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Everything together: In the inbetweenness of Navarana Igloliorte’s creative practice

By Ayumi Goto

How does one maintain a sense of community and social engagement when living so far away from home, geographically, culturally, and spiritually? In Inbetweenness, filmmaker and performance artist, Navarana (Navi) Igloliorte offers creative and dynamic responses to this very question. In a multi-layered, multi-media format, Navi heightens her experiences of everyday acts, in conjunction with that of her friends and relations, whose lives at first glance, might appear to exist far removed from one another. Upon closer examination, and working through Navi’s artistic and relationally driven lens, however, such distinctions interweave with a shared appreciation for inhabiting actions, encouraging interrelational respect, beyond initial incongruences in space and time.

In Elder Pien Penashue Drumming (2004), Pien Penashue, a deeply respected Innu Elder plays the drum to prepare those who have congregated for the month-long meshkanu or snowshoe walk. Navi records this powerful walk, which takes place every spring, led by the venerated Elder, Elizabeth Penashue, as another form of documenting these special gatherings for the knowledge of future generations. In this film, multiple layers of audiences are invited to listen in and dance to Pien’s songs, often filled with stories and teachings from the caribou. Pien, whose reputation as an exceptional hunter is known throughout the land, describes being spiritually entwined with the caribou. Igloliorte portrays the dream life in which “Pien communicates with ancestors and animal beings for guidance” through the use of paper stencils that span the length of the screen. Present as shadow, layer, and movement, the caribou are ever-present in between physical and spiritual states of being. The fluttering stencils also speak to the current precarious nature of the caribou population, and provincial governance discouraging long-held traditions to hunt these animals, which are central to Innu senses of cultural, physical, social, and cosmological wellbeing. 

 Having grown up in the northern Labrador community of Sheshashiu, Navi’s quiet presence is one among the many who feast together, and gather around to revel in Pien’s sonorous storytelling. In adulthood, Navi’s sense of community reflects that which has been cultivated through her childhood experiences in the intermingling between Innu cultural values and her family’s Bahá’í faith. Of Czech, Irish, and Scottish heritage, Navi’s religious beliefs, perhaps more than her ethno-cultural heritage, has had a profound influence on her understanding of community and spirituality. The Bahá’í principle (Bahá’í World Centre, 2006) to honour a spiritual rather than a strictly materialistic understanding of the world resonates with the cosmological significance of Innu-caribou relations. In the spaces in between these material and spiritual realities, the multidimensional layering of play, of transgressing individualistic expectations, and of finding living depths in seemingly mundane activities are presented beautifully in Navi’s works.

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In What about (2018), Navi is invited to feast and witness her friend, Peter Morin’s kitchen dance party in Brandon, Manitoba. Peter, a Tahltan performance artist and object maker, opens up his home to celebrate with friends as a creative act of unsettling colonial histories of engagement between Indigenous and European communities. In keeping with his other performative interventions to untangle the spiritual hold that colonialism has upon both communities, Peter infuses his actions with profound love for all those around. In What about, Navi captures the playful and tender moments as Peter excitedly prepares to welcome his guests. In the dreamy sequences of dance and music, Navi precisely communicates Peter’s practice of revealing the sacred streaming through the everyday acts of gathering, eating, and singing together, within the contemporaneous conjunctions of tradition and innovation (Morin, 2014). Through Navi’s presentation of Peter’s collaborative piece, Sound Composition #3 with Anglo-American musician and friend, Aaron Wilson, viewers are drawn into the intimacy that builds up between the two men, the cyclical swirl of breath and sound from Peter singing the Tahltan Honor Song to call forth Aaron’s metallic, whispery response. In their conscientiously creative exchange, the trombone transforms from a symbol of colonial presence into a vessel through which Peter and Aaron’s ancestors can meet and intermingle. In Navi’s filmic attention to sound, Peter’s drumming reverberates with Pien’s rhythms, dual heartbeats that suture and provide succor for their respective audiences.

