Calling Home

Rafico Ruiz speaks with Geronimo Inutiq about community radio, what constitutes home, and media art

ᐊᖏᕐᕋᒧᑦ / Ruovttu Guvlui / Towards Home was co-curated by Joar Nango, Taqralik Partridge, Jocelyn Piirainen, and Rafico Ruiz, with Ella den Elzen as Curatorial Assistant. We have also published a talk with artist Carola Grahn. The exhibition is currently on view in our Main Galleries and runs until 12 February 2023.

What does angirramut, or towards home as we translate it here, mean to you?
To me, Towards Home, the exhibition, is a collective exhibition, with different individuals from different Arctic communities who have a lot of things in common looking towards an idea of home, from a certain perspective. But from what perspective? We’re in southern Canada, in an urban context, and we’re looking towards our ideas of home that exist outside of this southern environment, in the Arctic, whether in Nunavut, Nunavik, or Greenland, or in Sámi homelands in Norway. It’s a point of orientation.
Describing your installation in the show, you use the word memoryscape. To me, that’s another way of talking about going towards home, to say we “enter this memoryscape.” I wonder if you see your installation as about entering a sort of home, or an expanded home?
Recreating my personal idea of home—which is something subjective and which exists within my psyche—is really challenging. But in my experience visiting other people’s homes, I’ve come to understand that there are a lot of commonalities as to what home is. Home is an amalgamation of ideals, of memories, and timeframes: our memories are wrapped into the immediate past, into the more distant past, into the present and future. What I try to do, having lived in the North and being from a community in which we lived out on the land certain times of the year, is to communicate this rather different environment to Southern visitors in the box of the gallery space.
There are many elements in your installation, but I’m specifically interested in the radio component. Could you reflect on the role that broadcast radio plays in the North and how that might come through in the gallery space?
Community broadcasting plays such a pivotal role in our Arctic community. It’s a means to communicate social realities, cultural survival, and to share information. And it’s not just one-way, with an announcer giving information. People use the radio to call in and share their stories or their experiences. They might have an announcement to make about a garage sale. Everyone has a radio in their home. It’s how you get the weather, information on the tides—all kinds of very helpful information for day-to-day living in the North. Radio helps frame routines and facilitates communication among community members.

I grew up with my mother bringing me to her workplace. She broadcast the Eastern Arctic News in Inuktitut at the CBC building. Even early on, I could see how much impact a radio show can have, especially when I would hear it in other people’s homes. I thought of it as an interesting vector: community broadcasting as a way to create a Northern community. The question for me was about how to place this specific thing from the North in the context of a Southern art gallery or museum or cultural centre, and how to produce a show and to have guests share as well.

One of the hardest challenges, I find, as someone who identifies as a member of a cultural community or an ethnic community or a race or whatever you want to call it—I’m part of the Inuit community—is that I often feel some isolation because I’m also a multicultural urban citizen. I’m a citizen of the world and of Canada and I’m abstracted from the construct of what the Inuit identity is, at least in my day-to-day existence where I live now, in Winnipeg. So radio, for me in the South, became a kind of cultural symbol of the Inuit community, an outlet and a means to communicate Inuit social realities, to keep the culture alive, and to share any kind of information that pertains to world news, politics, or day-to-day interpersonal stuff. It was just a really rich and rife vector for exploring dialogue about community.
How did you go about choosing the different guests that would appear on the show? I know you had this intent of it being a fictional radio station, but at the same time, there are real stories—you’re engaging in real conversations with different guests.
Right, the radio station became a container to produce an audio piece with. And as for the guests, I’ve had an opportunity to travel because of my work as a musician—I’ve been invited to lead workshops in Northern communities, for example, and to perform music—and so I reached out to individuals that I’ve met along the way who I thought could contribute some kind of story or help me produce a segment. A community radio show has different segments—music and news, for example—and there are different ways to program it. So, discussing this with Taqralik [Partridge], I thought maybe we could do a segment about community announcements. I started reaching out to individuals in my circle who might have interesting viewpoints, but also wanted to represent the diversity of the Inuit community. I’m an urban Indigenous person and I identify with the Inuit community of Clyde River specifically, but I have friends from northern Quebec, friends from different areas who speak different dialects of Inuktitut and who live in different environments than my perception of the Arctic environment. You could come from a very flat place, or you could come from a very mountainous area, but they’re both Arctic regions, for example. Some Inuit communities have trees.

