Montreal, QC–based artist Glenn Gear regularly explores his ancestral connection to Nunatsiavut in his work, using his experience as a queer urban Inuk to address relationships between humans and their environment, and harnessing the power of animation to bring together different worlds. Gear’s practice—which often combines hand-drawn and high-tech elements to create unique screening spaces—has garnered him much attention in recent years, including the installation Iluani/Silami (it's full of stars) for Winnipeg Art Gallery (WAG)-Qaumajuq’s inaugural exhibition INUA, a place on the 2021 Sobey Art Award longlist and an abundance of opportunities to collaborate and teach.
Longlisted for the 2023 Kenojuak Ashevak Memorial Award, Gear discusses his experiences navigating Indigenous and non-Indigenous art spaces, his admiration for his peers and collaborators, and the rising reputation of Indigenous film, animation and virtual reality.
Inuit Art Quarterly: You’ve talked about this previously with IAQ, but can you tell me a bit about how you got started as an artist?
Glenn Gear: I've always been interested in creating things from an early age, whether that be traditional crafts or playing around with collage and watercolour. But even after spending years getting my BFA at Memorial University, and then doing my Masters at Concordia University, it took a while to label myself as an artist, to come into it in that more professional way.
IAQ: Was there a turning point where you felt comfortable describing yourself in that way?
GG: I've been focusing on animation for the past 20 years, but that's not something that I studied in an academic context. It’s something I came to after I finished all my schooling. “Artist” is an interesting word that I’ve struggled with sometimes. I would say I've come into that role as a professional artist, pretty much full-time, in the past five years. It’s still very new to me to make a living off of being an artist.
IAQ: What would you say drives you to create the art that you make?
GG: Creating things—whether they be images, sounds, movements, installations—is as fundamental to me as breathing or eating or drinking. Even if I'm given scraps of things, and I have no artistic materials to work with, I will work with whatever is in my environment, draw pictures in the sand or dirt, or collect stones and arrange them in interesting ways. I did that even as a kid. That need to find and work through visual language is fundamental for a lot of artists.
IAQ: Do you have a treasured possession?
GG: One thing that immediately popped into my head is this beautiful little carving, in clear plastic Lucite, of a little polar bear on an ice floe. My maternal grandmother gave it to me just before she passed away. I always loved it as a kid, and my grandmother knew I loved it. It's a perfect little world.
I have another object: a piece of Labradorite from Nunatsiavut. It fits in the palm of my hand, and there's this deep blue and gold flash in it when you hold it to the light. I love it because it's substantial, and it kind of grounds me and links me to the land when I'm feeling a bit homesick.
Glenn Gear Symmetry Series: the animals (2022) Digital photo print 30.5 x 30.5 cm eachCOURTESY EASTERN EDGE GALLERY © THE ARTIST
IAQ: What are some of the challenges you have faced in your career?
GG: I've been in and out of the art world in different capacities. Because I focused for many years on animation and filmmaking, my distribution networks were film festivals and underground screenings. That's very different from creating works for galleries. I had to learn these different distribution networks that artists can tap into in different ways.
It’s really difficult to make your living being an artist. Making work in a late capitalist society is a double-edged sword because we all need to put food on the table, have clothing, have shelter, but we also need to be true to our own core values.
I love working within Indigenous art spaces and film festivals because they take into consideration the difficulties that many Indigenous artists face, connection to family and things like reasonable timelines in producing work. The rest of the contemporary art world is very much male-dominated and white. Indigenous people have really tried to decolonize those spaces and to work more collectively so that there isn't gatekeeping. There's more information and technical-skill sharing.
I really enjoy working in spaces where there is a majority of Indigenous people and Indigenous allies. I am also seeing more mentorships so that non-Indigenous people in institutions can help Indigenous people build up their skill sets to take over key administrative roles.
Glenn Gear Iluani/Silami (It’s Full of Stars) (2021) Shipping container, paint on plywood, sound and video projection 3.7 x 6 x 2.4 mCOURTESY WAG-QAUMAJUQ PHOTO DAVID LIPNOWSKI © THE ARTIST
IAQ: If you could collaborate with any artist, who would it be?
GG: Gosh, there’s so many fantastic artists out there. Recently, I got a chance to collaborate on animating Shuvinai Ashoona’s drawings for Tanya Tagaq’s film Ever Deadly, with two other folks from the animation collective Astroplastique here in Montreal. To work alongside Chelsea [McMullan] and Tanya, who co-directed the piece, was really fun. I would love to work with Laakkuluk [Williamson Bathory] on visuals for performance. Putting that out there, Laakkuluk!
I've been a longtime fan of Zacharias Kunuk, and also the wonderful artist Casey Koyczan, who's doing a lot of really interesting VR works right now. I met him while I was mentoring Kyle Natkusiak Aleekuk. Casey was part of the cohort for the Circumpolar Incubator for Inuit Futures in Arts Leadership, a group of some fantastic folks from the North, Inuit and First Nations primarily.
I also collaborated with Niap on a piece during the pandemic. There are just so many great folks to work with, including from my own region, Nunatsiavut. There’s Eldred Allen, Jennie Williams, Heather Campbell, Barry Pottle and Bronson Jacque.
I move from intense solo projects to more collaborative ones, and back again. I love working with Indigenous artists.
IAQ: Can you tell us what you’re working on lately?
GG: I'm working with Courtney Montour who’s a Kanien’kehá:ka filmmaker from Kahnawake. And we're working with Maori youth right now, from the Māoriland Film Festival 2023, organizing some workshops to bring to New Zealand in the spring, so I’m really looking forward to that, and developing maybe some animation workshops to inspire Maori youth.
I’m also helping to mentor young Inuit filmmakers with Michelle Smith at Dawson College as part of an ongoing project to develop Nunavimmiut teaching and learning. These workshops will take place throughout the winter and early spring 2023 and will offer a space in which the participants can tell their stories in a supportive and inspiring environment, while also sharing skills and resources.
A lot of my upcoming projects involve more installation work in Newfoundland and Labrador. I hope to be working on a large mural-based installation with video, probably during the summer.
And then there’s the group show Three Way Mirror (2022–2023) at grunt gallery in Vancouver, with fellow queer artists Daniel Barrow and Paige Gratland, which ended in December. I’ve been working a lot in kaleidoscopic space and looking at beadwork, seal skin and animals from Nunatsiavut. I was really thinking about six-fold symmetry and how it ties into the snowflake structure. That’s an ongoing project that happens in between the larger projects that I can continue to work on throughout the year.
IAQ: What would winning the Kenojuak Ashevak Memorial Award mean for your practice and the future of your work?
GG: To be nominated by an Indigenous curator and to be longlisted for the award—because it’s decided by Inuit—means a great deal to me. It feels like I've been chosen by my community. There's something deeply humbling about that, and I really take that to heart.
The award provides a platform for artists to gain more traction and to be seen. I really feel that within the various regions across Canada and in the greater circumpolar North now is our time. The rest of Canada, the rest of the world, gets to see the contemporary art that we're producing, and I think a lot of folks are pleasantly surprised by what they see. There is a lot of VR work, experimental animation, film and video—all of these things that push our culture beyond yesteryear.
Read interviews with the other longlisted artists.
This interview was conducted by phone in December 2022. It has been edited and condensed for clarity.
The Kenojuak Ashevak Memorial Award is made possible through the support of individual donors and RBC Emerging Artists.