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Montreal-based Indigiqueer artist Glenn Gear has a knack for putting materials in motion: working across film, animation and installation art, he excels at translating hand-drawn illustrations, collage, beadwork and sealskin into moving images, crafting stories that pull from historical sources, Nunatsiavummiut stories and contemporary experiences.
The artist, who is longlisted this year for the Kenojuak Ashevak Memorial Award, has become known not only for his otherworldly cinematic installations, but also for his work as a mentor and collaborator in Indigenous-led media projects.
Here, IAQ Associate Editor Lisa Frenette hears from Gear on five works that showcase his innovative approach to storytelling.
Glenn Gear Kablunât (still) (2016)© THE ARTIST
Gear’s affection for animation and storytelling comes alive in his animation Kablunât (2016), which has been screened around the country and received critical acclaim. A labour of love and dedication, the animation tells the story of how white people came to be from an Inuit perspective. “The Kablunât story came from a book of poetry that I had read by F.W. Peacock who was a Moravian missionary stationed in Labrador for many years, who worked closely with Inuit,” says Gear. “I liked the idea of reclaiming that story and bringing it back and really looking at it through these two different lenses.”
Not only was the animation a way for Gear to bring the traditional story to life, but it also provided him with the chance to connect with his family history. “Kablunât took me seven years to create. I was doing archival research, but also finding my roots and finding out more about this story,” says Gear. “I was going up the coast and visiting places in a boat, taking video, taking pictures, doing informal interviews with relatives, really finding out more about the place and land.”
Bringing Kablunât to fruition was a turning point in Gear’s artistic practice. “This piece was the beginning of me really refocusing a lot of my practice. Because there's so much collage in that animation, it sort of paved the way for a lot of collage work that came after it,” says Gear. “It also changed the way I thought about my work. I knew that I wanted to really help others with their stories, or work with other Inuit and create my own.”
The Kimutsik Series
Gear’s Kimutsik Series has been ongoing since 2019, and is a video projection of sled dogs running whose many variations have been featured inside and outside of many spaces, including the facade of the Winnipeg Art Gallery (WAG)-Qaumajuq in Manitoba, buildings in downtown Montreal, QC, and within art galleries in Toronto, ON, Vancouver, BC, and Kingston, ON. Most recently, the video was projected inside one of RBC’s main branches in downtown Toronto on an immense double carousel.
The video has a special place in Gear’s heart as it is a dedication to the sled dogs who were killed by the RCMP in the ’60s and ’70s. “The piece came about as a reflection of the sled dogs that were culled in many Inuit communities,” says Gear. “There was no community consultation or engagement. They were just slaughtered overnight, and it really marked a deep trauma.”
Gear creates fresh iterations of the video for every location, with each version involving different styles and materials, evoking varying moods and feelings. “Sometimes I'll redraw them using charcoal or watercolour or oil, or I’ll incorporate things like sealskin, my own beaded textures, rocks, stones or trees.”
Through this piece Gear honours the dogs that were lost, creating a never-ending cycle of them running across the screen. “They're all off leash, they’re running free,” says Gear. “It’s about the transformation of a very traumatic story into something that is very beautiful.”
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
Iluani/Silami (It’s Full of Stars)
Gear was honoured to be a part of INUA, the inaugural exhibition at the Winnipeg Art Gallery (WAG)-Qaumajuq in March 2021. Iluani/Silami (It’s Full of Stars) (2021) brings together Gear’s love for storytelling, animation and the coastline of Labrador through murals within a shipping container. “‘Iluani’ and ‘Silami’ mean ‘inside’ and ‘outside,’ so I was really thinking about the shipping container as holding all these different layers of knowledge and memory and my own personal recordings of the coastline of Labrador,” says Gear. “It shows the ways in which storytelling and personal archives can come together.”
Stepping inside the container reveals images referring to the origin story of the northern lights—imagery related to the past—and on the other side are futuristic images of Inuit communities, including iglu-shaped buildings, a rocket ship and a little husky in a jet pack. “The space is like a meditation pod in the here-and-now that is an archive of land and memory, and there is also a dream space being animated,” says Gear.
Iluani/Silami (It’s Full of Stars) was created at a precarious time, with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic still being felt across the art world. “I completed it during the tail end of my time as the artist-in-residence with Inuit Futures at Concordia University, so it was made right in the middle of the pandemic,” says Gear. “I was the only artist there on site because of COVID restrictions.” The piece came to symbolize much more to Gear than he had anticipated as he created a space of connection and imagination during a time of heightened disconnection.
Glenn Gear Animals in Motion: Tuttuk (2022)© THE ARTIST
The virtual and the material meet in Gear’s exhibition Aninnik (Anirniq) | Breath of Life (2022), illustrating the connections between people, animals and the land. Held at the Ociciwan Contemporary Art Centre in Edmonton, AB, Aninnik (Anirniq) | Breath of Life involved images of animals projected onto pieces of silvery sealskin, with ocean sounds playing to create a meditative space. “The sealskins had circular forms painted around them with fingerprints on the wall,” says Gear. “Each one was like a portal.”
The material that Gear used for these pieces are special to the artist. “The sealskins are from my region and are ethically harvested along the coast of Labrador and then processed in Newfoundland,” says Gear. “I used them to create contemplative, evocative, dreamlike spaces that surpass language. I really love them.”
For Gear, creating the pieces for Aninnik (Anirniq) | Breath of Life was a very detailed and intimate process, melding his material practice with this animation practice. “All of those drawings that I projected onto the sealskin originally started off as charcoal on paper, made with campfire charcoal that I collect,” says the artist. “The drawings are black on white paper and then I use the negative of that—as if the animals are made of chalk or light.” This speaks to Gear’s penchant for creating moving spaces that embody the spirit of animals and the land, acknowledging their significance for both the artist and the Inuit community. “When you see these spirits on the sealskin, [the projections] become sacred spaces,” says Gear.
Glenn Gear Symmetry Series: Composition #3 (2022) Digital print© THE ARTIST
In 2022, Gear took part in a six-week residency at Eastern Edge Gallery in St. John’s, NL, which finished with a group show, Three Way Mirror (2022). Through the residency Gear created nine black-and-white symmetrical digital images inspired by the structure of snowflakes and combining images of animals, the sea and the coastline of Nunatsiavut—a series he called Six-fold Animals. These works inspired him to continue to create within this motif, culminating in another set of symmetrical pieces—the Symmetry Series—which he wrote about in an exclusive online artist project with the Inuit Art Quarterly.
The pieces within the Symmetry Series combine materials, such as sealskin, with Gear’s fascination with the symmetrical and circular. “The Symmetry Series involves working with sealskin and natural materials, but also photographing those materials often with objects that I've stitched or beaded,” says Gear. “Then I take those photographs and mix them digitally in a kaleidoscopic space.” The results are pieces that look as if they are suspended in space against a black backdrop, in stark contrast to the white backgrounds of his earlier digital drawings.
The contrast between the earlier and more recent symmetrical works speaks to Gear’s ability to play with his creations, continually molding and experimenting with his inspirations and imaginings. Gear plans to continue creating more of these symmetrical pieces, as he believes his work in this vein is just beginning. “I think of these pieces as if I'm building an alphabet of forms, designs and motifs that are part of a larger visual language that I'm developing, that’s emerging from my work.”
Read more about the other longlisted artists.
The Kenojuak Ashevak Memorial Award is made possible through the support of individual donors and RBC Emerging Artists.