I also wanted to invite community members from other Arctic communities to participate in this dialogue. The name I’m Calling Home is about this interface that radio has, its capacity to create a dialogue between individuals, the way it can be used to talk to home and to the idea of home. And not just home inside the house, but out on the land as well, because that’s where Inuit and other Arctic communities truly live. That’s where, for many of us, our sense of home is. Calling home, we’re experiencing an idea of what the Arctic home is, on multiple levels.

The radio show exists in a Northern house, a matchbox house, which is the centre of the I’m Calling Home installation. The matchbox house is a specific type of a construction that was deployed in the Arctic region starting in the 1950s, a kind of a generic model of a house. It looks like a matchbox in its shape, and it’s on pylons because everything is above the ground, on permafrost. And the house exists within the Arctic environment and in a community, and that community extends into the liminal area between houses.
That’s super interesting. It really helps me actually see your installation in a different light. There’s a layered way in which radio is made up of waves that tie everything together. You also describe this sort of liminal space that the tent occupies. One of the elements that really defines the space is the river. Were you leading visitors towards something in placing the river there?
Initially, my idea for the installation was a radio show, and it was meant to play inside of a house. From that house you could look out of a window and see the Arctic landscape. And then the idea of looking further into the Northern home began to extend outside of the comforts of the cocoon of the house. Growing up, my family would go camping in the summer. For the first years of my life, I lived in a tent in the summertime, and once that was over, we lived in the matchbox house. Home for me extends beyond the house itself. And that river nearby, it became kind of a landmark—a very specific landmark, because it represents multiple bodies of water: sea ice, streams, the creek I would cross to go school, bodies of water where my family would fish. Bodies of water are important in delineating and defining community. And so anyway, the idea of I’m Calling Home is not just to recreate a radio show, but to recreate the community in which this radio exists, to extend that idea of a home out on the land and into the tent. That’s where home is for many of us, out on the land. And one way for me and for many Inuit to reflect is to look at the water.
What do you think the experience is like in the gallery when you’re sitting in the matchbox house and you’re stationary, listening to the radio show, looking out the window?
A visitor to this exhibition enters a facsimile of a house—a theatrical representation of a house, anyway—but a kind of a safe space, somewhere that offers a moment of reflection, and they look at the window, which is also, of course, a facsimile. The goal for me was to create a moment where they find themselves virtually somewhere else, closer to the landscape, but also to make it feel like a different version of looking out the window. You have your idea of what it looks like out the window in Montréal: you might see a tree, you might see a fence. In I’m Calling Home, ideally you see the things that you would see in the Arctic, specific signifiers that are unique to the Arctic. I want the visitor to think about and experience a Northern landscape or an Inuit community village; the window was a means for me to recreate the intimacy of a home up North and to tie in these other aspects, outside, that make a home a home.
Hearing you describe the window and the matchbox house, I notice there are a number of physical frames in the work. Could you talk a bit around the porthole projection and its depiction of mobile sea ice? Why was it important for you to have that element there as well?
I wanted to recreate a few different environments in the installation. One of them was inside the home, with a chair, table, radio, window, maybe the accouterments for tea—a sense of homeliness. The other was out on the land, with a tent area and river. As I said, your home community is that space between the houses, too; your house exists among other houses. I’ve amassed some pictures of the very unique specificities of Arctic homes, and I wanted to share these as a way to situate the visitor once more within a Northern village.

Also, I do like a technical challenge, and combining media. I’m a media artist, so at the base of my practice I do sound, I do music, I do sound art. A lot of what I do is based in sampling, mashing up, taking disparate sources and recontextualizing them, doing something new with them, kind of like what hip hop artists would do with jazz records. That’s the tradition I came up into in media art, sampling hip hop records and then making techno music, and later I was invited to sample Inuit throat singing and the particular drum Inuit use. I had never thought of sampling this way until a community member invited me to do it, and then it became very natural for me to extend my vocabulary, with cultural signifiers like these.

My practice evolved until I was using video in much in the same way—sourcing archives, also making my own archives, and then further treating these and putting them together in novel ways for performances. Eventually, I started deploying these video and audio compositions in art galleries and doing more installation-based work.

Projection mapping is something I’ve been interested in for the past few years. It’s an extension of the VJ, or visual performance, work I’ve been doing, which itself is an extension of my music work. I thought it could be neat to explore other facets of houses that exist outside these more defined frames of the window and river, and so this slideshow of different pictures was a way to present the community dynamically and at the same time give myself a technical challenge to push my practice as a media artist forward.

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