Where Warmth Resides in The Winter Lodge

Brace Grandjambe, Emmanaeve, Morgan Black, Helen Arias, Mahek Hussain, Emmanaeve, Amara Billo, May Kineyetums, AJ Kluck, Thea. As mentored by Morgan Black and Jillian Dolan

I write this work in Mohkinstsis (Calgary, Alberta). This land is cared for and known as home to the Blackfoot Confederacy (Siksika, Kainai, Piikani) as well as the Îyâxe Nakoda and Tsuut’ina nations. The relationship with the land also thrived with the Métis nation of Alberta, Region 3.

To shift prominence from colonial powers, all bodies of oppression are un-capitalized. It is also important to note that my perspective comes from one of settler colonialism.

In a space that is infected by western ideologies, The Winter Lodge acts in resistance–the white cube is compromised for this exhibition. The artists involved, Morgan Black and Jillian Dolan[1], and those who worked behind the scenes[2] made the gallery “messy”[3] by drawing in life through the door. This is achieved through the interaction with the audience, the approach to guidance as the exhibition came together, and the transformative conversations that took place between the works and the people[4].

I feel traditional exhibitions tend to wilt as their shows go on. The works feel final and static. Visitors seem less like guests and those involved seem less like hosts. If not this, the relationship still felt like they could’ve been closer. During the two week duration of this show, the public was invited in the room for two events, Bingo (where Thea’s piece, Let’s Bingo was activated) and the one I attended, Beading Night. While the pieces were in conversation with each other when I saw them before, I could see how they now livened up and were talking with us. The conversation that was the loudest to me was between Grandjambe’s Tipi Woman and Black’s Not Your Fairy-tale and If she was your daughter, mother, sister, auntie or grandmother, you would see her. Quieter conversations erupted with sound when the room was full of chattering and laughter. The life in Billo’s And They Still Danced resonated like a song as the room was activated. My relationship to the space deepened the longer we spoke.

I have been thinking about this quote of David Garneau’s: While decolonization and Indigenization is collective work, it sometimes requires occasions of separation– moments where Indigenous people take space and time to work things out among themselves” (23).

The Winter Lodge is a space for racialized and ally artists, which is not the exact type of space Garneau writes about. Regardless, I wanted to see if it resonated with Dolan and Black. How did the making/building/bonding process differ from the showing/activation?

MB: I think for me, the very nature of group exhibitions is creating a space of “coming together.” [ … ] It was for Indigenous and racialized students to learn about a world they are often on the outside of but in a way that centers our practices and ways of knowing.
The Winter Lodge itself is taken from the s7ístken, which is the word in my language for a lodge house, which many Indigenous groups use as a communal dwelling during the winter months to stay warm, tell stories, and eat good food. A place of safety, coming together, and survival. I think inviting the public [ … ] is a way for us to practice these sorts of longstanding traditions often found in racialized cultural groups.

Dolan and Black closely related their approach to the Cree and Métis way of learning, Opikinawasowin. Dolan sent me a studies project by Leah Marie Dorion, titled Opikinawasowin: The Life Long Process Of Growing Cree And Metis Children, to read into. To put very briefly, this form of learning encourages one “to take time out regularly to place oneself in the child’s shoes and try to see things from a child’s point of view in order to learn a new perspective” (Dorion 117). With that in mind, I was curious to hear what the both of them learned about themselves from their mentees.

JD: One of my mentorship sayings is 'let go, let slug' - it means, you have to know when you are fighting a force of nature and it's time to conserve your efforts for the things you can affect. [ … ] I have no control over the circumstances of [folks’] lives and the space they have in it to learn, so it's a lot healthier to let them guide me. When mentoring or curating, I get to practice [this] and I think that makes me a better person–someone who respects others boundaries, and someone who has more grace in the world.

This space radiates warmth and community (best explored in Hussain’s Home Sweet Home), but one with thoroughly thought out intentions (why and how to operate under Indigenous ways of making and living). The notion of commune is extended past the human. Arias’ La Muerte y Sus Flores yearns for a love for the places around us.

The works invite us to live with one another. Around the firepit that sits in the middle of the room, Kluck’s My Grandma's House on My Pillow takes a heavy seat with us. Kineyetums’ artist statement is brief and holds information back. The artist asks the viewer to reach out and build a personal connection with them to understand An Expression of the Bow. The answers are a gift of friendship.

As written in the statement for Pîsim’s Bison by Em, a “young bison calf run[s] into a tree quite harshly and shake[s] it off as if nothing happened.” He continues to walk on his land, turning the soil with his hoofs, his feces returned to the Earth as the vegetation provides energy for him to continue on–” The Winter Lodge perseveres. The Winter Lodge looks at the MNG in a way it has never been looked at before. The conventions of what a gallery/exhibition/show should look like were compromised and for a brief time, that concrete room with white walls held itself differently. It housed the Opikinawasowin ways of teaching and what came of it. It housed laughter and joy and togetherness. It housed tenderness and mourning. It housed you and me. Truthfully, I didn’t feel particularly upset when the show was taken down. The space felt like home, yes, but I think the homes that last are in our actions. The Winter Lodge showed me what home could look like.

Works Cited

David Garneau, "Imaginary Spaces of Conciliation and Reconciliation: Art, Curation, and Healing," in Arts of Engagement: Taking Aesthetic Action In and Beyond the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, eds. Dylan Robinson and Keavy Martin, 21-41 (Waterloo, ON: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2016).
Dorion, Leah Marie. “Opikinawasowin: The Life Long Process of Growing Cree and Metis Children.” Dropbox, 29 Apr. 2022, https://www.dropbox.com/s/jbpm7c3d5xnf5ac/13768.Dorion_traditional_child_rearing_2010_GDI.pdf?dl=0. Accessed 29 Apr. 2023.
“The Winter Lodge / 01.04.23; Marion Nicoll Gallery.” Marion Nicoll Gallery, www.marionnicollgallery.ca/exhibitions-1/the-winter-lodge-010423.

[1] These were the mentors for the residency. Throughout this text, I pull responses from the short interview I conducted with them. [2] Mary Ann Forbes who is the previous Lodgepole Centre coordinator, Leticia Ochoa, AJ Kluck, Kayla Gale, Stephanie One Spot, Thea Thomas, and Quenton Whitecalf [3] As opposed to neat, as Ece Canli uses it in “Design History Interrupted: A Queer-Feminist Perspective. In a cut part of the interview, Dolan expresses frustration towards the idea of messy-behind-closed-doors and neat-in-final-presentation. Our use of the same word has some differences, but I think our ideas resonate in similar places [4] Another approach to "life," in a more literal sense, is the raw wood wall and the labour that came with installing it. For the sake of word count, I do not go into the materiality of this exhibition.

View this writing on the Marion Nicoll Gallery site