This essay addresses the silences and soundings of Rebecca Belmore's (Anishinaabe) and Julie Nagam's (Anishinaabe/Métis/German/Syrian) sound art, which reflects their environmentalism and profound commitment to Indigenous ways of knowing, making, and listening. Working at the intersection of sound art and politics, the two perform sonic interventions into settler colonial spaces—the National Parks system and the gallery, respectively. Belmore's Wave Sound (2017) and Nagam's Our future is in the land: If we listen to it (2017) illustrate how their sound art gravitates toward the ecological and considers what healthy and unhealthy relationships between humans and the nonhuman world—plants, animals, resources—sound like. Belmore and Nagam introduce marginalized perspectives and voices to address the problematic authority of whiteness that conspicuously dominates the discourse on music, sound, and environment—a relatively homogenous and exclusionary artistic, technological, and scientific discussion.

The soundscapes and resonances of Rebecca Belmore's (Anishinaabe) and Julie Nagam's (Anishinaabe/Métis/German/Syrian) sound art reflects their concern for the environment and profound commitment to Indigenous ways of knowing, making, and listening.1 Working in sound at the intersecting borders of art and politics, they perform sonic interventions into settler colonial spaces such as national parks and art galleries. Belmore's and Nagam's works across different artistic and performance media are crucial sites of Indigenous knowledge formation that explore current issues and histories of settler colonialism. This essay illustrates how their use of sound and embodied listening conveys Indigenous ways of knowing, making, and listening with the land as heard through two sound art installations: Belmore's Wave Sound and Nagam's Our future is in the land: if we listen to it, both made in 2017. Wave Sound explores pressing issues that concern both Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, including water and land rights, violence against Indigenous people (particularly women and children) by the state and police, and the embodied and viscerally sensed impact of global climate change. Likewise, Our future is in the land: if we listen to it incorporates a variety of media to highlight humanity's destructive and complex relationship with the environment.

This essay is an ethnographic account of my experiences as an embodied listener participating in site-specific sensing of these two contemporary sound art installations. Employing practice-based ethnography and embodied listening, I examine how site- and time-specific soundscape sound art impacts how participants perceive and connect with regional, cultural, and environmental markers of place. Wave Sound and Our future is in the land: if we listen to it activate networked sonic ecologies of listening to place and the multiple ways visitors in varied sites of sound art installation can experience situated sounds. My ethnographic approach to the analysis of sound art is informed by and connected to site to illustrate how these works argue for the necessary inclusion of Indigenous epistemologies of the land and site-specific knowledge. The inclusion of diverse knowledges can support the disentanglement of the systems of power that govern how we perceive and measure the environment and our human relations to it, which are currently enmeshed in our settler colonialist past and present. Attending to and including Indigenous epistemologies of the land in unexpected contexts, such as sound art, can challenge existing settler colonial scientific narratives and terminologies of climate change and the methods used to measure, observe, and understand environmental change. As Thomas King notably writes in The Inconvenient Indian (2013), “When we imagine history, we imagine a grand structure, a national chronicle, a closely organized and guarded record of agreed-upon events and interpretation.”2 Sound art that explores site from varied perspectives provides experiential and contextualized opportunities for deep sensing of the disastrous past, the fragile yet volatile present, and our precarious yet-to-be-known possible environmental futures.

What unites these two installations is that they invite Indigenous and non-Indigenous people not just to listen, but to listen attentively and with care. By opening our bodies and knowledge of the environment to how installation sound art collaborates with the sensory inputs of site, these emplaced and embodied acts of listening reconnect human bodies to the land. These acts also serve as informational aids that coax listeners to reconsider what constitutes environmental “evidence” and “data,” and to include fleshy, vibrational, and corporeal data that traces perceptual changes in our intimately known environments. Evidence, as Zoe Todd (Métis) points out, “generally precludes the flash of a school of minnows in the clear prairie lakes I intimately knew as a child, or the succulent white fish my stepdad caught for us from the Red Deer River where I was growing up.”3 By being receptive to and ethically listening to Indigenous epistemologies of the land—knowledge that includes an ethics of kinship with the nonhuman—a healthier, nuanced, informed, and representational understanding of human actions on the environment and cultivation of sustainable human-environment relations and ways of being in the world can emerge. As a white settler Canadian (Scottish/English/Irish) scholar and listener who spent my formative years on the traditional territory of many nations, including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee, and the Wendat peoples in the greater Toronto area (specifically Aurora and Toronto) in Ontario, Canada, my understanding and analysis of these two works is informed by my personal acts of listening attentively and carefully to Belmore's and Nagam's politics.4

To engage with and understand these site-informed sound art installations, my ethnographic research was purposefully site-focused and ultimately shaped by when, where, and how I listened to each. The methodology I employ is grounded in prolonged participant observation and ethnographic engagement with each installation. My interpretation of Belmore's and Nagam's work is nuanced by my own positionality and the positionalities of the other listeners that I spoke with during my fieldwork. The responses provided by participants in both installations addressed their embodied listening experiences of these works in their distinctive, site-specific installations. In my fieldwork in both cases, I conducted semi-structured interviews with participants during different stages of listening to and with these installations, then continued the conversations through email correspondence; observed participants as they listened; and explored the installation sites, interacting with the minutiae of each place. My fieldwork revealed the ways that sounds communicate and are understood within their particular location, highlighting how these pieces of sound art are used, experienced, and sensed in practice in their respective installation sites.5 To date, Belmore's Wave Sound has been installed in diverse spaces that at times conflict with or shed new light on the politics of the work. I experienced Wave Sound in three installation contexts where the specific location and conditions of the site informed the work's politics and reception: Gros Morne National Park in Newfoundland and Banff National Park in Alberta (as part of the project LandMarks2017/Repères2017), and the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, as part of the large-scale exhibition Facing the Monumental: Rebecca Belmore (2018). Nagam's Our future is in the land: if we listen to it contains site-specific audiovisual content, but in comparison the piece itself is much less dependent on the space in which it is installed. I engaged with it at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian in New York, where it was included in the group exhibition Transformer: Native Art in Light and Sound (2017–19).

Both works consider what healthy and unhealthy relationships between humans and the nonhuman world—plants, animals, natural resources—sound like. In what follows, I will illustrate how Belmore's and Nagam's artistic practices are grounded in understandings of the land and create spaces where participants come to understand the land through their interactions with the pieces and their connection to the lived environment. Both artists call upon marginalized perspectives and voices to address the problematic settler colonial authority and whiteness that conspicuously dominate discourses on music, sound, and environment. Belmore's Wave Sound in particular invites, sometimes demands, that we—both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people—listen to the past, present, and futures of the land as well as its Indigenous history, present, and futures, and what these soundscapes communicate. These are pieces of reclamation: reclaiming histories, spaces, land.

