by Noa Bronstein
Opening Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s Guantánamo Diary is not like opening most books. Slahi was imprisoned in Guantánamo for fourteen years and his diary records his terrifying realities as a detainee. Exposing the brutality and torture he experienced at the detention camp, Slahi’s memoir details his personal story of survival. Before the diary’s release the US government heavily censored the text by adding 2,500 black-bar redactions. The diary was then edited a second time by Larry Siems, who attempted to decipher an obstructed text not meant to be publicly accessed in any meaningful way. As a result, each page, each sentence of the book becomes an uncomfortable exercise in navigating the troubling terrain of personal memory, institutional control and human rights violations. The final, published version of Guantánamo Diary is strangely co-authored by its originator, his imprisoners and an editor who had no access to the writer.
What Guantánamo Diary tells us about the process of redaction is that it ends up revealing the tensions that exist between private and public materials, omissions and admissions, full disclosures and full cover-ups. Redaction confirms that there are hierarchies of information – we are not all in the know. The deliberate attempt to keep information from those who vote, write or speak out, from those with and without power, has proven to be a significant preoccupation for many artists. It is equally true that the potential of redaction to open up different meanings and alternative understandings has also found its way into artistic practice.
Developed as an exhibition at the Koffler Gallery and Critical Distance Centre for Curators, Through lines brings together the works of seven artists that challenge notions of redaction, tackling its typical devices of shredding, blacking out, editing and covering-up. Each featured project engages a restorative gesture that speaks to the ways in which history and memory are conceptualized within a contemporary context. Rather than considering redaction simply as a bureaucratic tool or an outcome of state control, these specific approaches enable new forms of knowledge production and remembering, both politically and personally. Contemplating alternative legibilities that might emerge through redaction, the exhibition highlights the spaces of inquiry revealed through acts of obstruction.
Both Nadia Myre and Leila Fatemi use archival documents as their starting point. For Myre’s project Indian Act (2002) she enlisted over 230 friends, colleagues and strangers to bead over the fifty-six pages of the Indian Act. This collective action was spread out over many laborious hours over several years at Concordia University and OBORO art centre, where the completed project was shown as part of the exhibition Cont[r]act in 2002. Each page of the Act is sewn over with red and white glass beads, with the white beads standing in for words and the red beads replacing negative space. Presented in discrete black frames, the redacted documents create visual evidence of the lingering impact of colonization, unheeded contracts and oppressive politics. Within the Koffler exhibition, six works from Indian Act are paired with Myre’s Orison #2, Orison #3 and Orison #4 (2014), in which the underside of these beaded copies of federal documents have been photographically documented and enlarged. From afar the images appear as elegant abstract white forms on black backgrounds, but up close they expose the delicate thread work required to adhere the beads to the individual pages of the Act. Intervening in the Act does not implicitly counteract its dehumanizing impacts, but it might help to demonstrate the time, care and community commitment needed to move away from its destructive legacy.
Similarly, Leila Fatemi’s project Revealed/Reveiled (2018) involves the redaction of historical documents. Here, the artist works with photographs taken by French officer Marc Garanger as part of the colonial project in Algeria during the 1960s. Garanger was a soldier in the French Army and was tasked with photographing Algerian citizens in the region where he was stationed for identification cards. Most of his subjects were Muslim and Berber women who were forced to unveil for their pictures. In spite of the shame and anger felt by those in front of the camera, Garanger’s portrait series Femmes Algeriennes has remained widely circulated. Fatemi digitally disrupts and obscures the images – a gesture that restores anonymity to the many photographic subjects captured within this archive of images. As Fatemi notes, she is looking to “reclaim the identity of the women and compel the viewer to experience them anonymously on their terms, while inviting the viewer to reflect and reconcile that identity is not a complete picture, but fragments brought together to create the idea of a whole.” Exhibited here as an expansive vinyl installation, Revealed/Reveiled reads as a large-scale contact sheet, referencing the history of photography into which Garanger’s images belong. In this way, the project calls attention to the wider abuses of the medium over its nearly two-hundred-year lifespan.
By redacting Garanger’s images, Fatemi not only addresses the power imbalances within these specific documents but also the wider inequities inherent in so many photographic practices.
