Duane Linklater: From Our Hands, 80WSE Gallery, New York, December 8, 2016-February 18, 2017
Dismantling the walls of a gallery is already and always a political act, a metaphor for the literal deconstruction of white cube certainties. From Our Hands, the 2017 solo exhibition by Duane Linklater, an Omaskêko Cree artist from Northern Ontario, Canada, was performed partly in the spirit of institutional critique. The show had been made multiple by the inclusion of beadwork by his late grandmother, Ethel Linklater, and by an animated video by his then twelve-year-old son, Tobias Linklater.(Duane Linklater, Ethel Linklater, and Tobias Linklater, From Our Hands (exhibition presented by Mercer Union, Toronto, September 9, 2016-November 6, 2016, and 80WSE Gallery, New York, December 8, 2016-February 18, 2017). Although I focus on here on its New York installation, the exhibition’s transit across the U.S./Canada border is germane to its emphasis on material routes and roots, and implicitly asks how its movement changes its meaning within global art circuits.) From Our Hands consisted of objects both made and found, including stacked cigarette cartons, a coyote skin devouring grey felt, steel sculptures scaled to the artist's body, concrete and steel armatures that he made to cradle Ethel’s beaded moccasins and gloves, and even a gallery accession report for his grandmother’s work. Together, these belongings remade the gallery as a site of relations that were familial, institutional, and poetically material: steel represented the welders in Linklater’s family, as well as the sovereign Mohawk workers who travel across their territories to build New York City’s skyline; and concrete assumed a specific meaning in the show as an aggregate material composed of crushed rocks from elsewhere, one whose routes articulate a recombination across borders.(Linklater explained his family lineage of metalwork to me as he installed the show at 80WSE on December 5, 2016. I refer to this conversation throughout this article.)
Linklater’s most overt dismantling gesture was to remove three room-length panels of drywall to install rows of steel studs, painted red; together, the three skeletal interiors asked viewers “What then Remainz.”The unpunctuated question was loaded with meaning. It made reference to the 2016 U.S. Supreme Court case Dollar General Corporation v. Mississippi Band of Choctaw, in which Justice Sonia Sotomayor posed the poignant question, “What then remains of the sovereignty of the Indians?”(Briefly, this legal conflict grew out of a hearing for a 2003 assault of a minor by a non-Indigenous manager at a Dollar General store on the territory of the Choctaw in Mississippi, and was escalated to the Supreme Court, which was divided on the question of whether Native American tribal courts had the authority to adjudicate civil torts involving non-Native plaintiffs. This tied outcome, which reverts to the previous appeal and upholds the Choctaw’s jurisdiction, is ambivalent; it may be interpreted as a partial victory for upholding tribal jurisdiction, yet, as Linklater reminds us, the sovereignty of the United States was still presumed to take precedent over tribal jurisdiction, and the question of “what remains” rhetorically invokes the trope of Indigenous sovereignty’s disappearance while also, perhaps, asking what remains of the decision in a Supreme Court tie. For an account of the case, see Suzette Brewer, “Breaking: Victory for Tribes as SCOTUS Ties in Dollar General,” Indian Country Today, June 23, 2016. https://indiancountrymedianetwork.com/news/native-news/breaking-victory-for-tribes-as-scotus-ties-in-dollar-general/) Linklater’s rendering carried the provocation of the casual “z,” but the language was also serious, a statement of fact: the studs were “what then remain[ed]” in the walls of the gallery, which kept them intact after the show under new drywall, through an agreement with Linklater.(Linklater has noted that this is a reference to net-speak, and I also hear in it a general playfulness with language that evokes the “rez” and the “rez-idency.” On this land-based concept, see BUSH Gallery (Tania Willard and Peter Morin), “Site/ation,” C Magazine 136, January 2018.) As a permanent but hidden fixture of 80WSE, they now gesture toward Indigenous futures and familial relations: a horizon that has less to do with white art histories than it does with the sincere effort to realize radical political alternatives.(Merray Gerges, “Duane Linklater Imagines Indigenous Futures,” Canadian Art, September 14, 2016, http://canadianart.ca/features/duane-linklater-imagines-indigenous-futures/)
One year out from the exhibition, it is also apparent that a crucial aspect of Linklater’s works is their durability, a quality that has to do not only with craftsmanship or continuing relevance but also with a particular quality of endurance. My purpose in revisiting From Our Hands is to articulate this endurance by relating it to the condition of duress–Ann Stoler’s concept of a long-term colonial and imperial hardening that places limits around what we might think about this contemporary moment. Stoler emphasizes both the constraints and possibilities of endurance amidst imperial debris: toxicity, exposure, and ecological ruins.(Anne Stoler, Duress: Imperial Durabilities in Our Times (Durham: Duke University Press, 2016).) Importantly, such careful attention to the “new” materialities of contamination does not obscure an older dialectical materialism, as Linklater has repeatedly signaled the centrality of labor in his practice, making visible and revaluing the different types of work that occur within art worlds.
