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The process and politics of product: Miriam Rudolph’s disPOSSESSION

The process and politics of product: Miriam Rudolph’s disPOSSESSION
By Stacey Abramson

(Italicized portions from an interview with Miriam Rudolph.)

As Bruno Latour, sociologist and philosopher, says so fittingly: Through art, film and literature, “matters of fact” produced by the sciences become “matters of concern” for new publics and political constituencies. And that is what I’m hoping to do.

Shifts and chasms in society have long been reflected in the parallel art investigations happening in the world. Personal lenses sharpen the focus of international politics and modes of operating. Movement changes us. Artists see. Artists respond. Artists question. And back again. Now more than ever, there is an urgency for the role of the artist to be activist. Whether it is shouting from bold text on a neon sign, cutting commentary on colonial practices in paint or re-shifting a focus through critical voice and making, conceptual protest is the face of contemporary art practices.

I believe real change has to come from the inside, or from the bottom up, so my role as artist is not central to change, but rather of creating awareness.

The visual imagining of the prairies of Manitoba from those foreign to it is one that conjures up images of vast wheat fields, sparsely populated dusty towns and Neil Young.  I grew up in the city, in the suburbs – by no means do I have an understanding of the complexities of farming and food production. I grew up as stereotypical of a city girl as you could imagine. I never questioned where the food on my table came from, who was making it or profiting from it. The suburbs of St. James in Winnipeg, despite being on the edge of the city and 20 minutes from flat prairie fields of food, were not a place to question what was ingested.

The heart of the system of food and production were peripheral to Miriam Rudolph’s upbringing in rural Manitoba, and it’s voice has impacted the shift in her work away from map exploration. The root of cartography comes from the blending of science, aesthetics and concepts – how do we trace where we are? How do we show evidence of what paths are available and unknown? It therefore makes sense for Rudolph to have extended her understanding both beyond, in depth and underneath the trails humans have carved out in the world in her work made after leaving Manitoba to work on her MFA in Alberta. (How can an artist be expected to stay comfortable when their experiences become so layered and loud that they need to escape into their work?)

Colonialism shifted the way the world handled consumption and growth. Traditional practices were pushed aside to a more catastrophic degree with the emergence of the industrial revolution. The many were used for the benefit of a few. This historic brutality emerges in disPOSSESSION.

Rudolph’s materials become a succinct contribution to the understanding and exploration of her message of systemic frustration and empowerment of the people. There is a sadness to the narrative in the works – partially due to the muted or absent colour. Politics of soil become the entrance to these works through the colossal soft muddy treatment. Inked surfaces push out through reaching arms, vegetative shoots and figurative shadows, over the lucid texture of the paper. Stories of struggle weave through the scratches and deep inky tones washed and etched over the surfaces of the prints. Isolated exclamations push through the layers begging to be heard over the cacophony of the marks.

(On Francesco Taboada’s documentary “13 Communities in defence of the water, the air and the earth.”)

He says: “we need to be visual chroniclers of what is happening and amplify the voice of the people.” The documentary represents a new strategic alliance between different sectors of society: an environmental activism that integrates peasants, indigenous peoples, academics, students, etc. I see my own work as part of an international dialogue.

The works in disPOSSESSION are a call to action by Rudolph. Her work is not a simple reflection of what is happening, but an in-depth focus on the politics of food rights and the inequities that exist within the literal roots of nourishment. She does not take the media for granted. It is interpreted, honoured and restored to a battle cry of resistive resonance for every person.

Stacey Abramson is a mother, artist, writer and a visual art educator at Maples Collegiate in Winnipeg, Manitoba.  Over the past 14 years her video work has shown across Canada, most recently at the 2017 WNDX Festival (Winnipeg, Manitoba). Her writings have been published in C Magazine, Galleries West and the Winnipeg Free Press. She is an alumni of the Art21 Educators program and was their educator-in-residence in July and August 2017.

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