In Mattering: Feminism, Science, and Materialism (2016), Victoria Pitts-Taylor reminds us that “representational paradigms, if they exclude matter or render it passive, also preserve the binaries of nature and culture, body and mind, and animality and humanness—dualisms which, it must be noted, feminists, postcolonial scholars, and others have long linked to harms against women and people of color.”6 Belmore and Nagam employ an approach to materialism in their sound art that is intersectional and reappraises the ways we know, interact with, listen to, and embody the world, while also decentering human and normalized colonial settler perspectives in our understanding of place making and the agency of the nonhuman.7

REBECCA BELMORE'S WAVE SOUND

In her introduction to her retrospective exhibition Facing the Monumental: Rebecca Belmore at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Belmore reflected: “The world will be a different place in twenty years, and we have no idea what that looks like. I think that's why we have conversations, that's why we have to listen, that's why we make art.”8Wave Sound was commissioned by Partners in Art for LandMarks2017/Repères2017, a multidisciplinary free-of-charge public art series that was part of the Canada 150 festivities and showcased a dynamic, interactive, diverse range of voices as they engaged creatively with the nonhuman landscape and considered our human relationship to it.9 Several commissioned public artworks promoting dialogue among people, places, and perspectives were installed in and around Canada's national parks and historic sites from June 10 to 25, 2017. Following the close of the installation, visitors could continue to experience the installations in an interactive space on the LandMarks2017/Repères2017 website, which invites those who may or may not have experienced these works in situ to “turn on your speakers or headphones” prior to exploration. This alternative format for interacting with site-specific works and real-world nonhuman-human relations provides access to those unable to access “nature” directly due to physical, geographic, or socioeconomic limitations.

Many of the public art commissions for LandMarks2017/Repères2017 drew upon Indigenous epistemologies and illuminated notions of land, environment, and cultural diversity. The three sculptures in Belmore's Wave Sound encouraged visitors to pause and listen to the wind and waterways. The three were cast in somewhat different dimensions and each installed in a different national park: Lake Minnewanka's shoreline in Banff National Park in Alberta, Lake Superior's ridge at Pukaskwa National Park in Ontario near Ojibways of the Pic River First Nation on the ancestral lands of the Anishinaabe, and at Green Point in Gros Morne National Park, which stretches along the northwest coast of Newfoundland (fig. 1). To honor Belmore and reciprocate her ethics of destabilizing settler colonial soundscapes, the collaborative artist duo FASTWÜRMS fabricated a copper version that was installed and exhibited on Belmore's ancestral lands, Chimnissing, Beausoleil First Nation, located in Ontario. Each piece's shape and size responded to its site. Belmore's intention was to amplify the aurality and agency of living and nonliving sound-making actors, emphasizing various human-nonhuman relations that produce knowledge of these places, but acknowledging that the meanings conveyed by nonhuman actors is just as important as what humanity has to say; at times, what the former have to say to humanity is more important.

FIGURE 1.

Rebecca Belmore, Wave Sound, 2017 (details). Installation with silicone-cast aluminum. Pictured here at LandMarks2017/Repères2017, Banff National Park, Alberta (above), and Pukaskwa National Park, Ontario (below). Photos courtesy Kyra Kordoski.

FIGURE 1.

Rebecca Belmore, Wave Sound, 2017 (details). Installation with silicone-cast aluminum. Pictured here at LandMarks2017/Repères2017, Banff National Park, Alberta (above), and Pukaskwa National Park, Ontario (below). Photos courtesy Kyra Kordoski.

In the year leading up to the installation of Wave Sound, Belmore conducted a series of extended site visits to the parks she had selected for her project. One of the physical and sonic conditions was that each sculpture could be installed on land, “listening” out to a body of water. It is significant that Belmore selected Banff National Park, Canada's first designated national park, as one of her sites, as it signaled an artistic and political return for her. Her well-known installation Speaking to Their Mother (Ayum-ee-aawach Oomama-mowan) (1991, 1992, 1996, 2014) was originally presented in the early 1990s in the wake of the Oka Crisis land dispute that erupted between a group of Mohawk people and the town of Oka (Québec).10 In Banff National Park, Belmore installed an expansive megaphone in one of the meadows, and participants were invited to speak through it and address the land, which resonantly echoed back their voices to them and other listeners within auditory reach. Speaking to Their Mother has since toured to numerous sites as a conductive space and adaptive tool used in decolonial voicing and listening to the land and the communities who occupy the land.11

Given her intention to sculpt and install an interactive series conceived as an invitation to listen to the land, Belmore carefully studied the sensory environment of each park, visiting on an ongoing basis to study the specific rock formations, take impressions for study and aluminum castings back in her studio, and engage in deep listening to the sonic environment in varied conditions. Her sculptures and how they are used by other listeners are shaped by the relationships she developed with the materiality of these sites. The textures of each highlight the nonhuman environment and its soundscape as an actor performing in the installation. The textural camouflage is performative and reminds us that “the communication between self and setting is rarely unidirectional.”12 As we listen through each Wave Sound sculpture, the soundscape reflects off of and is amplified by its interior walls, which, like its outside, are cast from the plants, leaves, bark, stones, and other nonhuman materials that Belmore foraged from the installation site. During installation, Belmore's team fit each large metal cone carefully on the ground, using rocks collected from the surrounding area to secure the sculpture and blend it into the site.

As a listening device, each cone is shaped to naturally highlight and amplify the ambient soundscape of the location, as heard through a structure imprinted by the land. The invitation to listen is subtle, however, and could even go unnoticed; it takes the form of a physical impression of an ear on the narrow end of the respective structure. Each participant must parse out their embodied relationship to the structure either by interpreting that the small ear impression is the location where they must position their own ear, or by watching and learning from other listeners. I found that I had to crouch down, manipulate my body, and look carefully at the sculpture. Only then did I see the faint imprint of an ear and know where to place my ear against the subtle curvature of Wave Sound's listening aperture. Listening to Wave Sound also operates as a forced pause, a moment of rest, an opening for sensory reflection. If participants choose to stop, explore, and listen, they are removing themselves from their original Eurocentric recreation- or conservation-driven reason for visiting the park in the first place and entering into Belmore's Indigenous listening space.

The methods used to listen to each sculpture, as well as the materials each sculpture is cast from, embed the work in the landscape. Belmore frequently visited each site as a mode of cultivating intimacy with its materialities and sonorities. Each sound sculpture was designed in response to the landscape and soundscape of each park, amplifying in situ sounds and creating a space to allow the land to speak back to us. Belmore took silicone molds of the surfaces of the exposed Canadian Shield, a massive, continuous piece of igneous rock barely covered at times by a thin layer of soil, and other local foraged materials, from which she cast each Wave Sound sculpture in aluminum. She focused specially on the rock formations located along the shorelines of each park, where the land meets the water. Installed adjacent to and listening out across the water, each megaphone-like structure amplifies and focuses the howling wind, the roar of the water, and the sonic collisions of waves striking the exposed craggy surfaces (fig. 2). As illustrated in figures 1 and 2, each sculpture was carefully placed in the landscape and, from afar, it was often difficult to determine where the landscape ended and the sculpture began. Each one was a unique sound object embedded in its respective site, and they collectively operated as publicly accessible lessons in site-based listening.

FIGURE 2.

Rebecca Belmore, Wave Sound, 2017 (detail). Installation with silicone-cast aluminum. Pictured here at LandMarks2017/Repères2017, Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland. Photo courtesy Kyra Kordoski.

FIGURE 2.

Rebecca Belmore, Wave Sound, 2017 (detail). Installation with silicone-cast aluminum. Pictured here at LandMarks2017/Repères2017, Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland. Photo courtesy Kyra Kordoski.

