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Related to Graciously Pleased

In Uncategorized on February 7, 2017 at 8:09 pm

The following is copy published on the Facebook page of the Short Hills Reconciliation Activities, followed by unfinished notes. It is published here as background on my audio work, Graciously Pleased.

Reflection on Week One
November 21, 2016

At a recent event sharing Haudenosaunee perspectives, a man expressed concern about the word “reconciliation” because to Canadians it means, Get over it. I know that’s true for many. But for many other Canadians, reconciliation means – Oh Canada did that, I didn’t know. That’s not right, what can I do? Reconciliation is not an easy process and involves work on a personal as well as social and political level. Most of us settlers don’t know the history of genocidal policy because it wasn’t taught to us. It’s painful.

There is a significant opportunity in Niagara for settlers to engage in reconciliation and it is the annual Haundenosaunee hunt at Short Hills Provincial Park. The Nanfan Treaty of 1701 between the Haundenosaunee and the British Crown provides hunting rights in a vast area including where we live. These rights were included in the Canadian Constitution. A partnership between the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Haunenosaunee Wildlife and Habitat Authority resulted in an official hunt starting 2013. (This followed an earlier challenge by an individual claiming his right.)

For hundreds of years, our governments have broken many treaty agreements, and changed their intents. Observing treaties is a fundamental basis of the Nation-to-Nation relationship so recently affirmed by the Canadian government. Here in Niagara, we have an opportunity to break the cycle of broken promises by affirming the Haundenosaunee right to hunt. Reconciliation doesn’t happen when you pick and choose the parts that you like, that fit with your preconceived notions. We begin our reconciliation process by looking at our preconceived notions.

Another fundamental concept in the early treaties is sharing, a concept much more aligned to indigenous worldviews than that of the colonizers. Can we not share the park for 6 days a year with a people for whom the land represents so much more than a recreational sanctuary – for whom the deer are the lead animal providing food, clothing, musical instruments and ceremonial regalia for spiritual practice?

Supporters of the Haundenosaunee Right to Hunt have organized a series of family-friendly activities aimed at education and inclusion of community members for whom joining those at the barricade is not an option. The first activity was an opening on the day before the hunt started – Inviting peace and understanding: traditional opening and welcome to recognize the land and help us come together in a good way, led by Karl Dockstader, Oneida of the Thames Bear Clan. The Two Row Wampum beading workshop scheduled for the first day of the hunt was rained out. A powerful activity called The Blanket Exercise was held on the second day. This is a teaching tool developed by KAIROS to raise awareness and understanding of the Nation-to-Nation relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada. It was facilitated by Donna Bomberry, Turtle Clan, Cayuga Nation, member of the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples, and Henriette Thompson, settler-ally, past KAIROS board member.

Historical facts from hundreds of years of genocidal policy against indigenous people here in Canada are read and symbolically enacted, using blankets spread on the ground to represent land. A group of about 24 indigenous and settler people did this together on Sunday, including a man who lived down the road. Niagara Regional Police permission had been obtained to carry out this exercise in front of the barricade but the Ministry staff on shift refused to allow it, citing “safety”. So we moved to a grassy area that is part of vinyard private property. The anti-hunt protestors called in complaints. We were not removed and completed the exercise but it was very powerful to experience these attempts to limit our use of these tiny parcels of land while carrying out the Blanket Exercise.

In addition to attending these afternoon events, I have also been at the barricades for the hunter morning entry and late afternoon exit where they face many anti-hunt protestors. While I stood there on occasion in 2013 and 2015, I have stepped up my involvement this year. I am committed to peacework. I believe the phrase, you must be the change you want to see. I believe that hate begets hate. It’s taken me a long time to have stability of calm mind in the face of hatred and even now I recognize I can still be thrown off centre easily, so I follow the strategy of mostly non-engagement with the anti-hunt protestors. I am working towards greater dialogue.

Many years ago I was part of a women’s drum circle, Winds of Change, and we experienced controversy because some of us were non-native. I am an artist, and in a performance called Song For A Blue Moon performed in 2004, a section was about a fishing rights conflict in New Brunswick and I sang, Singing the songs is my promise. That promise was to use the privilege of singing the songs for political change. It is my great joy to sing the songs I learned in a healing circle so long ago at these barricades, to experience the incredible strength of singing and drumming beside the anti-hunt people engaged in hatred, racism and confrontation.

There is a vocal anti-hunt group with the money to purchase full-page newspaper ads and some of them live in the wealthy homes bordering the park. Amongst them are animal rights activists who oppose eating animals (although one of them wears a Canada Goose jacket), and others just disagree with anyone hunting in the park. Deep racism manifested in disregard for treaty rights and cultural practice lies within them. Likely many of them have no awareness of the racist implications of their actions. Likely many of these people know nothing of Canada’s history of genocidal policy against First Nations and some of them don’t want to know because they prefer their hatred. (I believe this is one of the qualities of white supremacists.)

November 30, 2013

November 30, 2013

The first year of the hunt there was little support activity, but after hearing from some hunters from Six Nations about the abuse they were facing, on the last day, some indigenous and settler people lined Pelham Rd. with flags and cheers for the hunters as they exited the park. I was there. That was the year that I got to know Dylan Powell, because of my intense admiration that an animal rights’ activist would support the Haundenosaunee right to hunt. (I understand he paid for that.)

