Conversations, Processes and Insistences

An Interview with Tanya Lukin Linklater

Tanya Lukin Linklater is an artist who works in performance and is based in northern Ontario, Canada. She has exhibited in museums, videos and installations in Canada and abroad. Her work centers Indigenous knowledge production in and through orality, conversation and embodied practices, including dance. Here, she shares insight into her process and what she will be working on next.

Photo documentation of performances are courtesy of the artist.

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Can you tell me a little about your performance history and how you came to use dance and choreography in your work?

I come from a performance background and trained in contemporary dance, Indigenous dance, and experimental dance forms from 1998 to 2003 in Toronto, at Mile Zero Dance in Edmonton, and at The Banff Centre. I was interested in dance as a space of open contemplation, as a place where there was no script determining the terms or conditions of what was possible. In this sense, I found dance freeing and radically potential. I was working more conventionally in stage dance or in the relationship between stage dance, Indigenous dance forms and Indigenous knowledges until I began to consider the field of performance art around 2006. The work of James Luna, Rebecca Belmore and others addressed our shared political context and the ongoing histories of North America. I was compelled by their relationship to time, space, the body, and broader discourses. Since 2006, I have made performances with dancers and experimental musicians in museums, galleries and other sites. As an Alutiiq (Alaska Native) artist, I situate my practice in relation to the field of visual art, as Indigenous peoples have a lengthy and complex relationship to the practices and discipline formations of ethnography, archaeology and anthropology.

How would you describe your work to someone unfamiliar with it?

My work is body-based and performative. I produce videos, texts, performances and, occasionally, sculptures. Often, I make live performances in museums and work in and through an open rehearsal process where, over the course of a week, the dancers and I develop a new performance within an exhibition that will only ever exist in that specific location at that time. This work is made through ample conversation, improvisation and, broadly, questions I ask regarding histories, pedagogies, structural violences, and bodies. While contemporary dance can be abstract, I think about how we all have bodies, which informs our reading of and understanding of dance. I also consider that meanings are multiplied by viewers.

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When beginning a new project, can you share a bit about your process?

Over years, I ask a series of questions. These ideas are investigated through different forms. I often am approached by a curator and through discussion we determine if my interests align with the curatorial questions leading their current projects. These relationships and discussions are the points that help me to think about the potential space of an exhibition or a performance.

If I am working in and through performance or in video works, I ask independent dancers I’ve built relationships with over time to join me on a project, as we understand one another’s processes. The dancers I work with are rigorous, generous and committed to the process we embark on. In many performances, we are guided by questions that I pose, and we are responsive to the site we are in — the architecture of the museum, the objects in the exhibition, the sound, the atmosphere and other bodies in the museum — as well as the questions I am posing in the work. I am interested in the ways in which bodies and performance can potentially shift the atmosphere of an exhibition or the viewer’s relationship to the objects in an exhibition.

I allow the questions I am posing to lead the work, and those questions help me to think about the form. I am most often interested in the process itself.

Are there certain themes or issues that feel important to you to keep tackling or addressing in your work?

I remember the ways Indigenous peoples insist in relation to ongoing structural violences in the Americas. I also spend time in relation to what that insistence looks and feels like — the sound, stillness, texture, breath and gesture of our collective insistences.

Some of my projects have been centered on Indigenous understandings of treaty, our relationships to the structures of education, and the relationship between Indigenous peoples and museums, including the removal of our objects or cultural belongings from our communities and placement in museums.

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Are there ways your work has been written or talked about that you feel carry problematic assumptions about Native/Indigenous populations?

Most often I am asked to have a conversation for publication, which I think is indicative of an expectation that as an Indigenous artist I need to educate the viewer, possibly the curator, the writer, or reader about my work and possibly, issues in Indigenous art or Indigenous communities generally. While conversation is a form of knowledge production I rely on in my practice, critical writing about Indigenous art is a practice that requires attention, and I hope that there will be substantive writing about my practice in the future. When curators Magdalyn Asimakis and Heather Rigg recently organized my solo exhibition, Slay All Day, at ma ma gallery in Toronto, I asked them to write essays about my video works as a substantive reciprocal action. I was grateful for their contributions to the thinking about my work.

What are you currently working on?

I am currently installing a new work at Agnes Etherington in Kingston, Ontario for Soundings: An Exhibition in Five Parts curated by Candice Hopkins and Dylan Robinson. This exhibition and performance series centers on scores with contemporary Indigenous artists. I proposed that an Inuvialuit rain gut parka is a score for performance. This rain gut parka, which originates from the McKenzie Delta region of Northwest Territories, and was collected by Hudson’s Bay Company in 1924, is now housed at Manitoba Museum. The rain gut parka is on loan and will be installed in relation to a text I wrote. In the spring, I will develop a performance with dancers and an experimental composer/musician in relation to this cultural belonging. I am interested in the ways in which we visit and interact with this cultural belonging. My subsequent projects in 2019 and 2020 will also think in relation to these questions about museum collections, objects and Indigenous peoples.

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