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Visually, Peter’s boogying down in What about demonstrates the same gleeful abandon as Navi’s own dance fever in Domesticated (2015). Both pieces speak to the great efforts that go into caring for others, offering activated spaces to consider how tending to the security and safety of those in one’s charge equally gives rise to moments of immense fulfillment and overwhelming exhaustion. Whereas Peter’s multi-music mix dance session expresses his excitement in cooking for and tending to his party guests, Navi’s dress-up kitchen dance acts as an invigorating response to the monotony of endless housework. In Domesticated, Navi brings to the viewer’s attention the often gendered and invisible emotional, physical, and social labour that goes into building and maintaining a nurturing home. By incorporating dance into her everyday tasks, Navi remembers, reimagines, and reconnects with all of the community gatherings, such as Peter’s, that play out in body memory and movement. Navi’s carefree prancing creates a community portal, a vortex through which those from the past and who are presently scattered, though invisible, are brought into the room to spur a broad-grinned, broad-armed twirling state of bliss in the snow, so close to home yet far removed from the confines of the kitchen sink.

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At the same time, Navi takes notice of the spaces in between the mundane and exalted, in the quietude of witnessing her family and friends’ wonderment with nature in nurture. From this vantage point, she becomes attuned to the irrepressible pleasures that are often hidden in the crevasses of routine activities. Inspired by her son’s delight in spinning his bicycle wheels in muddy puddles of water, in Triumph (2011), Navi sets up two stationary bicycles and a treadmill, impishly daring residents of Sackville, New Brunswick, her family’s hometown for four years, to race one another. Navi emulates her son’s jubilation in discovering the pleasure of becoming stuck in place, by matching the residents’ interminably thrilling race to nowhere with Parc National’s soundtrack, Walk the Walk, egging the competitors ever onwards. As with Domesticated, the old cinematic style of Triumph lends itself to a timeless quality of the event, as if to communicate the collapse of past and future in the sheer captivation of the present moment. In both films, Navi expresses the idea that these activities can be taking place anywhere and everywhere, anytime and every time, if only one were to abandon oneself to the music.

While sometimes the music might be a specific song that, for better or worse, is stuck on an infinite loop in someone’s head, at other times it is the concert of sounds that emerge in the interplay between human and non-human collaborations. In Eskimo Roll (2016), Inuit painter, performance and installation artist, and Navi’s husband, Mark Igloliorte diligently practices in Vancouver Harbour to master the “eskimo roll”. Mark’s optimistic efforts are culturally recuperative and socially engaging. In the ubiquitous presence of hobbyist kayakers along the city’s coastal waters, the Inuit design and hunting purposes behind kayak technology are perhaps often overlooked. In Navi’s recording of Mark’s multiple attempts to resume the upright position after riding into his self-catalyzing wave, the audience is pulled in to root for his success. By catching the gratifying moments of Mark’s buoyant returns to form, Navi has viewers celebrating simultaneously Mark’s physical and cultural reclamations of this act, alongside the rising elegance of his movements. The physical collaboration between human, kayak, oar, water, and air, in reaching for that elusive melodious swoosh reverberates with Mark’s orchestrations to revitalize ancestral body memory, to constitute cultural ligations for future generations, and to honour the continuous flow of Inuit innovations in the here and now. The layers of meanings and web of relations enfolded into Mark’s seemingly solitary performance are given the space to be contemplated through Navi’s unwavering and empathetic gaze.

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In the opening frames of Aidagara, Navi’s cinematic movement conveys the scope of the challenge confronting Japanese-Canadian performance artist and friend, Ayumi Goto in her desire to express gratitude to the rock wall, facing the Pacific Ocean at Stanley Park. Aidagara (2017a), which loosely translates into “the qualities emerging from the spaces in between” (Watsuji, 1996), is a contemplation of rock-human interrelations that determine the makings of a meaningful gift exchange amidst such scalar differences. The rock which, years ago, had absorbed sorrows collected in Ayumi’s body from listening to the harrowing testimonies offered by residential school survivors at the Vancouver gathering of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, continues to draw Ayumi’s attention. The white table, situated in stark contrast to its surrounds signals that the gift is not an object but an invocation of a body memory brought in from another time and place. By varying the distances from which a passerby observes this human-rock exchange, Navi compels the viewer to meditate upon how actions and relations from afar can meet and flow into new relationships at any given moment. In Aidagara, the sound of water rushing down the rock to collect in the drains below, is a reminder that beneath the surface of the seemingly irreconcilable, all things are interlinked, an echo of Mark’s diligent collaboration with the very same waters in Eskimo Roll. 

