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Thursday, January 18th 2024
From 5:30 PM to 10:00 PM

The opening of the exhibition Historye(ies) de territoire(ies) also marks the launch of issue 273 of the magazine Vie des Arts, with a special section entitled "Pratiques".

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Guided tour
with Laurence Butet-Roch
Saturday January 20th
From 2:00 PM to 3:00 PM

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Collage Workshop

with Jessica Houston

Thursday, February 15

from 5:30 pm to 7:30 pm

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History(ies) of territory(ies)

18.01 - 09.03.2024

Laurence Butet-Roch
Jessica Houston

Curator: Sophie Bertrand

       History(ies) of Territory(ies) presents works by Jessica Houston and Laurence Butet-Roch. Both artists are deeply interested in environmental justice and the construction of narratives through the prism of colonial history and territorial occupation. Each examines the responsibility of visual documentation rooted in collective memory, and proposes a dialogue between archive and contemporary image in order to revise unilateral narratives and (re)think future readings of historical narratives in the light of new imaginaries.


       Questioning the uses of archives puts the emphasis on their constant and necessary updating, in order to revisit the wefts of history that are all too often distorted or corrupted for the benefit of a project, be it political, ethnographic, academic or anthropological. Here, artistic practices tend not to impose a point of view, but to (re)open up reflection on the function of these documentations and their role in colonial political strategies, rather than encouraging their censorship. In order to understand the disasters of the past that we must avoid for our futures, we need to extend towards "poly-narratives" in which the authority of the archive is confronted and challenged.


       The foundations of historical science are based on the principle of the current state of knowledge. Archives, whether textual or visual, have often been a guarantee of a truth dominated by the powers in place, often erasing the value of the transmission of oral traditions. For a long time, narratives were based on textual archives. By the end of the 19th century, photography and the moving image had also become invaluable documentation media, enhancing these same narratives. Their use created new visual links between past, present and future. Images and video were soon seen as postulates of unchanging reality. In particular, these media played an ambiguous role in the subjective perception of borders and territories through illustrations of conquests, exploits and prowess of Western man. Fortunately, in recent years, intangible cultural heritage(1) has been recognized as an essential element in the revision of History. The accessibility of this heritage has enabled us to reposition ourselves on the meaning of archives, to broaden our interpretations of them and to question them.


       Through their respective approaches, Laurence Butet-Roch and Jessica Houston propose to shift points of view and open up perspectives towards new narratives of territories, using the archive as a lever for reflection.


       Laurence Butet-Roch's installation Our Grandfathers Were Chiefs offers a dialogue between contemporary documentary photography and archival documents revealing the expansion of Ontario's Chemical Valley. For over half a century, petrochemical complexes have been built on Anishinaabek lands, forcing the Aamjiwnaang community to endure the harmful consequences on their health and landscape. To this end, a large-format topographical map of the Sarnia Indian, produced by the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, locates Reserve No. 45 - consecutively called the Upper St. Clair reserve, then the Sarnia reserve, before reverting to its original name, Aamjiwnaang(2). Three distinctly coloured threads delineate the areas allocated: that of the reserve established under Treaty 29 (1827), its current area and the space occupied by the petrochemical plants. Since 1790, a succession of treaties(3) has progressively erased the extent of the Aamjiwnaang territory - which means "to the spawning stream" - further reducing its access to the banks of the St. Clair River.


       For nearly a decade, Laurence Butet-Roch has been working with the residents of Aamjiwnaang and its Council. By contrasting institutional archives, veritable tools of communication and promotion - like the Canadian $10 bill bearing the effigy of the Polymer Corporation - with the photographs she has produced, the artist encourages us to critically examine the archive as an object of state domination. Forced, initially, to acknowledge Canada's responsibility and the consequences of its colonial policies, she invites us to look at the community's history as well, as it unfolds here and now. The story of a daily resistance that continues to inhabit the land and actively protect its flora and fauna.

       Laurence Butet-Roch invited the younger generation to express themselves freely in two of her images. Participants translated their relationship with the elements and their vision of the future into colorful drawings drawn from their imaginations and beliefs.