Writing from within the current conjuncture, a moment when Indigenous contemporary art has been made explicitly political (although not of course for the first time), the question of what “remains” of Linklater’s work from last year matters deeply. In calling our attention to different types of making, I mean to reference not only the material and discursive production of Indigenous art in this moment of duress, but also the forms of affect that become actionable as we learn to apprehend practices like Linklater’s beyond the conventionalized, constrained definitions of the ontological and the political.
In what follows I engage in a form of “leaky” criticism, one that does not seek to falsely reconcile the multiple materialisms that endure in Linklater’s work, but instead allows for indeterminacy and incommensurability to be foregrounded in interpretation. I am particularly interested in what we might call the sincerity of Linklater’s installation, which might be understood in two senses: as a desire to engage with art made by family members in a way that rejects its separation from Euro-North American contemporary art worlds; and as a principled refusal to offer a corrective or more-real sense of Indigenous object ontologies. This model of sincerity draws on the work of anthropologist John L. Jackson Jr., and deliberately departs from approaches to Indigenous contemporary art practice that depend on uninterrogated and highly essentializing assumptions about racial and ethnic authenticity. Writing about the (clearly different but nonetheless analogous) experience of race and “real blackness,” Jackson argues that “sincerity reads authenticity dialectically, against its grain, which also means critiquing in ways that do not harden doubt into a different certainty: the anti-authentic, the worst brands of dismissive, elitist, and hubris-filled anti-essentialism.”(See John L. Jackson Jr., Real Black: Adventures in Racial Sincerity (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), p. 229. The opposition of sincerity and authenticity has a long history in cultural criticism, and I draw here primarily on Jackson’s extension of Lionel Trilling’s work on sincerity that insists on its subject-to-subject race relation (whereas authenticity implies an object and a subject in a dehumanizing relation to one another). “Racial sincerity,” writes Jackson, “is an attempt to apply this ‘something elseness’ to race, to explain the reasons it can feel so obvious, natural, and even liberating to walk around with purportedly racial selves crammed up inside of us and serving as invisible links to other people.” See Jackson, Real Black, p. 15.)
This counterintuitive, dialectical conception of sincerity is a helpful way to understand what is at stake in the materialities of Linklater’s work. The political aesthetics of contemporary practices like Linklater’s share a common ground with earlier moments of explicit politicization in Indigenous contemporary art. To make this connection apparent, I draw on a recent monograph by art historian Jessica L. Horton, Art for an Undivided Earth: The American Indian Movement Generation (Duke University Press, 2017). In this important re-assessment of Indigenous art in the wake of the early 1970s American Indian Movement (AIM)––a response to settler occupation that Horton characterizes as also a struggle over representational “territory”––the author figures the practices of artists James Luna, Robert Houle, Kay WalkingStick, and particularly Jimmie Durham, as a struggle “to remap the spatial, temporal, and material coordinates of a violently divided earth.”(Jessica L. Horton, Art for an Undivided Earth: The American Indian Movement Generation (Durham: Duke University Press, 2017), p. 1.)
