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Winnipeg
Steven Leyden Cochrane
Scott Benesiinaabandan at Platform Centre, Winnipeg
June 09, 2015

In photographs, likenesses are “captured.” In 1974, as an infant, Scott Benesiinaabandan was “apprehended” and left in foster care. He only learned his mother’s name as an adult, eventually acquiring five snapshots of relatives he’s never met. In the intervening years and since, he collected other images: grainy newswire photos and TV stills from the Oka Crisis, Burnt Church Crisis, and Ipperwash Crisis. For years he carried a picture of masked Zapatista rebels in his wallet. (These insights, among others, are taken from media artist Skawennati’s excellent companion essay Resistance Training.)



Scott Benesiinaabandan, little resistances: mary|ezln, 2015, digital media

In little resistances, which opened last week at Platform Centre, Benesiinaabandan brings together these very different groups of photographs to image and to imagine sites of Indigenous resistance both interior and acted upon, monumental and invisible. He does so in a manner that’s at first almost shocking: working digitally, he arranges the images side by side in pairs, prints them, and then violently crumples the prints as if to cast them off. An abject gesture on its surface, this “destruction” is a ruse that effects a number of startling transformations. Creases and shadows obliterate the boundaries between the paired subjects, binding them in a new, shared matrix of material, place, and time. They become sculptural, moulded to contours of Benesiinaabandan’s fist, turned into stones that could, in turn, become tools or projectiles with a differential flick of the wrist. Or they might be simply carried, worried in the palm.

A further transmutation occurs when Benesiinaabandan re-documents the already ephemeral prints on the open bed of a desktop scanner. Bands of light settle across unexpected features, tracing arcs between them; the background falls away in blackness. Object and image are transfixed, assuming the plural aspect of artifacts, asteroids, and flickering holograms.

Unconventional staging adds its own nuances. The new photographs are printed on vinyl, imparting a rubbery half-gloss like the skin of unvarnished oil paint. The prints adhere to box forms that project seamlessly from the gallery walls like inverted reliquary niches – an association strengthened by the photographs’ enveloping chiaroscuro and pseudo-painterly aura. In this way, Benesiinaabandan’s spectral images noiselessly and subversively assume the mantle of architectural and art historical inevitability.

In the rear of the gallery, a thirty-foot length of white fabric emblazoned with text unfurls like a proclamation. Narrow, uppercase block letters recall the emblematic “I AM A MAN” placards of the African-American Civil Rights Movement, intimating a solidarity that cuts across generations and the boundaries erected to divide and further subjugate survivors of colonial violence. Its message, woven from Benesiinaabandan’s own words and those attributed to the semi-fictitious EZLN spokesman Subcomandante Marcos (a nom-de-guerre since abandoned), extends that earlier assertion of personhood, enumerating demands and articulating a model of resistance that binds together individual thought, collective action, and the land itself.

Benesiinaabandan’s little resistances, like the constructed Marcos persona, gain power from their elusiveness, even from being “cast off” – a strategic misdirection. Both operate in a kind of mythic, holographic register that renders them impossible to ever fully quell or kill, capture or apprehend.


PLATFORM centre for photographic + digital arts: http://platformgallery.org/exhibition/little-resistances
Scott Benesiinaabandan: little resistances continues until July 11.


Steven Leyden Cochrane is an artist, writer, and educator based in Winnipeg, where he contributes weekly exhibition reviews to the Free Press. He is Akimbo’s Winnipeg correspondent and can be followed @svlc_ on Twitter.

 

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