8 September 2021


 Internship Check-in Jingshu Helen Yao

For this month’s Internship Check-in, I interviewed Loren Wong. Our conversation also inspired me to reflect on my own job searching and internship experience.

Loren is working as an intern at the Public Art Program for the City of Ottawa. While her work includes the installation of artworks in public spaces around the city, Loren’s main responsibility is collections management. Loren targeted opportunities in Ottawa, the city she lives in, during her internship search. She didn’t find many formal job postings online, so she made a lot of cold calls and sent out several emails to potential employers instead.

Research is the main part of Loren’s daily tasks, where she looked up information on artists and artworks. For example, she collected background information of pollinator gardens for a meeting on future installations in the city. She is currently compiling a document for her department, consisting of a contact list of artists working in the area for reference and for future commissions. Aside from independent research and writing, Loren also took part in labelling art pieces and deductive tags. Recently, she also did social media posts to promote artworks.

Loren admitted that she didn’t like working from home. The main challenge is “one million and one technical difficulties,” as Loren described. To complete her work, she needs access to the city’s database and software. It took weeks to process an application for a computer from the city; access to software licenses and shared drives had become barriers during her internship. Loren believes that work from home also leads to inefficiency of communication, which adds to the potential for problems.

“There were weeks when I just sat on my hands and couldn’t do any work because I didn't have access to the database…", Loren related. “Then, after five hours on the phone with IT, I finally gained access and completed all the work in three days.”

Since galleries were not open during the time of her internship, Loren couldn’t visit any sites to view the artworks she was working with, but could only rely on her computer.

“It’s just me and my dying laptop against the world,” Loren quipped.

Even with the advantages of not having to commute and having flexible working hours, Loren still much preferred working in-person.

Having a background in visual art, Loren really enjoys that she could write about art for her internship. Museology and the process of collection are two of her areas of interest, and she appreciates that she had the chance to look behind the curtain of how an art gallery works.

Loren gave a piece of advice for future students in the internship course to not rely solely on the opportunities posted by the MMSt program, especially if they want to work somewhere outside of Toronto. She had a positive experience doing cold calls and felt that many institutions are open minded and happy to take on interns.

“A mistake I’ve made, and I hope other people could avoid, is selling yourselves very short during the job search process,” Loren added. She mentioned that imposter syndrome is what always made her freeze at interview questions such as, “Why would you be better at this job than the others? Why should we hire you?” Self-confidence is a simple concept but one which is the most difficult in practice, especially for people from marginalized communities. I resonate with Loren’s sentiment and instead of interviewing another fellow student, I decided to continue this discussion with my own experience.

I started with very little hope of finding an internship for the summer. The past year of trying to find opportunities in museums had strongly discouraged me. Most jobs I found in the arts and cultural sectors are reserved for Young Canada Works, which require applicants to be Canadian citizens or permanent residents. I am an international student on a study permit, which disqualified me from applying for any of those openings. The fact that I had no background in visual arts or history added to my worries and, at many points during the last year, I had doubted my decision of pursuing museum studies in general.

In January, I decided that if I am not able to work during the summer, I might as well go home to visit my family. Later that month, an iSchool email about the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario’s NextGen Job Shadowing Program caught my attention. It was only a short program consisting of virtual meetings with a host, but I was open to every little opportunity. 

Among the hosts, I found the Canadian Language Museum, an institution that I had previously connected with and always wanted to volunteer for but wasn’t able to due to COVID. Although I applied for the job shadowing program without many expectations, the virtual meetings with museum director Dr. Elaine Gold gave me the chance to ask for an opportunity to work for the museum during the summer. I was surprised by how accommodating they were, developing my internship together with me. I was given the responsibility to conduct research for an upcoming exhibition on Chinese Languages in Canada – related to my background in linguistics and language abilities. I initially worried that my trip back to China would result in a 12-hour difference from Toronto, and even if I could work remotely, it wouldn’t be ideal. But my hosts were willing to do our weekly meetings first thing in the morning at 9 am, which allowed me to return home while still being able to work a regular schedule.

I appreciated my host’s efforts to help me get the most out of my internship experience, and I started to think about ways in which I could use my situation to benefit to the work I was doing. I was also in charge of updating a list of language museums around the world, among which several museums are located in China. However, language barriers and internet restrictions made it difficult to research them. I reached out to Shanghai International Studies University (SISU) and visited their language museum to make the connection. It turned out to be a surprising experience and you can read about it in my blog post here.

Museum of World Languages at SISU | Photo courtesy of the author. 

My international status was one of my disadvantages from the beginning, but it ended up becoming a unique opportunity. It gave me hope that I may bring something different to my studies and in my work experience in Canada, and my internship helped to explore different possibilities to make the most of my museum studies experience.