Relating artistic itinerancy to Indigenous mobility, rather than to the supposed cosmopolitanism of the art world and its romance of exile, Horton reassesses the movements and temporalities of Native American art practice. In Luna’s activation of nineteenth-century Luiseño scholar and translator Pablo Tac’s archive in his 2003 work Emendiato, for instance, Horton demonstrates how Tac’s animation of matter was thoroughly syncretic, both Catholic and Indigenous. Such an approach is similar to WalkingStick’s reappropriation of the Codex Vaticanus A, a Catholic chronicle of Indigenous life in the Americas, through illustrations and annotations in her sketchbooks. Throughout her account, Horton emphasizes the way that such work with intercultural archives resists objectification. In echoing the AIM generation’s insistence on the nonsecular qualities of modernity, she outlines the different transcultural and even multispecies forms of responsibility that would be consistent with the art of an “undivided earth.” Such an approach is also, as in Linklater’s work, a critique of authenticity discourse: by disrupting this sort of reified identity politics, Horton poses subtle and much-needed questions about the ways that modernity and kinship are reckoned in relation to Indigenous art practice. This critical impulse is evident in her theorization of “creative kinship”: a form of belonging that accounts for the mutual entanglements of Europe and Indigenous nations, and for the ways that artists draw on these complex legacies in their remappings.(Horton, Art for an Undivided Earth, p. 135.) Working across this uneven and shared ground—ground that is emergent from her work with art and artists—Horton proposes that we take seriously these routes (which are also roots) in moving toward a form of materialism that is both new and old, one that she argues is resolutely transcultural, requiring attention to the “liveliness” and social relations of materials generated by artists.(On the relation of these terms to travel, translation, and returns in Indigenous art worlds, see James Clifford, Returns: Becoming Indigenous in the Twenty-First Century (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2013).) For Horton, this transcultural materialism is thought especially through Durham’s practice, with stones serving as quasi-animistic (or “lively”) interlocutors in his work as itinerant artist.
In connecting Linklater’s sculptural work to the recent prominence of new materialisms, my intent is decidedly not to make these materialisms analogous. I wish, rather, to mark the return of varieties of sincere sentiment, in the form of those earlier moments in politicized Indigenous contemporary art practice to which Linklater gives embodied, durable form. Here, art historian Richard William Hill’s polemical question “Was Indigenous Art Better in the 1980s and Early 90s?” helps explain how sincerity can be profoundly material.(Richard William Hill, “Was Indigenous Art Better in the 1980s and Early 90s?” Canadian Art (March 21, 2016), https://canadianart.ca/features/was-indigenous-art-better-in-the-1980s-and-early-90s/) Writing of Luna’s famous performance Artifact Piece (1987), Hill reminds us that a crucial part of its anti-essentialism was not just the critique of the ideology of body-as-artifact, but Luna’s collection of Motown records, exhibited in an adjacent vitrine; such a display claimed a contemporary experience of the material world that had little to do with the project of salvage anthropology, or with the critiques of recovering authentic Indigeneity.
My point is that the intercultural entanglements of the object world, or those of art and Indigeneity, have as much to do with the “old,” Marxian materialism (the demystification of the commodity form) as they do with the new, which concerns itself with the boundaries of the human and with the different ontologies of objects. Briefly, this newfound materiality is but one strand of the recent “ontological turn” in anthropology, a much-debated theoretical formation whose debates uncannily echo those in art and aesthetics around the new materialism. Vastly simplified, both share a concern for radical alterity, and for social worlds that might be otherwise if we could reconfigure our categories of being away from a secularist and epistemological emphasis. Instead of rehearsing the accusations of commodity fetishism and re-enchantment that have come from both sides, we might look to Julia Bryan-Wilson’s incisive questioning of the new materialism’s relations to art. “If we take seriously the idea that we are comprised of the stuff around us (and the substances inside us),” she asks, “might this open up important conversations about justice, accountability, and care?”(Julia Bryan-Wilson, in “A Questionnaire on Materialisms,” October 155 (Winter 2016), p. 16.) In other words, contemporary conditions of duress require a leakiness of concepts to take stock of encounters and movements that are nonhuman, transhuman, or more-than-human.
