Leah Decter


three channel video installation
Dunlop Art Gallery

Imprint: Curatorial Statement (Dunlop Art Gallery 2010)

Quietly and subtly, imprint enfolds its viewers into an unusual happening upon a frozen field during a typically Canadian winter storm. A figure repeatedly paces through the snow, trudging through the persistent wind to demarcate a space and to set large stones in place. These actions, performed by interdisciplinary artist Leah Decter, evoke rites of marking place, time, and experiences.

What might be the nature of the artist’s acts of territorial demarcation? Canadian art has a noted history of being employed, if not legally then at least imaginatively, to claim the nation’s northern hinterland as “the soul” of the country.  “We are in the fringe of the great North and its living whiteness, its loneliness and its replenishment...its cleansing rhythms.” Such sentiments would both veil and prolong the displacement of Aboriginal people from their traditional territories during colonial settlement and onward under the false assertion that these were uninhabited spaces. Decter responds to this aspect of Canada’s record in imprint, framing the videos within a landscape that implicates such colonial sentiments and their legacies. Decter also implicates her ancestral histories of migration and dislocation, recalling them in ritualized actions. In imprint she layers personal and political narratives to consider the multiple displacements inherent in migration. Consequently, the work conveys the multifaceted nature of concepts like territory, land ownership, and trespass.

A meaningful tension is held between the persistent delineation of a boundary and its obliteration by the encroaching windblown snow, echoing the tensions between meaningful attachments to place and the relatively temporary hold that can be exercised over any property due to individual, political, and historical circumstances. Accordingly, the work’s multiplied and layered horizons reflect the complex network of perspectives, claims, and narratives that underpin any place.

Through the duration of the work, Decter carries and sets down large stones, creating a cairn to mark what has passed and to signify her own place as a participant in the present. The artist has drawn this aspect of imprint from her cultural experience, enlisting the Jewish custom of placing pebbles upon a gravestone to mark one’s visit as “an expression of the agency of the living as opposed to nostalgia or sorrow for the dead.”

By marking one’s presence, one is also called to take account for one’s deeds. Through imprint, Leah Decter considers her own position–physical and ethical–in relation to individual and collective histories. Similarly, the viewer’s presence in front of imprint impacts the work just as it impacts social relationships, the environment and, by extension, the future. Those imprints that are left behind are sometimes impermanent to the eye, like Decter’s footprints under the drifting snow, but their effects are often long-lasting and not easily forgotten.

Jeff Nye

Dunlop Art Gallery

(Murray McLauchlan, lyric from “Out Past the Timberline,” from Timberline, (Toronto: True North Records, 1983).)

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