19 August 2021


Breaking the Glass Case | Megan C. Mahon

Content Warning: Residential Schools

On July 1st, in my hometown of Winnipeg, Manitoba, a rally was held in support of Indigenous peoples and residential school survivors in lieu of Canada Day celebrations. During this peaceful rally, a statue of Queen Victoria which sat on the grounds of the Manitoba Legislature was toppled. Participants wrapped the statue in ropes and covered it in red paint, and brought the old queen of England crashing to the ground. In her place was left a sign which read, “We were children once. Bring them home.” Today, a month and a half later, the statue is gone but the plinth remains, covered in red handprints as a poignant reminder of the so-called country of Canada’s colonial past.

Protestors topple a statue of Queen Victoria at the Manitoba Legislature. Source: Travis Golby, CBC. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/queen-victoria-statue-winnipeg-1.6087684

Predictably, after this happened, a group of people who had likely never given this statue a second glance came out of the woodwork, arguing that Vandalism Is Bad and Statues Deserve Human Rights. Encouragingly, they were met with a great number of detractors who countered that the statue of Queen Victoria was a horrible reminder to Indigenous peoples of Canada’s genocidal policies towards them, and that removing her likeness was a small step towards truth and reconciliation. I’m sure you know that this author – a white settler of British descent – believes that the latter view is the correct one. However, far more relevant to this discussion than the author’s views is the question: what’s to be done with this statue, now that history has finally caught up with it?

It needs to be noted that this is not the first time this statue has been subject to protests. In the summer of 2020, during a rally in support of Black Lives Matter, it was dashed in red and white paint. If this history is any indication, then Manitobans have already made their feelings about the statue perfectly clear. So, clearing the statue of its paint, removing the messages of support for Indigenous people from its plinth, and reinstating Queenie V isn’t an option. It would be a slap in the face to those fighting for truth and reconciliation (also, objectively speaking, the statue is an eyesore). What, then, is to be done with it?

Red handprints adorn the plinth where the statue of Queen Victoria once stood. Source: Gary Robson, CTV News. https://winnipeg.ctvnews.ca/statues-of-queen-elizabeth-ii-queen-victoria-toppled-at-manitoba-legislature-1.5493572

From a Museum Studies perspective, I would love to see this plinth remain as a marker in our history: a representation of the people’s will and a reminder to settler Canadians that Canada’s genocidal past is not past at all. The statue of Victoria can be melted for scrap, for all I care – it's not the important part anymore. The plinth, with its multitude of red handprints, can rest on the legislature along with other important figures in Manitoba’s history (most of which, it must be said, are white and male) as a call to action, and a reminder that until the truth is uncovered and reparations are made, there can be no reconciliation at all.

What are statues, after all, besides physical manifestations of that which a nation chooses to remember? A monument stands as a representation of history: a Sparknotes summary, if you will, of the most important bits. People can observe these relics and see what about their country’s identity is important enough to be cast in stone. By showing Queen Victoria, we were celebrating our history of British colonialism. By tearing her down, we were indicating that we no longer value what she represents. If the Manitoba government decides to leave the plinth as it is, red handprints and all – as I sincerely hope they do – it will serve as a marker of the chapter in our history where settler Canadians were forced to reckon with a past that has been not hidden, but rather ignored for far too long.

The most important thing that we can do about this statue, however, is to ask Indigenous communities what they believe should be done with it. There’s no situation where the status of reconciliation improves if Indigenous people are not consulted about the ways that the history of this land should be portrayed. In fact, it’s not just reconciliation that’s at stake: Indigenous people need to be included in all aspects of our decision making for the future of our world. Indigenous land and water defenders have been at the forefront of the fight against climate change for decades, including at Fairy Creek in Pacheedaht Territory. So, no, this issue isn’t just about an exceedingly ugly statue. It’s about ensuring Indigenous involvement in re-shaping the ways we view our past, so we can save our future.

Although there’s no word on what’s to be done with the statue as of yet, we can only hope that the Manitoba government – and governments all across Canada who are facing similar situations – will heed the words of those who tore Queen Victoria down: this statue no longer represents who we want to be. Let’s create new monuments, to a better and more equal future, together.

Further Reading

Devon McKendrick. "Statues of Queen Elizabeth II, Queen Victoria toppled at Manitoba Legislature."

Rachel Bergen. "Mother figure or colonial oppressor? Examining Queen Victoria's legacy after Winnipeg statue toppled." https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/queen-victoria-winnipeg-statues-residential-schools-colonialism-british-empire-1.6090322

Nia Williams. "What's happening in Fairy Creek? An explainer on the fight over B.C.'s old-growth forests." https://nationalpost.com/news/whats-happening-in-fairy-creek-an-explainer-on-the-fight-over-b-c-s-old-growth-forests.