The second year I didn’t go. A few months later, the Brock University Indigenous Solidarity Committee organized a panel of speakers and I attended the packed room. Last year I made it to the barricades only once.

The anti-hunt group engages in tactics I consider wrong, such as lying, screaming abuse and obscenities in the face of a person speaking peacefully, making racist remarks (that are shocking to me only because of my own white privilege, my indigenous friends have heard it all before). When peacework attempts were made the first week, such as striking up conversations, they were usually met by refusal. I think these refusals are so firm because these people are afraid that they will feel wrong if they listen. No one wants to feel wrong.

Of course, these people consider me wrong, very wrong, such is the nature of conflict. Certainly the women I engaged with one day for whom any killing is wrong consider me a monster. It’s very likely that when the firekeeper smudges those engaged in direct conflict with the goal of cleansing negativity, they believe he is harassing them with smoke. They photograph licence plates and last year when I attended the barricade I felt a flash of fear about reprisals; that is the intent of course, to intimidate and make me stay away out of fear for my safety. This year, I have not felt that fear and I think it is because of the depth of my admiration for Celeste and Jodielynn, my happiness that they have provided the structure within which I can act, and my gratitude that my life took me on a direction leading to this.


The Grass Is Still Green, artist’s garden

In Uncategorized on November 8, 2016 at 11:02 am

June 7, 2016haudylsingers

(The title of my exhibition, The Grass Is Still Green, is an affirmation of part of the definition of time in treaty-making including the Two Row Wampum – as long as the grass is still green, as long as the water flows downhill, and as long as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.)

me-on-planting-dayDuring lunch on Planting Day for the Two Row garden part of my exhibition, The Grass Is Still Green, I shared a joke with another artist that if we were academics, we’d call the meal social practice. Her response was that it could also be called, “being a decent human being.” The joke was shared over “Indian” Tacos and strawberry juice prepared by Gail Stup and her son Joe Stup in the kitchen of the Niagara Regional Native Centre. We ate on a picnic table beside Gail and Joe’s set-up, close to the huge red door of Rodman Hall Art Centre, the former mansion of William Hamilton and Mary Merritt. Although it was only May 28, it was a blistering hot day of 32º.

rwadjuliayanalUnder a grove of trees beyond the parking lot, four girls ate together. Two of them were the daughters of indigenous consultant, Kelly Fran Davis, who during the morning had given us a teaching on the Two Row Wampum. The other two girls were residents of the Western Hill neighbourhood that borders Rodman Hall. During the morning’s introductions, I explained my intent as the artist to bring together youth from First Nations, settlers whose families had come to Canada long ago and recently settled youth. The Western Hill girls identified as Canadian and had no knowledge of their ancestry. At the top of the slope towards St. Paul Crescent, two boys ate together. One of them had arrived from Jordan five years ago with his family. I could not make out the country of origin of the other but it Is one of the many states in the Middle East with the suffix –stan. I learned recently that –stan is Persian and Urdu for “place” or “where one stands”.

I am working with the Two Row because this place is where I stand.

Rodman Hall Art Centre curator, Marcie Bronson, offered me the opportunity to create work for their project space in tandem with the touring exhibition, Reading the Talk. That exhibition is a group show of Haudenosaunee and Anishnaabeq artists responding to the 1700 treaty between their nations, The Dish With One Spoon. I was familiar with this treaty because in the past few years it has been much referenced in indigenous and environmental circles. It speaks eloquently of sharing and co-existence (one spoon) and keeping the dish (the Earth) clean.

apr-4img_0543Upon the curator’s invitation it was immediately evident to me that I would work with the Two Row Wampum because this 1613 treaty is between the Haundenosaunee and the early European settlers (Dutch). I needed dense, low-growing purple and white plant material and decided on alyssum (after abandoning my original inclination to choose a plant native to our area, none being suitable). I wanted to grow the plants myself and sought the assistance of Niagara Nurseries, where I have worked for many years during the spring season. With their support of greenhouse space, I sowed 8,000 seeds starting early April and cared for them until Planting Day. (It ended up that we needed many more plants!) My meeting with Marilyn Alexander and John Alexander in March to plan the garden proved to be the last time I would sit down with Marilyn, who died in May.img_0548

In February 2013, I was part of the Two Row March through downtown St. Catharines. We carried a huge purple and white striped banner through the falling snow through the streets to Montebello Park, planned home of William Hamilton Merritt’s brother. It was the February following the heady days of Idle No More, and many of us were still high on the memory of our New Year’s walk over the Peace Bridge at Fort Erie. I am part of this treaty as a settler, as are all of us here who are not indigenous. We are all Treaty People.img_1143

photos in this post by Marcie Bronson and Elizabeth Chitty

Making Lucius’ Garden 3 – Homage to Chris

In Uncategorized on April 20, 2015 at 12:13 pm

A watering can in progress on Chris’ workbench.

