Imperfect Equivalences: Weather Systems and Translation Systems

Chantale Potié


Abstract: This article stems from a concern with how contemporary art addresses and is subject to flows of intercultural exchange and communication. To critically address the social, political, ecological, and dialogical implications of art under globalization within local environments, the recent solo exhibition Germaine Koh: Weather Systems at the Kamloops Art Gallery (6 April – 15 June, 2013) serves as this text’s case study. Located in Kamloops (Canada) on Secwepemc (Shuswap) Nation territory, confronting themes of environmental weather conditions, the exhibition unintentionally spoke to/with/against forms of Indigenous knowledges and histories. The main questions directing this account include: How do the surrounding environmental and social networks perform the exhibition? How do all of the characters and elements around Weather Systems and their participation in it (or lack thereof) contribute to a care-driven reading of the exhibition? Grounded in a selection of key players – the artist, the curator, the exhibition, the gallery, in addition to the historical, cultural, and legislative context of Kamloops, British Columbia – and framing my study through an understanding of translation, this text considers represented strategies of exchange and communication, but questions its overall means of reciprocity. Who initiates and who terminates such a relationship? Who can and who will participate? Ultimately, this text concludes that gaps in understanding are inevitable, wherein breakdowns can be means towards accepting the existing limits of how we can communicate globally.

It is time to paw the
landscape once more as radically
as hard green berries
replace the red and once more
It is too late to be simple
– Lisa Robertson, the weather

For mathematicians, translation indicates the replication of a geometric shape and its movement within a grid or network.[1] A form can translate horizontally, diagonally, vertically, can be reflected and/or rotated. Neither the original shape nor the double undergoes formal manipulation under translation, yet their placements and surroundings have changed, which suggests that an understanding of the forms have changed. The translated shapes undergo a process of displacement. Understood as a post-1989 economic model, globalization creates a widespread neo-capitalist dependence on competition, innovation, and free trade towards the goal of economic development. Given its international scale, influence, and the allegiances it fosters, this global economic paradigm manifests further as related political, cultural, and epistemological paradigms. Telecommunication, information technology, and travel has made the “globe” more accessible under globalization, expertly guiding who global citizens (those participating within the economic process) communicate with, and how they communicate with one another. Curator and art historian Miwon Kwon identifies the globalized condition as “the intensified mobilization of bodies, information, images, and commodities.”[2] In effect, globalization determines who participates, how they participate, and importantly, who can benefit from the marketed rewards. With this in mind, translation from a mathematical context – denoting movement and displacement – can help us to think about translation within a social context – denoting interpretation and communication. What is the globalized condition but a series of multiple (ongoing, forced) translations? Under such circumstances, Kwon argues for a cultural practice that is mindful of “our psyches, our sense of self, our sense of well-being, our sense of belonging to a place and a culture.”[3] Translation, understood mathematically and socially, has the potential to be an example of such a practice. Translation and displacement are the condition, yet they can also be the remedy. Translation, performed with care and attention, encourages a process of creation, and a disruption to systems, knowledges, and forms that could be understood as a part of the globalized malady.