Further referencing the possibilities and limitations of photography, Scott Benesiinaabandan, Maria Hupfield and Lise Beaudry use redaction as a way of complicating the image. For his series little resistances (2015), Benesiinaabandan combines family snapshots with journalistic images of recognizable Indigenous resistances, including the Oka Crisis. Once combined, the photographs are crumpled up and then placed on a scanner that converts the sculptural image back into a two-dimensional object. This shifting of dimensionality and readability destabilizes the images, making them only partially accessible. little resistances quite literally folds together personal resistance and historic push back, blurring the boundaries between the two. Benesiinaabandan further complicates the images by merging the locations of the personal and the historic, revealing the ways in which different forms of resistance compel or foster one another. Here, redaction is used to reflect how everyday, individual resistance and public refusal are not insulated from each other, offering a more complex vantage point than what is typically presented in the media.
Lise Beaudry likewise examines the ways in which personal images can be put toward other uses by reconstituting intimate family photographs. Posthumously collaborating with her deceased father as the record-keeper who documented their family life throughout the course of his own, she sutures together various images from both his and her archives, enlarges the whole, and then overlays shredded images, creating a disorienting blurring of several personal snapshots. In Maurice (2018) a bikini-clad, toddler-aged Beaudry is shown beside her son while her partner appears at the opposite end of the frame. Paired with this work is a stack of 1,600 photos that form one complete image in Chez Sandy (2018). The images are created through a time-consuming technique that separates each single row of pixels from one original photograph, stretches them into an 8 x 8 inch image and prints them individually. Layering the individual prints in sequential order reconstructs the original image along the side of the stack as opposed to the surface of each photograph. Beaudry’s act of blurring past and present and two- and three-dimensional forms calls into question the decisive moment and how we define photography. Beaudry’s ongoing work of redacting her own images allows photography to persist as a complex collaboration between many makers and viewers. In re-assigning the value proposition of images away from singular photographers and moments in time, this iterative project acknowledges that a more expansive definition of photography has the potential to operate more openly.
Maria Hupfield also intervenes in her own archive by turning to her series Counterpoint (2007) and collaging industrial felt onto her initial photographs. Counterpoint’s performative series captures two figures, one of whom is the artist, responding to each other’s presence and to the spaces around their bodies. Hupfield redacts these original images with angular pieces of felt that cover large portions of the photographs. Parts of the image still peek through and appear to work with the felt to create an entirely different viewing experience. In Recovery of the Whole, for example, the felt entirely covers one of the figures in the image. The new image shows a ghost-like silhouette that stands beside the artist, who continues to look directly at the viewer. The protective, felted interventions allow Hupfield to resist, as she notes in her artist statement, the consumption of the body and of her nation. She also notes that the series seeks “personal autonomy and sovereignty, a recognition of the individual.” These obstructed sightlines trouble our expectation of an image being fully available and wholly consumable. By altering existing photographs, Hupfield’s works function to distort the documentary qualities of the image. The photographs therefore chart an alternative pathway that leads to a multiplicity of malleable and expansive interpretations, viewpoints and truths.
Michèle Pearson Clarke and Raafia Jessa both turn to language and speech in their respective projects. Clarke’s video elegy, All That Is Left Unsaid (2014), edits together pieces of found footage of Audre Lorde. Both Lorde and Clarke’s mother lived with cancer for fourteen years and the loss of their wisdom and love is marked by the video’s continuously disjointed and unrealized sentences. The clips of Lorde are borrowed from the 1995 documentary A Litany for Survival: The Life and Work of Audre Lorde. Clarke has edited out all of Lorde’s actual talk, however, and leaves us instead with a series of gestures. The video captures everything in-between the words – all of the human acts that communicate outside of language. Sighs, breath, laughter. It is a jarring, even frustrating, experience to sit with a great orator who is left without speech. But that is the nature of grief. It can strip away what we crave and offer something else entirely. Grief can be incredibly uncomfortable and, just like Clarke’s video, leave us wondering at that which remains unspoken. The video’s fragmented format seems to extend outward from Lorde to consider all of those who may be cut off or quieted. Lorde’s speechlessness creates a space for hearing the voices of others who might be intentionally or unintentionally silenced.
The unspoken also enters into Raafia Jessa’s vinyl installation, /ˈlo.kwi:/ (2016), which presents the forty-five symbols of a fictitious alphabet. The curved and elegant forms that comprise the /ˈlo.kwi:/ alphabet are based on a mixture of Urdu, Persian, Arabic and Latin. While the alphabet is illegible to anyone but Jessa, it suggests the possibility of a more empathetic future rooted in universal communication. This is certainly not the first attempt at crafting a language system that can be understood by anyone and everyone. Jessa’s project could be understood within the context of like endeavours, including L.L. Zamenhof’s Esperanto, the most widely spoken international, auxiliary language. /ˈlo.kwi:/, however, distinguishes itself from this and other similar attempts at universal communication because it is purely hypothetical. The condensed and reconceived script becomes less about practicality and more about visualizing a different way of living and of being together. This invented system might offer an invitation into new communal realities and those yet to be realized or even imagined.
