Tina Guyani at the Central Public Library, Calgary

By Areum Kim

Amidst ongoing colonial dispossession in the settler state of Canada, our current moment feels particularly pronounced. Mi’kmaq fishing rights are violently threatened and sabotaged while law enforcement remains a complacent bystander. Closer to home, For 210 Chaguzagha-tsi tina (For 210 Weaselhead Road), the newest work by Tina Guyani, the mother-son duo of Glenna Cardinal and seth cardinal dodginghorse, comes at a sobering point in time. The Southwest Calgary Ring Road, a free-flowing trade corridor that cuts through Tsuut’ina land opened on October 1. The artists’ ancestral land on Tsuut’ina First Nation, a home to five generations of their maternal family, lovingly cared for and tended to, is now replaced by this six-lane highway. Their installation, a poignant iteration of a living room marked off by neon yellow tape and pylons, stands in the cavernous lobby of Mohkinstsis/Calgary’s Central Public Library.

Tina Guyani, For 210 Chaguzagha-tsi tina (For 210 Weaselhead Road), 2020, installation view

Inside the taped off square is a huddle of furniture: a two-seater couch and two chairs, a neon-tasseled blanket, a small TV screen, a rug, and a cowboy hat on the floor. The furniture has been reupholstered and modified, and it seems to carry the marks of a forcible disruption of its domestic peace. The couch cushions are upholstered in warm, intricate Indigenous blankets scored by construction workers’ garment fabric in an impassive, reflective silver and bright neon orange. On the RCA monitor is footage from the opening ceremony of the Ring Road during which seth cardinal dodginghorse gave a speech on his account of their family’s displacement. This should not be a day of celebration, he says. The settler state’s so-called economic growth and progress is at the price of displacement, dispossession, breach of treaty, and profound grief.

In a previous exhibition, Glenna Cardinal referred to her relation to her ancestral land as “bone-deep,” and that phrase sticks with me. One can imagine the depth that reaches far down into the flesh, into the marrows, and the pain when something that deep is severed. The rusted metal frame of the two-seater couch is wrapped in hide. The meticulous and orderly stitches hold the flesh close to its skeleton. I think of the duration of the stitches making their way across the hides, the soft covering over the bones of this furniture, this tactility is poetic evidence that feels as corporeal as the words “bone-deep.”

Tina Guyani, For 210 Chaguzagha-tsi tina (For 210 Weaselhead Road), 2020, detail

In a similar sensibility of remembrance, the collective’s name, Tina Guyani, is a dedication to their non-human kin who have also lost their home. The name translates to Deer Road and it embodies Glenna Cardinal’s encounter on her land with a deer, lost and disoriented after the Elbow River had been redirected in the early days of the Ring Road construction. All the marks that Tina Guyani make honour the deer and countless non-human kin that are displaced.

This compact installation creates a version of home layered with the artists’ soothing touches and visual evidence of the forces that displaced them. It is a formidable act of resistance to recreate something so deeply embedded with the Cardinal family’s inheritance, something that is not quantifiable in a proprietorship and can’t simply be bought out. It is a testament to the cumulative force of the colonial enterprise (the Indian Act that took away the family’s band membership, the relentless resource extraction economy, and continual efforts to undermine Indigenous land sovereignty).

Tina Guyani, For 210 Chaguzagha-tsi tina (For 210 Weaselhead Road), 2020, detail

At the end of his speech at the opening ceremony, cardinal dodginghorse leaves his braids behind to become part of this road. Just as this powerful symbol is scattered over the asphalt, the living room, the furniture, and the artists’ practice all insistently and resiliently return the truth that was paved over. The Treaty people who walk into the public library every day are tasked with seeing and remembering another broken treaty. In this temporary living room, the two lounge chairs face outwards. It’s like the opening of a circle, a diversion of an internal, private flow that pours outwards. It is an infliction in which their home is iterated in a public sphere as a piece of unwavering truth. And it is an invitation that beckons us to commit their history to our collective memory and work for a better future that honours the treaty and the promise of reconciliation.

Tina Guyani: For 210 Chaguzagha-tsi tina (For 210 Weaselhead Road) continues until the end of October.
Calgary Central Public Library: https://calgarylibrary.ca/read-learn-and-explore/central-library/
The exhibition space is accessible.

Areum Kim is a Korean-born writer and curator based in Mohkinstsis/Calgary on Treaty 7. Kim’s recent endeavours involve researching non-hierarchical curatorial practices outside of the institutional context that allow us to define new relations predicated on what we owe to each other rather than authority and power. Kim is currently the Director at Stride Gallery.