In 2013, the Kamloops Art Gallery (KAG) hosted and coordinated the presentation of Weather Systems (6 April – 15 June 2013), a solo exhibition by Vancouver-based artist Germaine Koh (b.1967). The exhibition provided a small survey of the past fifteen years of the artist’s career, in addition to showcasing a small selection of new site-specific pieces. Curated by the KAG’s Charo Neville, the ten drawings and installations on display visually and conceptually addressed mechanisms of institutional, regional, and global environmental conditions. Attempting to connect the interior gallery space to the exterior environment (and the exterior environment to the interior space), Weather Systems spoke to the interrelationships between natural and manufactured ecologies, in ways that are both deliberate and incidental. The show replicated a scientifically understood weather system, with its cyclical, patterned behaviour, each artwork referring to components of the weather cycle – from the sun to the land, from the clouds to flows of air and water. Yet the elements did not join together to complete the natural cycle. The technological and the formal elements created a remove away their ecological relationships. For example, the Fair-weather forces series measured outside agents such as sunlight emission, wind forces, and water levels to activate elements within the gallery space. Fair-weather forces (sun:light) (2005) intervened on the gallery’s lighting conditions with sensors, in which the brightness of interior’s space adjusted to replicate the outside emitted sunlight. Fair-weather forces: wind speed (2002) presented an everyday turnstile model whose arms spun at a speed matching outside wind levels (measured from on top of the gallery building). A series of theatre velvet ropes form a vertical moving barrier in Fair-weather forces (water level) (2008), wherein the ropes move up and down so to remain in line with the water levels measured from a Vancouver Island coast. Situated in a decidedly intentional space like the KAG, the gallery lends to particular understandings of Koh’s practice, whether they be conceptual, object-driven, aesthetic, or systemic. Yet, located in Kamloops, on Secwepemc (Shuswap) Nation territory, confronting themes of environmental conditions, the exhibition can be additionally understood as unintentionally speaking to/with/against forms of Indigenous knowledges and histories.

The Secwepemc Nation is one of seven Interior Salish Aboriginal groups in the south central, Plateau region of British Columbia, Canada. This region covers land that, up until colonization and European settlement over 200 years ago, the Secwepemc self-governed for an estimated 8,000 years.[4] The term Secwepemc means ‘the spread-out people,’ referring to their transitory seasonal movements across their covered land between the Rocky Mountains and Pacific Coast Ranges.[5] Subsisting on the land and water meant being attuned to (knowing) the local seasonal environmental and atmospheric conditions. The Tk’emlupsemc, known as ‘people of the confluence,’ are Secwepemc members located along the convergence between the North and South Thompson River. While the Nation is referred to as the spread-out people, the smaller band is translated as a convergence. Perhaps dispersed connections can be made through the confluence. The main questions directing this account include: How does the gallery’s surrounding topographical and social network perform the exhibition? How do all of the characters and elements around Weather Systems and their participation in it (or lack thereof) contribute to a care-driven reading of the exhibition? This research stems from a concern with how contemporary art addresses and is subject to the flows of intercultural exchange and communication.

Through installation, drawing, new media, performance, site-specificity, community organization, writing, and curating, much of Koh’s artistic practice is directed towards an involvement with the communities and environments she encounters, both through active participation and through distanced interventions. Koh’s work is often dependent on the participation of many, where the aggregated says more than the particular. Installed in six cities between Kamloops, BC, Abitibi-Témiscamingue, Quebec, and Ottawa, Ontario over the course of nearly fifteen years, Koh’s Poll (1999) illustrates how a trivial disruption to a path can prompt a simple, measurable response. The artist planted a pole in the middle of a worn walking path, blocking the assumed trajectory; moving around to the left or to the right, pedestrians become unknowing participants in a poll measuring unassuming social movements.

Grounding my study with a selection of key players – the artist, Koh; the curator, Charo Neville; the exhibition, Weather Systems; the gallery, Kamloops Art Gallery; in addition to the historical, cultural, and legislative context of Kamloops, BC – and framing my study through an understanding of translation, I wish to ask if translation can reinterpret the global towards the local in an attentive and meaningful way. The global includes those (individuals, communities, cultural networks, institutions, nation-states, and so forth) who participate within the global market, while the local is loosely understood as those inhabiting and cultivating a particular city, community, or neighbourhood. A theoretical strategy, more so than a practical strategy, translation hermetically attends to markings of global modernity; markings such as population movement, global communication, constant innovation, and the circulation of objects, representations, and concepts. A globalized world defines nations by their level of socio-economic development and their GDP rankings. Translation encourages a process of exchange and communication, as per Koh’s practice, but how reciprocal is this relationship? Who initiates and who terminates such an engagement? Who can and who cannot participate?

