Counterpoint: The Aesthetics of Post-Colonialism held over until October 13

The Department of Art and Design and the Fine Arts Building Gallery are pleased to announce that Gavin Renwick's exhibit Counterpoint will be extended to October 13, 2012.

02 October 2012



The Department of Art and Design and the Fine Arts Building Gallery are pleased to announce that Gavin Renwick's exhibit Counterpoint will be extended to October 13, 2012.

Renwick's wide-ranging exhibition, which includes a great deal of collaborative work, will continue its successful run in the FAB Gallery. A series of artworks, projects, documentation, talks, videos, and a working studio all provide a unique and varied insight into the state of northern aboriginal communities. While addressing the past crimes of colonialism, a voice is also given to contemporary aboriginal people, one of whom rightly declares that he is no less aboriginal for having experienced social change. But the exhibition tends to look forward much more than to the past.

The centerpiece of the exhibit is Renwick's working area, where, ironically, he proves to be rather elusive. Still, having visited the gallery several times, one can see the progress of his vision for a community centre project. Unlike the modular, pre-fab structure shipped north to colonize and assimilate a primitive people, Renwick's buildings are designed with permafrost in mind, with traditional architecture and knowledge in combination with technology and science. It's a working process that is perhaps slower and less impactful than much of what goes in on the "south" of Canada, but the goal is "cultural continuity" rather than making a big corporate splash.

Not everything is about a rosy future, however. Many components of Counterpoint demonstrate that colonialism is not a "post" phenomenon, that the negative impact of residential schools, forced relocation, and social isolation and alienation are not only still felt but continue to be perpetrated. Many land claim treaties have yet to be ratified, and a way forward is often far from clear. But Renwick is not here for the short term. Having fifteen years of research and work in the Northwest Territories behind him, he is quite far from imposing a white gaze and white values on a subjugated culture. Instead, his career aptly demonstrates that a way forward can only be found together, cooperatively.

If there is a single aspect of Counterpoint that a visitor should take away, it is the idea that design serves a purpose - it serves people - rather than being a mere afterthought, or expensive frill. At its best, design can make a community more livable, more efficient, and more beautiful; and this is best achieved with lots of dialogue from all parties involved. Unlike the top-down procedures we are accustomed to in large cities, where developers present plans and apply for zoning permits long before the public is made aware of anything, or given a chance to provide feedback, sustainable design is a grassroots effort, where the people who will be using a structure are the very first to be involved.

Two additional events were held in September in which Renwick participated as a panelist. A talk by Counterpoint collaborator Dr. P.L. Harrison delved into both the technical methods of printmaking and the many relationships built through his working involvement with Dene artists and Renwick. A second presentation by Donna Morton explored another unique interaction with northern communities, through the energy sector. A former Greenpeace activist, Morton's company is part non-profit and part business, designing energy solutions that fit in with relatively small, isolated northern communities. Operating only where they have been invited, rather than soliciting for contracts, First Power looks for alternatives to hydro and oil, and works with communities to create structures that give expression to the community.

The exhibition has attracted many visitors from off campus including guests from Yellowknife and surrounding communities. In addition, numerous student groups and classes have visited the exhibition. These have included music students studying hip hop, drama movement classes, visual communication design students with a focus on type design, art education students who may end up teaching in the north, printmaking classes, and visual fundamentals classes getting a glimpse of where their research may lead. Altogether, the various aspects of Counterpoint and the accompanying talks create a constellation of ideas, where each project resounds off the others in a complex retelling of post-colonial relationships.

Related Links:

FAB Gallery exhibit tells stories of the north

Beyond the architecture of assimilation

Counterpoint: The Aesthetics of Post-Colonialism

First Power official website