These are the questions that likewise animate Horton’s concern for Indigenous mobility. In light of recent critiques of Durham’s practice and the revival of questions about the legitimacy of his Cherokee identity—and above all, the relations between these—it has become apparent that space, discursive and otherwise, matters a great deal to both Indigenous contemporary art and forms of sovereignty, as well as to the forms of care that may be accommodated in the art world as a political space.(Of this mattering, Cherokee artist America Meredith has written “when you are less than two percent of your nation-state’s population and the public discourse about your people is dominated by stereotypes and misinformation, self-representation is profoundly important.” See Meredith, “Why It Matters that Jimmie Durham is not a Cherokee,” artnet, July 7, 2017, https://news.artnet.com/opinion/jimmie-durham-america-meredith-1014164) It is this context of political mattering that I mean to invoke by asking about Linklater’s transcultural materialism and the kinds of sincerities and citational practices it demands. For example: in his otherwise measured response to the Durham controversy, Paul Chaat Smith curiously disparages the politics of citation—drawing judgments based on whether a particular party is Indigenous—as “unfathomably stupid.”(See Chaat Smith, “The Most American Thing Ever is in Fact American Indians,” Walker Art Magazine, September 20, 2017, https://walkerart.org/magazine/paul-chaat-smith-jimmie-durham-americans-nmai-smithsonian) Chaat Smith’s anxiety is, I think, well founded, since a blunt politics of citation silences and essentializes as much as it mobilizes. That said, it is my sense that his criticism misses the fact that many important practices and politics of citation, such as Wood Land School, a collective and ongoing project that emphasizes Indigenous-led criticism and claiming of institutional space to which Linklater belongs, are happening under duress, and recognize this pressure through their citational practices.(I use the phrase “politics of citation” here partly to gesture to this debate, but also to note that the phrase, to my knowledge, also has a feminist lineage in the work of Sara Ahmed. See Ahmed, “Making Feminist Points,” September 11, 2013, https://feministkilljoys.com/2013/09/11/making-feminist-points/)
Last fall, both remainder and remaining were vital. The Dakota Access Pipeline, the 1,172-mile oil artery that cuts under the Dakotas and into Illinois through Meskwaki and Sioux territories, was not yet inevitable. A mass mediation of protest at the Water Protectors at Oceti Sakowin Camp at Standing Rock Reservation had made visible the violence of resource extraction on stolen lands. These “remains” of sovereignty had returned to unsettle a generation of environmental and Indigenous rights activists, as “Standing Rock” became shorthand for the ongoing injury inflicted on Indigenous bodies through extractive processes that hinge on an ideology of Indigenous cultural landscapes as barren, depopulated, and less susceptible to harm.(Traci Brynn Voyles, Wastelanding: Legacies of Uranium Mining in Navajo Country (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015).)
The mass mediation of this harm also took the form of a certain breathless genre of crisis reporting in the art world. The New York-based website Hyperallergic covered the art-based elements of protest at the camp; in New York, Indigenous artists and activists who had been involved as Water Protectors were overwhelmed with requests from reporters to hold symposia and answer questions about this most recent iteration of much longer histories of environmental racism.(This pressure was particularly apparent at the Vera List Center for Art and Politics’ “Indigenous New York” series of talks in the autumn and spring of 2017, in which audience members frequently connected the words of Indigenous curators, artists, and activists to Standing Rock, even if they were not in fact the subject of the presentation.) Linklater’s work was also subtly apprehended within this frame. In a review in Art in America, Elizabeth Buhe noted that From Our Hands provided “an ingress to lived Indigenous realities that this country has so often, and so ruinously, hidden from view,” a description of burying, excavation, and opening that evokes an unsettled consciousness of ongoing settler occupation.(Elizabeth Ruhe, “Duane Linklater,” Art in America, February 28, 2017, http://www.artinamericamagazine.com/reviews/duane-linklater/) Such a sense of crisis has yet to be resolved, even if the art world has moved on to other issues, including the question of Durham’s Cherokee identity and, extending this line of individual questioning toward the collective, concerns about the accountability of the gallery, whose value-producing role matters to political citizenship.
Durham’s work is the ground from which Horton forms her understanding of transcultural liveliness. An important moment in this material history occurred in the early 1990s, following the passage by the U.S. Congress of Indian Arts and Crafts legislation that attempted to regulate who could produce artwork with Indigenous motifs for financial gain. Although Durham was critical of how this legislation reinscribed the colonial category of blood quantum—the percentage of “Indian blood” necessary to be considered Native American under law—in 1994, he stopped working with bones. As Horton explains, “critics looked to dead animals as forensic evidence of Durham’s Cherokee credentials, a trap that the IACL debates baldly exposed.”(Horton, Art for an Undivided Earth, p. 49.) Proposing that his shift to working with stone at this moment was also an extension of material liveliness, rather than a re-indigenizing of the material, Horton critiques simplistic, primitivizing views of animism. Instead, Horton draws on Richard William Hill’s analysis of the Indigenous agency embedded in Durham’s stone, arguing that “to relegate the significance of lively materials solely to the disruption of European categories is to begin and end on covered ground”—in other words, to continue to divide the earth.(Ibid., p. 194.) Whether or not one thinks Durham is an ethnic fraud, this shift in his practice is pertinent to contemporary attempts to understand liveliness across many contexts, for example by recognizing “rocks as relations,” to use curator John G. Hampton’s evocative phrasing.(John G. Hampton, “Contemporary Rock Art,” curatorial essay for Rocks, Stones, and Dust (Justina M. Barnicke Gallery, Toronto, October 28-December 18, 2015).)