In Banff National Park and Gros Morne National Park, the two parks I visited for my fieldwork, the sculptures were unlabeled. I inferred that the absence of markers and descriptive labels made each one more a part of the park from which it was crafted; labels that one might expect in an art gallery or formal sculpture garden to contextualize a work could here create an unintentional divide between sculpture and site. Visitors instead encountered a Wave Sound sculpture by chance while hiking one of the designated trails. The participants had to work for their listening experience, contributing the necessary interpretive and physical labor to understand how to engage with the sculpture.

To listen to Wave Sound is to make physical and aural contact with the materiality of the sculpture and the materials it is informed by. I pressed my ear up close, creating a tight seal between my flesh and the metallic surface. As I continued to listen, my ear and cheek cooled, but warmed the surface of the opening. The materials became intimately familiar, connected with my flesh, as Wave Sound operated as a listening prosthesis that enhanced the range of my human aurality, or perhaps more accurately, my settler descendant human aurality. When I first placed my ear to Wave Sound at Green Point in Gros Morne, I imagined what I would hear: waves, the incessant wind whipping along Newfoundland's west coast, squawking seagulls fighting over a discarded sandwich left by a family picnicking. Or would I hear the sputter of a boat motor and the roar from the engine of a tanker transporting crude oil extracted from one of the offshore rigs in the northern Atlantic?

Wave Sound activates different attributes and interpretations of the word “landmark” by focusing on the aural and drawing listeners' attention to the definitive features and nuanced contrasts of past and present soundscapes of the human-nonhuman ecologies of the national park system. Each sculpture simultaneously serves as a commemorative object of Indigenous re-occupation of the land and as an action to unite listeners in respect and understanding for diverse cultural knowledges of the land. The soundscape is also mediated by a listening device embossed by layers of impressions of the physical landmarks in the respective park. In other words, once installed each piece adapted to its nonhuman surroundings. The metal warmed or cooled with the temperature and the grass around its base, resulting in a sensuous interaction between the human listener and the nonhuman environment. Each horn was positioned with the flared end pointing out toward the water, and participants listened from the tapered end on the land. Visitors participated with the unfolding soundscape, listening out across the landscape, water, and air. As Bellmore stresses, “Each sculpture, in its own way, encourages us to hear and consider the land and our relationship to the land. Whether it's the Rocky Mountains of Banff with its ancient forests, running rivers and meadowland; Pukaskwa's rugged Lake Superior shoreline and birdsong; Georgian Bay's windswept archipelago; or Gros Morne's sea stacks and unique geological history.”13 The attention placed on acts of listening in Wave Sound highlights bodies, objects, and soundscapes that are frequently marginalized or muted.

Wave Sound exemplifies performance studies scholar Laura Levin's idea of the “environmental unconscious” in that Belmore's sound sculpture frames the soundscape of each national park, and it is by listening to the soundscape (and past soundscapes) in this way that we “allow our environments (human and nonhuman) to speak.”14 This ethical, thoughtful, and generous form of aural ethnographic redress that collaborates with the land operates in stark opposition to “hungry listening,” a term coined and theorized by Stó:lō scholar Dylan Robinson to describe an ungenerous mode that he specifically applies to forms of settler colonial listening that take, repurpose, incarcerate, and exploit Indigenous expressive culture and erase Indigenous sound knowledge.15Wave Sound's participatory auditory technology emphasizes the need for multiple voices, varied modes of address, and diverse listening perspectives to address the contemporary climate crisis. We must tune in, speak out, shut up, amplify, signal boost, and listen with care to the voices of Indigenous, brown, and Black environmental citizens who are regularly omitted, spoken over, and erased from environmental debate, data science, and the archive of lived sensory perception of the world around us.

The national parks are the product of settler colonial presence. Banff National Park is advertised by Parks Canada as a Canadian treasure, “home to imposing 3,000-metre peaks, alpine meadows rich with colourful wildflowers, brilliant blue glacier-fed lakes.”16 Visitors may note in many of the parks within the Parks Canada system the absence of evidence of Indigenous people and their ancestors who once lived on these lands.17 Indigenous peoples have been systemically removed from their lands to make space for settler colonial ideals of conservation, wilderness, and recreation, one historical exception being exoticized images and performances of indigeneity for settler tourists. The Banff Indian Days tourism festivals, which occurred annually from 1910 to 1972, regularly staged living dioramas for settler tourist consumption. Once occupied by Indigenous nations who were removed by force, these lands that are now transformed into manicured, recreational, federally and provincially operated parks retain few, if any, Indigenous landmarks or soundmarks. But Indigenous people are now reoccupying and resettling these lands through acts of intervention, and Wave Sound is Belmore's contribution to these efforts. In other park systems, for example Vancouver's Stanley Park, certain Indigenous communities were removed, but then replaced with cultural objects from other Indigenous nations that were deemed more aesthetically pleasing, but whose peoples had never lived on the lands where Stanley Park now stands. These processes of de-indigenizing and re-indigenizing are at the heart of installing and listening to Wave Sound.18

Activism and associated decolonization efforts have extended beyond the arts. While the Canada 150 celebrations commissioned works by a diverse collection of practitioners in the visual and performing arts on the anniversary themes, many members of the Indigenous community and non-Indigenous allies felt that Indigenous histories and perspectives that are complexly bound up in the settler colonial anniversary that marked the British North America Act (or the Constitution Act) of 1867 went unaddressed in favor of privileging colonial narratives of exploration, settlement, and diversity. Erica Violet Lee (Cree) and Hayden King (Pottawatoi and Ojibwe), for instance, questioned why static stereotypes of Indigenous peoples persisted during Canada 150 celebrations when so many artists are merging Indigenous traditions with themes of science, technology, and futurity in fascinating ways: “Why don't Indigenous peoples get the benefit of contemporary existence and why are the default images in Canada 150 the performance of stereotypes?”19 Other artists sought out spaces to express themselves outside the visual and performing arts, choosing instead modes of public protest to repair Indigenous erasure and audibly mark Indigenous resilience and creative resistance.20

Belmore's reclamation of an Indigenous presence in places that are familiar to tourists, but which now include a mode of listening to place shaped by an Indigenous epistemological aesthetics, disorders expected (and accepted) visual and aural codes. Several non-Indigenous Wave Sound listeners I spoke to found that as they imagined what they were listening to, they began to reflect on the history of the national park prior to its consecration as “protected” land. They realized that Eurocentric ideals of ecological protection and recreation had human costs, and that the language of conservation had been used to justify Indigenous extraction from traditional ancestral lands. On another occasion, when I listened through the Wave Sound sculpture installed at Banff National Park, I caught the outline of a tourist from the corner of my eye. A middle-aged man was taking a photograph of the park, and within the frame was Wave Sound. Once again Indigenous culture was performing for the tourist gaze and ear, but in this instance, it was on the Indigenous cultural producer's terms. Wave Sound's sculptural presence and an Indigenous human-made object occupying—or, more to the point, re-occupying—a settler colonial space is noteworthy. Belmore deliberately selected these parks to acknowledge the many Indigenous nations of these lands whose traditional territories her project occupied.