This will be brief because I am procrastinating the completion of the Water Text for the Lucius’ Garden soundscape – but I’d like to pay homage to my collaboration with my old friend and lighting wizard, Chris Clifford. Chris has fabricated the lights for Lucius’ Garden, which go inside the watering cans carried by the four Gardener performers (Maja Bannerman, Alexander Franks, Angela Hines, and Elaina Jones).

Chris has worked on R. Murray Schafer’s outdoor epic operas (Princess of the Stars, 1997; The Enchanted Forest, 2005; The Palace of the Cinnabar Phoenix, 2006) so assured me he knew a thing or two about throwing lights in water.

I first met Chris probably in 1976 when Videocabaret presented the Patty Rehearst Story in the basement of the first A Space on St. Nicholas St. (Toronto). I believe that Chris was the first person ever to build a big pile of video monitors, which back in those days were large, chunky affairs, (although there is Ant Farm’s 1975 Media Burn to consider.) Circa 1982, we served together on the Board of Directors of Trinity Square Video, but it was not until 1990 that Chris worked as Lighting Designer with me. That was for my own epic, Lake. It was the second of two major interdisciplinary works, Moral/Passion and Lake, which consumed me during much of the 1980s. Inspired by Pina Bausch, I was seeking to combine the performance art base of my work with the expressivity of my performing arts roots. Lake was performed in the Bill Bolton Arena in Toronto and was the last work produced by my company, Cultural Desire Projects. It is still not digitized so I can’t show you any images.

Chris helped me with batteries and such things as building a battery-powered lightbox for Le Paysage et nos coeurs (1995), which was the second of the series of performance I made in the 1990s in which the audience walked though nature trails or parks. That work was part of an exchange between Chicoutimi and Grimsby Public Art Gallery. He lit Progress of the Body (1997), a performance in Trinity Bellwoods Park (Toronto) which was part of the first 7A*11d performance art festival.  I was working with what I called light projections, using theatrical gobos with images of the brain, heart and lungs laser-cut in them, and  used them in both installation and performance. You can see one in this installation shot of Nature of the Body, 1996, at Grimsby Public Art Gallery. For Progress of the Body, Chris used these gobos to throw large-scale light projections on the hillsides of the bowl of the park. I do remember we had a setback – my 10 year old daughter Nell and I were setting out bowls of water on the ground and the baseball diamond lights were our only source of lighting. During the second performance, they unexpectedly went out! (None of those works are yet digitized and up on my website.)

Chris Clifford, Falani Clifford-Thomas, Nell Chitty, Genna Clifford-Thomas. Lighting design meetings while camping at Rockpoint Provincial Park with our girls.

Chris Clifford, Falani Clifford-Thomas, Nell Chitty, Genna Clifford-Thomas. Lighting design meetings while camping at Rockpoint Provincial Park with our girls. (2004)

Chris lit Earth’s Flesh (2003) which was part of Shared Habitat Festival of Art and Science. He lit Song For A Blue Moon (2004), which was workshopped at Niagara Artists’ Centre and performed in Montreal at Tangente Danse Actuelle. That was our last time working together and it is wonderful to be doing so again!

These days, Chris is Technical Director at the School of English and Theatre Studies at University of Guelph. Lucky students!

Making Lucius Garden 2 – DeCew Falls Water Treatment Plant

In Uncategorized on April 7, 2015 at 12:10 pm

ec1_TwitPic440x220The Lucius of the performance, Lucius’ Garden, is Lucius Oille, second Mayor of St. Catharines and first Superintendent of the first waterworks in St. Catharines. He gifted to the people of St. Catharines the fountain that still stands at the corner of King and James Streets, beside the Old Courthouse. On April 2, I had the privilege of shooting video inside DeCew Falls Water Treatment Plant.

The video will be used in the Waterworks Duet of Lucius’ Garden, which features a tiny, moving video projection from a performer wearing a small video projector in a harness onto a performer serving as a screen. I previously used this device in performances called short, sweet light, for Greening Niagara‘s 2014 Climate Day of Action and Brock University’s 2015 Social Justice Forum.

Filter No 12St. Catharines is the largest of 12 municipalities in the Region of Niagara. The regional level of government is responsible for water and sewer systems and the municipalities buy the treated water and sell it to residents. Culture staff at the Region of Niagara kindly provided me with an introduction to the Information and Public Outreach Coordinator, Water and Wastewater Services, Public Works, who in turn set me up with DeCew Falls Water Treatment Plant staff.

Tunnel cornerI am so appreciative of the Region staff’s cooperation and support of Lucius’ Garden – I’ve been an artist 40 years this May and have often experienced wariness and a lack of respect for what artists do. Not this time! Adrian Rittner, Water Operations Manager, and Jeff Carl, Water Operations Supervisor, went beyond my most optimistic expectations. Turns out both of them are history buffs deeply committed to valuing the heritage of their workplace. Adrian Rittner is also a Media Arts graduate from Sheridan College – arts grads turn up in all sorts of places! 50s blueAlthough the infrastructure was built at different periods, much of it has now reached the end of its life. Renovations are currently underway at the Plant and they include aspects of restoration whenever possible. Anyone know of where they can find a replica chandelier for the entrance?

lamp in the old Valve House that may one day be a museum

lamp in the old Valve House that may one day be a museum

The plant stands at the site of the original reservoir and works, and the old Valve House remains. They envision it transformed into a museum; the perfect complement to the Morningstar Mill heritage site next door operated by the City of St. Catharines. The mill of course played a role in the original site selection of the 1870s.