Global art history can be employed in order to answer some of these questions. Monica Juneja (Professor of Global Art History, Universität Heidelberg) defines global art history as a means of “redefining the units of art history, away from national frames and following the logic of the movement of agents, objects and practices,” while it additionally “involves a de-centering of the discipline, and introducing multiple vantage points of view rather than proceeding with Europe as the sole centre.”[6] Global art history emerges as the practice of performing art history self-reflexively in an age of and under the effects of globalization. Accordingly, translation becomes a means of methodologically engaging with the discipline, though both translation and global art history must be tested in how they are conceived, written, and performed.[7] While there will always be horizons outside of my own experiences and those of others, translation offers a means of crossing parallel horizons under globalization. After all, the Latin etymology of translation (trādūcō) is that of transferring, passing, bringing, and crossing over. I am following along the lines of critical ethnographer Celia Haig-Brown when she calls for her readers to “consider the act of interpretation as the metaphorical merging of horizons.”[8]


This text grounds translation socially through three distinct processes: through interpretation, movement, and ethics. Translation as interpretation (developed from linguistic translation) is a hermeneutic practice, a means of personally, though mindfully, engaging with the things/people/spaces/situations around me/you/us. This form of translation is a hopeful (yet admittedly problematic/idealistic) conceptual strategy that intends to be approached and performed through individuals as an act of carefully considering the associated contexts. This strategy of translation will be used through my own engagement and understanding of Weather Systems. Translation as movement (developed from mathematical translation) attends to local markings of globalization, which means recognizing the reality and effects of Euro-American standards of modernity, the affordances of the free market, facilitated cross-cultural communication, and marks of uprooting/replanting.[9] This will be considered through the aesthetic and spatial networks supporting Weather Systems, addressing the roles of the artist, the curator, the artworks, the gallery, and Kamloops. Translation as ethics (developed from an intersection of the practice and conceptualization of linguistic and mathematical translation) requires the practice of care between those involved, in what anthropology and social historian James Clifford recognizes as the “tactical negotiation of boundaries.”[10] As such, it questions hegemonic knowledge claims, specifically those perpetuated through colonial, modern, and global networks. Translation can only work if involved participants are reflexive, empathetic, and patient towards the practice and their interlocutors. This form of translation will be employed through the careful consideration of Indigenous knowledges and through the topology of Kamloops, BC.

What does translation forget? And what does it build upon? Considered from a post-structuralist and deconstructionist point of view, translation reacts precisely against modern prescriptivist translation, a systematic process employed through coded rules to determine a definitive translation, rather than to suggest a possibility of interpretation.[11] Whether empirically realizable or not, to offer the support it claims, translation must be approached and performed by individuals as a mindful, carefully guided consideration of the contexts, individuals, and publics that they are tangentially aligned and/or misaligned with. Translation acknowledges that failure is a necessary part of the practice. A translated text cannot reproduce exact meaning and form from an original – there will always be added and/or lost information/contexts/references. What is attainable, however, and why failure is so crucial, is that it enables us to define the limits and possibilities of what has been previously understood and interpreted through failure.[12] Which is to say, varying stages of success and/or failure will occur when engaging with forms of knowing outside of our own, but there is some value, some worth, some agency in recognizing our own limitations of understanding.

