Craig Francis Power: Tell us about yourself. What’s your work all about recently?
Glenn Gear: My name’s Glenn Gear, and I come from mixed Inuit ancestry. I’m originally from Corner Brook, Newfoundland. My father is Inuk from Nunatsiavut from a place called Adlatok Bay—that’s near Hopedale—and my mom is a Settler with English and Irish ancestry, from Newfoundland.
I did my BFA in Corner Brook, so I did four years there, and moved to Montreal to do my MFA at Concordia. I’m a multi-disciplinary artist and filmmaker. Right now, my focus is on installation and it’s more materials-based, although I always have an animation practice that informs a lot of my work and direction. My work deals generally with themes of land and culture in Labrador, and I’m really interested in moving-image and stories of people and animals, animals and land, and people and land, and how those things inform a kind of story-telling that comes from an Inuit cosmology.
Recently I did a large-scale installation for Quamajuq in Winnipeg—that’s the Inuit Art Centre that’s adjoined to the Winnipeg Art Gallery—and the show is the inaugural exhibition for that space called INUA, which means Spirit. And, my piece took place in a shipping-container, or a sea-can, and the inside of the sea-can was flanked by murals in black-and-white, and the far end opposite the doors is a large eye in which there’s a circular projection, and in that projection there is a series of images from my travels up to the Labrador coast—so it’s very much of land, of water, sky, animals, sunsets. And they’re intermittent with these black-and-white fractal forms that are very evocative of the style I’ve done the murals in. This is all set to a soundtrack of ocean waves I’ve recorded in Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as a gentle drumbeat, like a heartbeat. So the whole thing—the murals, the projection, the sound, the space itself, encapsulates my emotional responses to the land. I’ve called it a meditation pod. It’s a space of Labrador inside this shipping-container in the gallery.
The scenes depicted in the murals—one is set in the past. It’s an old origin story about the Northern Lights, and on the other side it’s sort of futuristic vision of an Inuit village in the North complete with rocket-ships, a husky in a jet-pack. It plays around with a Saturday morning cartoon sensibility of an optimistic future.
CFP: Cool. There is a lot, generally, with your practice, and maybe particularly with that piece, there’s a real complexity that is presented so simply. I think that’s the heart of a successful piece. I’m always tickled to come across someone whose practice I wasn’t familiar with before, who presents things of such complexity so elegantly.
GG: Thank you. It’s funny to be an older artist and feel like my practice just in the past five or six years has really rebooted and suddenly people are knowing about who I am. And I’m stepping more into this artistic role. Consciously, I made the decision four years ago. It’s like “Okay, I’m doing this full-time. I’m not gonna have a side-gig teaching or doing graphic or web design. I’m gonna be an artist full-time,” and I think that shift for me is something new. To be “emerging” at 50 (laughs).
CFP: It feels like in the last ten years or so, Indigenous artists are doing the most vibrant, the most innovative, the most exciting things in the country—whether it’s in visual art, performance, writing, musically—it’s super exciting and revolutionary. Do you think that’s accurate?
GG: I think, yeah, it is accurate in the sense that now we have various platforms. We’ve always been doing the work. It’s always been there. It hasn’t been recognized or championed in the way it has in the last ten years.
I was talking with filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin who has worked with the NFB since the 70s, it was when I was working on a film with her—I was just working on a little animated sequence—and I asked her a very similar question. Like, “Do you feel any difference now? Right now, in this historical time as opposed to when you were starting out in the 70s?” And she said, “Oh definitely. The difference now is that people are listening to our stories.” With that comes more capacity building for Indigenous youth to use the tools. The tools are more accessible. There’s more access to education and different curriculum that’ll help Indigenous youth to use the tools at hand. And things have come down in cost. Certainly, the production of film, digital media, and it’s pretty amazing now what you can do just on your smart phone. So, there’s a democratization of a lot of the technology. The gatekeeping isn’t there. And institutions are slowly opening up more to being critiqued, and part of that critique is Indigenous history in Canada—systemic racism within those institutions and how can we decolonize those spaces?
And I think for Inuit artists, especially in the last five years, our voices are being heard within the broader context of Indigenous peoples across Canada.
CFP: How’s it feel to be nominated for the Sobey?
I’m really happy. Being nominated, longlisted, for the Sobey Award is an affirmation of the path I’ve been on. Even though there’ve been threads of what I’m currently doing from 20 years ago, I haven’t done them in such a focussed and deliberate way and dedicated a lot of my time and research into it in quite this way. It’s an affirmation by the Sobey committee, by independent curators, and arts professionals that I’m on the right path. That means a great deal to me. To be nominated among other Inuit and circum-polar artists is particularly fantastic. I’m very honoured, very honoured to be longlisted.