The Wave Sound sculpture installed at Gros Morne National Park was situated just off the Green Point trail, blending seamlessly into the exposed rocky cliffs, short scrubby grasses, and crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean. On this listening occasion, I bent down to the opening of the sculpture, pressing my body against the damp rocky surface as pelting rain blew horizontally across the unobstructed and unsheltered coastline. Wave Sound was intentionally installed at ground level, and the listener had to adapt. Each of the Wave Sound sculptures requires a listening position that contorts the human body, places it in an uncomfortable position, and positions it in intimate proximity to both the sculpture's listening aperture and the ground. This listening experience was deliberately uncomfortable and emphasized the effort and discomfort required to listen with a critical ear to the past, present, and future soundscapes of these colonized lands.

In October 2017, Wanda Nanibush was named the Art Gallery of Ontario's first Indigenous curator for its new Department of Indigenous and Canadian Art, a position that would enhance the visibility and audibility of First Nations artists. As an Anishinaabe-kwe curator and community activist from Beausoleil First Nation, Nanibush set her sights on foregrounding contemporary Indigenous art made in the country now known as Canada. Her first exhibition informed by her mission was Facing the Monumental: Rebecca Belmore, and the first installation encountered by visitors was Wave Sound.

On August 19, 2018, I walked into the illuminated atrium of the Art Gallery of Ontario, the sun reflecting off the textured cylindrical sides of three aluminum cast horns resting on the hardwood floor of the gallery (figs. 3, 4). They sat side by side, slightly askew. This installation of Wave Sound disrupted the original intention. No longer did these sound objects listen to and focus the shifting soundscape of the parks within which they were once installed; now they listened to the footsteps and voices of gallery visitors paying for their tickets and searching for the main elevator down the hall that would take them to the main exhibition space for Facing the Monumental. Wave Sound was relegated to a passage through which they moved through to reach something else—in this context, the elevator to the exhibition proper—rather than a destination, like the individual national parks where they were first installed. But even when decontextualized in this way—removed from their respective national parks and installed in the gallery—they are notably reoccupying another settler colonial space that has historically excluded the expressive cultural practices of Indigenous artists.

FIGURE 3.

Rebecca Belmore, Wave Sound, 2017. Installation with silicone-cast aluminum. Pictured here at Facing the Monumental: Rebecca Belmore, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, 2018. Photos by the author, 2018.

FIGURE 3.

Rebecca Belmore, Wave Sound, 2017. Installation with silicone-cast aluminum. Pictured here at Facing the Monumental: Rebecca Belmore, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, 2018. Photos by the author, 2018.

FIGURE 4.

Rebecca Belmore, Wave Sound, 2017 (details). Installation with silicone-cast aluminum. Photos by the author, 2018.

FIGURE 4.

Rebecca Belmore, Wave Sound, 2017 (details). Installation with silicone-cast aluminum. Photos by the author, 2018.

The only residue of their earlier site-specific installation was a small information panel featuring a short description of the work and four installation photographs from summer 2017. Although the placement of each sculpture was archived in these photos, the images did not document the works' use as technologies of listening. There were no human listeners present in the images, only nonhuman listening, as the sculptures listened back to the surroundings from which they were crafted. Although there were no signs or stanchions encircling the installation, the socially accepted protocol of “look, don't touch” of the modern settler gallery was implied. The raised textures on the interior and exterior of each horn no longer blended into their surroundings, and their textured aluminum surfaces featuring the imprint of bark, grasses, and stone surfaces existed in stark juxtaposition to the sleek marble tiles of the gallery floor and its white walls. As I write, the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinberg, an unincorporated village in the city of Vaughan, Ontario, once known almost exclusively as the artistic home of the Group of Seven, has just purchased one of the Wave Sound sculptures.21 It will be installed there as a decolonial gesture to activate a conversation between Belmore's piece and the McMichael's collection of iconic oil paintings that problematically erase the Indigenous presence from the Canadian wilderness landscapes they depict.

To hear the soundscapes that the Wave Sound pieces once listened to and amplified, gallery visitors had to access the exhibition's SoundCloud webpage using their smartphone or other internet-connected device. These online streams archive brief excerpts of less than a minute from longer field recordings of the soundscape as heard at the site-specific national park installations. If sound provides context, carries information, and informs our surroundings, what happens when we remove the site from a site-specific sound sculpture installation? Belmore's sculptures encouraged visitors to the national parks to pause, lean down, and listen to the nonhuman natural sounds of the lands—those sounds that are erased by settler colonial resource extraction and industry, and that are connected to lands once home to local Indigenous communities who were removed to establish these government owned and operated recreational parks. The soundscapes of the lands and their fraught histories, however, have once again been silenced.

JULIE NAGAM'S OUR FUTURE IS IN THE LAND: IF WE LISTEN TO IT

In her recorded commentary that accompanied the exhibition Transformer: Native Art in Light and Sound, multimedia artist and scholar-curator Julie Nagam shared, “I am interested in the knowledge the land has to tell us.” I sat on the floor in the gallery space listening to Nagam's words through my personal audio guide. And as I write, I am engaging in critical memory work, reflecting on and re-listening to my experience of Our future is in the land: if we listen to it in dialogue with Nagam's poignant articulation of her artistic relationship to the land in her statement for the work. Our future is in the land: if we listen to it and her work that followed, notably her recent solo exhibition Julie Nagam: locating the little heartbeats at the University of Winnipeg's Gallery 1C03, consider the relationships among place, audiovisual practice, and Indigenous ways of knowing. Nagam writes, “I think about the ways in which [the land] breathes, feeds us and sustains us. I was interested in excavating plants that are part of the flora and fauna of Manitoba. From which, I have created paintings of plant specimens that have been transformed into magical moving images for the viewer to witness the power of nature and how it impacts us our lives. I wanted to invoke an immersive experience that demonstrates the importance each small plant provides to the overall ecosystem that the planet depends on.”22

Our future is in the land: if we listen to it combines light, digital projection, and innovative sound technology into an immersive 360-degree installation that combines environmental field recordings and the voices of Indigenous storytellers with line drawings and light projections. As the projected light slowly moves vertically up and down the illustrated backdrops, projections of animals are revealed to the viewer and drawings of birch trees and plants printed on the screen are uncovered from the shadows as they are illuminated from behind. Light appears to move from the roots to the branches of the trees, dappling the forest while the moon reflects off the surface of the white bark. The white birches contrast with a black background, with splashes of color in the form of animals that dissolve gradually into the foreground (fig. 5). The moving light and animal imagery create the illusion of certain parts of the forest moving and coming in and out of visibility. The birch-tree-printed screens were only installed on two of the four walls of the gallery space, but the speakers were spatialized around the room, encircling and surrounding the visitor so that the soundscape moved around them, surrounded them, included them. The spatialized field recordings reproduce the movement of sound in space and situate the gallery visitor in rural forests near the artist's home outside Winnipeg, Manitoba, obfuscating the reality that the visitor is actually in an enclosed indoor gallery space (in this case, in downtown New York).

FIGURE 5.

Julie Nagam, Our future is in the land: if we listen to it, 2017 (detail). Installation with digital video projection, sound, paint. Collection of the artist. Photo by the author, 2018.

FIGURE 5.

Julie Nagam, Our future is in the land: if we listen to it, 2017 (detail). Installation with digital video projection, sound, paint. Collection of the artist. Photo by the author, 2018.