Global art history and translation respond to histories and realities of colonialist, imperialist, and market hegemonies, yet we must not forget that they remain nonetheless paradoxically mired in political, social, economical, institutional, ecological, and aesthetic structures, amongst others. Though art practices and galleries are implicated in and with (often clashing) systems of power, art offers apparatuses to attend to conditions that have been so relentlessly normalized, controlled, and obscured. Addressing means with which weather and ecology can be understood and employing mechanics that bridge the gallery to the exterior environment, I would argue that Weather Systems is not reflexive about its exhibited location within Kamloops, on Crown land, and about the limitations of its social reach. Koh has maintained a professional history of involving neighbouring communities within her art practice, but her social concerns are less present within Weather Systems. Here, the social emerges largely through controlled technological prompts, where only a measurement of a response matters, not the response itself. With Prayers (1999), typed messages were transmitted into smoke-emitted Morse code above the entrance of the gallery building (fig. 1).  With Topographic Table (2013), a programmed wood table illustrating North Vancouver’s topology carved on its surface shakes when a specified phrase, like “topographic table,” or “Vancouver earthquake,” appears on Twitter. The exhibition pays particular concern to flows of weather and how it impacts affiliated systems. The exhibition’s ties between artistic, social, ecological, institutional, local, and Indigenous systems are tangled in knots. By attempting a careful consideration of messy connections/translations, I hope to loosen some of these knots.


fig 1. Germaine Koh, Prayers (1999). Installation view, Germaine Koh: Weather Systems (April 6 – June 15, 2013), Kamloops Art Gallery. Image courtesy of the Kamloops Art Gallery. Photograph: Scott Massey, SITE Photography


Writing on the work of German Romantic poet Novalis, French translator and translation critic Antoine Berman (1942-1991) reflected on “the reuniting process through which the familiar would become fully strange/foreign, and the strange/foreign [would become] fully familiar.”[13] Berman argued for a process of transformation, of defamiliarization so to, ultimately, access and interpret anew. The protocols enabled by the system must be altered so to renew an interest in understanding. Germaine Koh shares a similar approach to the familiar and strange. The artist subverts familiar objects and surface concepts to restage their comfortable familiarity, a familiarity that distracts from alternate meanings and interpretations, Germaine Koh shares a similar approach to the familiar and strange. In a 2001 interview, the artist spoke of her interest in objects, specifically those that many of us have in common:

I have great faith in the power of commonplace things to tell us about ourselves, how we live, and how we relate to each other. I think that the minor things that mediate our everyday lives inevitably bear a residual meaningfulness, and much of my work has been an effort to allow these things to speak quietly back to us.[14]

Weather Systems technologically structures itself according to meteorological tools and understandings while additionally also fracturing and destabilizing such understandings. Through our correspondence, Koh emphasized that she does not intend to leave interpretation of her artworks open; rather she tries to “develop a play of references.”[15]

Upon entering the white and blue walls of the KAG, I heard soft sounds of metal falling to the ground without a clear sense of their origin. Tiny ball bearings, the size of small seeds, delicately and perpetually fell to the floor, landed in my hair, snuck into my shoes. Hesitant to look up, to find the source of the precarious falling pellets, I was slightly wary of their unknown speed and force. Reminiscent of rain, the ball bearings descended from custom-built ceiling tracks, sprinkled to the floor, and were swept into a magnetized machine that evaporated them back into the ceiling pipes, where they resumed the cycle. As the introductory work to the exhibition, entitled … (verbally referred to as either “dot dot dot” or “ellipses”), it exemplifies Weather Systems’ crisp aesthetic and the artist’s experimentations with systematic and technologic processes (fig.2). By entering the gallery, visitors agree to become participants. “dot dot dot” shows how participating, simply by walking into a controlled room, can be unnerving. The work becomes foreign/strange. However, how inclusive are Koh’s defamiliarizing strategies, her translations of weather? Do her works assume an open system, whilst actually generating a closed system? By which, I mean, who is the intended public for the exhibition? To whom in the Kamloops community is this project actually reaching and communicating with? When asked about gallery attendance by local Indigenous publics, Neville admitted that Aboriginal attendance is largely dependent on whether or not Aboriginal content is on display.[16] Unless an exhibition is framed as addressing Indigenous realities and subject matters, Indigenous publics are not expected participate in the space.


fig 2. Germaine Koh, … [dot dot dot] (2000). Installation view, Germaine Koh: Weather Systems (April 6 – June 15, 2013). Kamloops Art Gallery. Image courtesy of the Kamloops Art Gallery. Photograph: Scott Massey, SITE Photography

