(Re)Imagining Relationality: Brad Isaacs and The Map of the Empire
Cultural Studies , Indigenous Art , Natural History , Research-Creation , Canadian Art , Archiving , Critical Animal Studies , Nature Conservation , Curating
The exhibition, The Map of the Empire (30 March – 6 May, 2016), featured photography, video, and installation works by Toronto-based artist, Brad Isaacs (Mohawk | mixed heritage). The majority of the artworks within the exhibition were produced from the Canadian Museum of Nature’s research and collections facility (Gatineau, Québec). The Canadian Museum of Nature (CMN), is the national natural history museum of (what is now called) Canada, with its galleries located in Ottawa, Ontario. The exhibition was the first to open at the Centre for Indigenous Research Creation at Queen’s University under the supervision of Dr. Dylan Robinson. Through the installment of The Map of the Empire, Isaacs effectively claimed space on campus grounds – within the geopolitical space of Katarokwi | Kingston – and pushed back against settler colonial imaginings of natural history. The Map of the Empire explored the capacity of Brad’s artistic practice in challenging the general belief under which natural history museums operate: that the experience of collecting/witnessing/interacting with a deceased and curated more-than-human animal will increase conservation awareness and facilitate human care towards nature. The exhibition also featured original poetry by Cecily Nicholson, author of Triage (2011) and From the Poplars (2014), as a response to Brad’s artwork. I locate the work of The Map of the Empire within the broader context of curatorship as a political practice engaging with conceptual and actualized forms of slow violence, both inside of and beyond the museum space. By unmapping the structures of slow, showcased and archived violence within the natural history museum, we can begin to radically transform and reimagine our connections with more-than-humans and encourage these relations to be reciprocal rather than hyper-curated or preserved.