The Contemporary Art Gallery presented the first solo exhibition in a public gallery by Canadian artist Raymond Boisjoly comprising two new interrelated public works, As It Comes. The title appeared at the Yaletown-Roundhouse Station as a discrete piece, humorously foreboding, and more comic than terrifying, presented in brightly coloured vinyl like a credit from a B-list horror film. Linked to the large scale text piece across the gallery windows, Boisjoly removes all suggestions of the past, not to deny what has become history, but with the intent to restore belief systems that are still intact.
The colloquial use and structure of the written or spoken word figure prominently in Boisjoly’s work. He often transforms the meaning and significance of language by rendering phrases indecipherable or by reordering clichéd aphorisms and mixing metaphors. Vernacular materials such as Christmas lights or plastic tarpaulin may be used equating their physical properties to the direct meaning of words, or other devices are employed to abstract language whereby it can only be read as form. For example, in The Writing Lesson Boisjoly transcribed the original names of First Nations lands into typefaces derived from Norwegian black metal. Appearing as mere pattern, the texts reached a point of illegibility. While referencing an anti-Christian politic in an attempt to re-evaluate aspects of indigenous spirituality, Boisjoly inversely uses it to obscure names that symbolize belief systems while signaling their near invisibility in our contemporary society.
As It Comes re-assembles passages taken from three North American First Nations autobiographies: Black Elk Speaks, Yellow Wolf His Own Story and During My Time by Florence Edenshaw Davidson, Boisjoly’s great grandmother. All of the texts tell of the legislation of indigenous rights amidst the coming of modernity, with each written as a personal account yet authored by and credited to someone else. Black Elk’s story is told by American poet John G. Neihardt, Yellow Wolf’s by Lucullus Virgil McWhorter and Edenshaw’s by Margaret B. Blackman. Many other individuals too were involved in their construction, producing a further remove from the direct account — Black Elk’s son interpreted for his father who didn’t speak English and the poet’s daughter transcribed his story for example — and offering their versions of particular events. These numerous voices suggest a self-reflexivity, signifying that singular opinion may be fallible and subjective, and understanding that one person cannot represent the whole. Boisjoly uses these autobiographies as emblematic of others by indigenous peoples not simply to critique the mix of cultural authorship, but in an attempt to redefine their value by examining their complex narrative structures and setting them within a literary precedent.
In the gallery’s window spaces, Boisjoly drew attention to each narrator’s indirect use of language by focusing on how they communicate without being explicit — intentionally not naming an object but describing its properties and mixing the future tense while speaking in the present. The selections from the texts did not create a narrative, but instead emphasized process and experience, and thus suggesting a continuum between futures past and a contemporary sense of self. As well as changes in syntax and the positioning of phrases on the page, Boisjoly configured quotes into a continuous sentence that ran across multiple pieces of paper pinned together to form words. It is as if the artist dropped the pages on the ground then quickly compiled them into formulated sentences, letters breaking across individual sheets placed in different positions. Yet the work was highly ordered, deceptively complex and tightly structured.
The deliberate contrast between the casualness of the execution and its intensive planning is tied to a desire to negotiate the past in articulating something of the present. The switching of tense inverses that which is typical in such autobiographical narratives of First Nations people, as Boisjoly observes, ‘They emerge out of immense historical change, but restrict their subjects to an imagined past that shrinks in comparison to modernity.’ As It Comes anticipates a future always approaching, denying any possibility of the action having passed.
Alongside these public works Raymond Boisjoly was the inaugural resident artist for 6 months at the Burrard Marina Field House Studio which was generously supported by the Vancouver Park Board and the City of Vancouver through its Field House Studio Residency Program and by the Province of British Columbia through the Ministry of Advanced Education, Innovation and Technology.
As It Comes at Yaletown-Roundhouse Station, Canada Line is presented in partnership with the Canada Line Public Art Program — IntransitBC.
I spoke with Burrard Marina Field House artist-in-residence Raymond Boisjoly, who was on the other side of the big pond, and he took a few minutes to fill me in about where he was, and what he was up to.
Where are you right now?
I am in Manndalen within Sápmi, the land of the Sami people that extends across Norway, Finland, Sweden and the Kola Peninsula of Russia.
What are you doing there?
I am attending Riddu Riđđu, an indigenous arts festival that has been running for 22 years.
What comes to your mind about being there?
Having been gifted a book of Sami proverbs, I found this: “When in a new country, follow its ways.”
Have you seen any art you want to tell us about?
Yesterday I was told about a house here in Manndalen built to spite local Norwegian authorities following the Second World War. Anton Sjåbakken built a house from scraps found from various sources. The Norwegian government want to tax him and collect the equivalent of one years wages for this provisional shelter. Sjåbakken wrote a letter outlining his frustration which also gave the house the name by which it is now known: The Shit Hell Fucking House.
Tell me about a meal you’ve enjoyed…
I have been enjoying traditional dried reindeer meat.
… and a reason you wouldn’t want to leave?
The midnight sun provides many good working hours, I often see people simply going about their business at absolutely any time of day.
– Thanks Raymond, see you back in Vancouver, Jaclyn.
Raymond Boisjoly is currently the artist-in-residence at the CAG Field House at Burrard Marina. The Field House Studio Residency Program is generously supported by the Vancouver Park Board and the City of Vancouver. The inaugural residency with Raymond Boisjoly is supported by the Province of British Columbia through the Ministry of Advanced Education, Innovation and Technology.MORE
Hello one and all,
I’m Jaclyn Bruneau, the CAG Field House intern currently working with Raymond Boisjoly during his summer artist-in-residence at the Burrard Marina Field House Studio. I’ll be keeping people in the loop about his activities, and with Field House events by reporting in this blog. Look for posts with the ‘Field House Studio’ blog category and keep your dials tuned in.
A few Saturdays ago, Raymond and I spent the afternoon at False Creek Community Centre where he led a workshop as part of the Vancouver Draw Down, that very cool single-day drawing festival that invites Vancouverites to access various types of drawing workshops for free, held in over 23 locations city wide. The workshop was titled Re-Inventing Drawing and began invitingly with tables scattered with pipe cleaners, masking tape, paper cups, tree branches, string, scissors, pieces of paper big and small, and a ton of markers all of which were used together or separately to create fantastically experimental gestural marks on paper.
Our first two visitors were a pair of twins named Alex and Liam, who seemed to have made use of all the materials. They taped felts all around the parameter of the paper cup; strung together branches, attaching a pen on each end and then twirling the contraption above paper; and stuck felts through holes in foamy paper. Their mom seemed blown away at all the things they came up with. Some others made contraptions with the branches that allowed two people to each take hold of a part of the branch, and proceed to see if they could collaboratively render an image they thought up together beforehand. Raymond even drew my attention to a mystery visitor who got carried away with their new tools on the hardwood floor (oops!). Above are some photos from the workshop.
During the afternoon’s workshop the space was flooded with natural light and we left the doors wide open, so people walking the path outside could peek in and join. We met daughters and dads, kids in strollers, couples, best friends, and even a few grandparents. It was amazing how little instruction everyone needed. They seemed full of ideas, and were very eager–especially those itching to fill their Draw Down passports with stamps. I floated around taking photos and getting people started. Raymond seemed to know exactly what to say in the way of inspiration for those stuck for an idea.
The Field House Studio Residency Program is generously supported by the Vancouver Park Board and the City of Vancouver. The inaugural residency with Raymond Boisjoly is supported by the Province of British Columbia through the Ministry of Advanced Education, Innovation and Technology.MORE