Weather Systems refers to meteorological conditions and agents, playing off of modern technologies and devices developed to better understand weather. Representing flows of weather, rather than a consistent cycle, the works only relate to one another formally and conceptually. There are breaks and gaps between each work – each within its own specified system and calling upon its own participatory mandates. In the three following works, the gallery becomes the participant, self-reflexive about its institutional structure and clout, but less self-reflexive about its socio-cultural status and its resulting symbolic exclusivity. Subverting the conditions of a traditionally highly regulated institutional environment, Guts (2013) redirects the gallery’s airflow through several open ventilation tubes spilled across the gallery floor like intestines. Landscapes, March – April 2013 (2013) illustrates a series of drawings using the graphs produced by hygrothermograph meters situated in and outside the gallery – the compiled humidity level measurements were rendered to resemble landscape forms. Thirty-two logs of wood (measuring a cord) were brought in from a nearby foresting company for Accord of Wood (2013), installed as a prism in the gallery space. Administrative documentation was available on the wall near the piece, addressing the process the KAG underwent to acquire the wood.

The Secwepemc Nation established knowledge of their surrounding environmental ecologies generationally and by example. This knowledge remains part of the Nation’s many contemporary traditions and oral histories.[17] Weather is specific and locational, characterized by experiences of direct relationships to land forms, agriculture, and bodies of water. Linguistic anthropologist Andie Diane Palmer argues through her study of the present-day Alkali Lake Indian Reserve Secwepemc community that traditional spatially anchored knowledge on weather and land have been maintained through the social practices that occurred in and through the spaces.[18] Which is to say that they have not been maintained spatially through particular places and spaces, many of which are now outside of the limited legislatively determined Secwepemc land. Such forms of Indigenous knowledges have been written about as Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Wisdom (TEKW), which encompasses a variety of passed down Aboriginal practices that shape a broad understanding of environmental and experienced ecologies. According to Secwepemc scholars Marianne Ignace, Ronald Ignace, and ethnobiologist Nancy Turner, the acknowledgement and use of TEKW can “enhance resource management practices, including ecological restoration, that are currently directed largely by scientific knowledge and westernized worldviews.”[19] Discerning weather were necessary for Secwepemc people living on the land thousands of years pre-colonization; knowledges were passed down for generations, and remain a part of many Secwepemc traditions and oral histories.[20] Weather is not fixed, but moves with, around, and against inhabitants, characterized by experiences of direct relationships to land forms, agriculture, and bodies of water. Resource management was “accomplished through a system of collective ownership, sharing between communities and nations, and the stewardship of particular resources,” write Marianne Ignace and Ronard Ignace.[21] Known as yucwmin’men, ‘caretakers,’ by oral historians, stewards over particular resources participated in a “complex set of (or dialectic relation between) resource-gathering practices and a system of knowledge and beliefs.”[22] To care for one’s land meant to understand one’s land meant to understand one’s community.

Issued by King George III, the Royal Proclamation of 1763, often referred to as the “Magna Carta of Indian Rights,” declared legitimated land rights to North American Indigenous populations.[23] While the Proclamation asserted Indigenous claims over all land west of the established eastern colonies, the claims it asserted were ambiguous and its established means of protecting occupied Aboriginal land were thin, and ultimately, untenable. Significantly, the Proclamation initiated the use of judiciary Crown protocols to assert British norms of legitimacy over the land.[24] The documentation served as a Western European custom of speaking to and for the land, by way of land ownership and acceptable forms on action on the land. The Proclamation, in addition to most other established colonial policies, is disguised as evidence of accordance – of agreement and compliance between the involved parties. As an accord, a formal act of resolution or compromise, the Royal Proclamation was written to establish governance on the territories in North America won by Britain against France following the Seven Years’ War. As an accord, the Proclamation established the British Crown as the key representative overseeing the negotiations of land between Aboriginal nations and colonial settlers. Today, 94% of land in British Columbia is defined as provincial Crown land, belonging symbolically to the monarch in Right of Canada but administered legislatively by provincial ministers of the Crown.[25] Secwepemc people are no longer primary stewards over their land, which means that they have not been permitted to participate fully in how the land as a whole is harvested and cared for. Their generational knowledge of the ecosystem created by landforms, geographical features, seasons, vegetation, and wildlife is overlooked in the face of industrial, political, and globalized demands.[26]