In my last blog post I wrote about recording a reading from the first St. Catharines Waterworks Annual Report – imagine my delight when Jeff showed me in his office photocopies of all the early Annual Reports including that one which forms part of the Lucius’ Garden soundscape!

Jeff Carl, Water Operations Supervisor, Water & Wastewater Services, DeCew Falls Water Treatment Plant, Region of Niagara

Jeff Carl, Water Operations Supervisor, Water & Wastewater Services, DeCew Falls Water Treatment Plant, Region of Niagara

After a long conversation about my work, their Plant and shared values around water, Jeff toured me around the plant. I explained that I am not a documentarian and the purpose of the video is not explanatory, but that I was shooting from an aesthetic pov that sees the machines and water as beautiful.

The plant did not disappoint. It is a warren of sections built in different eras since 1925. The pipes and machines date from various 20th century vintages and the colour-coding (different blues for treated water, sewage water, treatment chemicals, etc.) makes for a chromatic experience. The beautiful Deco font of the signage one sees from DeCew Rd. is a familiar site to me I remember from my childhood.

Yellow Rm LL3 Roof+signCU

I have a style of shooting video that I describe as body-based. The camera is mounted on a monopod and I walk with it, shooting long, single shots on automatic focus. The plant was filled with long passageways, an arrangement that suited me well as I walked through and “looked” around with the camera. (Thank-you Vickie Fagan of Fagan Media Group for so kindly trusting me with the loan of her camera.) I used a camera mounted on my back for a video installation as long ago as 1993, Isadora Speaks, and I started using the monopod during the Niagara Shebang project in 2014.

I strive to take a “soft” approach to the didactic content in my work and I remain committed to my early interest in experimenting with how information is communicated. (That interest is evident in works like Demo Model from 1978.) Around the world and in parts of Canada, especially in First Nations communities, access to clean, safe water is a huge challenge. I give thanks that I live where we tend to take it for granted. I promise not to shove it down the audience’s throat in my work, but water bottled far away and sold by private corporations is a terrible scourge with huge costs to the environment when clean, safe water is readily available. I have a sign on my front door – This Home Runs on Tap Water. (I got it in Kingston at an exhibition following-up on the I Am Water project there.)

P.S. – I am still a ways from my fundraising goal for Lucius’ Garden, please support if you can by clicking here.

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Making Lucius’ Garden 1

In Uncategorized on March 31, 2015 at 12:58 pm

Chitty-LuciusGardenFirst of all, thank-you to all you lovely supporters on the Lucius’ Garden fundraising campaign! I so much appreciate your support. We are at 28% of the goal. It’s my first time crowdfunding and it’s a thrill to experience this direct support and encouragement. The tough-minded may not consider encouragement necessary when you’ve been at it for 40 years but I am not among them. Thank-you!

I am never happier than when in production on a work and it feels great to be enjoying opportunity these days. I am on a roll since I got to make Streaming Twelve last year and have Contribute and Confluence coming up in early 2016.

Lucius’ Garden is the fourth in a series of works about water, specifically the North Niagara Watershed. In this one, I am looking at water infrastructure, and the site of the performance is a public garden beside the Lucius Oille fountain at the corner of King and James Streets, which the second Mayor of St. Catharines donated to the people of the city upon completion of the first waterworks. The work is for the In the Soil Arts Festival and will be performed four times over the nights of April 24 and 25. I am very excited that later this week I am videotaping inside the descendant of that first waterworks plant, at the Region of Niagara DeCew Water Treatment Plant. (Thanks to Region culture staff for helping make that happen.)

Production is well underway. Last week I enjoyed the assistance of The St. Catharines Museum. I had already visited their collectionMuseum box in January when I purchased the licence for the 1938 photograph of Lucius Oille’s fountain which is the source of the Lucius’ Garden image (above – and thank-you to my daughter Nell Chitty for acting again as my Photoshop assistant). At that time, I hit the jackpot of seeing this box of goodies – original copies of the earliest reports of the St. Catharines Waterworks. Museum staff kindly allowed me to come to the Museum with my trusty Zoom H2N audio recorder where I read aloud from the first Annual Report for over an hour and a half.

Lucius’ Garden includes a soundscape of a number of “threads” which will be woven into four sound sources to be placed within the garden at the corner of King and James Streets. Two aspects of the audio follow from Streaming Twelve; I am again using the Mohawk translation of the Nanfan Treaty and again reading from an Annual Report of a government entity responsible for infrastructure concerning water. (For Streaming Twelve it was excerpts from the annual reports of the Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario for 1942-44.)

Although I have not found myself interested in engineering previously, I find these historical documents to be fascinating in their detailing of the materials and mechanics of building the infrastructure that is so much a part of our cultural geography and built heritage. The 1879 Waterworks Report has the added pleasure of appealing to my sense of humour because of the language use, as well as the detailing of human error, naming names, that today would be no doubt litigious. The outlining of the public consultation process is also pretty funny in a nothing-changes sort of way. I find it curiously interesting prose and with luck you will too (and hopefully I did not go over the top with Victorian inflection in my voice!). Below is a short Soundcloud link to me reading Table A which lists where the original cast iron mains pipes were laid.

