Eleanor King’s solo exhibition nothing we do is worth getting hurt for at the Campbell River Art Gallery (CRAG) examines the impacts of the logging industry, and its relationship with the land through the marks and scars that show their interwoven experiences. The artist brings together multiple site-specific art elements such as: Google Earth mapping, sound, composite photography, video, and screen printing to hold a conversation in the gallery in relation to our treatment of the environment, the sustainability of that treatment, and the future.
King’s work encourages those that live in this region to see it with new eyes, and to see its complexities anew.1 Eleanor King creates site-specific artwork; art made in response to local people and contexts, often with carefully sourced materials that speak to the immediate environment. Any single location is an ongoing process of movement and interpretation; shifts, rolls, and waves generate new senses of the same place.2 Different senses of a place held by people are often in conflict with one another, each holding a particular understanding and feeling that is incompatible with others.3 This may feel especially true throughout the course of this exhibition. It acts as a dialogue that makes space for varied feelings, approaches, as well as claims to the lands and waters, so-called resources.
Miwon Kwon states that the aims of site-specific art from its beginnings were, “establishing an inextricable, indivisible relationship between the work and its site, and demand[ing] the physical presence of the viewer for the work’s completion. The (neo-avant-garde) aspiration to exceed the limitations of traditional media, like painting and sculpture, as well as their institutional setting; the epistemological challenge to relocate meaning from within the art object to the contingencies of its context; the radical restructuring of the subject from an old Cartesian model to a phenomenological one of lived bodily experience; and the self-conscious desire to resist the forces of the capitalist market economy, which circulates art works as transportable and exchangeable commodity goods-all these imperatives came together in art’s new attachment.”4 King’s installations present unexpected materials and combinations that call on all the viewer’s senses when they come in contact with the work. The perspectives and experiences that they bring completes the work, and its meaning is contingent upon their presence. Media like screenprinting have long been referred to as democratic forms of art because they ensure that anyone can have access. The work is welcoming and blends different forms of artmaking and technology to encourage a wider understanding of the issues at hand. Much of the work’s existence is contingent upon the space and does not exist as a commodity outside of the exhibition context because of the specific materials and the method of installation. The meaning of the work is highly influenced by the place in which it is made and presented. It accesses and sources local materials and skilled labour to defy the unsustainable and extractive practices of the art market. nothing we do is worth getting hurt for exemplifies Miwon Kwon’s definitions of and motivations behind site-specific art.
There is a duality of romanticising and exploiting the landscape that continues to be a part of the Canadian mindset. This perspective has enduring impacts in “Super, natural British Columbia.”5 Eleanor King investigates the self-destructive imperative that has placed humans on the brink of extinction. Even though the end result is known, people continue to decorate themselves into their own destruction.6 All can be seen through the traces left on the land, as it bears witness to all extractive and reciprocal relationships with humans. Even though the point of no return has been reached several times over, humans can’t seem to be able to stop or reverse the direction of consumption. People must be presented with the beauty worth saving, and the hope needed to continue on, as well as the harder truths. The tragic beauty is the poetics held in the concept of the ‘last one’ one juxtaposed with the seemingly endless supply of material taken from the land. The exhibition presents stark realities and alternative modes of approaching problems such as Traditional Ecological Knowledge (T.E.K.). The philosophy of Seven Generation thinking dictates that we take only from the lands and waters that ensures their full regeneration so the people seven generations in the future have the same access and bounty. This is an agreement that is made with ancestors and communities in the future to ensure the continuation of tradition and culture through the survival of lands, waters.7
King is keenly aware of her positionality as an artist coming from outside the community, as well as her unique position to shoulder the responsibility of inciting difficult but necessary dialogues. As an artist who travels to make site-specific work Eleanor King understands her own complicity in a global art system that ships materials and people from one end of the planet to the other. As a result, the artist is interested in sourcing materials locally, selecting materials that will have a future function in the gallery, collaborating with local artists, and engaging in redistribution once the exhibition is over. The fact is we are all complicit in some way. We also hold the key to a better way forward. By understanding and accepting our own duality as well as our ability to help one another, we can influence even tiny increments of change within an overwhelming global situation. Humans have an incredible capability for adaptation and resilience.
It has been extremely important to Eleanor King, as a Settler artist coming from outside the community, to acknowledge whose lands she is working with, and acknowledge the work being done that sustained the Indigenous communities of Vancouver Island for thousands of years prior to contact. King had the opportunity to hear stories and learn archaeological information from Wei Wai Kum member, Knowledge Keeper, and CRAG Protocol Advisor Cory Cliffe. He generously shared knowledge and teachings. The work they did together has significantly impacted the project. Cliffe’s T.E.K. has rooted the project on the traditional Territories of the Ligwiłda’xw speaking people. It has presented ways of speaking of the lands and waters, how they tell their own stories of change and adapt to human impact. Concepts of sustainability and preserving the lands and waters so they will be as bountiful for the people seven generations from now are core to Ligwiłda’xw values and teachings. Members of the band continue to do important work as the stewards of this land to help the healing processes from industry and development take place.