Indeed, from my vantage point in anthropological theory, these are the stakes of the ontological turn at its most relevant: disrupting taken-for-granted categories and expanding the repertoire of relations in ways that are adequate to the entanglements of nature(s) and culture(s). Nevertheless, as Lucas Bessire and David Bond have argued in their astute critique, there is also a re-primitivizing or purifying impulse in the anthropological (and, I would add, art-critical) fantasy of radical alterity, of Indigenous ontologies that organize persons and things in emancipatory, non-extractive relations. Terming this tendency an “unmoored form of speculative futurism,” Bessire and Bond recognize both the potentials and pitfalls of the ontologist’s work: “while the [formally] symmetrical future it conjures up is smart, the turbulent present it holds at bay is still something we would like to know more about.”(Lucas Bessire and David Bond, “Ontological anthropology and the deferral of critique,” American Ethnologist 41, 3 (2014), p. 441.) Here, too, we see the tensions between materialisms and, perhaps, the political deferrals required to imagine an “undivided earth” at all. Indeed, an important question that Horton does not elaborate is the dissonance between different modes of artistic itinerancy: which artists get to travel across which territory, and why.
There is a materialism that is present in failure, for instance in the literal leakiness of the Dakota Access Pipeline, and in the permeability between persons, things, lands, and waters; such a materialism shows the limits of our current regimes of property and injury.(See Michelle Murphy, “Chemical Regimes of Living,” Environmental History 13, 4 (October 2008): pp. 695-703.) Horton is acutely aware of the problematic tendencies of recent discourses of the Anthropocene, in which the longue durée of geological time flattens the differences between naturecultures while rendering them as endlessly lively, recombinable and appropriable, a tendency that Zoe Todd has critiqued as the manufacture and maintenance of “white public space.”(Zoe Todd, “Indigenizing the Anthropocene,” in Art in the Anthropocene, ed. H. Davis and E. Turpin (London: Open Humanities Press).) In contrast to this violent spatial, temporal, and ontological mapping, Horton’s transcultural materialism opens critical space to apprehend Linklater’s practice in the present moment without reducing it to the narrow terms of ‘the political’ that global contemporary art currently allows for its Indigenous participants, reading every aesthetic act as merely a statement of agency, protest, or sovereignty. To be clear, these elements of defiance are all present in the anti-monument of “what remains,” but there are other solidarities in Linklater’s work that have nothing to do with settler emplotment. Moving beyond the disruption of the categories of the modern, what are the textures of these forms and relations that also remain?
