Kylie Fineday's Earth Blanket
It has been almost a year since Processes of Remediation: art, relationships, nature opened at the University of Lethbridge Art Gallery. For those that are new to this website, Processes of Remediation was a multi-part project I began in the spring of 2020 with University of Lethbridge Art Gallery. Due to COVID-19, the nature of the project shifted from in-person events to online and this website was created to document and share my research and process. Curated by Josephine Mills, Processes of Remediation involved mentorship of two emerging artists, online and short-term residencies at Coutts Centre for Western Heritage and the Gushul Residency, and culminated with an exhibition at uLethbridge’s Hess Gallery from January 31 - September 25, 2021. The final artworks in the exhibition can be viewed in the Gallery section of this website.
The artworks in Processes of Remediation respond to the past, present, and future of coal mining in the area now known as the Crowsnest Pass, Alberta. Some of the artwork in the exhibition respond directly to the proposed Grassy Mountain Coal Project. In the summer of 2021, Benga Mining's Grassy Mountain Coal Project was DENIED! It has been exciting and inspiring to see the power of public protest against open-pit coal mining within the colonially defined borders of the province of Alberta. Groups like Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS), Livingstone Landowners, and Niitsitapi Water Protectors continue to lead the charge against coal mines.
One of the most fulfilling aspects of Processes of Remediation was the mentorship component that allowed me to work with emerging artists Kylie Fineday and Angeline Simon who each developed solo projects for the uLethbridge Art Gallery.
Angeline Simon's exhibition Glimpses into Chinatown opens this Friday, January 21, 2022 at the Helen Christou Gallery at the University of Lethbridge and runs through June 2022. Though the gallery is currently closed due to COVID-19, you can get a glimpse of the artwork on Instagram and keep an eye on the uLethbridge Art Gallery website for updates on re-opening. I look forward to seeing the exhibition in-person and writing about it in the coming months.
Kylie Fineday's online exhibition Earth Blanket launched in the fall of 2021. I had the pleasure of writing about Fineday's work which you can read below and on the exhibition website. Watch Earth Blanket below and visit the uLethbridge Art Gallery website to see and learn more.
The Earth Holds Us
Kylie Fineday’s Earth Blanket developed over the course of a mentorship as part of Processes of Remediation: art, relationships, nature, a project that began during the pandemic in the summer of 2020. For artists grounding their work in relationships with the natural world, a shift to virtual space can feel like upending embodied understandings of relationships to the land, history, culture, and other bodies.
Finding somewhat steady ground through mailed correspondence, virtual and eventually in-person conversations, we shared definitions of and questions around remediation, reflecting on how we take up this concept in our artwork and everyday actions. What can be remediated, fixed, healed, cured? Capitalism, white supremacy, racism, climate change, pandemics, systemic oppression, language, concepts of care, knowledge, relationships, trauma, settler colonialism, land, contamination, resource extraction, toxic environments and cultures, academia, the arts – the list kept growing. As Kylie so aptly put, Land Back is perhaps the most literal definition of remediation.
Remediation refers to the action of remedying. In a time of climate crisis, during a global pandemic, every question and topic posed seemed overwhelming yet relevant and urgent. As conversations, relations, and ideas took shape, it was clear that remedies come in many forms. Processes of remediation require multiple strategies, approaches, and knowledges to apply remedies with responsibility, integrity, and care. Remedies call us into action, asking us to take up the work of remediation, restoration, and care in thorough ways.
From our first virtual studio visit, I was struck by the poignancy and potency of Fineday’s artworks. Growing up on Sweetgrass First Nation in Saskatchewan, Fineday moved to Lethbridge, Alberta to pursue a B.F.A., which she completed in 2020.
As a nêhiyaw iskwew (Cree woman) tackling Indigenous issues through art, Fineday’s identity and body are central to her work. Often rooted in performance, her interdisciplinary practice merges relationships with land, intergenerational knowledge and trauma, storytelling, cultural tradition, familial relationships, personal experiences, social justice, and activism. Fineday has developed an impressive body of work that confronts racist stereotypes and challenges settler-colonial systems, patriarchal social structures, and white supremacy.
Her thesis exhibition titled askîy iskwew, was a series of nude self-portraits drawn using natural charcoal and graphite. Exploring a desire to express herself as a sexual being, but outside of the power of the white colonial gaze, she blurs the images asserting corporeal sovereignty by “tak[ing] back power that has been taken from myself and women like me” (Fineday 3). As discussed by Nêhiyaw scholar Tracy Bear, corporeal sovereignty is the ability to make decisions about one’s body without colonial interference or oppression. Through her art, Fineday asserts her right to be visible, to resist erasure and dispossession, historical and present-day impacts of settler colonization.
The online exhibition of Earth Blanket offers generous insight into the artist’s process that weaves together learning from and of the land with intergenerational knowledge, culture, and resistance. For Fineday, beadwork is an act of remediation tied to healing, survival, and resisting colonial violence. “It’s a ritual, a ceremony. It is practicing my culture that is at risk of being lost…it is survivance” (K. Fineday, personal communication, summer 2020). Beading creates and sustains relationships across time and space through a connection to her grandmother, who taught her to bead.
