Mnidoo Mnising | chokecherry | crossroad: a multi-site installation with chokecherry, Prunus virginiana, proposed for a bicycle trail on Manitoulin Island, Ontario

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proposal by castle grünenfelder ingram
Mnidoo Mnising | chokecherry | crossroad: a multi-site installation with chokecherry, Prunus virginiana, proposed for a bicycle trail on Manitoulin Island, Ontario

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project concept

Chokecherry [asasawemin [fruit] and asasaweminagaawanzh [bush] in Ojibway, Prunus virginiana in Latin] has been crucial to all of the peoples who have enjoyed Mnidoo Mnising since the receding of the glaciers and the emergence of the island. Chokecherry fruit has been important to local communities as is the medicinal bark. This proposal for public art envisions several installations across the sites available involving:

1. already-established or planted groves of chokecherry at a relatively small scale such as around 5 meters by 5 meters (17 feet x 17 feet);

2. the trees surrounded by abstractions of different chokecherry forms made into permanent sculpture;

3. sculptural elements fabricated from local recycled and repurposed material (mainly wood and metal, no plastic, some paint) in collaboration with local elders and craftspeople;

4. so that each sculpture protects respective groves;

5. along with two plaques of roughly 1 m x 1 x, one more general information about the project, and the other plaque providing information to specific to each installation;

6. text in five languages: Anishnaabeg (Ojibwe), Odawa, Potawatomi, English, and French;

7. an archive and website of consultations with elders and fabricators (who would be presented as collaborating artists) and;

8. performances and other events adjacent to some of the installation sites, related to chokecherry, that would be documented in the archive and on the website —

with two possible manifestations of this project:

a. a larger, $50,000 work with 3 or 4 sites plus chokecherry trees planted or already established, 4 sculptural and text installations with each sculpture up to 2 to 3 metres in height or

b. a smaller $30,000 with 2 sites plus chokecherry trees planted or already established, 2 sculptural and text installations with sculptural elements smaller such as 1 to 2 metres in height and with the possibility of a second castle grünenfelder ingram work for some of these sites generating a soundscape.

This concept proposal envisions elders and fabricators who would be acknowledged as collaborating artists with a transparent and fair, financial formula for fees to these individuals, as part of the final project budget.

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inspirations

Out on the West Coast, our artist collective and field station researchers have been revisiting (and protecting and planting) chokecherry for several years as part of cultural revival of knowledge of traditional fruit and medicinals, on one hand, and for providing a point for intercultural dialogue on the other hand. In October and November of 2016, we have posters in bus-shelters, funded by the City of Vancouver, acknowledging that indigenous families continue to steward, harvest, and own chokecherry and Pacific crabapple.

This particular proposal is to explore divergent experiences of chokecherry that today are relevant to both indigenous and settle people:

the numerous traditional indigenous experiences of chokecherry that extend from harvesting of fruit and bark to protection and stewardship, including a worldview that acknowledges these trees and bushes as crucial relations within a culture of gratitude and respect

and

the modern scientific and environmentalist view of chokecherry as one of the first fruit trees in Canada that re-established after the Ice Age with today’s role being increasingly crucial for pollinators and birds. And from the standpoint of the Canada Council acknowledgements of the 150th Anniversary of Confederation, this one species of chokecherry is the only tree and shrub that occurs in any province and territory of Canada.

And in the spirit of an alternative acknowledgement of Confederation, for First Nations, we celebrate Mnidoo Mnising as the centre, the crossroad, for chokecherry, and knowledge of this important fruit and tree, on this continent.

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some chokecherry forms

The forms of the chokecherry tree, that could be explored, abstracted, and re-iterated around the groves, primarily in metal and wood, would involve recombining some of the following outlines:

1. fruit;

2. blossoms;

3. leaves;

4. trunks;

5. fruit – twigs – branches;

6. bark; and

7. seedlings.

While the actual chokecherry trees are around or near the installations, the sculptures themselves would recombine some of the key lines in the forms and biology of these trees with homages to the three aesthetic movements that have influenced us most:

a. minimalist Coast Salish wood carving that is more austere and abstract that carving further north and west on the Pacific coast;

b. relatively minimalist wood, often log, constructions once common in Métis communities particularly in far north-western Canada rather then in more populous, agricultural areas of the Prairies; and

c. early Swiss Modernism emphasizing clean, rectangular forms.

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collaborative processes with local elders and fabricators

One of us grew up on the edge of an Indian Reserve as part of a Salish-speaking First Nation that has had remarkable success at closing down a residential school (in 1960 with one of us in this collective present), revitalizing their language, and nurturing public art that transmits contentious territorial and cultural experiences (for some non-indigenous people). He has spent decades working with over a score of First Nations in numerous communities. And we are well aware of the garbage disposal issues in many remote communities. So while we have worked with numerous other First Nations artists and craftspeople, we do not have any illusions that working with elders and fabricators on Manitoulin Island would not always be easy. But chokecherry trees can bring us together in new dialogues in cooperation with 4elements Living Arts. So the selection and fabrication of found objects could well involve a wide range of people from the artists to elders who are fabricators to young people supervised by elders and even to school children.

As for pay for advising elders and local fabricators, honorariums were be proposed for a small number of days with elders as advised by 4elements Living Arts. As for pay for community members, all of the artists and local participants, including fabricators, would be asked to work for the same minimum wage in order for there to be a travel and materials budget to complete these installations. Again, one us has spend much of his life working with reserve communities and with negotiating fair exchanges – that would warrant supervision by 4elements Living Arts.

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choice of local materials

This is perhaps the biggest unknown of this particular proposal. Are there reusable materials on the island that are durable, beautiful, ‘clean’ as in not toxic, and of interest to local fabricators – especially those with indigenous knowledge? Probably there are. But the research phase, our field work after being offered a commission, might become too time-consuming. So by May of 2017 and if there were insufficient, discarded wood, metal, stone, and other local material for these installations, the ‘fall back’ would be working with local metal and wood workers with much of the labour completed by Brochu-Ingram and Grünenfelder. But in such an area with a rich history of cultural production, we hope to spark some interest from elders and school classes to become involved and make this project, in part, community-based.

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collective statement

castle grünenfelder ingram is a collective of three working on the cusp of public art, urban design, sustainability transitions, and intercultural conversations especially around First Nations legacies in public space and local territories. Only working together for two years, our individual work in Vancouver goes back decades along with other projects and installations in Kamloops, New York, London UK, Seoul, Geneva, and Prince George.

As one of our projects, we coordinate KEXMIN field station, on Salt Spring Island, as a centre for research and learning spanning traditional indigenous knowledge and contemporary science for environmental planning, ecological design, public art and other forms of contemporary cultural production with a focus on the Salish Sea and its Gulf and San Juan Islands between the mainland of the North American West Coast and Vancouver Island.

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