Concrete and steel cradling hide, beads, fur, and sinew: these are the materials of five Speculative apparatus for the work of nohkompan, the armatures Linklater built for Ethel’s stitched and beaded gloves and moccasins, the work of his nohkompan (“late grandmother” in Cree). The armatures are speculative because Linklater had not yet seen these works of Ethel’s in person, nor had he known they existed during her lifetime: the reunion of these works with his family were the result of bureaucratic serendipity, after the Thunder Bay Art Gallery sought to obtain image copyright permissions for works in their collection by connecting the last name of the artist—Linklater—with her living grandson. The show’s title From Our Hands is also on loan from an earlier context of display, the Ontario Craft Council’s 1982 From Our Hands: An Exhibition of Native Hand Crafts in which Ethel’s work was shown under this curiously disassembled category of “hand crafts.” The armatures are speculative, too, in their so plainly temporary embrace of these belongings that are permanently tied to the gallery in Thunder Bay, a belonging made material by the accession record displayed next to nohkompan’s work. This use of “belonging” in preference to “object” or “work” is a term shared between my prose and Linklater’s terms for his late grandmother’s things; both he and I borrow this concept-word from Musqueam scholar and curator Jordan Wilson who works on occupied Coast Salish territory in Vancouver (the routes of words can matter as much as those of things).(See Reese Muntean et al, “Belongings: A Tangible Interface for Cultural Heritage,” Proceedings of Electronic Visualization and the Arts (EVA), London, June 2015, http://ewic.bcs.org/upload/pdf/ewic_eva15_museum_paper6.pdf)
As critics have remarked, Linklater’s armatures have the effect of revaluing these works as art through their literal elevation.(Frances Loeffler, “Duane Linklater,” Frieze October 11, 2016, https://frieze.com/article/duane-linklater; see also Harry Burke, “From Our Hands,” https://harryburke.info/archive/2017/03_Duane%20Linklater%20with%20Ethel%20Linklater%20&%20Tobias%20Linklater%20at%2080WSE%20Gallery_Spike%20Art%20Quarterly%2051.compressed.pdf) Creating a contradiction between these values and exchange values, they articulate an ethic of care that is incommensurable with museum protocols or conventional art discourse. This is a theme shared by many forms of Indigenous institutional critique, and one that Horton emphasizes in relation to the AIM generation through Luna’s Artifact Piece (1986) and Durham’s On Loan from the Museum of the American Indian (1985). Writing of these earlier installations—the former involving Luna’s body as artifact, and the latter a dark parody of ethnographic display conventions using fake artifacts and made-up facts—Horton notes their refusal to enact a redemptive critique, “exposing the mechanisms of colonial displacement and fetishization, but [stopping] short of positing an alternative Indian ‘real.’”(Horton, Art for an Undivided Earth, p. 37.) This sensibility of loss is present in Linklater’s armatures; as with most metonymic museum displays, one is made aware of the missing piece—the body—from these soft fragments whose liveliness is incomplete without the activating human hands and feet.
But there is also a temporal reach in the armatures as belongings, moving back in time to activate the Latin etymological root of the verb armare (to arm or protect), and forward to suggest forms of future care. The lack of vitrines around these armatures suggests not museological assemblage, but other Indigenous contexts of display—the U’Mista Cultural Centre at Alert Bay, for instance, an institution famous for displaying repatriated Indigenous potlatch belongings on armatures without putting these behind glass. Perhaps then Linklater’s works are properly seen as “made-to-be-ready’s,” Dana Claxton’s precise inversion of the category of the readymade.(Dana Claxton, Made to be Ready (Audain Art Gallery, Vancouver, January 14-March 12, 2016).) Like their avant-garde root-concept, the Indigenous made-to-be-ready challenges the ontological status of art while also implying an arming or protective force through another register of care.
Such care may, in fact, be a different tending to relations than the one Bryan-Wilson speaks to, something closer to those found in many different Indigenous cultural and legal orders.(See Zoe Todd, “Relationships,” Theorizing the Contemporary, Cultural Anthropology, January 21, 2016, https://culanth.org/fieldsights/799-relationships) To use an example from Linklater’s collaborative practice, such care is embodied in Linklater and Dane-Zaa artist Brian Jungen’s film Modest Livelihood (2012), which documents a moose-hunting trip in Dane-Zaa territory in Northern British Columbia. As a guest on the land, Linklater needs permission to be there and to hunt, but the film makes the strong case that it is not the settler state’s right to determine the legal definition of what constitutes a modest-enough livelihood (a decision made to constrain the Indigenous accumulation of wealth). Rather, Linklater is accountable to Dane-Zaa sovereignty as the absurdity of the state’s anxious limiting of livelihood is revealed through the slow, silent tempo of the hunting trip.