Concealment offers its own kind of reveal. Guantánamo Diary and the artworks featured within this exhibition show us that even in the covering-up we are afforded insight into complex subjects, ranging from memory and mourning to power structures and mechanisms of institutional control. In each of these multi-layered projects, redaction performs as an invitation to challenge assumptions and easy readings of images, documents and texts. Through lines points to the spaces in-between, where the hidden and obscured become as significant as the visible.
Through lines is presented in partnership with Critical Distance Centre for Curators
Lise Beaudry is a Franco-Ontarian artist originally from the rural region of Témiscamingue on the Ontario-Québec border. Her work is influenced by the “lure of the local”, as Lucy Lippard describes, the sense and pull of a space. For Beaudry this is the land, geography and activities of the north. Beaudry holds a BFA from Concordia University (1997) and an MFA from York University (2006). Her photographic and video work has been presented across Canada and internationally, including Les rencontres internationales de la photographie (Arles), Grant Gallery (Vancouver), ASpace (Toronto), Biennial of Young Artists (Romania), Ice Follies, (North Bay), Art Gallery of Hamilton, Art Gallery of Mississauga, and Pierre François Ouellette Art Contemporain (Montréal). She lives and works in Toronto where she teaches in the Art and Art History program at the University of Toronto in Mississauga. www.lisebeaudry.com
Scott Benesiinaabandan is an Anishinabe intermedia artist that works primarily in photography, printmaking and video. Scott has recently completed international residencies at Parramatta Artist Studios in Australia (2012), Context Gallery in Derry, North of Ireland (2010) and is most recently been awarded the University Lethbridge/Royal Institute of Technology iAIR residency 2013, along with international collaborative projects in both the U.K and Ireland. He is currently in Montreal, and recently completed a Canada Council New Media Production grant through OBx Labs/Ab-tech and Concordia. Benesiinaabandan has taken part in several group exhibitions across Canada and the United States, most notably in Harbourfront’s Flatter the Land/Bigger the Ruckus (2006), Subconscious City at the Winnipeg Art Gallery (2008), unSacred, at Gallery 1C03 ( 2011), Mii Omaa Ayaad/Oshiki Inendemowin in Sydney, Australia (2012), and Ghost Dance at Ryerson Image Centre (2013). www.benesiinaabandan.com
Michèle Pearson Clarke is a Trinidad-born artist who works in photography, film, video and installation. Using archival, performative and process-oriented strategies, her work explores the personal and political possibilities afforded by considering experiences of emotions related to longing and loss. Her work has been shown across Canada, the United States, and Europe, including in exhibitions at The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (2018); ltd los angeles (2018); Studio XX, Montreal (2017); and Ryerson Image Centre, Toronto (2015); as well as in screenings at Ann Arbor Film Festival (2017); Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (2016); International Film Festival Rotterdam (2015); and International Short Film Festival Oberhausen (2015). Based in Toronto, she holds an MSW from the University of Toronto, and she received her MFA from Ryerson University in 2015. From 2016-2017, Clarke was artist-in-residence at Gallery 44 Centre for Contemporary Photography, and she was the EDA Artist-in-Residence in the Department of Arts, Culture and Media at the University of Toronto Scarborough for the Winter term 2018. Clarke’s writing has been published in Canadian Art and Transition Magazine, and she is currently teaching in the Documentary Media Studies program at Ryerson University. www.michelepearsonclarke.com
Leila Fatemi is an emerging artist, curator and community arts worker based in Toronto. Living between cultures, her work and curatorial endeavours stem from her daily experiences as a visible minority and aim to provide platforms and contribute alternative narratives to conversations of Ethnic representation in contemporary art. Leila holds a BFA in Image Arts from Ryerson University and has exhibited her work and curated exhibitions both nationally and internationally. www.leilafatemi.com
