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Review

Embodied Geographies

Review of Joshua Whitehead’s Making Love With the Land By Jillian Groening
  • Whitehead / Photo by sweetmoon photography, Tenille Campbell; Landscape photos by Whitehead

Dec. 10th, 2021, Online

Making Love With the Land is a welcome moment of grounding within the dizzying cacophony of virtual performance events. While digital spaces course with emergent methods through which to experience temporal arts practices, the conversational sequencing of Making Love With the Land evokes a rhythmic embrace that is further supported by the warm timbre of Joshua Whitehead’s voice. The performance is part love letter, part excavation and part murmuration.

Presented by Springboard Performance’s Fluid Fest, the online event features a series of performances inspired by Whitehead’s forthcoming book of the same title. The artists tasked with responding to six different sections of Whitehead’s writing include Barry Bilinsky, Lisa La Touche, Richard Lee, Zach Running Coyote, Tia Kushniruk and Kevin Fraser with Immigrant Lessons artists Sophia Sosa and Simran Sachar. Moving within and between dance, theatre and filmmaking, the assemblage of performance works offers a unique glimpse into how relation to land informs embodiment. Through details of home and community spaces – carpeted living room floors, the shadowed folds of heavy black theatre drapes and the decaled windows of a co-op on Calgary’s 17th Avenue SW – an intimate portrait of COVID-era existence radiates with sudden tenderness.

Making Love With the Land begins with a film by Suitaakii Black who introduces the land through the Blackfoot language and cadenced footage of the landscape in motion, from the quiver of tall grasses to bison wandering over snow-covered foothills. Black acknowledges the land where Springboard is situated – on Treaty 7 Territory – while tuning into the frequencies emanating from the atmospherically active zone between the Rocky Mountains and the flat prairie of Treaty 1. Their video culminates as the camera spins upward, catching the tips of bare branches against the bright blue sky in the familiar movements of a child’s twirl before tumbling into soft snow. Black’s film summons kinetic memory and the histories that emanate from the soil.

 

The first section of text read by Whitehead is called “My Body is a Hinterland.” It instigates a visceral mapping of the body while tracking the interior connective constellations through fascia, intestine and enzyme. By igniting a sensorial notion of presence, Whitehead charts interior landscapes to the point of spectator embodiment, a difficult feat considering the distance inherent to a virtual performance. The responding video work by Bilinksy further complicates the borders between body and land. It does so by double exposing imagery of skin imprinted with the rolling hills created by mattress stitching with a shadowed profile and the glowing ember of a cigarette burning in front of acid green northern lights. All together, this chapter traces a path to the internal body, out of reach of the confines of language, time and geography.

Another moment of conceptual synergy occurs when the camera roves, Blair Witch-style, over Kushniruk exuberantly tossing and tumbling down snowy foothills, their black-snowsuit-clad body standing out starkly amid the cold white expanse. While Kushniruk is in the throes of ecstatic movement, Whitehead reads of starved intimacy, Queer desire and a refusal to be dismembered. Titled “A Geography of Queer Woundings,” the text weaves through Kushniruk’s flailings with erotic suspension, release and crumbling.

Images of birds appear repeatedly, taking shape as circling crow funerals and starlings flying in phenomenal unison. Often speaking of the birds falling and calling, Whitehead rouses the pulsing movements of murmuration, creating a rhythm in which each artist’s story beats in time. Making Love With the Land interlaces moments of vulnerability and power with a precise grace, a gathering of love letters to the land.

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