fig 3. Germaine Koh, Accord of Wood (2013-). Installation view, Germaine Koh: Weather Systems (April 6 – June 15, 2013). Kamloops Art Gallery. Image courtesy of the artist.

Koh’s Accord of Wood (fig.3) very consciously plays with the dual associations evoked with the use of the word “accord” in the work’s title by referencing a formal political agreement (an accord) and a logging unit of measurement (a cord). The artist’s exhibited beetle kill wood was acquired from an internal Kamloops Art Gallery source, Dawn Vernon, registrar at the gallery.[27] An invoice for $500 was paid to Dawn Vernon’s father, Ross Vernon, for the wood obtained from his Crown land property in Heffley Lake (fig. 4). Displayed in the gallery alongside the cut logs, the invoice highlights the agreed upon economic transactions undertaken by the gallery to generate the items on display. The invoice takes on meaning outside of its practical purposes. Indeed, located in the gallery on the wall, it serves as an accord: payment for an acquired resource on imperially defined Crown land, or alternatively, payment for an acquired resource on Indigenously defined Secwepemc land. Alongside its proof of purchase, Accord of Wood deliberately addresses the implicitly implicated economic and colonial networks surrounding pinewood, in addition to most all natural resources in Kamloops, British Columbia, and Canada.


fig 4. Invoice from the Kamloops Art Gallery to Ross Vernon for one cord of beetle-kill pine. From administrative documentats provided alongside Accord of Wood. Administrative assistance from the Kamloops Art Gallery. Germaine Koh: Weather Systems (April 6 – June 15, 2013). Kamloops Art Gallery. Document image courtesy of the artist.

Known as the oldest trading post in southern British Columbia, Fort Kamloops was established in 1811 by Astorian and Northwest Company at a time when approximately 2,000 Tk’emlupsemc were living in the area, and was expanded by the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1821.[28] The Secwepemc maintained a communal sense of their land, their territory known as secwepemcul’ecw, where an open “equal access to resources” was offered to other surrounding tribes and Indigenous communities.[29] Settlers and labourers began overstepping this understanding of equal access in the late 1850’s when gold miners began mining the region. In 1862, British colonial governor James Douglas demarcated approximately 133,000 acres of Tk’emlups land as a part of the Douglas Reserves accords.[30] When Douglas retired, appointed Chief Commissioner of Land and Works Joseph Trutch declared that the stated reserved acreage was to be redefined to accommodate the growing number of incoming laborers and settlers.[31] In 1866, an accord was released confirming the reduced lands designated to the Secwepemc Nation. Today, according to writer and land-claims activist Garry Gottfriedson in an interview with Rob Hatch, the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc (Kamloops Indian Band land base) today maintains a designated 32,000 acres, less than 100,000 acres of what was originally legislatively accorded in 1862.[32] The Crown continued to use such forms of governmental discourses in order to maintain legitimacy over the desired and claimed territories. Farmers and ranchers began settling the land in the 1860s, and rail workers arrived in Kamloops to continue construction on the Canadian Pacific Railway in the 1880s.[33] This pressed entry to resources along with increased means of transportation introduced the forestry industry in British Columbia, and established destructive, industrialist means of recognizing the land.[34] BC governance has defined the land as a means of exporting resources for economic prosperity. BC resources and its affiliated labour have gone through shifting moments; they have been translated and re-translated depending on its appointed stewards. Writing on how the movement of people and epistemes impact culture, James Clifford writes that, “location is an itinerary rather than a bounded site – a series of encounters and translations.”[35] To translate with care, however, to translate ethically, means to be accountable for ones translation.


