Future Possible is the latest publication from The Rooms Provincial Museum & Art Gallery following the presentation of a two-part exhibition by the same name curated by Mireille Eagan. After two intensive exhibitions strategically hinged on the year 1949, the year Newfoundland & Labrador became Canada’s tenth province, Eagan brings together a collection of writings from arts community members who have held significant roles in the understanding of our visual arts history. In conversation with over 150 art pieces featured in the book from the two Future Possible exhibitions, writers explore a range of insights from inspiring resistance and creativity to the more antiquated colonial histories that require further critique. This group of contributors reflect on their respective areas of knowledge and experience, but have also witnessed, if not been the catalyst, to the growing contemporary arts scene of this unique province.
Future Possible: An Art History of Newfound & Labrador holds within its pages a milestone for The Rooms as the first exploration of a comprehensive art history of the newest province while reaching back through the oldest accounts of the (so called) “new world” on this New-found-land. Calling it a challenge does not aptly describe the monumental undertaking of this first step towards holistically presenting a narrative of art history for a landscape so physically vast and diverse in its communities. Adamantly stating that this is not a definitive project, Future Possible acts as a platform to launch a fireworks sprawl of questions and sparks of conversation that lead to opportunities for further investigation of our art histories.
Eagan’s title is inspired by a monologue from Newfoundland comedian, actor, writer, and director Andy Jones who first wrote of this ‘future-pessimism’ term, Future Possible, at the turn of the millennium. Jones reveals this communal sixth sense that seemingly flows through the lives of Newfoundlanders & Labradorians and makes us suspicious of this ‘future possible, possibly horrible’ situation we find ourselves suspended in. Inherited anxieties of those who knit’ya (a colloquial term for your origins or familial ties) keep you in a constant state of imagining the worst, but in that same tension there is an ancestral embrace of extreme devotion to this land and its deep waters. There is a recognizable beauty of those rich in character who keep going despite the severe loss and devastating exploitation of Newfoundland & Labrador communities. And it is from those communities that rare qualities of creation emerge, with inspired artistry, made all the more complex with natural and nurtured experiences of survival.
Eagan acknowledges the anxiety and suspicion felt in the idea of Future Possible by committing to the sensibilities of Samuel Beckett’s line: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” To survive we must try despite it being ‘possibly horrible’ and especially in times when the situation feels particularly dire.
Future Possible the publication hosts eighteen writers and their work ebbs and flows between generations of professional practice and experience within the varied facets of NL arts.
Topics of key institutional developments within Memorial University’s Grenfell Campus and The Rooms alongside the non-profit artist-run spaces of St. Michael’s Printshop, and Eastern Edge Gallery are discussed across essays by Patricia Grattan, Gerard Curtis, and Craig Francis Power. In the works by Eva Crocker and Andrea Hickey we are brought into contemplation of what it means to emerge and work within these canons of visual art history and, as Hickey writes, “What does it mean to create connections with contemporary art movements from a history that emerged outside of the western art canon?”
Writers Dr. Heather Igloliorte (an Inuk Scholar, curator, and art historian from Nunatsiavut) and Logan MacDonald (Mi’kmaq/European artist, curator, and activist with ancestry from Elmastukwek, which translates to The Bay of Islands, Newfoundland in English) are particularly impactful in the publication as they speak to the past and present influence of Indigenous artists of this province, and reflect on their vital role in envisioning a better future. In their essays they detail some of the struggles against colonizing forces that threaten environments deeply foundational to Indigenous culture and life, while paralleling the resilience of the artistry intrinsic to the histories and creative diversity held in Mi’kmaq and Inuit communities. Reflecting centuries of cultural traditions and knowledge through deep connection to land and family, we see artists like Jerry Evans, William Ritchie, Melissa Tremblett, Jordan Bennett, Emily Critch, and Billy Gauthier making profound work that leads our art history into a brilliant future for generations to come.
There is an irony that a project such as “Future Possible,” with its broadly inclusive content, was published by an institution that has struggled to sustain its own team of crucial visual art professionals. Once a part of a larger team within an Art Gallery division at The Rooms, Eagan has been witness to budget cuts, major lay-offs, and the dissolving of the Executive Director of Art Galleries position that has left many in the visual arts community feeling limited by their provincial institutional head. As seen in this book, the extraordinary work of non-profits and community-led initiatives have sustained exhibition opportunities and job security in Newfoundland & Labrador arts. With artists and community leaders taking on the lion’s share of arts advocacy for critical development across artistic mentorship, residencies, arts writing, and contemporary practice, there is a concern of The Room’s failure to share in this investment of labour. Through Eagan’s hard work and wide array of community collaborators, I believe there is a call for advocacy and support for our visual artists and art professionals that requires critical reflection in the institutions that hold a certain amount of responsibility for our possible future.
Optimistic hope has fueled the passions of those included in this publication and the efforts made have been monumentally successful. The limitations of our art history in the past and possible future will be largely defined by our representation, opportunity, and development within the province’s own art galleries. Transparency and accountability build stronger community relationships for better futures. It cannot be denied after reading Future Possible that Newfoundland & Labradorian artists deserve to have their undoubtedly hard earned future met with the resources and support to achieve it.