ElainaWith the assistance of Marie Bowering, Youth Coordinator of Southern Ontario Aboriginal Diabetes Initiative, we identified a singer for a water song, who in fact turned out to be Elaina Jones, who I first met when she was a small child. I am familiar with an Anishnabwe Water Song which we used to sing about 15 years ago in the Winds of Change drum circle and which I have encountered many times since, such as at the local Sisters in Spirit Vigils. Yesterday, Elaina met me at Joe Lapinski’s home recording studio and recorded a Mohawk Water Song which she learned as a teenager at Akwesasne. She sang with a clear, strong voice accompanied by her rattle and I’ll post that too on Soundcloud when available.

I am happy to be working again with Joe Lapinski, who is such an accomplished and sympathetic audio engineer. Joe helped me out with the sound for Streaming Twelve and back in 2004 performed live video mixing (using that nasty Jitter software) for Song For A Blue Moon when we performed at Tangente Danse Actuelle in Montreal. (Coincidentally, Song was the first time I used a Treaty in a work, which was the Treaty of 1752 – The Treaty of Peace and Friendship Renewed, used in Part 3: Eskenoopetitj.)

Most of the performers have been lined up and I am working on sourcing the submersible lights. Oddly enough, the most difficult thing is finding the right watering cans! Who knew that it would be so hard to find white or cream plastic garden watering cans without embossed roosters!

Confluence Field Trip #1

In Uncategorized on March 2, 2015 at 1:07 pm

Confluence Field Trip #1 from Elizabeth Chitty on Vimeo.

Niagara Shebang artists* came together February 20-22, 2015. Dreamwalker Dance Artistic Director Andrea Nann asked us each to lead a session reflecting our creative process. I chose a walk as research and field study for the work I will be making for the final Niagara Shebang performance at the not-yet-open St. Catharines Performing Arts Centre scheduled for April 21-24, 2016. The work is titled, Confluence.

photos: Vickie Fagan + David Vivian

We walked in Centennial Gardens close to downtown St. Catharines, circumnavigating Dick’s Creek in Canal Valley. This history of this area includes Richard Pierpoint, a freed Sengalese slave and soldier in the War of 1812 as well as the first and second Welland Canals. The park was a Centennial project for the City in 1967 and its recent past includes being part of the track for sex workers and shooting up. It has two sides, a beautifully restored park-like side and a wild side, very recently joined by an iron bridge funded by the new Laura Secord Trail, a project of the Bicentennial of the War of 1812.  Many of us walk our dogs here. The Performing Arts Centre is being constructed slightly west of this site at the confluence of Dick’s Creek, Twelve Mile Creek and the memories of past Welland Canals, its raceways and Shickluna’s Shipyard.

My last post reproduced an artist statement from 1990 for The View of the Landscape From Here. This was the first work I made about place, under the influence of lived experience (specifically my move from the Queen St. artist community in Toronto to the then-wildness of Jordan, ON.) Since then, much of my work, both as an artist and other, has been wrestling with ideas of the local and place. Confluence is part of this and is part of a series of works since 2008 focused on the North Niagara Watershed – Fall (2008), Distance of Their Mouths (2011), Streaming Twelve (2014) and the upcoming Lucius’ Garden (April 2015 for In the Soil Festival).

The project will include a series of Sound + Imagewalks for the public prior to the performance. Walking had threaded its way through my body of work, most noticeably in the landscape-based performances of the 1990s in which the audience walked trails and garden paths past sounds and images. A few years ago I began conducting soundwalks in Walker Botanical Garden at Rodman Hall Art Centre and recently I have seized walking as an art form and as research, emboldened by the resurgence of interest in walking art with artists such as the Hamilton Perambulatory Unit.

My instructions to the artists were to walk in silence as much as possible and to pass amongst themselves an audio recorder on which they would record sense-based observations. This reminds me of the basis of the pedagogy I developed early in my 16 years of teaching Creative Process at The School of the Toronto Dance Theatre, a studio feedback rule called, “See what you say”. This is often difficult to achieve. My purpose in the creative context is different than the pedagogical and I am using it as a strategy leaning us towards direct experience.

Because there was a problem with sound card storage, some artists recorded long monologues using their phones and here is David’s. David’s is rich with commentary outside of the instructions and is a pleasure despite or because of that!

Niagara Shebang artists are Aaron Berger, Adam Buller, Elizabeth Chitty, Mark Steiger, David Vivian and the newly-joined Deanna Jones. Brittany Brooks is a Shebang artist who was not present for this session. Animators (on the walk) are Vickie Fagan and Annie Wilson and the Shebang is facilitated by Dreamwalker Dance Artistic Director Andrea Nann. Centre for the Arts, Brock University is the co-producer and the project is supported by Ontario Dances. Niagara Shebang first performed at the Sean O’Sullivan Theatre at Brock University in 2013 and at the Sullivan-Mahoney Courthouse Theatre in 2014.

