CAG Façade and offsite at Yaletown-Roundhouse Station
In partnership with the City of Vancouver Field House Studio Residency Program, the Contemporary Art Gallery presents Canadian artist Raymond Boisjoly as our inaugural resident artist. For six months he will occupy the Burrard Marina Field House, using it as a studio and a place for community engagement, coinciding with the launch of As It Comes, two new interrelated public works.
The title appears at Yaletown-Roundhouse Station as a discrete piece, humorously foreboding, and more comic than terrifying, presented in brightly coloured vinyl like a credit from a B-list horror film. Linked to the text in the gallery windows, Boisjoly removes all suggestions of the past, not to deny what has become history, but with the intent to restore belief systems that are still intact.
The colloquial use and structure of the written or spoken word figure prominently in Boisjoly’s work. He often transforms the meaning and significance of language by rendering phrases indecipherable or by reordering clichéd aphorisms and mixing metaphors. Vernacular materials such as Christmas lights or plastic tarpaulin may be used equating their physical properties to the direct meaning of words, or other devices are employed to abstract language whereby it can only be read as form. For example, in The Writing Lesson Boisjoly transcribed the original names of First Nations lands into typefaces derived from Norwegian black metal. Appearing as mere pattern, the texts reached a point of illegibility. While referencing an anti-Christian politic in an attempt to re-evaluate aspects of Indigenous spirituality, Boisjoly inversely uses it to obscure names that symbolize belief systems while signaling their near invisibility in our contemporary society.
As It Comes re-assembles passages taken from three North American First Nations autobiographies: Black Elk Speaks, Yellow Wolf His Own Story and During My Time by Florence Edenshaw Davidson, Boisjoly’s great grandmother. All of the texts tell of the legislation of Indigenous rights amidst the coming of modernity, with each written as a personal account yet authored by and credited to someone else. Black Elk’s story is told by American poet John G. Neihardt, Yellow Wolf’s by Lucullus Virgil McWhorter and Edenshaw’s by Margaret B. Blackman. Many other individuals, too, were involved in their construction, producing a further remove from the direct account — Black Elk’s son interpreted for his father who didn’t speak English, and the poet’s daughter transcribed his story, for example — offering their versions of particular events. These numerous voices suggest a self-reflexivity, signifying that singular opinion may be fallible and subjective, and understanding that one person cannot represent the whole. Boisjoly uses these autobiographies as emblematic of others by Indigenous peoples not simply to critique the mix of cultural authorship, but in an attempt to redefine their value by examining their complex narrative structures and setting them within a literary precedent.
In the gallery’s window spaces, Boisjoly draws attention to each narrator’s indirect use of language and focusing on how they communicate without being explicit — intentionally not naming an object but describing its properties and mixing the future tense while speaking in the present. The selections from the texts do not create a narrative, but instead emphasize process and experience, and thus suggest a continuum between futures past and a contemporary sense of self. As well as changes in syntax the positioning of phrases shifts on the page, Boisjoly configuring quotes into a continuous sentence that runs across multiple pieces of paper pinned together to form words. It is as if the artist dropped the pages on the ground then quickly compiled them into formulated sentences, letters breaking across individual sheets placed in different positions. Yet the work is highly ordered, deceptively complex and tightly structured.
The deliberate contrast between the casualness of the execution and its intensive planning is tied to a desire to negotiate the past in articulating something of the present. The switching of tense inverses that which is typical in such autobiographical narratives of First Nations people, as Boisjoly observes, “They emerge out of immense historical change, but restrict their subjects to an imagined past that shrinks in comparison to modernity.” As It Comes anticipates a future always approaching, denying any possibility of the action having passed.
The inaugural residency with Raymond Boisjoly is generously supported by the City of Vancouver through its Field House Studio Residency Program and by the Province of British Columbia through the Ministry of Advanced Education, Innovation and Technology. Work at Yaletown-Roundhouse Station, Canada Line is presented in partnership with the Canada Line Public Art Program – InTransit BC.
Raymond Boisjoly (born 1981) is an artist of Haida and Québécois descent from Chilliwack, BC, currently based in Vancouver. Recent solo exhibitions include The Writing Lesson at Republic Gallery, Vancouver (2011); The Ever-Changing Light, Access Gallery, Vancouver (2010) and Exercises in Seeing, Queen’s Nail Project, San Francisco (2009). Boisjoly has participated in numerous group exhibitions and projects including To-From BC Electric Railway 100 Years, Centre A, Vancouver (2012); Beat Nation, Vancouver Art Gallery (2012); Phantasmagoria, Presentation House Gallery, North Vancouver (2012); Tools for Conviviality, The Power Plant, Toronto (2012); Studies in Decay, Or Gallery, Vancouver (2011); All Things Equal, Hedreen Gallery, Seattle (2011); and How Soon Is Now, Vancouver Art Gallery (2009). Boisjoly was awarded a Fleck Fellowship from the Banff Centre in 2010. He is represented by Catriona Jeffries Gallery, Vancouver.