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Review of Pizandawatc / The One Who Listens / Celui qui écoute

By: Sophie Langille

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Works by Caroline Monnet Curated by Mona Filip Art Museum at University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario January 17– March 23, 2024

Pizandawatc: The One Who Listens by Caroline Monnet, an exhibition at the Art Museum at University of Toronto, features a collection of sculptures and artworks composed of a range of materials typically found in hardware stores and construction sites. There are 3 additional gallery sections which incorporate audio-visual installations as further explorations by the artist. Upon entering the gallery, the first works presented to the visitor is a wall-mounted copper wire sculpture and an array of wooden sculptures that are carved in abstracted, undulating shapes. Further within the gallery space, there are sculptures made from concrete, wood, and industrial materials surrounded by a number of framed works. Many of these works upon the walls are experimentations in weaving and embroidery, and use unconventional industrial materials such as tarps, Tyvek home wrap, kevlar, and polystyrene foam.


Pizandawatc is an exhibition composed entirely of the works of Caroline Monnet. The title is the ancestral surname of her Anishinaabe maternal lineage, and translates to “The One Who Listens”. This notion of actively listening to what the land is telling us, as told through the lens of the artist’s Anishinaabe-French identity, is the unifying theme of the exhibition. The first section of the exhibition demonstrates Monnet’s method of translating sound waves from recordings of spoken Anishinaabemowin language into wooden sculptural shapes. Through this she experiments with the materials (wood and copper) that were vital to the Anishinaabe peoples prior to European contact. Further into the gallery, the materials of the artworks shift to recognizably modern construction supplies. The use of concrete, tarpaulin, insulation, kevlar, roofing felt, water barriers, and Tyvek home wrap function as a commentary on colonialism, European settlement, and the desecration of Indigenous lands. Monnet reclaims these materials through her Anishinaabeg identity by infusing them with rich symbolism, such as traditional Anishinaabe geometric design, methods of weaving, and in one case, sand from the Kitigan Zibi reserve itself (Figure 1).


Figure 1: Caroline Monnet, Kabeshinån (camp), 2022 and Piwanego/Noogom (Autrefois/Maintenant), 2021. The embroidered bag on the right contains sand from the Kitigan Zibi reserve, which the artist’s family a few generations previously was forced to relocate to. Photo courtesy of Sophie Langille.

The exhibition and the institution share a significant relationship. The Art Museum at the University of Toronto resides upon the ancestral territories of the Anishnaabe peoples, (in addition to the Huron-Wendat and the Seneca). The perspectives and histories that are shared in this exhibition are of direct relevance and concern to the audiences of the art gallery, especially in light of the ongoing efforts to decolonize institutions across Turtle Island. Although this is a step in the right direction, the University of Toronto is still an institution that has historically not always been accessible or welcoming to Indigenous peoples. It is certainly important to bear this knowledge in mind while viewing this exhibition, as this also further demonstrates the strength and resilience of Monnet’s overall message.


The design of the exhibition is pleasingly thematic in that it pairs artworks of similar construction and interpretive approaches within the same sections of the gallery space. This allows the visitor to better absorb the artistic methods that Monnet is experimenting with, and also aids in emphasizing the curatorial message. Even if one were to avoid reading the exhibition labels, the viewer could still come to the general conclusion that these works are a commentary on colonial settlement, the exploitation of resources, and the displacement of Indigenous lands. By the final section of the gallery, one can see the construction of the house of Monnet’s imagination take a more definitive shape, with the symbolic foundation, roof, and insulated walls surrounding the viewer (Figures 2 & 3).


Figure 2: Caroline Monnet, Canopy 2023. Photo courtesy of Sophie Langille.
Figure 3: Caroline Monnet, Framing the Bones 2022 and AKI (Land) 2021. Photo courtesy of Sophie Langille.