In Grassroots Globalization and the Research Imagination, sociocultural anthropologist Arjun Appadurai introduces his notion of “relations of disjuncture,” which he characterizes as frictions emerging at local levels hit with expressions of globalization. He writes:

The various flows we see—of objects, persons, images, and discourses—are not coeval, convergence, isomorphic, or spatially consistent. They are in what I have elsewhere called relations of disjuncture. By this I mean that the paths or vectors taken by these kinds of things have different speeds, axes, points of origin and termination, and varied relationships to institutional structures in different regions, nations, or societies.[36]

Reinterpreting weather flows as moving disorderly and unrhythmically, I imagine, can help to visualize the flows Appadurai writes about. Flows cannot be controlled and standardized in the ways that we may think they can be. Flows are contextual, responsive, variable, and ultimately, unpredictable. To this point and building upon that of Appadurai, the notion of weather has different speeds, axes, points of origin and termination, and relationships to structures in different regions, nations and societies. Weather can be translated amidst this disjuncture, but the untranslatable will be always present, tied to the process.

Weather Systems addresses modern traditions of co-opting natural systems as controllable and measurable, attempting to technologically quantify, assess, and imitate weather conditions. Koh’s representations of ecological flows are technically inventive and conceptually engaging, yet access to the works is culturally exclusive. In our conversation, Neville remarked that the gallery always considers their community, “thinking about the larger artistic community, as well as those who come through the door.”[37] But what about those who are not coming through the door, who perhaps unknowingly sense the disjuncture between where one belongs and where one does not belong? Contemporary art is part of a large discourse, whose participants include institutions, scholars, artists, curators, writers, art administrators, technicians, dealers and students from countries within a global art market. Maintaining a reputation within Canada’s artistic community, the KAG is part of a national art system that responds and converses within the global discourse. Which is to say that not everyone is at ease participating in such a conversation. The KAG describes Weather Systems’ as “highly technical and relational gallery installations and public artworks” that reveal “tensions between public and private realms.” Within the space, the gallery notes, Koh “creates alternative networks which produce disruptions that disclose and critique the social status quo.”[38] Neville affirmed that the general exhibition audience was receptive to Koh’s access points and “made the connection between themes of technology, built systems, and natural systems.”[39] But how diverse was this public?[40] Voluntary participation in witnessing the “tensions between public and private realms” occurs solely within the confines of the cultural institution (with the exception of Poll, installed in a nearby Kamloops park). So what happens when participation fails?

Structurally dependent on coded activity to manifest out of doors, two works within in the gallery failed to make their intended connections. Located in the gallery space, Prayers consisted of a computer positioned in front a large window facing the entrance to the TNRD Civic Building, housing both the Kamloops Art Gallery and the Kamloops Public Library. A cursor blinks on the blank white screen, waiting for text to written by a participant (fig.1). In its performative aspirations, the computer was programmed to translate the typed data into Morse code, carrying puffs of smoke, the message letter-by-letter, dot-by-dot, to emit from the fog machine installed above the TNRD entrance. Adding to our understanding of how this machine functions, in the exhibition catalogue for Weather Systems Markus Miessen and Yulia Startsev write: “A machine is basically a tool that transforms one type of energy into another.”[41] The gallery user performs a simple deliberate action, and witnesses the transfer and mutation of the completed action into ephemeral smoke. Upon my visit, Prayers was out of order until the following day. The result of mechanical difficulties, requiring reconfiguration, this physical, performative breakdown can serve as a metaphor for the challenges of translation itself – its instability and betrayal to mirrored reproductions. Topographic Table exhibited an operational breakdown. It refused my prompts on Twitter to vibrate and replicate the rumblings of an earthquake. “Maybe I did something wrong?” I thought. Maybe such defects are necessary. Defects can play a role in reconfiguring expectations and reorienting interpretation through processes of defamiliarization. The location and subject of the exhibition – about weather, downtown in the midst of Kamloops’s confluence, on Secwepemc land, attended by a largely non-Aboriginal audience – exemplifies Appadurai’s relation of disjuncture. These elements cannot all meet on the same horizon. Some may meet head-on and cross over, some may graze against each other, and some may miss completely. Those which move with/against globalization (industry, resources, technology, currency, language, people, ideas, media, art, and so forth) are traveling on different paths, at different speeds, to different locations, with different passengers.