Artist Statement from 1990

In Uncategorized on January 5, 2015 at 1:15 pm

For a few years now, I have been slowly digitizing the archive of the work I have made hell or high water (often both) for 40 years now. At the moment, I am working on a new page on my site for the first installation I made, The View of the Landscape From Here (1990). I was given the opportunity for the exhibition by Dorene Inglis (who incidentally is the last woman Artistic Director at the Niagara Artists’ Centre, but I digress.) I am feeling good about what I wrote in 1990 and posting it here. I was a young mother, recently transplanted from Queen and Spadina in Toronto to a rough and wild Jordan Hollow in rural Niagara.

When the page is up, you will be able to hear a snippet of the music in the first channel videotape by Paul Hodge and “re-purposed” from the epic performance I was working on to be performed later that year, Lake. The Celtic research I mention in the statement was for that work and I was heavily engaged in it for several years.

View lampThe View of the Landscape From Here (installation, 1990)

This work is about landscape, technology and magic.


My move from an urban to rural landscape made me more aware of the subject of relationship to the land and how culture determines our perception of landscape. (I use “culture” in its broad sense of human activity.) Our culture is commerce-driven and views land as a commodity. Technology, the handmaiden of our culture, is the tool that delivers the land to us.

Other cultures have/had radically different ways of viewing. Western culture has usually responded with the arrogance of the colonizer to spiritual expressions outside of its experience; including those about relationship to land. We admire what is manifest (and saleable) and use words such as “primitive” and “magic” to describe what is not. At the present time, the advanced state of the destruction of our landscape has provoked a re-evaluation of our relationship to and use of the land. This re-evaluation includes a changed perspective on cultural perceptions of land different to the dominant Western one. In Canada, we need to learn from our indigenous cultures. I have no insight or experience initiating me to native culture. But I can see that the native relationship to landscape is something the dominant culture needs to listen to and learn from.

My own research has been in the area of ancient Celtic culture. Part of my interest is in a cultural perception of the land as a spiritual partner. Part of it is because of a sense of loss; lost culture, lost values, lost knowledge. I think I have this preoccupation because of our cultural present; one that requires us to recoup our losses or lose everything to the multinational, materialist, macho machine that has led us to this place.


View cuMy ideal as an artist is to make work that is intellectually, emotionally and spiritually engaging. I want to create images and experiences that are not afraid to acknowledge pain but are life-affirming and healing in response.

My way of working requires a strong personal basis and I often filter non-specific intellectual concerns through personal experience.

Representation of landscape is a formal concern of this piece. In the videotape I am interested in visual texture and camera movement that reflects the body’s motion. I gather footage in a diaristic, intuitive manner, most of it is shot directly around my home.

ViewElizabeth Chitty
Jordan, Ontario
April 1990

Making Streaming Twelve

In Uncategorized on April 20, 2014 at 1:18 pm

IMG_1832The older I get, the more fun art-making becomes. I remember it as agonizing when I was in my 20s, rather Sturm und Drang tied up by minimalism. Now I play with toys – witness this sweetie-pie aerial drone quadcopter, owned and operated by Andy Harris of LEV8 (EL-EV-ATE) based in nearby Welland.

I got the idea to use a drone camera after listening to an episode on drone journalism on The Current on CBC Radio One. I began by checking out the cheapo model mentioned in the radio conversation, available on-line at Best Buy, but the learning curve for piloting was going to be far too steep for my needs. I made enquiries with professionals, (prohibitive to those who didn’t get their Canada Council grants) and happily found LEV8 here in Niagara. My friend Rowan Shirkie of Selene Communications had in fact mentioned Andy in response to my FB enquiry, but it didn’t stick and I later found him through an intermediary via Kristen Nater of Fourgrounds Media, who are doing the webcam part of Streaming Twelve. Yes, lest I forget to mention, all this hunting and gathering resources is in aid of an installation titled, Streaming Twelve, which will be in a group exhibition at Rodman Hall curated by Stuart Reid, The Source: Rethinking Water through Contemporary Art. The other artists are part of a project called Immersion Emergencies and Possible Worlds; I am somewhat of a local interloper introduced by Stuart (bless him). Immersion is a SHERC-supported project led by Patrick Mahon.

IMG_1829IMG_1830Andy did two shoots and the result will be an aerial view of The Twelve Mile Creek from the Burgoyne Bridge to Glendale. (I would have gone to the Decew Generating Station but I didn’t want to be rude after they were so nice to me – more on that later). I missed the first shoot because I was in rehearsal with Niagara She-Bang and made the second. (Thank-you, yes the performance was fantastic and a great success.) It was a beautiful day, albeit cooler than I would prefer, and a little breezier than Andy had hoped – quite calm at ground level but the wind changes even a little higher up and it affects the navigation of the JDL quadcopter. The daffodils are out in the Walker Botanical Garden below Rodman Hall and a hawk watched us descend to Twelve Mile Creek.

IMG_1835IMG_1842Andy recently added a piece of equipment to the quadcopter that keeps the camera steadier. He confessed to a knot in his stomach when he navigates over open water. Hydro wires and bridges require careful calculations as well as wind. It was great fun to watch the coptor and Andy and I got a particular kick out of witnessing his catch as it returns to earth, making a suitably UFOish kind of whir.

