Julie-Ann Mercer responds to Lineage by artist Brittney Bear Hat

In the installation Lineage, Brittney Bear Hat explores her relationship to Pink Mountain, an area in British Columbia’s Rocky Mountains that is home to Bear Hat’s family and is near Fort St. John, the core of the province’s oil and gas industry. The artist takes supplies that would be needed by an oil industry worker and juxtaposes them with her personal experiences of learning from the land. The comparison creates a conversation about living from and profiting off of the environment.

Items needed for working in the bush, including leather work boots, a brightly coloured safety jacket, heavy tarps, and ropes, are some of the objects that Bear Hat has collected and displays in the gallery. Each object is a necessity for surviving in unexpected and unpredictable weather conditions. They are materials that may be needed—just in case—while living and working outdoors. Placed together, the objects allow Bear Hat to situate herself in the role of a rig worker, challenging her to understand a perspective that is unlike her own.
The collection of practical objects is contrasted against large-scale vinyl prints that depict Bear Hat’s family’s acreage. The prints portray the land where Bear Hat’s father grew up and where he taught her and her sisters how to hike, how to hunt, and how to be prepared for any kind of situation. It is also where he continues to encourage her to build connections to her Cree community and culture. The landscape is filled with childhood memories of summers spent learning from her father, and rooted within its terrain is a responsibility to keep honouring and sharing the knowledge it holds.

Written on the gallery walls next to the prints are excerpts from a conversation between Bear Hat and her father. The text conveys her father’s perspective on why he wants Bear Hat and her sisters to start taking on more of a legal and mature role in caring for their land. He encourages them to continue to learn from the traditions of her Indigenous culture that shape who she is as well as define her relationship with her family and community. By sharing her father’s words in the gallery space, Bear Hat creates an environment where her father’s wisdom can impact beyond the borders of their land.

The importance placed on sharing, connections, and relationships creates a safe space for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous participants to join the conversation. Emphasizing the differences between the opposing practices in Pink Mountain challenges participants to consider the implications of both perspectives. By occupying the same space, the ordinary objects and personal images and text convey the difficulty in achieving a balance when caring for and profiting from our surroundings.

Julie-Ann Mercer is an independent writer and researcher based in Edmonton, Alberta. She holds a Master of Arts degree from the University of Alberta in the History of Art, Design and Visual Culture. Her SSHRC funded thesis project analyzes the construction of Indigenous and settler culture in nineteenth-century prints. She continues to examine how art objects accumulate and convey meaning over time.

Lineage is presented as part of Art for Change. This free series explores the potential of visual art to inspire climate change awareness. This community event series is leading up to the Cities and Climate Change Science Conference in Edmonton from March 5–7, 2018.

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