Embracing the Uncertainty of the Earth with Jeneen Frei Njootli – Canadian Art
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Reviews / February 1, 2021

Embracing the Uncertainty of the Earth with Jeneen Frei Njootli

In their latest solo show, Jeneen Frei Njootli spoke to the loving yet trying dependency that we, as Indigenous people, can have in connection to ancestral territories
Jeneen Frei Njootli, <em>small mounds of flesh form</em> (detail), 2020. Digital video, audio, carved wood and metal shelving. Dimensions variable. Courtesy Platform Centre. Jeneen Frei Njootli, small mounds of flesh form (detail), 2020. Digital video, audio, carved wood and metal shelving. Dimensions variable. Courtesy Platform Centre.

Addressing the open serenity of the land, Jeneen Frei Njootli’s latest solo exhibition was a call to complex relationality with ancestral territories. “small mounds of flesh form” consisted of new video and installation works that articulated their need for reciprocity with their territories in a timely observation of the Western colonial effects of climate change and contamination. Like a nostalgic love letter to the land, this exhibition demonstrated the levels of raw and genuine affinity that Indigenous Peoples emit for the spaces that carry them.

A video projection took over one wall of the dimly lit gallery space, with a haunting soundscape that set the tone for the exhibition: lonely, vast, grey and peaceful. The video oscillated between a series of blurry shots, revealing Njootli’s figure amid an overcast meadow with mounds on the horizon. Nearby, a solitary bench asked viewers to sit in contemplation; a small bundle of sage rested upon it, a token of the artist’s lingering presence. Njootli’s practice often encapsulates performance, leaving behind ethereal remains of a powerful moment in time. In this case, their works invoked the feelings of profound aloneness one feels when confronted with the unpredictability of the open landscape.

Jeneen Frei Njootli, <em>small mounds of flesh form</em> (detail), 2020. Digital video, audio, carved wood and metal shelving. Dimensions variable. Courtesy Platform Centre. Jeneen Frei Njootli, small mounds of flesh form (detail), 2020. Digital video, audio, carved wood and metal shelving. Dimensions variable. Courtesy Platform Centre.

Back by the gallery entrance sat a multilevel rack with large carved wooden pegs, spiky and jutting out atop one another. Upon closer inspection, the raggedy sticks resembled mosquito legs, bent at odd angles and tapered. It produced a vision of a large mosquito that had lost a battle, its plucked-off legs now displayed on a trophy shelf.

In the back room another video played on a medium-size monitor resting on the floor and leaning against the wall. In it, mosquitoes buzzed in and out of focus as trees swayed in the background. Meanwhile, under the screen’s glow, a curved and carved stick lay on the floor, another object representing a spectre of the artist’s presence. Like a fragment of the large defeated mosquito at the entrance, the arched wooden piece resembled a lifeless stinger. The swarm of mosquitoes reminds us of the hostility that accompanies relationships to land—rather than a glorification, it demonstrates the complexity of the shared domain with all beings.

Jeneen Frei Njootli, <em>small mounds of flesh form</em> (detail), 2020. Digital video, audio, carved wood and metal shelving. Dimensions variable. Courtesy Platform Centre. Jeneen Frei Njootli, small mounds of flesh form (detail), 2020. Digital video, audio, carved wood and metal shelving. Dimensions variable. Courtesy Platform Centre.

Njootli’s exhibition veered away from the performative rhetoric around land-based pedagogies that we often see overused and misunderstood when engaging with land art practices. Instead, it spoke to the loving yet trying dependency that we, as Indigenous people, often have in regard to our connectivity with our ancestral territories. It is demanding, nurturing and at times unforgiving.

On the whole, “small mounds of flesh form” demonstrated complex relationships to the territories that nurture us. By avoiding the embellished narratives typical of other land-based epistemologies, Njootli instead unearthed the transience of living on the land. Through their ghostly stillness, the artworks in the exhibition embraced the uncertainty of the earth and, rather than brushing off the contentious aspects, accepted all that it provides—even the small mounds of flesh formed by the mosquito’s bite.

The article originally appeared in print with the title “Jeneen Frei Njootli.”

This is an article from our Winter 2021 issue, “Tangents.”

Adrienne Huard

Adrienne Huard is a Two-Spirit/Indigiqueer Anishinaabekwe registered at Couchiching First Nation, Ontario, and born and raised in Winnipeg. After graduating in 2012 from the University of Manitoba with a bachelor of fine arts majoring in photography, she pursued a bachelor of fine arts in art history at Concordia University in Tiohtià:ke/Montreal. Huard graduated from Concordia in April 2018 and went on to complete OCAD University’s graduate-level program in criticism and curatorial practice. In September 2020, she began the PhD-level program in Indigenous studies at University of Manitoba. Huard’s research focuses on desire within Two-Spirit and queer Indigenous visual culture, specifically located on the Prairies. Her goal is to highlight these practices, which are often overlooked by the contemporary art world, while pushing to make them more accessible for Indigenous artists to participate. Huard curated her first program of queer Indigenous/Two-Spirit short films—titled Kinship and Closeness, co-presented by MEDIAQUEER.CA—which toured extensively across Canada in 2018. Since then, she has developed a curatorial collective, gijiit, alongside her collaborators Lindsay Nixon and Dayna Danger, who continue to work between Montreal and Toronto. Huard was Canadian Art’s Summer 2018 editorial resident, and is honoured to continue her journey with the publication as an editor-at-large.