I listened to and watched Our future is in the land: if we listen to it over the course of several hours on December 8, 2018. I sat on the benches adjacent to the wall in front of the projections; I walked slowly around the room, facing the projections, my back to the other visitors who entered the space behind me or passed by the doorway that led to other galleries devoted to Transformer; and I listened carefully to the listening of those around me, paying attention to the voices of others, caring by attuning myself to their perspectives. “I heard a bird!” a young boy exclaimed, rushing into the space and right up to the edge of the projection screen, trying to find the image that corresponded with the sound that had caught his attention. But the bird, to use his words, was “hiding from him.” He curiously interrogated this audiovisual discord while sitting on the floor looking up at the projections and listening to the soundscape, then with wise insight stood up and explained to the younger child who accompanied him and his parents that maybe their presence had scared the bird away or the animals had other things to do. Either way, he concluded that the nonhuman world was not there to perform for him and he could not predict or control the sights and sounds he encountered in the virtual forest of the installation (or, to extend his logic, in an actual world forest).

The premise of Our future is in the land: if we listen to it is that only by listening to the land from a variety of perspectives will humanity rebuild and society shift in productive ways for the sake of our fragile environmental future. Nagam's installation, and the other installations in Transformer, were not curated as static, silent specimens of study or frozen-in-time Indigenous artifacts intended for a settler colonial gaze. Intentionally subtle in its audiovisual effects, Our future is in the land: if we listen to it participates in processes of storytelling and knowledge transmission that assert that instead of exclusively preserving Indigenous culture and keeping it close to the community, Indigenous makers must also transmit Indigenous knowledge and ways of understanding the world to non-Indigenous communities to provide insight into the issues that plague contemporary society. Speaking of his own artistic practice and the approaches taken by many of his collaborators, Tlingit artist Nicholas Galanin explains that Indigenous multimodal art must “open this container of wisdom” and through it share “our language, our culture, our dance, our sovereign creative voices in the artwork that we create.”23

At first glance and listen, the installation might have appeared static. Yet this was not a static environment—rather, it was inhabited by animated forest creatures that appeared periodically within the room as the light and soundscape shifted (fig. 6). The soundscape alternated between ambient forest sounds and the voices of elder Indigenous storytellers—for instance elder Bill Valentine and cultural keeper Carl Smith—passing along oral histories and knowledge about the land and how it has changed. They also spoke of different plants and trees, their defining properties, how these properties have the ability to shift people's relationship to space and place, and what the nonhuman environment is trying to communicate to us if we are open to listening to it. As this soundscape played and looped, the projections revealed and concealed intricate layers of trees, plants, and nonhuman animals in the shifting light, giving the work a sense of visual and aural motion.

FIGURE 6.

Julie Nagam, Our future is in the land: if we listen to it, 2017 (detail). Installation with digital video projection, sound, paint. Collection of the artist. Photo by the author, 2018.

FIGURE 6.

Julie Nagam, Our future is in the land: if we listen to it, 2017 (detail). Installation with digital video projection, sound, paint. Collection of the artist. Photo by the author, 2018.

The field recordings and the vegetation and animal species depicted in Nagam's illuminated line drawings of an arboreal landscape, including the coyote, the whippoorwill, and the blue dragonfly, are indigenous to her Winnipeg home and the surrounding rural region (fig. 7). For example, Nagam recorded the coyote vocalizations from the front door of her house, illustrating the intimate proximity of that nonhuman animal in that place. While recording she also observed what she calls a “tranquility and softness” of the forest that she does not experience while listening in urban environments.24 These line drawings depicting her local flora and fauna are brought to life in the work through digital technologies, particularly the combination of light and sound, to create an audiovisual living ecosystem for the gallery listener to move through and contemplate.

FIGURE 7.

Julie Nagam, Our future is in the land: if we listen to it, 2017 (detail). Installation with digital video projection, sound, paint. Collection of the artist. Photo by the author, 2018.

FIGURE 7.

Julie Nagam, Our future is in the land: if we listen to it, 2017 (detail). Installation with digital video projection, sound, paint. Collection of the artist. Photo by the author, 2018.

Our future is in the land: if we listen to it engages nonhuman nature to tell a story about it and with it. Through narrative or storytelling practices, Nagam decolonizes how environmental history is portrayed. Nonhuman nature is dynamic, alive, and operates on a different time scale and level of intimacy than human history. Indigenous scholars have long theorized and put into practice the importance of stories and storytelling as a discursive strategy, as a research method, and as a narrative format that best communicates the nonlinear and interwoven nature of Indigenous pasts, presents, and futures that circle back on themselves and overlap in complex and intricate ways.25 As Rifkin argues in Beyond Settler Time, it is necessary to “assert Indigenous being-in-time” and avoid taking “the temporal frames generated in and by settler governance as themselves given.”26 Understanding the history of the nonhuman environment and humanity's impact upon it requires that we expand and pluralize collective understandings of environmental trauma and the power dynamics that shape different kinds of human relations and impacts, taking into consideration disasters and maladies that range in scale and temporality and do not always have to include the human. Our future is in the land: if we listen to it actively works toward a pluralized environmental epistemology through Nagam's sensory storytelling and how she narrates, conceptualizes, and experiences a temporality that foregrounds the nonhuman over the human.

Our future is in the land: if we listen to it is an example of art that moves. Kathleen Ash-Milby, co-curator of Transformer, explains this as work that “moves our ideas and our ways of seeing as it moves from one way of being to another.”27 It moves, shifts, and performs while the audioviewer is situated in the space. It cycles and transforms over time, performing its shifts and enactments due to both changing seasons and environmental stressors placed upon it by settler colonial industry.28 Visitors must listen closely to individual sounds and how they relate to each other, interpreting which of the shifts they witness are connected to the cycles of nature and which changes they parse out as the impact of environmental stressors. Specific environmental stressors are not overtly identified, but the stories told by community members in the installation soundtrack allude to observable changes in the environment and how specific resources found in the region are deeply connected to Indigenous cultural practices (for instance smudging). As the trees gradually become illuminated and the forest creatures appear periodically between the trees, it is revealed that this is an animate living environment. And when the forest creatures disappear from the scene, the viewer cannot be certain that they will once again return. The audiovisual ecology of Our future is in the land: if we listen to it connects visitors to stories of the land and notions of home and community that extend beyond the human through their experiences within the installation.