"2 statues of queens toppled at Manitoba Legislature." https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/queen-victoria-statue-winnipeg-1.6087684

17 August 2021


 Exhibition Reviews | Rachel Deiterding

In human timescales, stone signifies unwavering permanence. As Jeffery Jerome Cohen unearths the animacy of stone, he asks “if stone could speak, what would it say about us?” While seemingly speculative, his inquiry asks us to re-imagine our relationship to the earth and introduces us to rock bodies as agents. When I first encountered this question it was earth-shattering. It shifted the way that I understood the world and my position within it.  I was no longer a scientific ecological observer, but a collaborative member of a vast network of ecosystems made up of complex relations. This was the first step in a continued journey of confronting and unlearning colonial understandings of land, ownership, and extraction. My research has since been focused on bridging the gap between the human and the non-human, learning from Indigenous stewards of the lands on which I am a guest, and building relationships that are based in deep localized reciprocity. I have a new language to learn – we all do – and stone has much to teach us if we could only learn how to listen. 

Groundwork, installation view, 2021 | Photo documentation by Toni Hafkenscheid | Source

Exploring extractivism as a physical process and a mindset, Groundwork is on view at Critical Distance Centre for Curators (from May to August 2021). The exhibition goes beyond merely drawing attention to extraction to think about how performance can be mobilized to challenge and reconfigure our relationships to land using methods of camouflage and infiltration. 

Upon entering, an ambient soundtrack flows through the exhibition space. Its uncanny and alien resonances set the tone for the barren landscapes decimated by extraction and the uneven power relationships between human and non-human beings that underpin the work. Alana Bartol’s Orphan Well Adoption Agency (2017–ongoing) manifests an oil and gas company interested in the decommissioning and reclamation of abandoned oil wells that continue to pollute the landscape. In her video TOTAL FIELD (2017), she is dressed in blue, her vision is blocked with ping pong ball goggles, and she is carrying a mysterious forked branch. She is dowsing, a practice linked to her ancestry where a tool of divination is used to help locate water, oil, and minerals through the pull of the earth. Her performance has a dual function, she explores her own complicated familial relationship with extraction while also performing a close reading of the land to assess its levels of contamination. As an alternative mode of understanding the land, dowsing requires deep listening and a body attuned with the earth to identify and decipher the language of the land that circulates outside of human vocabularies. The work calls for new methods of listening rooted outside of colonial modes of understanding.

Alana Barol, OWAA Uniform and Tools, 2017 | Photo documentation by Toni Hafkenscheid | Source

As caretakers and stewards, how can we better learn to listen to the earth and find the patience to undergo the process of translation? In English, a noun-based language, we classify the earth as a thing, something to possess and act upon rather than something that acts itself. We don’t have the language to understand the behaviour of the earth, its non-human inhabitants, and their animacy. In Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer describes her experience learning Potawatomi, pointing out that 70% of the language is verbs. In this context, language shifts everything, bringing the world to life. Suddenly a rock is not simply a rock but is in the act of being a rock, illustrating the underlying animacy of all non-human things.

If the earth is alive and speaking to us, do we not have the responsibility to listen? Tsēmā Igharasto protect the womb from x-rays and colonization (2017) features armour constructed from moosehide and copper pennies. The discontinued Canadian currency, extracted from Igharas' home territory of Tahltan Nation where copper mines have wreaked environmental havoc, draws attention to violent histories of extraction and land use. Furthermore, it draws on the potential for constructing realms of safety and balance when natural materials are accessed consciously and with respect for the broader network of relations to which they belong.

Tsēmā Igharas, Photograph: Re Naturalize no. 7, 2015-2016, Sculpture: to protect the womb from x-rays and colonization, 2018 | Photo documentation by Toni Hafkenscheid | Source

Returning to Cohen’s question of “if stone could speak, what would it say about us,” Ileana Hernandez Camacho's Corps roca (2018–ongoing) gives voice to stone, taking it on as a character and playfully interrogating the relationship between humans and the earth. Presenting rocks as living thinking beings, Hernandez Camacho constructs an alternative understanding of extraction, one where the earth has the agency to speak back, to voice its opinion, and to make its agency visible and naturalized. 

Ileana Henandez, Corps roca, 2018 | Photo documentation by Toni Hafkenscheid | Source

Throughout the exhibition, the artist's bodies are directly evoking and distilling alternative conceptions of land. The viewer is invited to participate by standing on Corps roca’s vibrating platform alongside one of the stone costumes. 
As the buzz of stone vibrated through my feet, I was reminded that I have much to do. The work not only challenges the way we think about land, but it also calls us to action. 

Stone has been on earth far longer than any of us, and it is a teacher that holds a wealth of knowledge. How can we be better listeners and learners? Beyond listening, how might we speak back and be better participants in the relations that support and sustain us? All in all, how might the alternatives displayed together in this show assist in reframing the hierarchical language of extraction which dominates colonial societies? While the impact of listening alone has proven limited, Groundwork reminds us of our responsibility to the earth and asks us to take up deeper listening, a shift in language, and a change in mindset.