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– Spring/Summer 2018

Rebecca Belmore: Material Relations

Julia Bryan-Wilson

Rebecca Belmore, Biinjiya’iing Onji (From inside), 2017, installation, marble, dimensions variable. Installation view, Filopappou Hill, Athens, documenta 14, 2017. Photograph: Fanis Vlastara. Courtesy the artist and Fanis Vlastaras

At dawn, the marble tent glowed a soft pinkish gold. Inside it was cool and dusty. Light from a triangular skylight piercing the curved roof illuminated the streaked walls. In the distance stood the Parthenon, surrounded by scaffolding and construction cranes, hushed before the workday. Rebecca Belmore’s life-size shelter Biinjiya’iing Onji (From Inside, 2017), situated on Athens's Filopappou Hill as part of documenta 14, was hand-carved by the studio of Vangelis Ilias. Particular attention was given to the draping of the sculptural tent’s fabric and the soft folds around its entrance, recalling the importance of drapery and modelling for ancient Greek statuary. The tent’s mouth was positioned so that the visitor, when seated inside the low-ceilinged structure, would be at eye level with the Acropolis; this drew an imaginary thread between the two vastly different architectural forms, and Belmore utilised a suggestive sightline to connect a contemporary emblem of migration, homelessness and displacement with an iconic symbol of classical heritage.

Rebecca Belmore, Wild, 2001, installation and performance. Installation view, ‘House Guests: Contemporary Artists in the Grange’, Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), Toronto, September 2001 – January

Footnotes
  1. James E. Young, ‘The Counter-Monument: Memory against Itself in Germany Today’, Critical Inquiry, vol.18, no.2, Winter 1992, p.271 and 279.

  2. The terms ‘Indigenous’, ‘Native’ and ‘First Nations’ have different resonances based on national histories and currant usages; in this essay I attempt to use them in ways that are specific to their context.

  3. Carla Taunton notes that Belmore’s calling of names is a form of performative storytelling, one that functions as a ‘living archive’; see her ‘Embodying Sovereignty: Indigenous Women’s Performance Art in Canada’, in Narratives Unfolding: National Art Histories in an Unfinished World (ed. Martha Langford), Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2017, p.326. Other artistic responses to the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women of Canada include the 2017 opera Missing, written by the Métis playwright Marie Clements.

  4. Dorian Batycka, ‘Cultural Diplomacy and Artwashing at Documenta in Athens, Hyperallergic [online forum], 12 June 2017, available at https://hyperallergic.com/384199/cultural-diplomacy- and-artwashing-at-documenta-in-athens (last accessed on 2 December 2017).

  5. Andrew Russeth, ‘Pick a Lock: On the Hunt at Documenta in Athens’, ArtNews [online magazine], 6 July 2017, available at http://www.artnews.com/2017/06/07/pick-a-lock-on-the-hunt-at-documenta- in-athens (last accessed on 2 December 2017).

  6. Amandas Ong, ‘The successes and failures of Documenta in Athens’, Apollo: The International Art Magazine [online magazine], 16 May 2017, available at https://www.apollo-magazine.com/the- successes-and-failures-of-documenta-in-athens (last accessed on 2 December 2017).

  7. Wendy Makoons Geniusz, Our Knowledge is Not Primitive: Decolonizing Botanical Anishinaabe Teachings, Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2009, p.56.

  8. Julie Nagam,‘Travelling Soles: Tracing the Footprints of our Stolen Sisters’, in Performance Studies in Canada (ed. Laura Levine and Marlis Schweitzer), Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2017, p.123.

  9. Jessica L. Horton and Janet Catherine Berlo, ‘Beyond the Mirror: Indigenous Epistemologies and “New Materialisms” in Contemporary Art’, Third Text, vol.27, no.120, issue 1, January 2013, p.18.

  10. For one book that acknowledges the precedent of Indigenous ways of thinking in so-called new materalisms, see Mel Y. Chen, Animacies: Biopolitics, Racial Mattering, and Queer Affect, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012.

  11. Candice Hopkins, ‘Rebecca Belmore’, in documenta14: Daybook (ed. Quinn Latimer and Adam Szymczyk), New York and London: Prestel, 2017.

  12. Janet Catherine Berlo and Ruth B. Phillips, Native North American Art, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998, p.237.

  13. Margaret Kovach, Indigenous Methodologies: Characteristics, Conversations, and Contexts, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2009, p.57.

  14. Lisa Charleyboy, ‘First Nations artist creates a blanket of beads’, CBC News, 15 March 2014, avail- able at http://www.cbc.ca/news/indigenous/first-nations-artist-rebecca-belmore-creates-a-blanket- of-beads-1.2571509 (last accessed on 22 January 2018).

  15. Sarah Bond, ‘Whitewashing Ancient Statues: Whiteness, Racism and Color in the Ancient World’, Forbes [online magazine], 27 April 2017, available at https://www.forbes.com/sites/drsarahbond/2017/04/27/whitewashing-ancient-statues-whiteness-racism-and-color-in-the-ancient-world/#78f09cca75ad (last accessed on 12 December 2017).