Our future is in the land: if we listen to it is cyclical, structurally referencing Indigenous temporality, including cycles of nonhuman nature but also cyclical colonial stressors on Indigenous ancestral lands.29 Climate change coverage and environmental media and art produced by settler descendant makers focuses on the daily reminders of imminent disaster: rising sea levels, extreme weather, species forced migration and extinction, and climate change refugees. Indigenous artists, like Belmore and Nagam, who are using sound and other forms of sensory media and alternative approaches to audiovisual movement and gesture to express Indigenous epistemologies of nonhuman nature, do not locate environmental emergency in the now. Their work is more meditative, because Indigenous peoples of what are now known as the Americas have dealt with the escalation of the forces of environmental change that have displaced their communities and nonhuman kin and inflicted violence upon their traditional ancestral lands since the time of first contact. When we bring Indigenous epistemologies into the conversation, climate change is bound up in uneven power relations and the violence of settler colonialism.30

Our future is in the land: if we listen to it also moves us as visitors. It moves us to connect with our own local environment and understand that our environment conveys to us knowledge to which we must actively attend if we are to live and act as ethical stewards of the land. Nagam, like Belmore, employs an approach to materialism in her sound art that is intersectional and reappraises the ways in which we know, interact with, listen to, and exist in the world while also decentering the human and normalized colonial settler perspectives in our understanding of place making and the agency of the nonhuman. Nagam's layered audiovisual narrative in Our future is in the land: if we listen to it reveals the embeddedness of the flows of time, movement, and lived experience in place. She explains: “Our history, our past, is our future. Time, space and place are bound and not separate. The future of Indigenous contemporary art lies within this immense landscape that continues to build, transform and morph into new technologies of technology and ancient wisdom embedded into the cosmos and the land.”31

In her art practice Nagam works across mediums, including drawing, photography, painting, sound, projections, and digital media, with a fastidious focus on expressing place-based history and identity politics as they relate to Indigenous traditions and futures. As a scholar-artist, she is interested in revealing the ontology of land, which contains memory, embodied knowledge, and living histories. The land is a valuable archive of information for Indigenous and non-Indigenous humans and their nonhuman kin. Nagam thinks about relationships with a place and embodied geographies, and creates pieces based on these knowledges. Her practice also investigates Indigenous stories of place to audiovisually depict alternative cartographies that challenge myths of settlement situated in colonial narratives of space and place.

Nagam is committed to pushing the boundaries of Indigenous curatorial practice and rethinking the settler colonial histories of exhibition culture in gallery and museum spaces. Knowledge obtained from the land can be communicated through installation art, but relevant, timely issues—settler colonial resource exploitation, environmental trauma, and land rights—have a palpable urgency. We must acknowledge the important cultural and political work performed by Indigenous human and nonhuman actors on the front lines. For Nagam, the front lines are spaces where the new media landscape of her installation blurs with her lived experiences of the landscape that are embedded in her work. As Steven Loft points out, Indigenous new media artists encode their knowledge systems and relationship with the nonhuman world into their practices: “For Indigenous people the ‘media landscape’ becomes just that: a landscape, replete with life and spirit, inclusive of beings, thought, prophecy and the underlying connectedness of all things.”32 Nagam's creative practice grapples with the politics of how Indigenous knowledge systems and their expressive arts have been traditionally treated as static, represented through an anthropologic or ethnographic lens of preservation and specimen study in exhibition spaces in the countries I currently know as Canada and the United States.33

Motivated by her concern for the environment, water systems, and land-based knowledge, Nagam approaches the land and its soundscapes as a valuable archive of memory and as a witness—a witness to colonialization, a witness to the impact of extraction and energy industries on shared natural resources, a witness to forms of ecological and cultural trauma inflicted upon Indigenous lands and communities as a result of climate change. Her nuanced combination of painting with light, projection, and spatialized field recording creates a multisensory installation experience where Indigenous and non-Indigenous participants listen to the aural conditions and stories of the natural world drawn indoors. In the work as I experienced it, the forests of Manitoba, their native species, and local storytellers were resituated in New York. The artist wanted to think about what isn't there and brought a piece of Manitoba, and how she listens to the land, into this federally funded museum space.

Nagam foraged for sounds, stories, and images to comment upon issues concerning unclean drinking water, food sustainability, foraging, rapid melting of the polar ice caps, chemically contaminated lakes, and the finite nature of water, all alarming realities that society faces. Nagam draws attention to the destructive and complex relationship humans have to the environment, connecting listeners to stories of the land through interpretive sound art. She states, “Our survival and our continuation as a people are tied to Indigenous knowledge of the land and a return or an extension of these land-based practices is what will bring us into the future.”34 The embedded messages conveyed through Our future is in the land: if we listen to it are inherently hopeful, push the parameters of storytelling with the land, and are forward and future thinking, like the multisensory medium Nagam works in. Stories, like the environment, are constantly changing, and Indigenous sound art boldly demonstrates the continuity of Indigenous cultures and creativity, tradition and innovation, the natural environment and technology, in the digital age.

EPILOGUE: INSTALLING INDIGENOUS KNOWLEDGE OF THE LAND

The two interactive sound art installations described above are embedded and grounded performances in place and in the land. And they remain grounded no matter how adept the artist is in new media. Whether digitized, projected, or cast, the materials maintain their connection to the land. They are embedded in the landscape and soundscape not just to defend the Earth, but to understand it from an Indigenous perspective and convey this knowledge of the land and how we can be better environmental stewards to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous participants. In order to productively solve the key issues that are impeding the social, cultural, and environmental health of the human and nonhuman world, David Garneau argues, “Native wisdom is needed, now, by everyone, not just knowledge keepers and their societies.”35 Through these various visuals, textures, and sounds (and sometimes tastes and scents), those who interact with these pieces in their varied exhibition contexts have the opportunity to understand what the physical and sonic materiality of an environment and these vast complex systems of interaction can voice to us. That is, as the title of Nagam's piece reminds us, if we listen to it. When we take the objects, things, and materials of music seriously in our understanding of music cultures, performance agency and the ability to be musical are no longer attributes that only humans have.

Indigenous critiques of settler colonial land use and history in affective materialist form is one of the most valuable lines of analysis to develop for thinking through the disastrous past and toward our perilous environmental future. As Jane Bennett explains, what is “needed is a cultivated, patient, sensory attentiveness to nonhuman forces operating outside and inside the human body,” and these forces inform Indigenous and non-Indigenous human understandings of the complexity and diversity of musical life, listening practices, and the aurality of environments in an interconnected world.36 Each piece illustrates that participatory media can express Indigenous ways of knowing “through playing with conceptualizations of time and place,” as ethnomusicologist Thomas Hilder states, extending storytelling traditions and performing as acts of self-determination.37 Belmore's and Nagam's artworks complicate the often reductive received images and sounds that inform the everyday lives of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people living in settler colonial societies and lands. Their work resonates with the lived complexity of being both Indigenous and contemporary, as they live, make, and listen in a time of environmental crisis.

NOTES

Earlier versions of this article were presented at Feminist Theory and Music (June 6–9, 2019), the American Musicological Society (October 31–November 3, 2019), and the Society for Ethnomusicology at Indiana University (November 7–10, 2019). I am also grateful for invitations to present my in-progress research from Aaron Fox at Columbia University's Center for Ethnomusicology Colloquium Series and Eben Graves at Yale University's Institute for Sacred Music for the consultation symposium “Sacred Ecologies, Expressive Culture, and Environmental Crisis Consultation.” I would like to thank Beverley Diamond, Kevin Fellezs, Aaron Fox, Denise Von Glahn, Jonathan Stock, Yun Emily Wang, and Ellen Waterman for their follow-up questions during the various Q&As that informed the development of my presentation for publication and future directions, Jennifer Peterson for her constructive suggestions and insight during the development of this special issue, and the report provided by my anonymous peer reviewer for Feminist Media Histories.

1.

In this essay, I follow current United Nations and academic practice and use the term “Indigenous” to refer to the First Peoples of the land that is now known as Canada. I do, however, recognize that this term is prone to generalization—an oversimplification of a diverse group of people who have varied relationships to nonhuman nature and the history of settler colonialism in North America. I also acknowledge that individuals have the right to name their own identities, and I include those when available, articulated, and named by the individuals discussed.

