.

Alan Michelson, Mantle (2018)

This work sits at Richmond’s Capitol Square Park in Virginia. The spiral shaped walking path honors the original inhabitants of the region, especially seventeenth-century Chief Powhatan (d. 1618) who united thirty-four Algonquian tribes. The site incorporates cast images of corn, squash, and bean plants around the edge of a reflecting pool, and is surrounded by groves of trees native to the area. The site requires active participation, unlike a statue on a plinth, thereby becoming a reflective activation of this space of reintroduced Native life and cultural memory.

— Michelson, Alan. “Mantle, 2018,” Alan Michelson. Accessed June 25, 2022: https://www.alanmichelson.com/mantle

Nici Cumpston, Shelter I & II, quartzite ridge (2011)

rocks outdoors

Nici Cumpston Shelter I & II, quartzite ridge, 2011 pigment inkjet print on canvas hand colored with synthetic polymer paint diptych, 98 x 196 cm

“I am connected to the Murray and the Darling River systems through my Barkindji family, and since 2000 I have been documenting the backwaters and inland lake systems in the Riverland of South Australia. I have found many ‘signs’ in the landscape, Aboriginal artefacts and trees that bear witness to Aboriginal occupation and reflect the connection people have had with this place over many tens of thousands of years.

Everywhere I walk I see evidence of Aboriginal occupation prior to European settlement. I find remnants of flints and grindstones that were used to manufacture stone tools and to grind native seeds and grains. Bark was removed from the outer layers of eucalypt trees to create canoes and coolamons – vessels used to carry food and small babies. The scars left in the trees act like street signs, indicating areas of abundance and safe shelter. I get the strong sense that the ancestors had only just gone, leaving subtle calling­ cards to let me know how important these sites are for them.

Using a medium format film camera slows my pace. Spending as much time as I can in the environment, and speaking with cultural custodians to get a true sense of place are significant steps in my process”

(credit: Catalog, “From Here to There: Australian Art and Walking”)

Sarah Rodigari, This Must Be the Place (2020)

man leaning on table with cowboy hat

‘This Must be the Place’ (2020), Keith, Ravensthorpe, Western Australia

“(Work in Development)
International Art Space, Spaced Residency, 2020

This Must be the Place, connected a series of utopian visions as defined by the communities situated in Hopetown/ Ravensthorpe in remote Western Australia. Sarah’s project considered the idea of utopia as a matter of perspective, a continuous disappearing horizon between the present and the future. Conducted through a series of walking interviews Rodigari looked to address how rural utopian ideals of sustainability (social, economic, cultural, historical, environmental) inform the making of place. In light of climate change and within our history of colonial-settler Australia.

At the end of her six weeks, Sarah presented a humorous, poetic and insightful performance script, ‘Hearsay’ back to the community based on the interviews and conversations she’d undertaken. The performance connected past narratives with speculative futures against present realities of mining, farming, drought and flood. Presented: Spaced 4 Residency, Rural Utopias, International Art Space, Perth, 2020.
Link to Spaced Project Page
This is a work is in development.

Doucmentation excerpt
https://vimeo.com/469583631” (credit)

Sarah Rodigari is currently working with the community of Ravensthorpe. This work forms part of one of Spaced’s current programs, Rural Utopias.

Sarah Rodigari is an artist whose practice addresses the social and political potential of art. Her work is site responsive, employing, durational live action, improvisation, and dialogical methodologies to produce text-based performance and installations.

Here, Sarah shares an update from Ravensthorpe.

I come from a big city and apparently live in the most densely populated suburb in Australia. I have spent most of my life in homes without a backyard. Modern living is accessible and convenient. There is a lot of choice – I wonder if because of this I spend a lot of time making unnecessary decisions, like which yoghurt to buy – everything is small, efficient, manageable and perhaps easily disposable. I don’t own a car, I walk everywhere. It has taken a while to slow down and let go of the accumulated habit of creating order and immediacy that I packed with me. I haven’t let go, or necessarily slowed down, I’ve just noticed that with distance, comes time. I think I’ve taken up more space, literally, hopefully not metaphorically.

