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Interview with Ursula Johnson

Broken Boxes Podcast is proud to feature the first in a series of interviews featuring participating artists from the socially engaged project #callresponse.  

About The Artist:

Ursula A. Johnson s a performance and installation artist of Mi’kmaw descent. People who attend her performances are often surprised to find themselves no longer spectators, but actors in a social situation. Instead of the private, contemplative response we usually expect from the encounter with a work of art, we become participants in collective interpretations and collaborative actions.

Ursula Johnson, Ke'tapekiaq Ma'qimikew: The Land Sings, Cape Breton Visitation 2015. Photo: Dr. Marcia Ostashkewski. Courtesy of the Artist.

Ursula Johnson, Ke'tapekiaq Ma'qimikew: The Land Sings, Cape Breton Visitation 2015. Photo: Dr. Marcia Ostashkewski. Courtesy of the Artist.

Project Details:

#callresponse presents the work of First Nations, Inuit and Métis women and artists as central to the strength and healing of their communities. This multifaceted project brings together five site­specific art commissions that invite collaboration with individuals, communities, lands and institutions. This socially engaged project focuses on the "act of doing" through performative actions, highlighting the responsibility of voice and necessity of communal dialogue practiced by Indigenous Peoples.

An online platform will utilize the hashtag #callresponse on social media and a dedicated project website will serve to connect the geographically diverse sites and to generate discussion. An exhibition will be held at grunt gallery in October 2016 with guest respondents, accompanying programming, and a catalogue. The project is led by Tarah Hogue (French/Dutch/Métis), Maria Hupfield (Anishinaabe) and Tania Willard (Secwepemc) and features five lead artists working in the following locations: Maria Hupfield in New York NY, Tania Willard in Secwepemc Territory BC and invited artists Christi Belcourt (Métis) on Manitoulin Island ON, Ursula Johnson (Mi'kmaw) in Vancouver BC, and Laakkuluk Williamson­Bathory (Inuk) in Iqaluit NU.

Artist Project Details:

Ursula Johnson Ketapekiaq Maqamikew – The Land Sings follows from an audio­based endurance performance wherein Johnson collaborated with a Mi’kmaw singer/songwriter in Antigonish, NS to create a song for the land. The land is recognized as a feminine body and a matriarch by several Indigenous nations. Urban development and the disregard to the natural environment resonated with the artist in the development of this series. Children who attended residential schools were distanced from their homes, territory and the land. The traditional songs and voices of many First Nations were also displaced because of this process. Johnson’s project posits song as a positive force that brings people together in the act of singing. The premise of the piece is to create a song that is an apology to the land for the ways in which our human impact has shifted and shaped the landscape. The original work was created by mapping a line on a topographical map from the customary land territory of the local Indigenous peoples to the closest, largest urban centre, from which a score was developed. Building on this, Johnson will perform the fourth visitation of the project in Toronto ON in collaboration with interdisciplinary artist Cheryl L’Hirondelle (Metis/Cree) as part of MONOMYTHS, programmed by FADO Performance Art Centre. The fifth visitation of the work will take place in Vancouver BC sited in the traditional territory of one of the local First Nations (Musqueam, Squamish, Tsleil­Waututh) as a way of addressing the history of division caused by the residential school system and colonialism more broadly. The points of connection created through song span the country from its eastern to western shores, coming full circle to encompass both the diversity and specificity of the Indigenous nations within its boundaries. Johnson will collaborate with a local singer/songwriter to create a song of recognition and apology to the land, focusing on four themes related to this: a survey, an intervention, a celebration and a mourning. The performance will occur shortly before the exhibition opening (October 2016), presented as a continuous live vocal performance that will run for the duration of 4­6 hours. The water and land of the surrounding territory will witness the song along with being open to the public. An audio recording and visual representations of the topographical score will be included on the project website and exhibition.