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Review of Modest Livelihood Exhibition at the Centre Vox

By Elizabeth White

Elizabeth White provides an insightful review of Modest Livelihood, an exhibition on display at Centre Vox in Montréal. Brian Jungen and Duane Linklater’s 16mm film is on view until November 1, 2014. This collaborative film follows the artists and Jungen’s uncle as they embark on a series of hunting trips from Fort St. John, BC. More information can be found on the Centre VOX website.

Brian Jungen and Duane Linklater, Modest Livelihood, still, 2012, silent Super 16mm film transferred to Blu-ray, 50 min. Courtesy of the artists and Catriona Jeffries Gallery, Vancouver.

Shown in a dark room peopled by three benches and viewers alone, the focus of the silent film by Duane Linklater (Omaskêko Cree) and Brian Jungen (Swiss and Dane-zaa First Nation) is internalized, suggesting that the set-up is Modest Livelihood proper: its environment, its fall trees and winter snow. The set-up is not the room, a museum or a frame. This lack of a frame hints at the limits and lack thereof of the work. There are conceptual frameworks the collaborative video is likewise resisting.

The moose hunt is depicted in strikingly calm, peaceful silence. The quiet is abounding in unknowable, personal familiarity of the land and the hunt shared in secretive silence. What is viewed is intimate; what one feels — inclusion or exclusion — is intimate as well. Jungen and Linklater’s work makes room for the inner activity of the work and the viewer. The silence of the video is activated by its situation in VOX Gallery. The presentation in this artist-run gallery with the mission statements to “support research and presentation initiatives as well [as] enable artists, exhibition curators and other researchers to contribute to art experimentation, to reflection and to development of multiple forms of critical discourse around image-making and exhibition practices”[1] underscores the intent of the work to draw the viewer into the video and out of the discursive practices that have delivered considerable violence to the conception of the Aboriginal self and identity.

Brian Jungen and Duane Linklater, Modest Livelihood, still, 2012, silent Super 16mm film transferred to Blu-ray, 50 min. Courtesy of the artists and Catriona Jeffries Gallery, Vancouver.

The men hunt within the discursive practices attempting to define them as well as within the ruling of their land materialized by the wire fences between hunting grounds and oil rigs. Coming up to and looking beyond a wire fence, Linklater, Jungen, his uncle, and the cameraman are pushing seriously up against supposedly “natural categories of existence.”[2] The intimacy of silence situates attention in the movement of the hunters navigating the land, prodding the earth in search of sure footing, walking, waiting then shooting the moose so subtly that the viewer is unaware of the climactic moment. Once more, the men exercise an understanding quite unknown to the viewer. They navigate the body of the moose with care and precision. This moment offsets the assumed object of the film: the kill. The latter does not end the hunt. The brunt of the activity lies in the processing of the moose’s body. The men then drive off bringing every part of the hunt and the moose with them, leaving nothing behind but entrails and wire fences.

Discourse and silence are remobilized to emphasize the intimate, personal nature of Indigenous identities. Silence, however, introduces tension between the viewer and the work by suggesting that the knowledge of the hunt and of the land is sealed inside the work, leaving the viewer at a loss. In this way, there is a separation between the viewer and the individuals, who, by being allowed in, are capable of navigating the mountainous, densely-forested landscape. There is no place for institutional or discursive violence — or speech at all — in Modest Livelihood.

[1] “Mission,” VOX Gallery. (accessed 27 September 2014) ˂ on-vox/mission/˃.

[2] Bonita Lawrence, “Gender, Race, and the Regulation of Native Identity in Canada and the United States: An Overview,” inHypatia, Vol. 18, No. 2, 2003, p.4.

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