Features

14_Emmanuel_Etti_ForDiscorder_April2017

Jeneen Frei Njootli

Subverting, Reclaiming and Redefining

“I think a lot about images. I think about how images are consumed, how Indigenous bodies are consumed by different public.” Jeneen Frei Njootli is an artist and member of the Gwich’in nation. This statement, borderline stream of consciousness, seems to connect the various projects and passions she has been involved in lately.

Frei Njootli has just recently come back from Washington, D.C., where she was advocating for the protection of an area occupied by the Bering Ground Caribou herd. The land is called Iizhik Gwats’an Gwandaii Goodlit, or The Sacred Place Where Life Begins, named because it is where many caribou give birth. Frei Njootli explains that Gwich’in nation has had an interdependent relationship with caribou that spans 20 thousand years (according to scientists, though the nations themselves see time as immemorial). Unfortunately, this same area is also rich in fossil fuels and currently under threat of industry development. As Frei Njootli describes it: “If [the caribou’s] calving ground gets disrupted, that means their migration routes get disrupted, which means that they die, and we die.”

Jeneen Frei Njootli || Photography by Emmanuel Etti for Discorder Magazine
Jeneen Frei Njootli || Photography by Emmanuel Etti for Discorder Magazine
Jeneen Frei Njootli || Photography by Emmanuel Etti for Discorder Magazine
Jeneen Frei Njootli || Photography by Emmanuel Etti for Discorder Magazine

The Gwich’in nation is one of the few nations that spans the U.S.-Canada border that still depends on hunting as a primary food source. Caribou is crucial to their diet, as much culturally as physically. Old Crow, a northern community just 130 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle, is a boat or fly-in area. This makes transportation of all goods and supplies exorbitantly expensive. However, the Gwich’in nation operates a food co-op, which centres much around caribou. If governments and industry develop the Bering Ground Caribou’s migration locations near the border, the herd thins. This thinning would result in less caribou migrating north, directly cutting off the Gwich’in caribou. Not protecting these lands won’t just impact Gwich’in culture, it will lead to starvation.

Jeneen Frei Njootli || Photography by Emmanuel Etti for Discorder Magazine
Jeneen Frei Njootli || Photography by Emmanuel Etti for Discorder Magazine

Caribou, being such an integral part of her culture and sustenance, is often a theme in Frei Njootli’s art. Her most recent performance piece Through the Body. Where is the work? g’ashondai’kwa is part of the Ambivalent Pleasures exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery. ‘G’ashondai’kwa’ translates to ‘I don’t know,’ described by a footnote next to the display. The intention of the note is to lead the curious viewer to see their response reflected back at them. Playing with the perceptions and assumptions of the audience is not uncharacteristic of Frei Njootli’s art practice.

Jeneen Frei Njootli || Photography by Emmanuel Etti for Discorder Magazine
Jeneen Frei Njootli || Photography by Emmanuel Etti for Discorder Magazine

In Through the Body. Where is the work? g’ashondai’kwa, Frei Njootli turns a caribou antler into a microphone, into which she sings. It is also dragged across the floor, activating the microphone with sound. The audio feeds into a distortion pedal and a loop pedal, which are then fed through a subwoofer and guitar amp. Frei Njootli attempts to harmonize her voice with the other sounds generated by the pedals, creating a weave of complex sonic landscape.

During the performance, Frei Njootli wears an industry grade respirator and black parka she has made herself; the audience is also provided ear plugs and respiratory masks. Of this she says, “I want people to wonder why their protection looks different than my own.” Frei Njootli then uses an angle grinder on the antler, filling the space with dust and the smell of burning antler. The only form of documentation of this performance is the dust that falls to the floor by the end of it.

Jeneen Frei Njootli || Photography by Emmanuel Etti for Discorder Magazine
Jeneen Frei Njootli || Photography by Emmanuel Etti for Discorder Magazine
Jeneen Frei Njootli || Photography by Emmanuel Etti for Discorder Magazine
Jeneen Frei Njootli || Photography by Emmanuel Etti for Discorder Magazine

In addition to her performance practice, Frei Njootli is also a founding member of ReMatriate. ReMatriate aims to disrupt the narrative often assigned to Indigenous people from the media and, as Frei Njootli puts it, “assert a positive Indigenous presence.” The collective presents content that show the strength and vitality of women and female-identified artists in Indigenous communities, and share the true experiences of entrepreneurs and creatives.

The name, ReMatriate is based on repatriation, a term used to describe a restoration of a culture with their homeland. However, repatriation, with the latin root ‘pater’ meaning father, is still a perpetuation of patriarchal colonialism. The term continues the idea of the ‘fatherland,’ as if the home is necessarily ‘of the father.’ Frei Njootli suggested the more fitting term ‘ReMatriate’ to subvert traditional colonial language. She thought of it as she pondered what exactly was being taken from Indigenous folk.