The ute is the biggest vehicle I’ve ever driven, I was a little reticent to drive it at first, but now that I’ve been driving all over the shire meeting locals and conducting interviews about what makes an ideal word, I’m in love.  I have learnt to 4WD which, city speaking, is just to say that I found a button to press. In a big car, under an endless sky on an open road. Like the generic protagonist in every Hollywood road movie, I get the feeling that out here there are no rules, everything is possible, and anything goes.

The utopia protagonist is no one, no gender, identity, history, ancestors, likes, dislikes,

They come from nowhere and bring nothing with them. (Bernadette Mayer, Utopia)

There’s nothing that can’t be done everyone’s giving it a go. If enough of you band together, you can make it happen, like the heavy haulage route, the herbarium and the swimming pool in Ravey or the community garden and the Mens Shed in Hopey.

When I ask about what might constitute an ideal world most people pragmatically suggest that they’re already here. I try to argue that utopia can’t exist in the present, it’s about striving for a future that we’re yet to realise – like a four-day work week or a universal minimum wage. This is hard to argue with people who have moved to a pretty and quiet beachside town on the edge of nowhere specifically to retire. This is the utopia they’ve been aiming for.

We agreed that isolation meant being far enough away for everything else to be conveniently accessible. But that didn’t mean not being globally connected. You can’t just ‘tune out’ to the weather, the coronavirus or the price of wool etc. It’s easy for me to arrive here with ecological assumptions about primary industry. Through my conversations, for many people farming and mining aren’t outrightly bad or wrong, the complexity of these industries and their relationship to land are lived with and negotiated daily. Does a simpler lifestyle allow more emotional and pragmatic space to address the ebb and flow of life, to embrace the paradox of a mine and farm next to a world heritage park and say, ‘yes and’?

As I step in closer to the community, simpler might mean less variety at the supermarket or choice on tinder but negotiating a co-existence with their environment and each other has a degree of attention and care creating a co-dependence that is very hard simply shut down.

This Must be the Place

It seems unusual to not want to be or strive for an ‘elsewhere’. Most of the people I have spoken to here in the Ravensthorpe shire consider here the place to be. I’ve been told on several occasions not to tell anyone just how great it is here: two small towns that are 200ks from the nearest service centre.  Right next to a UNESCO listed national park with endemic flora and fauna which have survived an ice age. Numerous empty, pristine, soft powder sand beaches against multiple shades of blue ocean. Fish that that practically jump onto the jetty for you. People here live well into their 90s.  The farmers have read Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu. There are multiple social clubs, a historical society and a community resource centre that is also a library, tourist office and eco shop. The staff know your name and calmly help with all your administrative, recreational or retirement needs. “Romance novels, it looks like you’ve already read them all, we’ll have to order some new ones in.”

It also has an aging population, with limited medical facilities. Education is also limited; most children have to leave at the end of primary school for secondary boarding schools. It is also prone to droughts, bushfires, flooding, shark sighting. Fruit and vegetables are relatively expensive and not super tasty (I hear cities are given priority when it comes to quality). The internet is patchy, put people seem to get on just fine without it. The limited water that is available is hard to drink.

On Friday February 14, at the Merlot club, the woman next to me asked if I’d like ice in my wine. “It’s rain-water ice” she said. I turned and asked why the water wasn’t from the tap she said, “no one drinks the water here, it’s terrible.” Colin to my left echoed “the water’s terrible”. It’s bore water and they’re scraping the bottom here. How can Utopia be a place with no water?