Screen printing is a collaborative element in the exhibition that brings together King’s learning about medicinal plant life with Elder John Sharkey’s perspectives and Indigenous Knowledge. While visiting in the summer of 2022, King learned firsthand the power and effectiveness of devil’s club salve in healing. That experience with medicinal plants and Traditional Ecological Knowledge impacted the artist to such an extent that she created a botanical drawing of devil’s club and it has become a main feature of the exhibition. King partnered with Nadine Bariteau and John Sharkey to bring the voices of local artists into the exhibition. Bariteau is the artistic coordinator of an important initiative at the CRAG; the Art Hive provides opportunities for members of the lived experience and unhoused community to find safe space, create art, learn new skills, and earn money here in Campbell River. John Sharkey, Elder and Hive member, created designs that were screen printed by Bariteau and other members of the Hive onto newsprint and installed in the exhibition with King’s devil’s club screen print. Engaging with the Hive has provided a sustainable option where King can work with the community and remunerate local artists for their labour.
For nothing we do is worth getting hurt for, King has returned to the photographic medium. Wolfgang Tillmans, renowned photographer, has been an inspiration to King’s approach to presenting and selecting photographs. “Wolfgang Tillmans (b. 1968, Germany) has explored seemingly every genre of photography imaginable, continually experimenting with how to make pictures meaningful. Since the beginning of his career, Tillmans revolutionised the prevailing conventions of photographic presentation, making connections between his pictures in response to a given context and activating the space of the exhibition.”8 According to curator Roxana Marcoci, “Social themes form a rich vein throughout his practice. They motivate Tillmans’ exploration of the questions of how to see and how to communicate seeing.”9 Eleanor King has selected poignant vernacular images and composite arrangements that create opportunities for meaning making for viewers of the exhibition, using the camera as a tool of observation and documenter of contemporary life. King leaves it up to the viewer to interpret the works and create a narrative by bringing their own experiences and values to bear on the land and our treatment of it.
Tillmans’ work Neue Welt done from 2008 to 2012 captures images digitally, maintaining their authenticity with a refusal to retouch or manipulate. He creates a “hyperactive and graphically juxtaposed image bank that conveys the sheer density of information available in contemporary culture.”10 He turns his gaze outward in a “figurative exploration of the world and the camera’s ability to record modern-day experience.” Susan Michals of DuJour writes that “our minds are packed with preconceived notions when we look at any subject, no matter how ordinary; we can’t help it.”11 Wolfgang Tillmans has sought to change that with Neue Welt: “I look for objects that are telling something about the state we’re in without being overly obvious.”12 King employs a similar strategy with the way she orients and presents photographs in the exhibition. The images follow and maintain the same shoreline and horizon, with hilled areas and higher elevations appearing higher up on the walls of the gallery. As if her photographs were fragments of a detailed map that one could use to orient themselves to the lives and activities of this place. Her snapshots are fragments of a whole; poignant and recognizable images to residents that create an experience of localness, but are also surprising, funny, and informative. King’s photographic work combines still life, landscape, portraiture, and street photography to observe the contemporary conditions of Campbell River and the surrounding region, giving an indexical set of vernacular images that don’t steer viewers to one viewpoint but encourage them to make their own meaning out of the array. How will Eleanor King’s presentation of the elements of the local condition impact the way people think about the current state we are in? King captures the flow of commodities and people, and the way they play into the politics of this place.
The artist uses Google Earth satellite imagery to present a topographical view of the region she is working with. Working in this way allows the artist to get in close from her New York studio, and to offer an objective view of the landscape that tells a particular story: “Her process of discovery, in which the macro reveals the micro through a bird’s-eye view of the landscape tells a story of the region’s economy.”13 The most striking attribute of Campbell River and the region on Google Earth is the patchwork of cutblocks and curving lines cut by logging roads. Having the opportunity to see the landscape in such an overview shows the marks and scars left on the landscape. As a result our perspective of the lands and waters shift.
Eleanor King has long been fascinated with obsolete forms of technology. Utilising old turntables, records, CDs, TV’s, stereo equipment, etc to make comments on the loss of use for objects and the build-up of bygone materials. More recently King has been engaged with new technologies such as satellite imaging. She refers to Google Earth by its brand name to remind us that a major tech corporation took it upon themselves to map and photograph our planet invasively, unprompted. It is a technology of surveillance that brings together millions of images to piece the world together. When King uses the program she pushes it to its maximum revealing weak spots. In some areas there isn’t enough data to complete the picture so elements of the nearby surroundings are used as a pattern to fill in information, giving the landscape an unreal glitch surface pattern. This bizarre quality of the technology and the way it reacts when it is missing information creates a comedic element in the work. By embracing this glitch, King visually demonstrates how technology mediates our experience of the world. The way Google Earth fills in information is a reminder that it is a computer-mediated source of information that may stand in for, but cannot replace reality.
