Nadia Myre

Born in 1974 in Montréal (CA)
Lives and works in Montréal (CA)

Portrait in Motion

Video, colour, sound
durée : 2'21''
Year of Purchase: 2009

“Je me souviens”1

“For it is difficult to be a traitor; it is to create. One has to lose one’s identity, one’s face, in it. One has to disappear, to become unknown…”2

Synopsis: A new day dawns; the birds are singing in an ethereal fog from which emerges a canoe. The apparition attracts an inquiring close-up. The paddler calmly navigates the boat across the water, approaching and finally coming face to face with the lens—at which instant we recognize Nadia Myre. With one last stroke, she traverses the image and leaves the field of view.

A postcolonial narrative: the artist replays the paradigm of a missed encounter with History, and counters the exoticized stereotype of the native. It is “History / her story.”

The fog plays its part: it is the aura of a primitive chaos where all memory blurs, a screen on which to project every creation of our imagination.

The film installation plays its part: a video projection from the back of the room onto a glass pane mounted using picture rails—the kind that is used in public exhibitions and that can be found at anthropological museums and museums of natural history.

The artist has rigged the authenticity of the video: a single sequence-shot and an approximate framing of the slanting horizon of the water. A reflection upon the document through a play of reflections of the document. The artist imitates the documentary code of a pioneer ethnographer in order to achieve a false inscription; in order to reverse the perspective; in order to efface the boundaries between the observers and the observed, the dominating and the dominated, the colonizers and the colonized…

An interpretation: the notion of the “third eye” described by Fatimah Tobing Rony3 who summarizes an experience consisting in observing everything while being at the same time observed as an Other. Rony displaces the binary pairs (colonizer/colonized, etc.) onto a third plane in order to prevent the assimilation of differences which are the founding acts of colonial culture and practice. The third eye belongs to the artist.

Portrait in motion, not Self-portrait in motion: Nadia Myre plays her role as “the unique presence of a distance, however close it may be.”4 Myre is a Canadian-Algonquin artist, native of the other / the same “native land.”5 Her work employs an auto-ethnographic process which explores realities and myths of the reinscriptions of identity: schizophrenia oscillating between the individualization of pathos, presence of a collective entity (“Algonquin-ness”), cultural representation in the post-colonial Canada,6 and the territory of contemporary art.

According to Joseph Kosuth, “the anthropologist seeks to understand other cultures; on the contrary, the artist “interiorizes” the cultural activity of his or her own society. The artist as anthropologist may be able to succeed where the anthropologist has failed”: at giving full account in the present, which is the faculty of always being contemporary.
The “Portrait in motion”7 of a postmodern, mixed-race artist?

Luc Jeand’heur

1 “I remember” – the official motto of Québec.

2 Gilles Deleuze and Claude Parnet, Dialogues II. Trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam. Columbia University Press: New York, 1987, p. 45.

3 Contemporary American scholar and artist who specializes in the construction of early 20th-century non-Western, “indigenous” representations combining cinema, popular culture, and ethnography.

4 Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” in Illuminations. Trans. Harry Zohn. (Schocken Books: New York, 1969) p. 222.

5 Aimé Césaire.

6 Where a colonial condition persists in the contemporary, globalized world using other economy of means.

7 Another gag, although a true cinematic prop, the canoe used in the film exemplifies this idea: History in Two Parts (1999), a sculpture made by the artist for the occasion, literally using a half-traditional (Algonquin) and half-modern (aluminum) design, embodies the didactic metaphor of the vernacular/operational totemic attitude entertained nowadays by Native Americans on reservations.