Walks of Survivance: A Conversation with Srimoyee Mitra

April 20, 2017 

Entering its 8th year, the MayWorks Festival continues to operate at the intersections of workers’ solidarity, social justice and human rights. In conjunction with this year’s festival, Walks of Survivance at Artcite features new work by Farrah Miranda and recent work by Lisa Myers, where the artists address diverse experiences of contemporary work, from cooking and domestic labour to migrant agricultural work. We spoke with Srimoyee Mitra, who—prior to her recent appointment as the Gallery Director of Stamps Gallery in Anne Arbour—curated the exhibition at Artcite, discussing both the labour addressed by the artists and the curatorial work of developing an exhibition. 

Walks of Survivance

Installation view of Walks of Survivance: Works by Lisa Myers and Farrah Miranda at Artcite, curated by Srimoyee Mitra

 

MODERN FUEL: How do you see the exhibition engaging with broader discussions of labour, either in relation to MayWorks or more generally? 

SRIMOYEE MITRA: It began with an invitation to curate a show for Mayworks, and that in many ways dictated the overarching theme of the show. In terms of Farrah [Miranda] and Lisa [Myers], I was aware that Farrah was working on an installation called speaking fruit, where she was wanting to set up a fruit stand. The question she was asking was “if the fruits and vegetables that the migrant workers pick could speak what would they say—what kind of narrative?” She was interested in these conversations taking place in Windsor, because the workers she was working with were in Leamington. So that’s how the conversation began. 

Along with migrant workers I also wanted to think about Indigenous narratives of the land and Indigenous labour in relation to the land, and how those narratives are either unknown or overlooked as well. I have followed Lisa Myers for a long time and have never had an opportunity to work with. Her methodology is through cooking and through food as a way of knowing, so I approached her and she introduced me to these two projects about blueberries, including her project and from then on we lived on blueberries for about a week, which I thought would be a great fit. 

MF: It’s interesting the way they both relate to care—especially in relation to food—in different ways, whether it’s the care of cooking or agricultural work. In what way do you see them resonating with each other’s work? 

SM: Farrah is really looking at the tools of labour; she has this idea of having a dinner table with plate settings, and having a chandelier which is made up of tools, whether it’s gloves or wheels in a spiral. 

In conjunction with that, we see Lisa Myers, with the blueberries and the delicious, almost fecund blueberry sauce, and the ebs and flow of the blueberry sauce on a wooden spoon. It alludes to the process of cooking, stirring, mixing, whether it’s a cake batter or a sauce that’s being mixed. The body is very much present, but you don’t see a body, only a spoon. And along with that is this incredible soundtrack, which once again brings the body in with almost a marching tone to it. 

For me there is an incredible movement, as if they were anthem-like songs, songs of survival, and I think it’s a really beautiful dialogue with the boots of the migrant worker which are going to be part of the chandelier. But I want to be really clear that these are very different experiences and I don’t want to flatten them as a single uniform experience. The feeling of the works are going to be very different; Lisa’s is almost visceral and tangible in a very different way, whereas Farrah’s work is going to be almost literal in a way, where it is tangible, where you will be able to touch and smell the hay. 

In terms of Indigenous histories and stories—how they have lived in the land and with the land—are perhaps deeply woven into the landscape in Canada, and the ways in which we’ve forgotten. Whereas the migrant worker in some ways is still looked at as this ‘other.’ It is a service relationship that we have. Temporary workers provide us with a service, are paid X amount, and then they go home, and that is the relationship that the state wants with them. I’m really curious about those relationships, and to see how they work together and see what kind of discussion these two works bring out. 

MF: I am curious to see how they do resonate because as you say they have such a different presence. I feel like Artcite could facilitate that well being a space that is split into two, with the central dividing wall. I wanted to ask, regarding your own work as a curator, how you reflect on working in different spaces, whether regional galleries or artist-run centres. 

SM: I think different galleries have different things to offer. For example, Artcite is an excellent storefront space—they have great visibility, you’re on the ground—versus something that’s more institutional. Passersby who stroll into Artcite can do that more easily than in an institution. 

My approach is always to first understand the space and see what would work in the space, and then build out from that. With any work we want to compliment the space, rather than make it feel limiting. For this exhibition, from the beginning I wanted it to be more than a one person solo show, I wanted it to be more dialogic. In some ways Artcite really allows for that, as you mention with the dividing wall. It allows for two separate spaces, but also because it is small enough there will always be a spill-over or an overlap. 

MF: With this issue focusing on labour, and the Art Work Supplement focusing on arts labour in particular, I wanted to ask what advice you might have for young curators.  

SM: Don’t hesitate to dream big and allow the dream to take the space it needs to take, and at the same time look at the reality and see how they could come together. Some things may need to be scaled back, others may be allowed to have more space. It’s a really privileged space, on one hand, to be a curator, because you are the person who is in conversation with so many different folks. 

It’s not just your idea, but it’s also the artist’s idea that you are bringing together, that you are facilitating and giving it the space and the respect that it deserves. It’s important to take that seriously. At the same time it’s important to take your own labour seriously. Make sure that there is a line item for a curatorial fee, even though that is hard when budgets are really tight. But I think it’s a question of respecting one’s own work, even if it’s an honorarium. In the same way that we always pay artist fees. 

 

Walks of Survivance: Works by Lisa Myers and Farrah Miranda, curated by Srimoyee Mitra, will be at Artcite from May 5 to June 10, 2017. The exhibition is presented as a part of MayWorks Windsor, an annual festival run by area arts, labour, environmental and social service groups and organizations. More information here.

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