Indeed, the temporality of the made-to-be-ready is resolutely not the liberal settler time of the future anterior, a future in which all Indigenous claims will have been settled and that, by its very cunning definition, can never arrive.(Elizabeth Povinelli, Economies of Abandonment: Social Belonging and Endurance in Late Liberalism (Durham: Duke University Press, 2013).) It is closer to the negative dialectics of Durham’s practice, which Horton argues do not just take us to a nihilistic endpoint of colonialism but emphasize “heterogeneous political alliances in places of exilic estrangement.” This sincerity of stone is rendered in her treatment of Durham’s 2005 sculptural piece He said I was always juxtaposing, but I thought he said just opposing. So to prove him wrong, I agreed with him. Over the next few years, we drifted apart, in which a marble Greco-Roman head has shattered the side of a urinal hung on the gallery wall, its cheek resting on porcelain debris. As Horton explains, this work not only refers to Duchampian modernism; it stages a different sort of encounter between materials and intercultural connectivity, one that requires us to “heed the semantics of dust—that is, to strive to listen to a story told by objects rather than about them.”(Horton, Art for An Undivided Earth, p. 189)
For Linklater, a familial and intimate alliance takes precedence over the political in materializing remains, and in tracing different routes of material relatedness than we might expect from the juxtaposition of armature and hide. Linklater has also explained that he does not think of concrete in this way, as an impersonal or sterile material. Rather, for him it is appropriate to the sincere form of protection and care that is offered in the act of cradling. Being “made to be ready” is thus to gesture toward a future in which a son’s animate works and a grandmother’s hand (and foot) works can exist equally as forms of creative kin.
The central tableau of Linklater’s installation Torpor, sited in an alcove of 80WSE, is both diminutive and excessive in its readiness. Here, coyote skin is curled together with grey felt and orange polyester in a quiet embrace. Such languid posing suggests repose more than a crime scene, although its hiddenness and positioning beneath a found Jesus portrait, askew on the wall and dangling a shoelace, suggests a calculated shock. Grey felt and skin are overt icons of Joseph Beuys’ practice and particularly in his performance, I Like America and America Likes Me (1974), with its wrapping of Beuys’ body in the material and the slow taming of a coyote—an act intended to heal the artist and his audience from the wounds of European fascism. The irony of Beuys’ action was, of course, its reliance on a spiritual salve not of its own, an enacted shamanism that was deeply settler colonial in its search for Indian origins. As Horton points out, Beuys’ work was also blind to its own position in American history, coinciding with and drawing on the 71-day long AIM occupation of Wounded Knee, South Dakota, where Native American protestors demanded the renegotiation of broken treaties.(Horton, Art for An Undivided Earth, p. 40.) Horton argues that Durham’s 1990 work, Not Joseph Beuys’ Coyote is a mixing of media—coyote skull, horn, driftwood, and car side-view mirror—that negates Beuys’ romanticizing misappropriation through wacky assemblage, and a reflection of the viewers’ desires for the purity of Native American animism.(Ibid., p. 41.)
Torpor is certainly an analogous, quieter negation of the expectation that Indigenous art always be ready to heal its (often assumed to be white) audience, but Linklater is not only bedeviling Beuys. There is a sincerity of routes in the movement of hide and the Canadian du Maurier cigarette boxes stacked up in Speculative Apparatus 7—fur and tobacco being both substances governed by export laws across the U.S./Canada border. Linklater’s choice not to include cigarettes purchased in New York—the Toronto-based provenance was, in fact, central to the stack’s meaning in the first iteration of the show at Mercer Union in Toronto(Canadian Art, Merray Gerges, “Duane Linklater Imagines Indigenous Futures,” http://canadianart.ca/features/duane-linklater-imagines-indigenous-futures/) —amplifies the ties between the two cities, embodying a sincere political refusal to have “the local” determined by an imposed border.(See Audra Simpson, Mohawk Interruptus: Political Life Across the Borders of Settler States (Durham: Duke University Press).) There is also the question of the multiple art world locations of grey felt, and perhaps again a refusal of Beuys’ exclusive claim to a material (blankets) that is also a trade good. This neutrality is decidedly unlike Beuys’ use of felt, which deliberately cites the material’s origin as rabbit fur, and is as such a better formal basis for Linklater’s idea to index multiple points of connection within contemporary art, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous.(On the multiple spiritual meanings of felt as material for Beuys, see Chris Thompson, Felt: Fluxus, Joseph Beuys, and the Dalai Lama (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011).)
Similarly, displaying this passage and practice—from the studio to the gallery and across many territories—through the photograph at 80WSE is not a statement of heroic individualism, but a reading of interior remains as anti-monumental. It also raises questions about the wrapping of body-scale steel sculptures in plastic, felt, and other discarded materials. Is there a form of care implied in the analogies between blankets, bones, and armatures, a distributing of artistic ego toward its many relations? This, too, is creative kinship, made possible for the generation after AIM.