2.

Thomas King, The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013), 2.

3.

Zoe Todd, “Indigenizing the Anthropocene: Prairie Indigenous Feminisms and Fish Co-Conspirators,” Fisher Centre for the Study of Women and Men, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Spring Speakers Series, 2016. See also Zoe Todd, “Fish, Kin and Hope: Tending to Water Violations in Amiskwaciwâskahikan and Treaty Six Territory,” Afterall: A Journal of Art, Context and Enquiry 43, no. 1 (2017): 102–7; Zoe Todd, “Fish Pluralities: Human-Animal Relations and Sites of Engagement in Paulatuuq, Arctic Canada,” Études/Inuit/Studies 38, nos. 1/2 (2014): 217–38.

4.

As the officially adopted land acknowledgment for Tkaronto/Toronto reads: “I acknowledge the land I am standing on today is the traditional territory of many nations including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples and is now home to many diverse First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples.”

5.

On sensory knowledges of place see Keith Basso, Wisdom Sits in Places: Landscape and Language among the Western Apache (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1996); Steve Feld and Keith Basso, eds., Senses of Place (Santa Fe, NM: School for Advanced Research, 1996); David Howes and Constance Classen, Ways of Sensing: Understanding the Senses in Society (New York: Routledge, 2014).

6.

Victoria Pitts-Taylor, “Introduction: Feminism, Science, and Corporeal Politics,” in Mattering: Feminism, Science, and Materialism, ed. Victoria Pitts-Taylor (New York: NYU Press, 2016), 2.

7.

On the intersectionality of race, gender, posthumanism, and materialism see Pheng Cheah, “Mattering,” diacritics 26, no. 1 (1996): 108–39; Mel Y. Chen, Animacies: Biopolitics, Racial Mattering, and Queer Affect (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012); Pitts-Taylor, Mattering; Kali Simmons, “Reorientations; or, An Indigenous Feminist Reflection on the Anthropocene,” JCMS: Journal of Cinema and Media Studies 58, no. 2 (2019): 174–79.

8.

Wanda Nanibush and Rebecca Belmore, eds., Facing the Monumental: Rebecca Belmore (Fredericton, Canada: Goose Lane Editions, 2018), n.p.

9.

Canada 150 marked the 150th anniversary of confederation of the country now known as Canada. The 2017 yearlong series of celebratory events, arts commissions, and other funding opportunities was branded by the federal government as Canada 150. The government's statement noted: “During Canada 150, the 150th anniversary of our Confederation, Canadians came together and celebrated what it means to be Canadian. This year was filled with activities that focused on engaging and inspiring youth; celebrating our diversity and encouraging inclusion; establishing a spirit of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples; and discovering Canada's natural beauty and strengthening environmental awareness. Canadians and visitors from all around the world were invited to participate, celebrate and explore their country. Canadians and visitors alike responded with enthusiasm and got involved in ways that were meaningful to them.” Government of Canada, “Canada 150,” https://www.canada.ca/en/canadian-heritage/services/anniversaries-significance/2017/canada-150.html. For further information see https://www.canada.ca/en/canadian-heritage/services/anniversaries-significance/2017/canada-150.html, which details the activities launched to mark a significant moment in the history of Canada and the processes of nation building and national identity formation.

10.

The Oka Crisis, also known as the Mohawk Resistance, was a dispute between a community of Mohawk people and the town of Oka in Québec over the proposed expansion of a golf course and condominium development on land that included a Mohawk burial ground. Involving Mohawk protesters, provincial police, and the Canadian army, the dispute lasted seventy-eight days (July 11 through September 26, 1990). The golf course expansion was ultimately canceled and the federal government purchased the land, but the land that includes the Mohawk burial ground was not immediately repatriated to the community.

11.

For an overview and discussion of the performance history of Speaking to Their Mother (Ayum-ee-aawach Oomama-mowan) see Dylan Robinson, “Speaking to Water, Singing to Stone: Peter Morin, Rebecca Belmore, and the Ontologies of Indigenous Modernity,” in Music and Modernity among First Peoples of North America, ed. Victoria Lindsay Levine and Dylan Robinson (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2019), 220–39.

12.

Laura Levin, Performing Ground: Space, Camouflage, and the Art of Blending In (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), 97.

13.

The quote derives from Belmore's web-site, “Rebecca Belmore,” accessed February 18, 2020, https://www.rebeccabelmore.com/wave-sound/

14.

Levin, Performing Ground, 98.

15.

Dylan Robinson, Hungry Listening: Resonant Theory for Indigenous Sound Studies (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2020).

16.

Government of Canada, Parks Canada, “Banff National Park,” accessed March 23, 2018, https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/pn-np/ab/banff/info.

17.

Theodore (Ted) Binnema and Melanie Niemi, “‘Let the Line Be Drawn Now’: Wilderness, Conservation and the Exclusion of Aboriginal People from Banff National Park in Canada,” Environmental History 11 (October 2006): 724–50.

18.

For further scholarship addressing Indigenous political activism in the arts and decolonization efforts in higher education and community structures see Robin Attas, “Strategies for Settler Decolonization: Decolonial Pedagogies in a Popular Music Analysis Course,” Canadian Journal of Higher Education / Revue canadienne d'enseignement supérieur 49, no. 1 (2019): 125–39; Dylan Robinson, “Public Writing, Sovereign Reading: Indigenous Language Art in Public Space,” Art Journal 76, no. 2 (2017): 85–99; Dylan Robinson and Keavy Martin, eds., Arts of Engagement: Taking Aesthetic Action in and beyond the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (Waterloo, Canada: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2016).

19.

Erica Violet Lee and Hayden King, “The Wigwam Conspiracy: Why Are Canada 150's Indigenous Peoples Stuck in Time?,” CBC: Opinion, March 30, 2017, https://www.cbc.ca/2017/the-wigwam-conspiracy-why-are-canada-150-s-indigenous-people-stuck-in-time-1.4034974.

20.

Ashifa Kassam, “Canada Celebrates 150 but Indigenous Groups Say History Is Being ‘Skated Over,’” The Guardian, June 27, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jun/27/canada-150th-anniversary-celebration-indigenous-groups.

21.

The Group of Seven was a group of landscape painters who set out to paint, represent, and preserve the Canadian wilderness. The interpretations shaped by the paintbrushes of this collective of settler and settler descendant white men were an active aesthetic project to develop a national style of painting that was distinctively Canadian (rather than US or European) through their direct contact with nature and an unsettled landscape. These landscapes were in fact far from unsettled, but the paintings erase any Indigenous presence and fail to acknowledge precolonial contact histories of the traditional ancestral lands depicted. Robert and Signe McMichael, the family and patrons of the arts that the McMichael Canadian Art Collection is named for, were staunch supporters of Canadian arts and began collecting paintings by the Group of Seven and their contemporaries in 1955. The McMichael Canadian Art Collection was established in 1965 in the McMichael's family home, built in 1954 in Kleinburg, Ontario, in what was then rural countryside outside the expanding metropolis of Toronto.

22.