Jeneen Frei Njootli || Photography by Emmanuel Etti for Discorder Magazine
Jeneen Frei Njootli || Photography by Emmanuel Etti for Discorder Magazine
Jeneen Frei Njootli || Photography by Emmanuel Etti for Discorder Magazine
Jeneen Frei Njootli || Photography by Emmanuel Etti for Discorder Magazine

“A lot of the things being profited from illegitimately by companies and designers is Indigenous women’s labor,” she explains. ”Who tanned those skins? It was women who tanned those skins. Who sewed that together? It was women who sewed that together. Who carried that knowledge?”

When companies steal designs and patterns from Indigenous artists, it strips them of their voice and culture. It’s as if to imply that the companies were inspired by a relic, or else came up with the designs on their own. Frei Njootli explains, “When [companies reproduce designs], it erases us, because it gives the statement that we’re not here.”

Jeneen Frei Njootli || Photography by Emmanuel Etti for Discorder Magazine
Jeneen Frei Njootli || Photography by Emmanuel Etti for Discorder Magazine

Frei Njootli and the rest of ReMatriate are working to change that narrative. They use social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram to show that their cultures are very much alive and active. ReMatriate makes an effort to post photographs, biographies and updates from Indigenous artists of various descents. In so doing, ReMatriate seeks to visually interrupt the colonialist narrative to reclaim their own images. The posts allow Indigenous women to tell their own, actual stories.

This movement also disrupts the misleading and ultimately violent depiction of Indigenous people in the media. Frei Njootli says, “We want to advocate for lateral kidness, lateral love, and the sovereignty over our image and culture.” ReMatriate shifts the focus away from harmful portrayals of Indigenous peoples to more accurate representations of their individual realities, accomplishments and creative expressions.

Jeneen Frei Njootli || Photography by Emmanuel Etti for Discorder Magazine
Jeneen Frei Njootli || Photography by Emmanuel Etti for Discorder Magazine

Frei Njootli’s own art, activism, and involvement with ReMatriate centre around (mis)representation and power: questioning who controls the representation of individuals and groups, the harmful power of those representations, and what can be done to change it. Through her work, Frei Njootli considers the potency of the images we see, and how they come to define society’s understanding of culture and heritage. In so doing, Frei Njootli challenges the complexity of contemporary colonial narratives, and compels her audiences to do the same.

 

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Ambivalent Pleasures featuring the remnants of Jeneen Frei Njootli’s performance is on display at the Vancouver Art Gallery until April 17. To learn more about ReMatriate, follow them on Facebook or on Instagram @rematriate_.

 

April 14, 2017
EDITOR’S NOTE:

It was brought to our attention that the illustration for the interview with Jeneen Frei Njootli in the April issue is a direct reference to a design by Anishinaabekwe artist Quill Christie. The image of the hand with a stitched wrist was appropriated and altered without consent by Christie or Frei Njootli. The illustrator, Amy Brereton, did not draw her image with the intention of inflicting harm or infringing on creative copyright, but she now understands how she did both.

The unauthorized use of Indigenous artwork perpetuates colonial violence and significantly undercuts Indigenous self-determination. As a magazine published and distributed on unceded territory, Discorder takes full responsibility for the publication of this work, and for failing to provide Amy with the appropriate artistic direction and context.

Brereton’s illustration accompanies a very strong interview with Frei Njootli. In this interview the artist discussed, amongst other things, the theft of Indigenous art. We are very sorry to have inflicted our own act of appropriation in this piece. Discorder is working to create discussions around image, identity, and cultural appropriation in future workshops. We are also incorporating training that teaches new and aspiring journalists, photographers, and illustrators to actively work against the systemic and individual acts of colonialism that are so often perpetrated by media organizations. 

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Ian William Craig

On The Brink

When I sit down with Vancouver-based experimental sound artist Ian William Craig, I’ve caught him at a threshold. “The last record was a culmination of a lot of years of work and it was pretty intense,” he says. “I think with that intensity has come kind of a re-stocking time – trying to figure out what relationship I want to have with music now or maybe what that relationship is, or maybe enjoying a little bit of silence.”

Craig’s last album, Centres, released on 130701 label, came out to widespread critical acclaim, garnering attention from numerous music media, including Pitchfork and Rolling Stone.

Craig is best known for his experimentation with analog tape – his technique of running tracks repeatedly through manipulated cassette decks results in compositions that feel like vast environments of decaying beauty. At the time he got into this sort of experimentation, Craig was interested in exploring the relation between space and sound, and the haptic nature of tape is what drew him to it.