In addition to presenting images that encourage people to view their surroundings in a new way, King also brings in sound. The soundscape of a place is often composed of iconic elements that have blended into the environment to such an extent that they escape the register of local ears. The sounds of a place represent the specific ways in which people and goods move, the presence or absence of culture and the natural world, and the sounds of economic drivers. Music and sonic elements are a way for the artist to bring emotion into the work.14 The inspiration for the song “Take Days” in Inverted Pyramids and Roads to Nowhere came as King was driving and contemplating the self-destructive nature of bad habits that help one to steal from their “Future Self”: “I realized that on a broader scale, we’re fully aware of the way in which we are stealing from our own future and yet we continue to do it for whatever irrational reason, and it ended up becoming more of an environmental call to action.”15 Sonic and musical elements in installation art integrate an evocative emotional register into the overall experience which captivates all the visitors’ senses, effectively transporting them or re-presenting their own locality in a radically different way.
While visiting Campbell River for a residency in 2022, King witnessed the ceremony of National Indigenous Peoples’ Day. She followed a procession of singing children who worked their way from the Big House to Spirit Square in the center of downtown. The culture group, led by Will Henderson, Wei Wai Kum Knowledge Keeper, are elementary school students that spend their lunch hours and spare time learning about Ligwiłda’xw culture through songs and stories. Their voices have become a prominent feature of how King interprets the Campbell River soundscape. Not only do they represent the generations of youth who will inherit the complex interweaving of problems and privileges that comprise the future, but they are also part of the legacy of people who have been here since time immemorial and whose territories we all live on as uninvited guests. They are exemplary of the resilience and adaptability of humanity in the face of trauma and adversity.
Nothing we do is worth getting hurt for is an exhibition of installation art presented by Eleanor King, in collaboration with Ligwiłda’xw Knowledge Keepers and local artists. It is unique to the locale and context of Campbell River, BC. It will not exist in any other gallery again. The work was not made to travel or for sale, but as a catalyst for necessary dialogue. The politics of place are activated through sound, photography, screen printing, painting, projection, Google Earth mapping, and video. The recent, Settler dominated, history of Campbell River and region is one of extraction. The noise of machines and the marks on the landscape tell stories of industry and human impact on the lands and waters. Previous to that history Indigenous communities occupied central and North Vancouver Island for thousands of years. The traces of their coexistence with nature are language, stories, songs, big houses, middens, totems, and resting places for the departed. As we listen to the children singing the songs of their culture with pride, how are we thinking about the legacy that will be left to them? Will the children of those children seven generations down the line taste the same fresh water, feed from the bounty of the land and the sea, and look upon the majesty of dense old growth forests? Even folks who occupy entirely different sides of industry, politics, or preservation agree that they want their progeny and their legacy to thrive into the future. Let that be the place we start from. Let us consider the legacy of the lands and waters when we speak of the future, for They support us.
1- acita Dean and Jeremy Miller. “Entrance.” Artworks: Place. Thames and Hudson: New York, 2005. 20-21.
2- Tacita Dean and Jeremy Miller. “Entrance.” Artworks: Place. Thames and Hudson: New York, 2005. 20.
3- acita Dean and Jeremy Miller. “Entrance.” Artworks: Place. Thames and Hudson: New York, 2005. 20-21.
4- Miwon Kwon, “One Place After Another: Notes on Site-specificity.” MIT Press. Vol. 80 (Spring 1997). Pp. 85-110. 86.
5- Destination British Columbia. https://www.destinationbc.ca/learning-centre/category/brand-resources/
6- Eleanor King. Interview with Author. Nov. 18, 2022.
7- Our gratitude to Cory Cliffe for sharing the Seven Generation way of understanding. It has been formative to our understanding of future oriented thinking and being.
8- The Museum of Modern Art. “MoMA presents Wolfgang Tillmans: To Look Without Fear, the artist’s first comprehensive museum survey in New York.” June 2, 2022. https://press.moma.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/MoMA_Tillmans_Expanded-Release_FINAL-2.pdf. Accessed December 7, 2022.
10- “Wolfgang Tillmans: New World” NOWNESS. September 10, 2012. https://www.nowness.com/story/wolfgang-tillmans-new-world.
11- Susan Michals. “Wolfgang Tillmans’ New World.” Du Jour.
13- Charo Neville, “Roads that lead to somewhere,” Catalogue for the exhibition Eleanor King: Inverted Pyramids and Roads to Nowhere, organised by the Kamloops Art Gallery, curated by Charo Neville. September 29 to December 29, 2018. 12.
14- Murray Gerges in Conversation with Eleanor King, “Don’t say you didn’t know it was coming.” Catalogue for the exhibition Eleanor King: Inverted Pyramids and Roads to Nowhere, organised by the Kamloops Art Gallery, curated by Charo Neville. September 29 to December 29, 2018. 100.