IPAC exhibition explores ceremony as art

September show, held in place of Two Story Café, designed to amplify voice of Tristen Durocher

Promotional photo courtesy IPAC

For the newest exhibition coming to the John V. Hicks Gallery, it’s not the art on the walls but the images inside the frames that’s important.

For September, the Indigenous People’s Artist Collective (IPAC) is presenting a show, reception and vigil in solidarity with Tristen Durocher and Walking With Our Angels.

“Art is ceremony… ceremony is art,” IPAC wrote in the exhibition text.

“On July 3rd, 2020 Tristen Durocher and Christopher Merasty entered ceremony and began a walk from the Air Ronge Cemetery to the steps of the Saskatchewan Legislature.

“Upon arrival a sacred space was established. Tristen began a 44-day fast, ending Sept. 13th, 2020. 44 days for the 44 Saskatchewan Party MLAs who unanimously voted down proposed Bill 618. Bill No. 618 – The Saskatchewan Strategy for Suicide Prevention Act, had been introduced by Northern MLA Doyle Vermette in November 2019 as a piece of active legislation intended to confront the real epidemic of suicide and grief devouring so many. It was voted down on June 19, 2020. There have been over 16 deaths since ‘Walking With Our Angels’ began.”

Normally, September is when IPAC puts on their annual Two Story Café. But COVID-19 changed their plans.

“Initially, we decided there wouldn’t be anything happening, that we would cancel for the year,” said IPAC artistic director Michel Boutin.

“But when Tristen initiated the ceremony … we saw it as an opportunity to tie it in with the tail end of the ceremony.”

 Durocher, while not an IPAC member, has worked with the collective in the past.

The art in the exhibition is the Walking with our Angels ceremony in Regina. But IPAC can’t exactly bring the Wascana Park setup to the Hicks gallery. Instead, the exhibition  will consist of a series of photos taken by Brandon White, a photographer who followed the walk from La Ronge to Regina. White works as a photo and videojournalist for MBC under the Local Journalism Initiative.

White said he tried, as a journalist, to maintain that impartiality and distance as he documented history.

“It was a really healing walk, not just for Tristen and (Christopher Merasty) but for a lot of people they interacted with who came forward with stories in a very cathartic and real way,” he said.

“I tried to be conscientious of that and be kind and considerate because there was a lot of emotional honesty. That’s what this walk is about. Just tried to be considerate and point the camera in the right place at the right time. I’m happy to be included.”

White’s photos are meant to be documentary and serve as a window into the art and ceremony of Durocher.

 “The work we’re trying to feature is the Walking with our Angels Camp,” Boutin said.

“We’re using Brandon’s photographs as documentation of the actual piece.”

Boutin said there’s a fine line between art, documentation and ceremony. In the exhibition’s statement, he wrote:

“An action based on hope working outside of sanctioned space. This is not a new concept to contemporary art. Modern art was birthed by the explosive interventionist acts of early 20th-century art movements. Artists have incorporated ritual and ceremony into their practises for millennia.

Ceremony has the power to ground us in the present. Creating space to experience the past, present, and future simultaneously. Ceremony enacted in a public space attracts and builds community. Tristen has created such a space.

This is wonder. This is beauty, This is real. This is a celebration of life fueled by the power of grief. An unstoppable Revolution of Sorrow is underway. It is time for us to acknowledge uncomfortable truths.”

In addition to the exhibition, IPAC is hosting an opening reception and vigil on Sept. 13, which is set to be the last day of Durocher’s ceremony. It’s set to be an open-mic style event, with poets and young northern fiddlers sharing their art and commentary.

“What we’re trying to do is give voice to what is already being said,” Boutin said.

“The point of the exhibition is to amplify Tristen’s voice.” The exhibition runs from Sept. 8-24 in the Hicks gallery at the Prince Albert Arts Centre. The reception and vigil are set for Sept. 13 from 4-6 p.m. in the grassy area behind the arts centre