Ian William Craig || Illustration by Maxwell Babiuk for Discorder Magazine
Ian William Craig || Illustration by Maxwell Babiuk for Discorder Magazine
Ian William Craig || Photography by Pat Valade for Discorder Magazine
Ian William Craig || Photography by Pat Valade for Discorder Magazine

“It’s really about the surface,” he explains. “One of the interesting things about surfaces is that they cause you to think about space in a different way. Like how snow is kind of an interference, but because it fills the space in a really interesting sort of way, it makes you more aware of it.The analog tape [is] like a veil for me… I’ve always felt like you should be able to walk into your favourite music, like it’s a place in which you can exist.”

However, with his upcoming EP, Slow Vessels – which features re-renderings of six songs off Centres – Craig is pulling away from tape manipulation, and focusing on the bare bones of the songs underneath. When he first started making music, Craig found his songs had “a real singer-songwriter bent” which “didn’t really quite sit right.” Another aspect that drew him to tape was its ability to break those older songs apart and make them new. “The songs that I had written way back then got passed through this gauntlet and got reworked and recomposed, and sucked back together, and became unrecognizable from their original iterations.” Craig returned to that source material for Slow Vessels out of an interest in exploring the songs “in a more deconstructed kind of way.” For Craig, Slow Vessels seems to be more of a study than a permanent direction – a way of “trying to tinker around with the process itself.”

Ian William Craig || Illustration by Maxwell Babiuk for Discorder Magazine
Ian William Craig || Illustration by Maxwell Babiuk for Discorder Magazine
Ian William Craig || Photography by Pat Valade for Discorder Magazine
Ian William Craig || Photography by Pat Valade for Discorder Magazine

Repeating songs doesn’t come naturally to Craig. He sees his live show as “more about creating a space or creating a feeling. I like being a bit more of a radio antenna than a loudspeaker.”

Slow Vessels will be released on FatCat’s 130701 imprint. The pioneering post-classical label meant a lot to Craig in the formative years of his musicianship, so being signed to it was a dream come true. “If you told my younger self that that’s what was going to happen – he would just die, he would just explode,” Craig says.

Ian William Craig || Illustration by Maxwell Babiuk for Discorder Magazine
Ian William Craig || Illustration by Maxwell Babiuk for Discorder Magazine
Ian William Craig || Illustration by Maxwell Babiuk for Discorder Magazine
Ian William Craig || Illustration by Maxwell Babiuk for Discorder Magazine

At the same time, seeing the label’s day-to-day operations and talking with Dave Howell, 130701 founder and manager, has had the same effect as pulling back the curtain on the Wizard of Oz: “Prying open the dream and seeing that there’s just a bunch of life underneath it is really weird. I mean it’s beautiful and great but it’s kind of like ‘Oh, that’s not like this magic world, I didn’t become a perfect ball of energy and ascend to this creative Shangri-La’… Like, Dave Howell puts on pants. I thought he put on – I don’t know – magic. Just dressed in magic. But, nope, he dresses in pants.”

Ian William Craig || Photography by Pat Valade for Discorder Magazine
Ian William Craig || Photography by Pat Valade for Discorder Magazine
Ian William Craig || Illustration by Maxwell Babiuk for Discorder Magazine
Ian William Craig || Illustration by Maxwell Babiuk for Discorder Magazine

Craig is still getting comfortable with the success of his music. “Ostensibly, I’ve made it, right? Like, I make ridiculous choral tape-loop decay music. … This is as good as it gets, and I don’t mean that in a bad way – it’s humbling and awesome and a privilege. But also, this is what ‘making it’ looks like – there’s no secret community, there’s no point at which you feel like you’ve culminated, there’s no other-worldly body that comes down and says ‘You are a musician now.’”

Ian William Craig || Photography by Pat Valade for Discorder Magazine
Ian William Craig || Photography by Pat Valade for Discorder Magazine
Ian William Craig || Illustration by Maxwell Babiuk for Discorder Magazine
Ian William Craig || Illustration by Maxwell Babiuk for Discorder Magazine

While Craig is also a print studio technician at the University of British Columbia Vancouver campus, he has found himself struggling with the decision to devote his full-time to music after a successful tour last summer. He went so far as making plans with booking agents and management companies before reneging on it all. Craig “couldn’t figure out why [he] was getting so anxious,” but the decision not to quit came as relief: “I realized that the thing that UBC gives me is this interesting stability, and the ritual of it is really interesting, and even the ritual of being disparaging about it, or the ritual of disparaging not being a full-time musician, that’s actually kind of really interesting fuel.”

While Craig doesn’t know exactly which direction he’ll be taking in the long run, he is moving towards something new. “It’s an interesting time because I think I’m recalibrating a lot of these things. I feel like I’ve come to the end of a big body of work, and for the first time I don’t really have anything in the coffers anymore.”

 

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Slow Vessels is due out May 9. Ian William Craig will be playing the Donau Festival in Krems an der Donau, Austria May 1, and Oslo in London May 8.