A hand is reaching across, through the dirt and sand.
Still from: Ariel René Jackson, The future is a constant wake, 2019. Video, colour, sound, 06:12 mins. English. Courtesy the artist.

Tending Land

In marking our 40th anniversary, the Digital Arts Resource Centre (DARC), formerly SAW Video, did not wish to simply look back at the legacy of our organization but to take stock of the present. While our new mission speaks to our excitement about the tantalizing possibilities of computer-generated media art, we wish to dispel perceptions that the digital realm is ethereal, elusive, and untethered to reality, or that it is devoid of deep-rooted mechanisms of oppression. We affirm our support of creative expression in all its forms, but at this pivotal juncture in the world’s history, we are especially interested in hearing and amplifying critical voices that speak to humanity’s anxiety, pain, and hope.

We are asking ourselves how art can address the overwhelming nexus of crises that Canada and other parts of the world are experiencing today. These include a global pandemic that magnified economic and racial disparities; impending environmental collapse; continued struggles of historically and currently excluded and brutalized Indigenous and racialized communities; displacement and mass migrations; ever-increasing inequality between the impoverished and the obscenely rich; escalating political polarization and extremism; endless conflicts and alarming militarization, which go hand-in-hand with the vicious fight for the planet’s resources, enacted through ruthless extractive industries; and the violent legacy of colonialism, along with the suffering that the systems it created continue to inflict worldwide.

These crises, and the appalling injustices they bring about, unfold across the surface of the globe, and often revolve around the right to the land, forcing us to ask who has control, how are resources being allocated, and serving what ends. Equally, the crises stem from the narratives being told about the land, and how these may contribute to further exploitation—or rebellion. Therefore, we would like to mark this occasion by presenting artists who tell stories that address our complex relationships with the places we inhabit (which might be unceded and unsurrendered Indigenous territories, like the city of Ottawa where DARC is located), or the vast terrain that humanity calls home: our ailing planet.

Tending Land is a constellation of exhibitions that brings together several artists from around the world whose works relate narratives about the ways in which land may be perceived, connected with, and cared for. Together, the exhibitions honour the fact that questions concerning land and sovereignty are of particular significance in Canada, where traditional territories have been expropriated by the settler-colonial state, and historic treaties around Indigenous Peoples’ land rights were often reneged upon. Tending Land also draws links to the centrality of land in the struggles of many communities around the world, especially the global majority who have experienced colonialism in various guises and who continue to endure its troubling aftermath today.

The participating artists tackle issues that touch the lives of diverse communities in Canada, all the while resonating with ongoing global concerns. They offer insightful reflections on the intertwined search for liberation, self-determination, belonging, healing, and homemaking in different parts of the world, which unfold against a backdrop of ignorance and intolerance, leading to organized violence, occupation, dispossession, displacement, and trauma. They interrogate all forms of hegemony—power structures, institutional systems, knowledge hierarchies, and civilizational claims—which in turn make control of the land possible. As they excavate dominant historical accounts, they also shed light on acts of agency, critique, and resistance, spearheaded by individuals and communities united by their shared tragedies and resilience under imperialism. Their work holds up a mirror to society, confronting us with issues many of us tend to ignore. In particular, they underline the fact that much of humanity seems to have accepted colonial conceptions of land, losing sight of the reciprocity that must be maintained if we as a species are to thrive and co-exist with fellow non-human inhabitants of the Earth—for it is only by tending to the land that we can expect the land to tend to us in return.

The artists utilize digital tools to create media art that raises questions about complex and entangled subjects. They work across geographies, languages, cultures, histories, and genres—such as essay film, fiction, dialogue, research, conjecture, poetry, found footage, and autobiographical notes—to communicate profound parables on the landscapes that humanity collectively inhabits. There is an implicit call to action here: the works emphasize that this is not a time for despair, apathy, or silence. Rather, it is the time to pay attention, take a stand, and speak up, wherever one happens to be. There is no point in denying that the world is deeply wounded, but remedies can only be found if we work together across divides, acknowledge the throbbing agony all around us, and understand our complicity in bringing about ecological degradation and causing the misery of “others” in our midst, and our kin worldwide.

While much of our lives are spent in the virtual realm these days, in front of screens that often eschew reality, the participating artists share stories that bring the land back into our consciousness, urging us to look after and give our full attention to the ground—physical and conceptual—on which we stand. They raise questions about humanity’s place in the world, examining how we may become more present and attentive, not only to the vagaries of the time we live in, but also the spaces we occupy (consciously or not), and our collective responsibility towards the land that hosts us and makes our precarious existence possible.

DARC is proud to host a group of international artists for its 40th anniversary exhibitions: Caroline Monnet, Ariel René Jackson, Aline Motta, Hiwa K, Monira Al Qadiri, Samari Chakma + Naeem Mohaiemen, Nguyễn Trinh Thi, and Joel Spring.

Exhibitions are presented at the DARC Project Space, Arts Court, Ottawa, running in 2022, and will be accompanied by a variety of educational and public programs.

Tending Land is curated by Amin Alsaden.

Aline Motta
Hiwa K
Monira Al Qadiri
Samari Chakma + Naeem Mohaiemen
Nguyễn Trinh Thi
Joel Spring
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