For nearly three years now. Ravensthope has carted its water from Hopetoun. BHP put in 42 bores and we’re now having to be careful which bores are mixed together to keep it below a salt level. We’re talking 40 years to refill, if we got normal rain and we’re not getting normal rains. (excerpt from Hearsay script)

With each new mine there is the potential for infrastructural support.  When BHP came, they supported new bitumen roads, water bores, schools, police stations, local sport associations and business. They also built an entire new suburb and offered employment opportunities for some locals. (The government loves this, I guess it means there’s less for them to do).  Alongside this local housing prices rose, some people sold, others could no longer afford to pay rent and left. Many, along with their new jobs took out mortgages, which, when the mine closed after seven months of operation, left them struggling to repay their loans and unable to sell.

FQM, the Nickle mine that is about to re-open, likes to employ locals, they don’t practice fly in fly out or drive in drive out. They encourage their employees to live in local towns and to get involved in the community as much as possible, they’re not BHP, they can’t afford to ‘throw money around, after all they’re a business. The price of Nickle is set to rise again due to the increase in manufacturing electric batteries for cars.  They are bringing about 400 new staff to the area, that’s the same amount as the current population of Ravensthorpe.

There can be a divide between locals, farmers and miners. It’s not just that they keep different hours, one miner pointed out, small towns embrace the mines and the money but resent the influx in population and the change it can also bring to the quite nature of the town. Hopetoun was the most inclusive community she’d lived in so far.

Over the course of my residency I interviewed 20 people about isolation, belonging, home and utopia. Each interview lasted about two hours, some went for longer, working with five of these interviews I wrote a lyric poem and performed this back to the community over coffee, cake and sandwiches at the community resource centre. I have included and excerpt of the Hearsay script above.

On my last morning, I sit on the beach drinking coffee. I’m not ready to go back to the city.

I watch one of my favourite local dogs, a failed sheep-trial dog now much-loved domestic pet, herding waves.  It’s little like striving for utopia. He’s making an excellent job of this impossible task. The poet Trisha Low suggests that to desire utopia is to desire emptiness: as a place, it is unattainable. Such a place is never truly possible to bring into being. Thomas More knew and suggested this when he coined the term back in 1516, it literally means no-place. Low suggests that maybe Utopia is not about striving for a future place but is about the impetus behind it “imaging life beyond what we know is possible… striving to create new ways to exist in the world in relation to one another” (Low 2019: 30).

Against the backdrop of what increasing feels like a global apocalypse, the shire is also on the precipice of social, ecological and economic change. It is by no means an ideal world, but I have experienced a care and intimacy amongst the community that hold moments of a utopian gaze that as left me longing for more.

-Sarah Rodigari” (credit)

Saleh Khannah, In Between Camps (2012)

A more recent walking artwork highlighting the intersection of walking and race is In Between Camps (2012), which consisted of a group of six researchers and artists, Ismael Al-bis, Fabio Franz, Matteo Guidi, Thayer Hastings, Ibrahim Jawabreh, Saleh Khannah, Sara Pelligrini, Giuliana Racco, and Diego Segatto, walking across the West Bank from the springs of al-Arroub to Solomon’s Pools (three massive stone reservoirs) south of Bethlehem in search of an ancient Roman waterway, the Arrub Aqueduct. The project originated from the Campus in Camps program developed by Al-Quds University, an experimental education program in the Palestinian refugee camp of al-Dheisheh. The purpose of the project was to both reactivate the water system’s source, and imagine a time-frame before the contemporary apartheid-reality of walls, colonial land parceling, and occupation of Palestine. While they were hiking, the group was stopped by Israeli soldiers who were suspicious of the Palestinian participants due to their skin tone and dress. The international participants intervened and explained the trip, their search of the aqueduct, and showed them the map, engaging in a type of information overload tactic, not unlike the tactics Codogan described for minimizing the perception of criminality. After the walk, the group created a booklet (Booklet ) reflecting on the history of the site, their experience, and how the various layers of race-based rule and exclusion are projected on the land.