The exhibitionary text offers some powerful insights into the artworks and does well in describing the layers of inspiration and intention that guided the artistic process. As a graduate student however, I can also acknowledge that I am personally at an advantage in that I can comprehend this writing with relative ease. The Art Museum, as a university art gallery, takes the liberty of assuming that its audience is composed of mainly university-educated people, which means they might not be as restricted when it comes to textual readability. Although this may be true, the advanced reading level of the exhibitionary text could still pose a barrier to some visitors. The tone of the writing is highly academic and in many ways is not unlike the text that is often seen elsewhere at other art galleries, for instance with the use of Art Speak. I did however appreciate the level of consistency and thoroughness of these explanations throughout the exhibition.


Figure 4: Caroline Monnet, Ojigabwe, 2020. Photo courtesy of Sophie Langille.

A notable artwork that is featured in the gallery is Ojigabwe, a sculpture composed of concrete embedded with a pair of moccasins and a Hudson’s Bay Pendleton coat. As described in the exhibition label, this work is symbolic of “oppressive colonial tactics attempting to obliterate or obstruct Indigenous communities and their development”, and “it can be seen as a kind of core sample revealing layers of history instead of geological strata.”¹ This work, featured in the final room of the gallery alongside the aforementioned works Canopy, Framing the Bones, and AKI (Land), feels like a climactic culmination of the artist’s exhibitionary thesis. By embedding both Indigenous (moccasins) and settler objects (the Hudson’s Bay coat) into the same concrete form, this demonstrates that both parties have an obligation to the land, and that their histories are deeply intertwined. There is also a sense of resilience found in this piece, as the fur from the moccasins emerges from the top of the concrete, indicating that Indigenous peoples are still here and have survived despite colonial attempts to suppress their cultures.


Although not discussed particularly in-depth in the exhibition, the curatorial process sought to integrate Monnet’s new and pre-existing body of work into a cohesive narrative. The concept for the exhibition stemmed from Monnet’s sculptural experimentations which translated soundwaves of the Anishinaabemowin language into solidified forms. As noted by Mona Filip in the introduction of the exhibition catalogue: “Too often, the act of looking leads to imposing oneself on the seen. Listening enables a different kind of comprehension than plain sight allows. [...] Being receptive to what the land has to tell opens one up to being shaped by it, rather than moulding it to one’s desires.”² This came to be what informed the basis of the exhibition.


Figure 5: Caroline Monnet, In Silence We Speak Volumes, 2023 and Astral Body, 2023. Photo courtesy of Sophie Langille.

By framing this central idea in the first gallery section – of transforming the spoken into the solid – one can then proceed through the rest of the space and vividly see before their eyes how these materials have been transformed by the language of Anishinaabe aesthetics. It is as if Anishinaabemowin is emerging from within the materials, rather than being externally imposed upon them, demonstrating that this rich culture has always been here, only lingering beneath the surface. In the same ways that layers of sediment can tell the stories of a land, so too can it reveal the histories of its people. After spending time close-reading this exhibition, I very suddenly could clearly envision this for myself, and could sense, through my own positionality as a European settler, the interconnectedness of land, resources, and people. It is on that note that I leave you with one of the most thought-provoking moments of the exhibit, and it is a concept that I have often pondered while in the presence of older architecture and heritage institutions: the sculpture Mitik (Tree), contends that, “trees are relatives; and our oldest relatives in the city of Toronto have most likely ended up in the oldest buildings of the city.”³


Figure 6: Caroline Monnet, Mitik (Tree), 2023. Photo courtesy of Sophie Langille.

Notes

1 Caroline Monnet and Mona Filip, Pizandawatc: The One Who Listens, Art Museum at University of Toronto, (Toronto, ON): Jan 17-Mar 23, 2024.


2 Mona Filip, Pizandawatc: The One Who Listens, Art Museum at University of Toronto, (Toronto, ON): Jan 17-Mar 23, 2024. Exhibition Catalogue.


3 Caroline Monnet and Mona Filip, Pizandawatc: The One Who Listens, Art Museum at University of Toronto, (Toronto, ON): Jan 17-Mar 23, 2024.


Works Cited:


Filip, Mona. Pizandawatc: The One Who Listens. Exhibition Catalogue. Art Museum at

University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, January 17 - March 23, 2024.

Monnet, Caroline and Mona Filip. Pizandawatc: The One Who Listens. Art Museum at

University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, January 17 - March 23, 2024.

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