Based in Brooklyn New York, Maria Hupfield is a member of the Anishinaabek Nation from Wasauksing First Nation, Ontario, Canada. Her first major institutional solo exhibit, The One Who Keeps on Giving, is currently traveling and is a production of The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery, Toronto in partnership with Southern Alberta Art Gallery, Lethbridge; Galerie de l’UQAM, Montréal; Mount Saint Vincent University Art Gallery, Halifax; and Canadian Cultural Centre, Paris. This show builds on previous projects that have travelled internationally with Beat Nation: Aboriginal Art and Hip Hop and selected for SITELines Biennial SITE Santa Fe 2016. Hupfield is currently a Triangle Artist in Resident, the first Indigenous Fellow at the International Studio and Curatorial Program, ISCP in New York, and is completing a residency with Native Art Department International at DTA/FABnyc in the Lower East Side, New York. mariahupfield.wordpress.com
Raafia Jessa is a Pakistani-Canadian Graphic Designer currently living in Texas. Having lived and grown in greatly varying cultures, a central theme in much of her work is the idea of communication and the way in which humans interact with each other. The idea of interaction is explored as a way to understand the subjectivity of language and the existing limits of comprehension. Her work has many outlets including typography, English and Arabic calligraphy, illustration, as well as photography. Her work has been published for Parsons School of Design, installed permanently at the University of Houston, received an SEGD Global Design Honor Award and has been featured in art exhibitions worldwide. raafiajessa.com
Nadia Myre is an Indigenous and Quebecois artist from Montreal who is interested in having conversations about identity, resilience and politics of belonging. A graduate from Camosun College (1995), Emily Carr (1997), and Concordia University (M.F.A., 2002), Myre is a recipient of numerous awards, notably Banff Centre for Arts Walter Phillips Gallery Indigenous Commission Award (2016), Sobey Art Award (2014), Pratt & Whitney Canada’s ‘Les Elles de l’art’ for the Conseil des arts de Montréal (2011), Quebec Arts Council’s Prix à la création artistique pour la region des Laurentides (2009), and a Fellowship from the Eiteljorg Museum (2003). Recent accomplishments include Tout ce qui reste / Scattered Remains (Montreal Museum of Fine Art, 2017), Decolonial Gestures or Doing it Wrong? Refaire le chemin (McCord Museum, 2016) and commissions for new work: the Quebec Room carpet design (2015) for Canada House in London, England (with Karen Spencer), Orison (galerie Oboro, 2014), Formes et Paroles(Musée Dapper, Senegal, 2014), and Sakahàn (National Gallery of Canada, 2013). As well as having participated in international biennales (Shanghai 2014, Sydney 2012, and Montreal 2011), Myre’s work has featured in prominent group exhibitions such as Changing Hands 3 (Museum of Art and Design, New York, NY), Pour une république des rêves (CRAC Alsace – Centre Rhénan d’Art Contemporain, Altkirch, FR), Le temp du dessin (Ensemble Poirel, Nancy, France), Vantage Point(National Museum of American Indian National Mall, Washington, DC), It Is What It Is (National Gallery of Canada), and Femmes Artistes: L’éclatement des frontières 1965-2000 (Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, QC). Her work has received accolades from the New York Times, The Washington Post, and Le Devoir, and has been featured in ARTnews, Canadian Art, Parachute, American Craft, C Magazine, and Monopol. Her works may be found on permanent exhibition at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, National Gallery of Canada, Musée National des Beaux-Arts du Québec, Canadian Museum of History, and the Musée des civilizations (Quebec). www.nadiamyre.net
Noa Bronstein is a curator and writer based in Toronto. She has contributed to such publications as PREFIX Photo, Canadian Art, Border Crossings, The Journal of Curatorial Studies, and C Magazine. Noa has held several roles in the arts, including Director of Public Programs and Acting Curator at the Design Exchange and Executive Director of Gallery 44 Centre for Contemporary Photography. Recent curatorial projects include When Form Becomes Attitude at Contemporary Calgary, bust/boom at The New Gallery (Calgary), With an instinct for justice at Doris McCarthy Gallery (Toronto) and Aleesa Cohene’s solo exhibition I Don’t Get It at Gallery 44 (Toronto), The Rooms (St. John’s) and Western Front (Vancouver). Noa is currently the Senior Curator of Museums Mississauga and the Small Arms Inspection Building.
Essay: Noa Bronstein | Design: Tony Hewer | Editing: Shannon Anderson
Koffler Gallery installation photos: Toni Hafkenscheid
Digital publication to the exhibition Through lines
Presented by the Koffler Gallery & Critical Distance Centre for Curators | September 13 to November 25, 2018 | Guest Curator: Noa Bronstein
© Koffler Centre of the Arts, 2018, in collaboration with the individual contributors. All rights reserved. ISBN 978-1-928175-16-2.