VOX — Centre de l’image contemporaine

View of the exhibition: _“From age to age, as its shape slowly unravelled…”_, VOX, 2015. Photo: Michel Brunelle.

Raymond Boisjoly
“From age to age, as its shape slowly unravelled…”

2015.04.17 - 06.27

Raymond Boisjoly is an Indigenous artist of Haida and Québécois descent. His work focuses on the representation of aboriginality, language as a cultural practice, and the ways in which these issues are materialized and experienced. His process is situated in proximity to photography, and he is interested in vernacular forms of representation and modes of production of images.

The series of large-format inkjet prints “From age to age, as its shape slowly unravelled…”—created specifically for VOX, along with a silent video—is derived from a process premised on the deliberate misuse and unlikely interfacing of seemingly incompatible technologies associated with the production and consumption of digital images. A video found on YouTube was played on an iPhone, which was placed on a flatbed scanner. The moving image resists the scanner’s attempt to fix it, resulting not in a mere snapshot but a mangled still, freezing an interstitial moment between frames, a mediated image denying access to its ostensible content.

The source video is a digitized version of Statues Also Die (1953) by Chris Marker, Alain Resnais and Ghislain Cloquet. This anti-colonial short film—banned in France for more than a decade after its initial release—frames the changed historical circumstances of African statuary and material culture as a shift to the very being of these objects. Displaced from their intended context to museums and taken merely for tokens of aesthetic pleasure, these works of tribal art are newly mediated for another audience, just as a camera or other representational technology mediates its imagery. These changes are not neutral, and the meanings they produce are central to the understanding of “art” as a historical and colonial category.

Notes on the outskirts of “From age to age, as its shape slowly unraveled…”


Time and content have become horizontal. The actions of the present live amongst many pasts and potential futures. This makes information an almost-enemy of art. I am trying to find ways to speak about the art of now, so that the understood or googleable object can still provoke curiosity.

Rebecca Belmore told me that performance was not a new medium when she began practicing this way in the 1990s. Indigenous people have been performing for centuries. Rebecca asks you to please not mark the newness of a medium as something novel for an indigenous artist to be doing.

Raymond Boisjoly says that he came to a difficult realization: the one problem with our shared narrative that continues to be ignored, is that there is no way that things are supposed to have been. It’s heartbreaking to concede this notion, but this thought forces us to face the reality of what was, and how to make a productive thing out of the way that the story will go.

Paul Chaat Smith says that Indigenous people and the camera have had a relationship from the very beginning. Some of the first moving pictures ever recorded were of Indigenous people performing, but with direction and for an audience. They didn’t really know the audience, but they got to know the camera, that’s for sure.

In the Land of the Headhunters (1914) is a film about love and war, shot by Edward Curtis and told by the Kwakwaka’wakw. They made costumes, they built sets, danced, battled and celebrated. They also got paid. I don’t know how much. But money now is not the same as it was then. After a recent screening, the lead actress’s grandson told some stories and answered some questions. An audience member asked the grandson if he thought that Curtis might have exploited the people of his community. The grandson and I agree that he probably didn’t.

I could tell that it was a new thing for Curtis to make a film, because I saw him become a better filmmaker towards the end of the film. This movie was a meeting point between two very different kinds of people who got to know the camera together. The film disappeared for some decades and when it was found, we thought that it was a documentary about Indigeneity. People like the grandson of the actress reminded us that this film is a story about love and war.

Statues Also Die (1953) is not the result of much love, but definitely is the result of war. “When we die, we enter into history. When statues die, they enter into art. This botany of death is what we call culture,” say Chris Marker and Alain Resnais at the opening of their film, which Raymond watched and scanned on his iPad. You see the result of some of the images from this process in one room of this gallery; compressed, then enlarged, distorted, and pasted to the walls. These images are less about the statues themselves, but more about the way they are treated in the film. The real is ferried into the ethnographic, traded then as the content of a film, and most recently, as Raymond remarks, these images exist as “art, now that we speak of them as such.”

In the other room, a new film by Raymond—greyscale.mp4 (2015)—speaks to the images with a migratory language, but the words hit harder than an idea in flux. It is recalling language from a previous performance by Raymond, Uneasy with the Comfort of Complexity (2011), where a full can of beer was scraped across a wall to mark this title. Let this statement root you here. Raymond wants you to disentangle the security we tend to shroud ourselves in when faced with the intricacy of multiple scenarios. Like a tight knot in your shoelaces, you can ignore it until you can’t.

Theaster Gates gave a slide-lecture in Toronto at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Time is Longer Than the Rope (2013). There, he said that “the Negro will never understand why the European values the ancient broken object over the new useful object that shows no sign of wear.” The transmission space of this misunderstanding is similar to where we are in this gallery now. Stand between the object and the viewer, old and new; the gaze, then and now; the media, analogue to digital. Raymond’s art is not about the previous and present, it’s about the way we see and process things over time. It’s about the ways we are compelled to continue to make something in the way that we see it. It’s about a space of motivation.