This September, meeting with artists Kade L. Twist and Cristóbal Martínez of Postcommodity was a super-charged experience. As part of their new exhibition Time Holds All the Answers, I worked on their drawing Dreams, Blessings and Memories with three other Remai Modern Program Guides. As we filled in a stencil of a Postcommodity poem on the wall with charcoal, we were instructed to sing our prayers. We spent the day in quiet reflection listening to each other’s prayers, which was an unusual but memorable way of working with my colleagues. Now the project is complete and Kade and Crístobal have flown home, but Postcommodity has left a sonic imprint on Remai Modern that will reverberate well beyond Time Holds All the Answers‘ closing date in January.
For Dreams, Blessings and Memories, we had the chance to put our own prayers and intentions into the drawing as a way of setting the larger intentions for Remai Modern as an institution. The words we filled in were part of a poem written by the artists and realized in Náhautl, the language spoken by Nahua people in central Mexico. Kade provided the English translation for us to reflect upon as we sang our prayers. I worked on the drawing with Bevin Bradley, Nicole Cote and Aurora Wolfe. We became a four-person chorus as we ground powdered charcoal into the white wall. Kade told us he was happy to have four women working on this drawing. He said, “I come from a matrilineal culture. Women are the keepers of our culture.” I thought of the generations of women before us who sang to transform their mundane tasks into meaning. When we stopped for breaks, our faces glowed through smudges of charcoal.
We approached the wall, uncertain how to begin. But as our blackened gloves met the wall, Aurora kicked us off with a beautiful tune. Soon our voices wrapped around and supported one another with steady melodies. We found these tunes spontaneously as our hands circled clockwise, then counterclockwise, across the surface of the wall. Kade explained, “These are the directions Indigenous people dance across the surface of the earth. Clockwise with the sun, or counterclockwise like the turn of the earth.” As we worked, Crístobal walked by on a Facetime call with his niece saying, “These are artists. They are making a drawing for Postcommodity…” [in a whisper] “and if you listen closely, you can hear them singing.” Through a delicate structure of ladders, we filled in the entire stencil, and as we worked, we lost our sense of time. I sat back, staring at the finished drawing feeling empty yet full. Crístobal and Kade expressed their gratitude to us. “Thank you, Thank you.” Crístobal said, “Ok we have to bow out now before we all cry!”
The stencil was removed from the wall and the black edges of the words appeared crisp and even on the white expanse. Our custodian Arnie assured us it was an easy clean up, despite the fact I saw the team scrubbing our charcoal fingerprints off benches well into the next day. In the afternoon before the opening, Christobal walked his nine year-old niece through a final Facetime tour of Time Holds All the Answers. He showed her Dreams, Blessings and Memories saying, “This is in an Indigenous language of Mexico. This is your culture!” He used the technology to share the story of this place and carry the song on to the next generation.
At the exhibition’s opening celebration we started at Remai Modern then travelled to Wanuskewin. There, we formed a procession to the medicine wheel, offered tobacco, and sat in a circle. Kade and Crístobal sat facing east. Kade said, “The wind out here is cleansing like a bath. It relaxes you. When we first came out here with [curators] Rose and Gerald, we lost track of time. Somehow it ended up being three hours that we were here with the medicine wheel. As artists, we live in the spirit world, and it is our job to bring people closer to that spirit world. That collapse of time is what happens in the spiritual world. As Indigenous people, we see that the past, present, and the future are happening all at once.”
Crístobal told a story from his grandfather, saying “The sun is the face of our grandmother.” As he said this, the sun lowered behind him, breaking through the haze of smoke clouds blown in from California. He asked, “Why does the face of our grandmother have two eyes, two nostrils, and two ears, but only one mouth? It is so she sees twice as much, smells twice as much, and hears twice as much as she speaks. She can be more in touch with the world through her senses than through her speech. We also say that the tongue is a flint knife. It is flint because we can build and create with words, but it is a knife because we can also do great harm. We must be careful with our speech. So let’s take some time here to listen to one another.” We sat in the silence with the prairie wind whipping through our hair and shaking the dry grasses surrounding our circle. A flock of Canadian geese called as they drifted over the river and landed in a nearby field. The rush of cars and semi-trucks on the highway echoed and collided across the expanse like the moan and rumble of ancient beasts.
I walked with Remai Modern’s Indigenous Engagement Coordinator Lyndon J. Linklater back from the circle, treading on aromatic sage. Lyndon said, “When I worked with pre-kindergarten kids at Wanuskewin, I would tell them to spread your arms like this.” He reached his arms wide as he continued talking. “And you can bring the wind. Maybe that is why there is so much wind here!” We both reached our arms wide to catch it. As we began down the path, I nearly jumped out of my skin, and we both stopped in our tracks. A two-foot-long garter snake slithered across the path in front of us. Looking in her eye it seemed that she was as surprised as we were. She was a beauty with a deep orange streak down her spine and electric yellow racing stripes vibrating on her black scales. “Lyndon, look at my shirt!” I was wearing the kinaypikowiyâs shirt Postcommodity gifted to those that worked on the exhibition (kinaypikowiyâs means “snake meat” in Cree). We gazed at the sweep and curve of the South Saskatchewan River through the valley below, and a collective exhale carried on the wind.