Fineday brings together materials, processes, performance, and documentation to form an expansive and multi-dimensional artwork. Through video and photographs, we see the artist’s process of finding comfort with the land, evoking natural cycles of creation and destruction. Clay is gathered from the banks of the Old Man River and formed into individual beads, which are woven into a blanket on a large-scale loom. Each component of the work takes place outside, always in connection with the land, the artist’s body, and the elements. The sun shines and shadows of leaves dance across Fineday’s hands as they shape and pierce individual beads. To create the blanket, Fineday constructed the loom which was roughly her height. As beads are woven onto cotton string, the blanket takes shape. Ever-present throughout the process are the elements of wind, water, and earth, while the absence of fire allows the clay beads to be returned to the river.
Initially, all of the materials for the blanket were to be foraged and prepared by the artist. Though it was not included in the final blanket, documentation of gathering and extracting dogbane fibres is included in the exhibition. By presenting this learning as part of the process, special insight is shared. How often are artists so generous with their process? Fineday allows us to appreciate and observe learning new materials and methods. The audience is witness to the artist’s intention through an intimate relationship with land and learning with purpose, awareness, gratitude, and care.
Fineday also carries the name askîy iskwew, Earth Woman, given to her in ceremony. In the video entitled Earth Blanket, we feel as though we drift into the Oldman River Valley, an iconic landscape in Lethbridge, as early morning sunlight touches the tops of poplar trees. We see the artist enter wearing a white shift dress and pick up Earth Blanket from the land, already part of the landscape. While there are no signs of people in the landscape, it appears the viewer is a witness to a private performance as the artist lays on the ground covering herself with the earth blanket, seeking solace and connection with the earth.
The performance takes place in public at Indian Battle Park, a park that commemorates the site of the Battle of the Belly River (1870), the last major conflict between the Nêhiyawak (Cree) and the Siksikaitsitapi (Blackfoot Confederacy) in which the Nêhiyawak were defeated on the territory of the Niitsítapi (Blackfoot). A peace treaty was reached between the Nêhiyawak and the Blackfoot, but soon after the railway would reach the area that the Niitsítapi call Sikóóhkotok (Black Rock), known today as Lethbridge, and white settlers would exploit and colonize the land and its resources.
As the artist shifts positions, she lifts and re-adjusts the blanket on her body. How do the layers of history resonate with her at this site?
The name Indian Battle Park speaks to the need for reconciliation of the place name, of the history itself. When Indigenous histories are acknowledged, who writes the narrative, and who is it for? Canadian colonization includes the creation of parks. “Canada’s national parks system is predicated on Indigenous erasure and the myth of preserving a barren ‘wilderness’” (Little Light). Like the rest of so-called Canada, the creation and maintenance of parks was founded on Indigenous dispossession of land and colonial violence. As Little Light explains, through the eyes of the colonizers, Indigenous peoples were viewed as threats to the very land they lived on and cared for “despite the fact that we have had our own systems of ecological management since time immemorial. We have been and will continue to be an integral part of the landscape.” In this present-day park, Fineday asserts her right to be on and with the land. To feel safe, to rest, to connect, to seek comfort, even if it is only found for a moment.
As the performance moves from the land back to the river that the clay came from, Lethbridge’s High Level Bridge can be seen briefly in the background – but the focus is not recognizable colonial markers in the landscape. We are asked to re-orient ourselves, to the artist, the land, and the river as Fineday wades into the water, immersing the blanket and allowing the river to reclaim the beads.
Rooted in Indigenous ways of knowing, Earth Blanket resists singularity, ownership, and immortality. The natural materials are impermanent. The blanket can only be viewed through documentation. Only the artist, the land, and water hold the weight, textures, and transformation of Earth Blanket through physical encounter and in memory. Artist and author Jenny Odell writes, “Our idea of progress is so bound up with putting something new in the world that it can feel counterintuitive to equate progress with destruction, removal, and remediation” (191-192). Gifting the work back to the river frees it from ownership and honours reciprocity with the land. As the artist states, “Knowing that the earth doesn’t belong to me or anyone, but I to it, I never planned to keep the beads beyond the completion of this work.”
Earth Blanket is a reminder of connection and that we are earthbound, and that our fate is bound to the earth: we hold the earth, and the earth holds us.
Many thanks and gratitude to Kylie for making this work and participating in this mentorship. Thank you to Dr. Josephine Mills and the University of Lethbridge Art Gallery for this opportunity.
Bear, Tracy. Power in My Blood: Corporeal Sovereignty through the Praxis of an Indigenous Eroticanalysis. 2016. University of Alberta, PhD Thesis, https://doi.org/10.7939/R3348GS66. Accessed 1 Nov 2021.
Fineday, Kylie. askîy iskwew. 2019. University of Lethbridge, BFA Thesis.
Little Light, Wacey. “We Are Still Here: National Parks, Colonial Dispossession, and Indigenous Resilience.” Remember/Resist/Redraw #20: National Parks, Colonial Dispossession, and Indigenous Resilience, Active History. 22 Jul 2019. https://activehistory.ca/2019/07/remember-resist-redraw-20-national-parks-colonial-dispossession-and-indigenous-resilience. Accessed 30 Oct 2021.
Odell, Jenny. How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy. Melville House, 2019.
Tolton, Gord.“As-sinay-itomosarpi-akae-naskoy” – The Last Great Battle.” Ksiitsikominaa: The Thunder Chief Gallery, Fort Whoop-Up National Historic Site, Digital Museums Canada, 2013, https://www.communitystories.ca/v1/pm_v2.php?id=story_line&lg=English&fl=0&ex=00000821&sl=9283&pos=1. Accessed 8 Nov 2021.