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By Vanessa Dion Fletcher
This work began in my mouth with my voice and moved down to my feet, and the earth. My art practice explores themes of communication, identity and the body. My current trajectory is rooted in language, (mis)communications and failures to communicate. This work to the form of parabolas investigating shape, as an interment for communication both formally and conceptually. More recently I have been focusing on ideas of fluency and understanding in the context of my Potawatomi and Lenape ancestry. Having no direct access to my ancestral Aboriginal languages has inspired me to explore the notion of communication without words.
I use Intaglio and lithography both traditional European methods of printmaking, but adapt these methods to make them more relevant to my contemporary indigenous existence. One of these adaptations is the method of marking copper intaglio plates. Typically the plate would be marked through a process of acid bighting or fine scratches made with a metal tool, both producing a detailed line drawing. For my project Writing Landscape I developed a technique of marking copper plates by wearing them on my feet and walking. It is a kind of writing where my body and the topography of the land over which I walk are both author and subject.
My project took place in three locations, Toronto Ontario, Thamesville Ontario and Pangnirtung Nunavut. I have chosen these locations specifically for their historical and contemporary significance to myself. At each location I began by walking around without the plates on my feet, getting a sense of the topography, and contemplating my connection to that particular place. Conceptually, I considered the place, my relationship to it, and why I wanted to communicate with and record my conversation in an image of the land. Technically I considered the different surfaces, as well as how the weather was influencing my movement. In each location I walked for several kilometers, setting up the shot walking away from the camera and returning to it. The result of this movement away and returning to the viewer, a kind of ebb and flow that creates a sense of both coming and going, a cyclical effect where the question remains am I walking away from the viewer or towards the horizon? Am I returning to the viewer or leaving where I came form? In these unanswered questions I am always moving. It is the movement in this work that creates the marks. In Writing Landscape I am taking steps to record and listen to the land that I come from, the land that supports me, and the land that inspires me. I think this work is an affirmation that I am not fixed in the past or the future, but am able to adapt and create new relationships and connections with new landscapes.
Each location in Writing Landscape has a different purpose and significance, but they are all about the relationship between myself and the land, and myself and the water. Although not my original intension the boundaries that the water created with the land presented more of a focus. Walking along the shore-lines not only provided a path to follow but an in-between space to occupy.
My choice of location in Toronto was related to returning to and renewing an ongoing relationship with the land. It is the place where I currently live and the place where I have spent my adult life. Walking along the shore of Ashbriges Bay made me feel as though I was renewing an ongoing relationship with this land, it is the land where I now feel at home and I wanted to reaffirm that relationship.
In the case of Thamesville, the experience was more one of establishing a relationship. My grandmother’s family left Moravian No. 47 Indian reserve when she was nine years old. This was my first time visiting the reserve. I ended up walking mostly along the Thames River, remembering my grandmother’s story of pulling groceries on a sled along that same river. Where does the river begin and where does it end, what drew grandma away and what brought me back?
While working on the project I was fortunate to be able to visit a friend in Pangnirtung Nunavut. Since first visiting as part of my undergraduate education program in 2009, I have been returning yearly, both the trip itself and my project of walking was a renewal of friendships, feeling a sense of solidarity with indigenous people who also have struggles over their land that appear different but are similar to my own. Because the moss and lichen that grow on the tundra are so soft, I once again ended up along the banks of the river, where under the pressure of my feet the rocks and pebbles would scratch and impress themselves on to the plates.
In each case the project is about establishing, repeating or renewing a relationship to the land and the place. The process of the walking was important: the physicality of feeling the cold or warmth of the land conducted through the copper. Walking along the water’s edge, I would immediately feel the chill of wet ground or just as quickly feel the warmth of dry ground created by sun warmed rocks and sand. It was satisfying hearing the scraping and crunching as I crossed the rocks.
This physicality is revealed in the printing process. Once all the plates had been thoroughly scratched I began printing the images. The plates themselves are compelling as objects. However, once printed, the images that are produced reveal the intricacies that have been pressed into the plate. Seemingly insignificant tiny stones and grains of sand imprint themselves on to the plate and become the printed images. Fine scratches, dents, cracks where the plate split between the force of my body and the force of the land appear on the paper.
I have been influenced by several senior artists in the development of this project, most significantly the work of Greg Staats. Staats has provided both conceptual and technical guidance. I have looked to his video and photography to inspire and inform my project. His exploration of recording, language and memory within the restorative aesthetic of “Condolence” has informed the ways in which I engage with similar themes in my own work. In his (2011) artist talk at Articule in Montréal Staats discussed the photographs in condolence.
This series represents a friendship with the landscape that I was trying to express, those boreal markers are there, they are still there for me to return to as a place to be welcomed. That was the beginning of my connection to the landscape, my own personal landscape that I could find solace in. (Staats, 2011)
In Writing Landscape instead of photographing the markers through the creation of the prints I created my own markers. Making my own personal landscape and finding reassurance in myself and my art practice and in the process of recording the landscape as a marker.
Writing landscape is a series of images that were created between my body and the land. As previously stated, I began the project thinking about language. Writing Landscape is a project where I would be simultaneously, “writing” the land by recording it, and writing a place for my self on the land. I fall short and am unsatisfied with written and spoken language, as I have no direct access to my ancestral languages, and have a disability that severely affects my use of written language. As Staats states, the land is a place to find solace, filled with mnemonics and triggers to remember and create who we are.
Staats, Greg, and Martha Langford. "Greg Staats Artist Talk." Speech. Artist Talk with guest Martha Langford. Articule, Montreal. 14 Feb. 2011. Articule. Web. 13 Oct. 2011.