The other very fun recording session so far in Streaming Twelve production was one of the audio tracks. I was very fortunate to get access to the inside Decew Generating Station No. 1, the oldest continually running hydroelectric generating station in Canada, where I walked the inside and outside with my Zoom H2n recording the sound. (I was introduced to these little portable recorders some years ago at a NAISA Sound for Artists workshop – I worked with Darren Copeland a few times in the past including on the first in the series of works on the North Niagara Watershed, Fall at the Grimsby Public Art Gallery. Streaming Twelve is the third in this series. Distance of Their Mouths, commissioned by Gallery Player of Niagara, was the second.) Jean Bridge, my friend and great supporter of Streaming Twelve, lent me her monopod and I have since acquired my own.

me at Decew1The very kind and helpful Public Affairs and Property Management Advisor for Ontario Power Generation escorted me and provided me with shoes, helmet and safety glasses. He was full of information, appreciation for the machines and their history. The beauty of this generating station built in 1898 is overwhelming. There is something majestic about these immense machines, which are ancient in terms of the history of mechanization in this world and practically sacred given the disposability we associate with machines. The very fonts on the generators are exquisite. I first found my contact at OPG a year ago through my City Councilor, Mark Elliot. My contact was so very generous but some discomfort showed and he preferred I not publicly credit OPG. I depend upon my anonymity as a blogger that very few of you are reading this and will not betray us!

My enquiries at the local hydro utility were received quite differently, which simply means I don’t include anything about them in the work, which is no skin off either of our noses. I was interested in them because it is only recently that municipal utilities started, the relationships are complex, and St. Catharines Hydro just received the go-ahead on its own generating station. But no matter, I go with the flow and there is too much research material to find a presence in the work anyway. The major lens through which I have approached my research is one of ownership and governance, and it’s hard to tell at this point the degree to which this lens will be apparent in the finished work.

No one in Canada owns actual water. Below Brock University’ Rodman Hall, on the portion of the Twelve Mile Creek I am working with, OPG owns the creek bed, the embankment and controls the flow of water. The City owns the intervening strip of land between it and land owned by Brock University. That strip, the Merritt Trail, is for public use and enjoyment, as is Brock’s Walker Botanical Garden below Rodman Hall. (Rodman and its garden were until recently owned by a not-for-profit corporation.) OPG is a Crown Corporation for generation of power in the province of Ontario and is one of five companies formed out of Ontario Hydro, formerly the Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario. A private company of Hamilton businessmen called Cataract Power Company built and first owned Decew Generating Station. And earlier, what treaty governed this land’s use by settlers? That appears to be unclear but it is customary to refer to the 1701 Nanfan Treaty. It has been my intent for months that the audiotrack of Streaming Twelve include part of the treaty, spoken in Mohawk. I am not expressing a polemic with Streaming Twelve but I am looking at our ideas about ownership and governance of The Twelve Mile Creek, which lies below where The Source: Rethinking Water through Contemporary Art will be exhibited.


Vernal Pool

In Uncategorized on February 27, 2014 at 1:42 pm

IMG_1772I am participating in Vernal Pool, an art project about place + precipitation – “snow gathering as artistic practice”. The project is produced by artist Karen Abel with Jessica Marion Barr, and will be exhibited from April 24-27, 2014, at the Gladstone Hotel in Toronto as part of Grow Op: Exploring Landscape + Place, curated by landscape architect Victoria Taylor. Very up my alley.

I approached my participation as an extension of my research for an upcoming installation at Rodman Hall Art Centre as part of the exhibition, The Source: Rethinking Water Through Contemporary Art. My work for that exhibition is centred on the Twelve Mile Creek and is part of a body of work based on the North Niagara Watershed (see Fall and Distance of Their Mouths). The work is  titled, Streaming Twelve, although at the present moment, due to total strike-outs with grants, I am not sure whether the installation will include actual streaming video or not!

On February 20, I headed off with my dog, Rupert, to gather snow before the big melt that was predicted to start later that day. (This proved to be overstated.) I gathered snow in a used Mason jar from which I had previously eaten delicious pears preserved by DeVries Farm and sold at the St. Catharines Farmers’ Market. Given that Vernal Pool is about place, the jar was an important choice for me. I have been a Serious Locavore for many years and have addressed concerns about our precious Niagara fruit farming heritage in The Guardian of Niagara: The Soft Fruit Industry and in how I live.

IMG_1759IMG_1765IMG_1761Weir 5 is at the foot of the bank behind Rodman Hall and the Walker Botanical Garden. Ontario Power Generation (OPG) owns the creek bed and controls water flow in that area of the Twelve. I photographed my mason jar of snow below two of the OPG signs, warning the public of dangerous water. I framed the shots to include the tags as they speak to public space. Take a look at the difference in the water flow between the above centre and right photos, the sites of which are mere meters apart.

IMG_1777I will get the jar of melted snow to Vernal Pool in time for it to join other samples from across Canada and beyond. In the meantime, it waits in my back mudroom where it melts and refreezes dependent on the temperature, ever in flow.

As a gathering practice, Vernal Pool also resonated for me with a project I did in the Walker Botanical Garden at Rodman Hall in 2002 when I placed 46 stainless steel bowls throughout the garden and documented their contents over a year in 433 photos. (I also shot some video and was sure I had a snow section but can’t find it.)