       Jessica Houston's work is part of the narrative of new representations of the poles, about the history hitherto influenced by the relationship between male and white conquerors and explorers. Interested in deconstructing this dominant posture, the artist pokes fun at the imperialist symbolism involved in successive expeditions and renews theories. She takes advantage of this to reconfigure the link between man and nature in a conjuncture of the imaginary. The works on show are the result of several projects and reveal the research Jessica Houston has been carrying out for several years on the ambivalent definition of the notions of North and South Poles.

       In her collages that play with proportions, the artist uses the archives of the famous National Geographic magazine, created in 1888 in the United States, to suggest new discursive propositions. For several decades, the magazine's image producers were overwhelmingly white and male, participating in a tradition of biased visual narratives. Jessica Houston decided to break with this tradition, using geometric strategies - cutting, flat coloring, folding, montage - to fracture the image and offer a polysemy of discourses on the circumpolar regions through the composite technique. Stories of the Pole merge, and the figures of explorers Robert Peary and Roald Amundsen fade behind the artist's fictional assemblages, inspired more by Ursula K. Le Guin's ecofeminist short story "Sur"(4), which recounts how nine female explorers from South America reached the South Pole in December 1909. In this way, Jessica Houston transforms the epics of polar conquest into an alternative tale, breaking the codes of glorifying documentary imagery to form an unprecedented legacy of myth.

       Too Enlightened takes up the composite technique of collage with a mosaic that encourages the eye to rearrange the fragmented images to extract a coherent reading. The possibilities are endless. In response to this work, the video Enlightened brings the landscape and the deep time of the Antarctic ice back into focus by juxtaposing archival footage of military expeditions with an aerial view filmed by a drone. This contemplative diptych, lasting more than eighteen minutes, no longer plays on our sense of observation, and invites us to take stock of nature's resilience and resistance, in inevitable contrast to the time we no longer have in the face of global warming.

More than the end of history, it is the end of a certain modern conception of history, that of Western man's ability to govern and claim to explain the world.(5)

       The works presented in History(ies) of territory(ies) invite us to "decentralize our gaze"(6) while noting the societal impact of visual documentation on collective memory. Here, the dominant narrative mechanisms perpetuated in coveted territories highlight the unseen consequences that flow from them. The use of archives questions the process of updating and opens up the fields of possible and necessary (re)writing to refresh certain narratives, giving a voice to those entitled to it, and leaving room for collective imaginations.

Sophie Bertrand


1 -
2 - David D. Plain,
3 - ibid.
4 - Le Guin, U.K. (1982), Sur. Published January 24 1982, New Yorker. Online.
5 - Sallée, F. (2019). La mécanique de l’histoire (p.42). Le Cavalier Bleu.
6 - Sallée, 2019, ibid., p. 17


LBR_by Cole Breiland_edited.jpg
© Cole Breiland
Laurence Butet-Roch
LAURENCE BUTET-ROCH is an author, photographer and visual arts researcher whose work focuses on issues of environmental justice. Recipient of the Joseph Armand-Bombardier Award (SSHRC), she is pursuing a PhD in Environmental Studies at York University (Toronto). Her research examines the clichés used by Canadian media in their reporting on industrial pollution, using participatory and collaborative methods of analysis.
Jessica Houston
JESSICA HOUSTON's multimedia projects confront environmental justice in the polar regions, with a particular focus on deep ice time and collaboration with nature. Her work has been exhibited at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, CREA Gallery (Venice, Italy), The Arktikum Museum (Rovaniemi, Finland), Museo de Arts de Querétaro (México City) and Latimer House Museum (New York), among many other institutional and museum collections.
Jessica Houston dy Bruno Tremblay.jpg
© Bruno Tremblay
Profil SB_edited.jpg
Sophie Bertrand
SOPHIE BERTRAND is an independent photographer, author and curator. Her interests range from contemporary photography to photographic heritage. Both in her practice and in the projects she leads, she is interested in the formation of new visual narratives through the dialogue between archives and images. A regular contributor to Ciel Variable magazine, she also contributed to the book L'Histoire mondiale des femmes photographes (Textuel, Paris, 2020). With a master's degree in museology, she is also a lecturer at the Collège de photographie Marsan and assistant co-director at Vie des arts.
© Joannie Lafrenière
History(ies) of territory(ies) is part of the general theme Territory / Borders of the POST-INVISIBLES 2024 biennial.
Noir et Blanc Splashscreen-Horizontal.jpg
The SBC is pleased to welcome the launch of the new issue of Vie des arts.
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