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The multi-layered assemblages of invisible and visible, memory and presence, unimaginable and imagined ethereally recur in Navi’s performance, Kassinu Tshekuan/Everything Together (2017). The fancy dress that Navi wears in the film is of her own design, made in intergenerational homage to her babička (Czech for “grandmother”). Renown for her intricate attention to detail and style, Navi’s babička has left a lasting impression, whose practice continues to implore Navi to appreciate the beauty residing in all things. Filmed on the shortest day of the year, Kassinu Tshekuan/Everything Together begins with Navi stomping down the snow with her snowshoes, in keeping with the preparations made in creating a space for a Labrador tent. Navi’s actions return her to the compounding of memories of past gatherings with all her relations: grandmothers, grandfathers, uncles, brothers, sisters, the spruce bows beneath one’s feet, the smells of firewood intermingling with pots of food cheerfully bubbling away. These relations exceed genetic bloodlines to embrace kinships that are nurtured from feasting, dancing, laughing, and communing together. As Navi dances silently and resolutely in the snow, the viewer’s imagination is invited to become flooded with their own songs to accompany and inspire Navi’s movements. The windswept flows of the dress’s fabric promises to swathe the viewer’s memories into Elder Pien’s caribou tales, Peter’s dinner party, domestic raves, the muddying sprays of stationary races, Mark’s “eskimo rolls”, and rock-ayumi interrelations. Kassinu tshekuan, everything is brought together. Navi’s dress reproduces the ways in which the snow and wind themselves surround Navi’s kinetic musings.

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In performance work, everything happens at the same time. Performances express not only the artists’ intentions, but include the unintentional provocations of body memory and habits, unexpected occurrences and presence of others, and the viewer’s own insights through participation. In watching Navi’s films, the viewer may never fully know each artist’s history and objectives. But in the experience of witnessing how the pieces may speak to one another and to the viewers themselves, the feelings of humor and playfulness, lightness cutting solitude, loneliness and overcrowding, love and intimacies emerge in the inbetweenness of the performances, drawing together seemingly scattered lives. In the Owens Art Gallery, Navi creatively reconstructs a Labrador tent, each film, part of the canvas that shapes and houses the gallery visitors. And everyone is welcome to bring forth their own memories, which will in turn nourish and nurture the interrelatedness streaming through the manifold layers of being together. 

 

This is an essay written for a Owen's Art Gallery publication. Posted with permission from author and gallery. The videos were made with the support of the Canada Council for the Arts.

 

References

 

Bahá’í World Centre (2006). One common faith. Haifa: Bahá’í International Community.

 

Igloliorte, N. (Producer/Director). (2004). Elder Pien Penashue drumming [SD Video]. Canada.

 

Igloliorte, N. (Producer/Director). (2011). Triumph [16mm Film]. Canada: Struts Gallery & Faucet Media Arts Centre, Canada.      

 

Igloliorte, N. (Producer/Director). (2015). Domesticated [Super8 Film]. Canada: Struts Gallery & Faucet Media Arts Centre, Canada.

 

Igloliorte, N. (Producer/Director). (2016). Eskimo roll [HD Video]. Canada.

 

Igloliorte, N. (Producer/Director). (2017). Kassinu tshekuan/everything together [HD Video]. Canada.       

 

Igloliorte, N. (Producer/Director). (2017a). Aidagara [Film]. Canada.

 

Igloliorte, N. (Producer/Director). (2018). What about [HD Video]. Canada.

 

Igloriorte, M. & Morin, P. (2018). The Labrador Interpretation Centre. International Contemporary Art, Issue 136, 63-64.

 

Morin, P. (2014). My life as a museum, or, performing Indigenous epistemologies. In S. 

 

Brophy & J. Hladki (Eds.), Embodied politics in visual autobiography (pp. 137-152). Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

 

Watsuji, T. (1996). Rinrigaku: Ethics in Japan. Seisaku Yamamoto & Robert E. Carter (Trans.). Albany: State University of Albany Press.