Unsettler Space - Guests & Hosts

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Unsettler Space, 2021
Guests & Hosts
(Sabine Bitter, Hannah Campbell, Treena Chambers, June Scudeler, Rachel Warwick, Helmut Weber, Toni-Leah Yake)

The photography based installation consists of a large-scale black & white wallpaper, a series of three black & white photographs printed on baryt paper, framed, and three panels, digital photographic prints mounted on aluminium, each panel 180 x 120 cm.

Unsettler Space arose from the since 2019 ongoing artistic research project Performing Spaces of Radical Pedagogy, initiated by artist Sabine Bitter, with research collaborators Métis scholar June Scudeler, and artist Helmut Weber.

"When invited to participate in the exhibition “Education Shock. Learning, Politics and Architecture in the 1960s and 1970s” at Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW) in Berlin, we formed the research group Guests & Hosts. (1) Collaboratively we explored how to unsettle the image of an institution based on settler colonial education, and how to claim a space for radical Indigenous ways of learning and knowing.
We deliberately focused on the architecture of Simon Fraser University, itself. The so-called radical campus’s overall design and its individual buildings present an archive of social forces, materialized and brought into form. Following architectural scholar Eyal Weizman’s proposal that “[a]rchitecture is ‘political plastic’ – social forces slowing into form,” we also understand the built environment as simultaneously a sensor and an agent.(2)
From this position, we ask: What were these spaces meant to pursue at the time they were built and what do they mean to us today?
Drawing upon these questions, our work Unsettler Space, informed by Indigenous peoples’ understandings of their relations to space, place, and the land, seeks to unsettle institutional spaces within and beyond the aesthetics of the iconic architecture of the buildings.

As an obvious visual act of unsettling, we turn the architecture of the radical campus upside down in a series of photographs. Flying a national flag upside down is an international signal of distress and it has also been used in the visual language of protests in Canada, such as during rallies countering the Canada 150 celebrations. The images also indicate a state of emergency, even though the photographs seem to lift up – in a playful way – the heavy weight of the settler colonial architecture. The gesture of holding up the overturned spaces of the university by Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) student Toni-Leah Yake intervenes in the oppressive placemaking of the university buildings. This gesture interrupts the reading of modernist architecture as a place solely of Western pedagogies, a still-prevalent narrative of colonial educational modernism.

From the perspectives of Guests & Hosts, the perception of the architecture, campus, and institutional fabric needs to be reoriented. Instead of looking for images of the Indigenous Other, we focus on the “othering” of images – making the images of SFU’s institutional spaces otherwise".

(1) Guests & Hosts was formed by Bitter, Scudeler, and Weber, and included Métis scholar and student Treena Chambers, Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) student Toni-Leah Yake, and research assistants Rachel Warwick and Hannah Campbell.
(2) Eyal Weizman, “Agents and Sensors,” What Is a Critical Spatial Practice?, Sternberg Press Berlin, 2012, p. 143.

(from: "From the Kitchen Table to the Lecture Hall" by Sabine Bitter, June Scudeler, Helmut Weber in "Unsettling Educational Modernism.")

The work Unsettler Space was realized in the context of the exhibition Education Shock - Learning, Politics and Architecture in the 1960s and 1970s” curated by Tom Holert at HKW, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, May - July, 2021.

The artists book Unsettling Educational Modernism. Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, Vancouver. was published in 2021, accompanying the installation.