A bit about Dana Claxton from her opening of Made To Be Ready:
Dana Claxton is a Hunkpapa Lakota Sioux performance artist, photographer, and filmmaker from the Wood Mountain reserve in Southwest Saskatchewan. Through her practice which she situates within a contemporary art framework, she critiques the representation of Indigenous people within Western anthropology, art, and entertainment. In particular, she is interested in exploring notions of Indigenous womanhood, beauty, and sovereignty. During her remarks at the opening of her exhibition Made To Be Ready at SFU Audain Gallery, she acknowledged the Coast Salish peoples for having shared their knowledge of the land with her and for the welcoming she has received from them to have pursued her practice here for over 30 years. She thanked the woman who has been working with her for over 25 years as the performer who often appears in her film and photographic work, as well as curator Amy Kazymerchyk for working closely alongside her with this exhibition.
Uplifting, 2015, digital video
In particular, I discussed my experience of her film performance Uplifting, which I found to have had quite a resonating effect for me through the motions made by the Indigenous woman performing in it. The film was set up next to the entrance of the gallery and featured a spotlight cutting across the screen horizontally in the center. A woman dressed in a red jumpsuit appeared from the left side, slowly crawling in on her hands and knees. She moved in a pattern of putting her left hand down, then pulling her right knee forward, lifting up her right hand and placing it down on the ground, followed by her left leg dragging in from behind. The whole time she moved, she appeared to be struggling and in pain, but she seemed empowered by a determination to keep going despite her weakness. Her movement can be related to Karyn Recollet’s notion of the ‘in between spaces’ and ‘Indigenous Motion’ that she describes in our readings “For Sisters” and “Dancing ‘Between the Break Beats’: Contemporary Indigenous Thought and Cultural Expression Through Hip-Hop”, of which she states as spaces that are “linked to an impulse that forms the base of all movement and creation” as a way to release the weight of colonialism felt within one’s body (420). The slow pauses of the woman picking her body back up into motion between her sudden dropping of hands and legs back onto the ground as she completes each step seems to illustrate this idea.
As the woman reached the end of the right side of the screen, she collapsed down from her hand and knees onto her stomach, rolling over on her side into a fetal position. She turned over onto her back, breathing heavily, and started tugging at the red jumpsuit material on her chest. Her pulling of the fabric became more aggressive, acting as a moment of climax within the performance, until she suddenly was able to use this force to sit right up into a V-shape position with her legs pointing outwards. She paused to catch her breath, and then slowly starts pulling out a cultural belonging that appeared to be a neck piece of a fringed pouch out of her chest. She slowly rolled up to stand with the neck piece, until she became grounded in her stance as she raised it above her head. This journey the woman undertook and her moment of overcoming her struggle seems to further illustrate Recollet’s explanation of ‘Indigenous motion’, which she views as the idea that there are portals into other worlds where one can connect with to undergo a transformation of self-identity (418).
Dirt Worshipper, 2015
As another performance example of Claxton’s work apart from her Made To Be Ready exhibition, I introduced Dirt Worshipper, a live performance I got to see at the Slippery Terms faculty exhibition held at the AHVA Gallery on campus last September 2015. In this work, Claxton performed repetitive actions of ripping the fabric of a large printed sign that read ‘Dirt Worshipper’ in bold purple letters with a vibrant teal background up on the wall at the back of the gallery. She progressed in a linear direction from left to right, ripping a strip of the fabric in intervals of eight with her hands. It made a tearing sound that seems to resonate as another form of pulsation with the ‘in between beats’ that Recollet discussed taking place. In keep with her practice, this work was an act of engaging with cultural racism and the releasing of terms such as ‘Dirt Worshipper’ that have been imposed as stereotypes onto Indigenous peoples.
Thinking about digital media, performance, and cultural belongings:
How might the use of mediation in Claxton’s exhibition through the projected video, illuminated lightboxes, and theatrical lighting in the exhibition space extend or diminish the performativity and liveliness of the cultural belongings? Since this was not a live performance, how might this alter or affect our experience of the cultural belongings as a ‘lived force’?