Now, here comes the terribly important diptych of Great Importance – Jar of Snow By Twelve and Dog with Jar of Snow By Twelve.


Untitled for Across Oceans

In Uncategorized on August 2, 2013 at 1:00 pm

I had the good fortune to be invited to participate in a Creative Residency at Department of Dramatic Arts at Brock University by Maxine Hepper, Artistic Director of visiting company, Across Oceans. You can read the notice about the resulting performance and the work of all the artists (Brad McDonald, Lo Bil, Gayle Young and Sashar Zarif) as well as Maxine and myself) by clicking here: Performance notice.

I do not have a studio practice and it was an amazing opportunity to have time in a studio PLUS the equipment I wanted to work with, amazing.  It felt luxurious and abundant and I thank not only Maxine for this invitation but also David Vivian and tech staff, Brian. My participation was significantly impacted, however, by the death of my mother the Friday before the residency started. I put in only a fraction of the hours available and I thank Maxine and the other artists for their understanding and support. During the time, I did manage to be present for Gayle Young’s development of a new recipe piece and contributed the harmonica to the mix.

I began work with a device I came up with during the Niagara She-bang, a collaborative project led by Dreamwalker Dance at Centre for the Arts, Brock University in April of this year, which is a video projector on a mobile cart with a live video feed from a camera on a very long cable. I can’t remember how I came up with this idea but it is in keeping with my longstanding interest in breaking up the rectangularity and 2-dimensionality of the projected image. I first worked on this in Lap (1976) by placing monitors on chairs amongst the audience as well as in the performing area and worked on it big-time in collaboration with David Hlynsky on Moral/Passion (1986). (I have yet to create the Moral/Passion page on this website as it is rather daunting. It featured David’s extraordinary photography and varying shaped masks projected with 13 slide projectors.) In this short piece, I used 3 different wall surface areas and briefly the ceiling while moving the projector.

One of the things I really enjoyed about the Niagara She-bang residency was allowing myself to experience the freedom of moving and shooting at the same time. I have memories from the time in the late 70s and early 80s when I frequently shot documentation video (at 15 Dance Lab and Western Front) of wanting to throw my body into the camera movement but feeling constrained by the need to be invisible as a cameraperson, and I wanted to fully use my body in this work. However, I feel false performing dancer-ly movement (although I am happy to work with dancers in my dance-based work), and was primarily guided simply by the necessities of camerawork and the narrative actions I developed, except for an arm and hand sequence.

I started by wanting to explore an idea of invisibility and/or feeling visible, an idea which I had been thinking about as an older woman artist. Because of the nature of the tech and the beautiful studio I worked in, the work quickly became based in dualities of inside/outside, interior/exterior, felt/visible. The exterior wall of the studio is all windows, centering on an exquisite tree, and it faces the beautiful wooded back end of the Brock campus.

At the beginning, I established the options for the camera position which were static placement on the floor, tripod, being moved by me and moving on the cart. The first thing I did was a kind of “towards and away from study”, with the camera on the floor focused on my walking feet. A certain amount of my time was taken up with the logistics of my tech set-up. I’d like to find a way to remotely connect the camera to the projector so there is no long cord to deal with.

I wanted to introduce a static image source and used my iPhone. One of the pleasing visual features of this tech set-up in April was re-discovering feedback, and one’s own body is the obvious subject/object with which to do so. However, I was troubled by the lurking danger of imagery that reads as narcissism. I used the feedback device in an extended arm sequence which you can see here –

I would describe these concerns as formal and conceptual (i.e. concerned with form and the nature of the media, like my early work), however, in the end the greatest influence on this short piece was my desire to not ignore the recent personal content of my life. The “towards and away” feet section turned into swaddling my feet in a piece of cloth. Later in the work, I lay down on the cloth and then covered myself. Both of these actions referred to shrouding my mother just days before. I took photos of the studio on my iPhone, but it seemed just too dry to use these for the desired static image. So, after reflection, I decided to use one of the photos I had taken of my mother’s body, after the remarkable experience of watching 5 hours of changes to her face after death. I had taken a photo of the big window by which she lay. She died in her room on the top floor of the wonderful Albright Manor which is on the Niagara Escarpment in Beamsville, and the view was of expansive blue sky and Lake Ontario in the distance. Because I am sure she would not have liked her image used, I leaned the phone against the video camera lens so that only the pixelated sky was visible, again referencing the visible and invisible. I ended the piece by closing the vertical blinds in the studio, closing the view to the outside and the light which made sense on the formal level and I also intended it as a metaphor for death.

As an aside and in keeping with this theme of re-connecting with early work, Maxine and I go back a long way although we do not know one another well. We were at York University around the same time and Maxine performed in my second ever show, Mover, which was at A Space, Toronto in 1975.

On another aside, here’s a little kevetching. This spring, I was a participating artist in 2 residencies at Brock University by visiting companies from Toronto.  During my 38-year career, I have never been invited to work or perform at Brock (I am a Niagara native and returned here to live in 1988) and have been asked to deliver 1 workshop and 1 artist talk ever. I am very happy to have the recent opportunities, don’t get me wrong, but it’s ironic I am invited to Brock only through companies visiting from Toronto.