McIntosh Gallery at Doors Open London 2021

Remnants, Outlaws, and Wallows: Practices for Understanding Bison 

For Doors Open London 2021, McIntosh Gallery features Western University Ph.D. candidate Michelle Wilson's thesis exhibition Remnants, Outlaws, and Wallows: Practices for Understanding Bison, which the gallery hosted from August 5 to September 11, 2021. This digital feature will offer a look inside the artist's installation through a virtual exhibition walkthrough, in addition to a recording of the symposium of the same name. The symposium, which offered a roundtable discussion on the interconnectedness of bison, settler colonialism, conservation, and Indigenous peoples, featured guest panelists Dan and Mary Lou Smoke, Les Campbell, Wes Olsen, and KC Adams.

Virtual Exhibition Walk-through:

Bison were never meant to survive colonial expansion. In the United States, there was an unwritten yet well-known military campaign to eradicate the bison, the life source of many Indigenous nations resisting governmental subjugation. In Canada, their depletion was insidious because the Government planned their obsolescence. Canada's politicians may have conceded that they could save some bison as living specimens of a lost species, but the rest would fall before the advancing tide of white settlement. With the bison would go the multiple First Nations living in concert with them.

The bison's near-extinction was a tool of assimilation; the famine that resulted from their loss drove many to sign treaties and accept reserves. The attempted erasure of bison and Indigenous peoples resonate with one another because, as theorist Aph Ko points out, the logic and systems of white supremacy have labeled both as animal in relation to the white human. And so, both have been treated as a wild other to be conquered and brought into proper relation to white human society. It was at the tipping point of bison extinction that the Canadian Government swooped in to save them. Settlers have been in the business of corralling, culling, and mythologizing the bison ever since.

This relationship with bison, established by settlers, has been inherited by today's generation. There are ways of knowing bison that we have inherited as well. These ways position them as artifacts, as population numbers and data. The works in this exhibition reflect Wilson’s process of confronting and attempting to unlearn reductive and isolating taxonomical perspectives that arise from colonialism’s continuing legacy. They suggest ways of knowing through relationships and manifest what happens when we critically reconsider received facts with care, attention, and time. While bison are the centre of this exhibition, the inter-media and interdisciplinary works within it enact an enmeshed way of knowing the world; through the human and more-than-human beings that form it and are formed by it. Here, looping tendrils criss-cross and lead us toward understanding.

Wilson proposes that knowing, as presented in this exhibition, is meant to be understood and experienced through relationships, and therefore it is an ongoing and forever changing creative investigation— one without an endpoint. 

Remnants, Outlaws, and Wallows: Practices for Understanding Bison Symposium:

About the speakers:

For more than 40 years Wes Olsen has worked in the field of wildlife conservation and management. Prior to retirement in 2012, he worked for more than three decades as a National Park Warden in Banff, Waterton Lakes, Elk Island, Prince Albert and Grasslands National Parks, with a focus on plains and wood bison management. In addition to his career with Parks Canada, Wes has published two books about bison and is an accomplished artist.

KC Adams is an artist, educator, activist, mentor and a mother. She is of Nêhiyaw, Anishinaabe and British descent based in Winnipeg, Manitoba. She graduated Concordia University with a BFA in studio arts and is currently enrolled at University of Winnipeg’s Master of Arts in Curatorial Studies. Adams specializes in social activist art and her focus is on the dynamic relationship between nature (the living) and technology (progress). Adams creates work that explores technology and how it relates to identity and knowledge. Adams has had several solo and group exhibitions and has participated in three biennales, including the PHOTOQUAI: Biennale des images du monde in Paris, France. Adams has participated in residencies at the Banff Centre, AB; the Confederation Art Centre, PEI; the National Museum of the American Indian, DC, and the Parramatta Artist Studios, NSW. Adams’ work is held in many permanent collections nationally and internationally. Adams was awarded the Winnipeg Arts Council’s Making A Mark Award and was Canada's Senate 150 medal recipient for her photo series Perception.

Les Campbell is Anishinabe from Waywayseecappo First Nation and has a background in Outdoor Recreation, Tourism, and Environmental Management. He spent his early years living on the west coast of BC, but his career in public service brought him back to his ancestral homelands in Manitoba, which include Riding Mountain. Through his work with Parks Canada, Les can support awareness and build relationships around protecting and presenting natural and cultural values in and around Riding Mountain and Wagiiwing. Les will be presenting on his master’s thesis, which described some of the existing values and relationships within his home community. His research opens many questions about how indigenous and non-indigenous peoples can work together moving forward.

Mary Lou and Dan Smoke are an exceptional couple. Mary Lou is Ojibway Nation, from Batchawana, on Lake Superior, and Dan is Seneca Nation from the Six Nations Grand River Territory. They have been happily married for 43 years. For 21 of those years, they have hosted "The Smoke Signals Aboriginal Radio Program," a Western University campus-based radio program offering interviews with indigenous cultural workers and advocates from across Turtle Island. Mary Lou and Dan Smoke received honorary doctorates and are Adjunct Assistant Professors in the Schulich Interfaculty Program in Public Health, Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, Western University. In 2006, they were invited to teach a course at Western University's Faculty of Information and Media Studies (FIMS).

Mary Lou is a gifted traditional and contemporary singer and has recently been inducted into the Forest City London Music Hall of Fame for Lifetime Achievement. Over the years they have won several radio and TV Awards as well as a Teaching Award from the University Students Council for their teaching methods at Western. Recognized as Elders with many organizations and institutions, they are frequently called upon to teach indigenous protocols and ethics, as well as perform indigenous ceremonies. On Dec. 10, 2020, Dan and Mary Lou received the Atlhosa Peace Awards for their work in truth and reconciliation.