“Gallery 1C03 Presents ‘Locating the Little Heartbeats,’” University of Winnipeg NewsCentre, January 3, 2019, https://news-centre.uwinnipeg.ca/all-posts/gallery-1c03-presents-locating-the-little-heartbeats/.

23.

“Artist Nicholas Galanin on ‘Tsu Heidei Shugaxtutaan,’” Contemporary Jewish Museum, accessed March 23, 2017, https://vimeo.com/194085564.

24.

This statement was made by Julie Nagam in prepared remarks on the installation and her artistic process that she provided for the audio guide that accompanied Transformer: Native Art in Light and Sound. I listened to the guide during my first visit to the installation on December 8, 2019.

25.

Jo-Ann Archibald, Indigenous Storywork: Educating the Heart, Mind, Body, and Spirit (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2008); Helen Armstrong, “Indigenizing the Curriculum: The Importance of Story,” First Nations Perspectives 5 (2013): 37–64; Jennifer Davis, “Towards a Further Understanding of What Indigenous People Have Always Known: Storytelling as the Basis of Good Pedagogy,” First Nations Perspectives 6 (2014): 83–96; Thomas King, The Truth about Stories (Toronto: House of Anansi Press, 2003); Margaret Kovach, Indigenous Methodologies: Characteristics, Conversations, and Contexts (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2009).

26.

Rifkin, Beyond Settler Time, viii.

27.

Kathleen Ash-Milby, “Art That Moves,” American Indian Magazine 18, no. 3 (2017): https://www.americanindianmagazine.org/story/art-moves.

28.

I have made the conscious choice not to invoke the term “Anthropocene” in my discussion of contemporary Indigenous sound art that engages with site-specific places and notions of environmental time. The utility of the term when discussing Indigenous expressive culture is contested by many Indigenous scholars because the factors that define the Anthropocene are largely settler colonial focused. On the utility of the term see Heather Davis and Zoe Todd, “On the Importance of a Date, or Decolonizing the Anthropocene,” ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies 16, no. 4 (2017): 761–80; Simon Lewis and Mark Maslin, “Defining the Anthropocene,” Nature 519 (2015): 171–80; Audra Mitchell, “Decolonising the Anthropocene,” Worldly (blog), March 17, 2015, https://worldlyir.wordpress.com/2015/03/17/decolonising-the-anthropocene/. For critical perspectives on the term see Jessica L. Horton, “Indigenous Artists against the Anthropocene,” Art Journal 76, no. 2 (2017): 48–69; Zoe Todd, “Indigenizing the Anthropocene,” in Art in the Anthropocene, ed. Heather Davis and Étienne Turpin (London: Open Humanities Press, 2013), 241–54.

29.

Kyle Powys Whyte, “Is It Déjà Vu? Indigenous Peoples and Climate Injustice,” in Humanities for the Environment: Integrating Knowledges, Forging New Constellations of Practice, ed. Joni Adamson, Michael Davis, and Hsinya Huang (New York: Routledge, 2016), 88–104.

30.

For works addressing alternative approaches to temporality, movement, and gesture in the context of environmental trauma and the stressors of climate change see Davis and Todd, “On the Importance of a Date, or Decolonizing the Anthropocene,” 761–80; Simmons, “Reorientations,” 174–79; Rifkin, Beyond Settler Time; Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang, “Decolonization Is Not a Metaphor,” Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education and Society 1, no. 1 (2012): 1–40; Graig Uhlin, “The Anthropocene's Nonindifferent Nature,” JCMS: Journal of Cinema and Media Studies 58, no. 2 (2019): 157–62; Whyte, “Is It Déjà Vu?,” 88–104.

31.

Julie Nagam, “New Ground: Indigenous Artists Map Psychic Geographies,” Canadian Art, Winter 2017, 92.

32.

Steven Loft, “Introduction: Decolonizing the ‘Web,’” in Coded Territories: Tracing Indigenous Pathways in New Media Art, ed. Steven Loft and Kerry Swanson (Calgary, Canada: University of Calgary Press, 2014), xvi.

33.

A representative sampling of notable scholarship in this field would include Davis and Todd, “On the Importance of a Date, or Decolonizing the Anthropocene,” 761–80; Nicholas James Reo and Kyle Powys Whyte, “Hunting and Morality as Elements of Traditional Ecological Knowledge,” Human Ecology 40, no. 1 (2012): 15–27; Audra Simpson, Mohawk Interruptus: Political Life across the Borders of Settler States (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014); Audra Simpson, “On Ethnographic Refusal: Indigeneity, ‘Voice’ and Colonial Citizenship,” Junctures: Journal for Thematic Dialogue 9 (2007): 67–80; Tuck and Yang, “Decolonization Is Not a Metaphor,” 1–40; Joseph Weiss, Shaping the Future on Haida Gwaii: Life beyond Settler Colonialism (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2018); Kyle Powys Whyte, “What Do Indigenous Knowledges Do for Indigenous Peoples?” in Traditional Ecological Knowledge: Learning from Indigenous Practices for Environmental Sustainability, ed. Melissa K. Nelson and Dan Shilling (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2018), 57–82; Kyle Powys Whyte, “Critical Investigations of Resilience: A Brief Introduction to Indigenous Environmental Studies and Sciences,” Daedalus: Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 147, no. 2 (2018): 136–47; Kyle Powys Whyte, Chris Caldwell, and Marie Schaefer, “Indigenous Lessons about Sustainability Are Not Just for ‘All Humanity,’” in Sustainability: Approaches to Environmental Justice and Social Power, ed. Julie Sze (New York: New York University Press, 2018), 149–79; Kyle Powys Whyte, “Indigenous Climate Change Studies: Indigenizing Futures, Decolonizing the Anthropocene,” English Language Notes 55 nos. 1/2 (2017): 153–62; Kyle Powys Whyte, “Our Ancestors' Dystopia Now: Indigenous Conservation and the Anthropocene,” in Routledge Companion to the Environmental Humanities, ed. Ursula K. Heise, Jon Christensen, and Michelle Niemann (New York: Routledge, 2017), 206–18; Kyle Powys Whyte and Chris J. Cuomo, “Ethics of Caring in Environmental Ethics: Indigenous and Feminist Philosophies,” in Oxford Handbook of Environmental Ethics, ed. Stephen M. Gardiner and Allen Thompson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), 234–47; Kyle Powys Whyte, “Indigenous Women, Climate Change Impacts, and Collective Action,” Hypatia 29, no. 3 (2014): 599–616.

34.

Julie Nagam, unpublished artist statement, December 1, 2016, cited by Kathleen Ash–Milby, “Art That Moves,” in Transformer: Native Art in Light and Sound, ed. Kathleen Ash-Milby and David Garneau (New York and Washington, DC: National Museum of the American Indian, 2017), 5.

35.

David Garneau, “Contemporary Native Art: Plugged In, Turned On,” in Transformer: Native Art in Light and Sound, 8.

36.

Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009), xvi. For further scholarship of the material and ecological lives of music formats see Kyle Devine, “Decomposed: A Political Ecology of Music,” Popular Music 34, no. 3 (2015): 367–89.

37.

Thomas R. Hilder, “Music, Indigeneity, Digital Media: An Introduction,” in Music, Indigeneity, Digital Media, ed. Thomas R. Hilder, Henry Stobart, and Shzr Ee Tan (Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2017), 14.