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11.40  Embodied Memoration: Unsettling Colonial Forms through Performative Acts in the Everyday

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11:00, Saturday 4 Jun 2016 (30 minutes)

This paper foregrounds, as critical “artist-history exchanges,” performative interventions that act upon everyday spaces and objects with the imperative of unsettling colonial logics. Focusing on my recent durational performance, “memoration #2: constituent parts,” as the primary case study, I will examine the ways in which the body in performance can be strategically mobilized to re/consider, reveal, and disturb the constructions and erasures embedded within spaces, material/visual culture, institutions, and practices we encounter in the course of our daily lives. This performance enlists the canoe as a potent Canadian icon that is deeply implicated in shaping the public imaginary in the contours of settler colonial mentalities, and strategically dis/locates it within sites of knowledge production (the Queen’s University Stauffer Library building) and commemoration (the John A. MacDonald statue in Kingston’s city park). Ubiquitous and unexamined icons such as the canoe populate our everyday, becoming so commonplace that they are, on the surface, drained of vexing aspects of their historical genealogy. Devoid of such complexities, their ever-presence and mediated cultural meaning influence the popular consciousness, thereby contributing to the substantiation of colonially expedient mythologies. Familiar spaces, conventions, and institutions are similarly naturalized, inscribed into daily life with disregard for their bonds to historical and ongoing colonial nation-building. In this way, the commonplace is significantly implicated in conditioning the selective remembering and intentional forgetting that characterize dominant national narratives in Canada—both historical and contemporary.  

Chickasaw scholar Jodi A. Byrd suggests that “settler, native and arrivant each acknowledge their own positions within empire and then reconceptualize space and history to make visible what imperialism and its resultant settler colonialisms and diasporas have sought to obscure.” Through situated, embodied, symbolic, and relational acts, “memoration #2: constituent parts” seeks to advance Byrd’s appeal as a self-reflexive deployment of activations that confront the continuum of colonial nation-building from a white settler positionality. As Margot Francis asserts, artistic practices of “storying in and against colonial legacies” can work to expose the “open secrets” that surreptitiously shape the Canadian national landscape, and compel the viewer toward self-reflection and the reassessment of the ways they may be implicated in the structures of empire. Through a close examination of “memoration #2: constituent parts,” this paper will discuss the ways counter-storying through embodied interventions into icons of settler emplacement and identity, and architectures of colonial power, western knowledge and reification, can quietly unhinge everyday perpetuations of the settler colonial mindset, and activate a conversational imperative between past, present, and possible futures.

Leah Decter


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