Hastings, Thayer. “Tracing a Line Through a Fractured Palestine, from al-Arroub to Bethlehem,” Walking Art / Walking Aesthetics. Accessed May 16, 2022: https://walkingart.interartive.org/2018/12/thayer-palestine

Alan Michelson, Mespat (2001)

video stills of river bank

https://www.alanmichelson.com/mespat

Mespat, 2001

Video (19:24 minutes)
Turkey feathers, monofilament, steel
Original sound track by Michael J. Schumacher
132 × 168 × 12 inches

Artist Alan Michelson (1953-, Mohawk) has created various works that involve filming from a steady-moving boat, documenting environmental degradation, including Mespat (2001). His use of a boat to create the work might not immediately feel linked to walking as artistic practice, but keeping an inclusive mindset about various modes of mobility, this work very much embodies the contemplative qualities of many other environmentally focused walking works as Michelson slowly brings the viewer through the blighted  landscape. The work documents nearly twenty minutes of industrial ruin along the banks of Newtown Creek, an estuary dividing Brooklyn and Queens in New York. This footage is projected on a carefully constructed screen of white turkey feathers, a visual gesture reminding the viewer of the erasure of Indigenous bodies and ways of knowing, in a space where the native Lenape people were eventually displaced in 1642.

(Morris, Kate. Shifting Grounds: Landscape in Contemporary Native American Art. University of Washington Press, 2019. Page 89.)

Alan Michelson, Earth’s Eye (1990)

Alan Michelson (1953-, Mohawk) created a type of sculptural reenactment when he installed Earth’s Eye (1990) in lower Manhattan’s Collect Pond Park, outlining the now absent pond, a freshwater source that sustained Manhattan residents until tanneries polluted it and it had to be filled in during 1803. Forty cast concrete markers (22”x14”x6” each) referenced the natural and social history of the pond with low-relief imagery of plants and animals, and were arranged in the outline of the pond. Passersby walked around and within the installation, “bringing previous states of the locale into the here and now.” (Everett, Deborah. “Alan Michelson,” Sculpture, May 2007, Vol. 26 No. 4. Page 31.)

Michael Belmore, Coalescence (2017)

“Michael Belmore’s Coalescence was conceived as a single sculpture in four parts, [as part of LandMarks2017/ Repères2017 invites people to creatively explore and deepen their connection to the land through a series of contemporary art projects in and around Canada’s National Parks and Historic Sites from June 10-25, 2017.]. Sixteen stones, ranging in weight from 300 to 1,200 pounds, are fitted together and inlaid with copper, then situated to frame the vast distance between the southernmost boundary of the Laurentide Ice Sheet near Grasslands National Park in Saskatchewan, to one of its points of drainage into Hudson Bay in Churchill, Manitoba.

stone with copper

Sites in Riding Mountain National Park and The Forks National Historic Site, both in Manitoba, punctuate the stones’ migration. Together, the four locations mark meeting points between water and land: ancient shorelines, trade routes and meeting places, sites of annual mass migrations of animals, as well as the forced displacement of peoples.

Belmore uses copper as a way to invest the stones with labour and value. The stones come against each other to create a perfect fit, while their concave surfaces move apart slightly to reveal the warm glow of copper to reflect light. Each crevice is filled with a fire that will be extinguished with age, turning brown, then black, and reaching a luminous green hue as it settles into the landscape. They are a marker of how everything comes from the ground and returns to it, and how these processes stretch far beyond human understanding of time.

Belmore has created a moment of connection between deep geological time of stone and the linear human time of labour. On the occasion of the 150th anniversary of Confederation, this connection acts as a reminder of how the timelines of national celebration do not take into account the timelines of the land on which they take place. The stones were going to traverse a land familiar with rising and falling waters to reach their locations, but spring 2017 brought a record snowstorm and a spring melt that washed out the rail line that serves as the main transport artery between Churchill and southern Manitoba.

The political negotiations that followed have left the responsibility for its repair unresolved — part of the continued legacy of colonialism, the challenges of northern transportation and migration, and the importance of international trade routes that go back to Canada’s first trading posts. Belmore’s piece remains intact in Churchill, its splitting and migration halted by the processes that reach out from its conceptual core.” [credit]