Local/global sense

Translation positions itself as a process against the structural working of the global system, as a means to destabilize and decentralize its mechanics. If global art histories attempts to address global impacts on art and its histories, as Hans Belting has argued, then perhaps it necessitates a strategy that is itself unsystematic.[42] Are the tools supplied by the system ill suited to problematize the effects of the system (i.e. globalization)? Translation is a coping tactic built out of and by globalization. Globalization is the movement of visual, textual, and oral documentation of both local and global socio-political inequalities and injustices alongside the movement of different forms of knowledges and practices. Such a paradigm calls for alternative, self-reflexive means of problem solving and sense-making. The field of global art histories is how writers, artists, academics, educators, and administrators have attempted to subvert products of modernization and globalization in that it requires accountability, self-reflexivity, and care with objects and subjects of study. However, gaps will open where relations of disjuncture emerge. In testing the boundaries of the global art histories framework and of translation strategies, and attempting to stretch their aptitude for such concerns, it becomes apparent that breakdowns will arise, and missteps will occur. Careful interpretation and patient action is necessary in individuals, in local environments, and in regional, national, global and other such communities. “Globalization too often employs moves more culturally and economically imperialist than reciprocal and dialectical,” so writes Haig-Brown.[43] Under the North/South a paradigm, can the Global North really subvert its imperialist systems and its associated forms of knowledges in accordance with individual and local conditions?[44] To do so, these three horizons – the local, the Global North, and the Global South – must meet, however briefly, with care.

Haig-Brown argues for the potential of Indigenous thought – not fixed but constantly changing and adaptive forms of knowledges – to address experienced relations of disjuncture. She identifies Indigenous thought as “contemporary knowledge that arises from innumerable generations of people living in relation to a specific land and seeing it as the source of all their relation,” wherein “interrelationships between and among all things are fundamental to sense-making.”[45] Maori scholar Makere Stewart-Harawira, currently working in Cree territory, describes global Indigenous knowledge as “…broadly shared beliefs about the meaning of meaning and the nature of interrelationships.”[46] Despite its gaps and relative interruptions in reach and performance, Weather Systems does, in fact, share Haig-Brown and Stewart-Hawawira’s position that interrelationships work to make sense of the world. In relating natural and built systems together, the exhibition addresses development on land, structures of regulation, and technological performances in a way that responds to the land, present local conditions, and repercussions of the global economy. The theme of weather allows for modern flows of knowledge to drift into alternative constructs of knowledges. Nevertheless, gaps (i.e. failure) in reciprocal communication and exchange (i.e. translation) remain. Clifford wrote that translations are “built from imperfect equivalences.”[47]

As a semi-arid urban area, Kamloops is situated at the intersection between the North and South Thompson Rivers. The rivers whereby Kamloops is situated act as an important resource and emblem for many of its residents, while also, according to visual arts scholar Lon Dubinksy, “mirroring the city’s networks, resources, and amenities.”[48] In the way that the river separates the north and south shores of the city, it also creates divisions in the city, ultimately highlighting class and racial disparities. Dubinksy, interested in how culture and art is cultivated in small Canadian cities, observed the ways in which the topological environment guides the social and economical mapping of Kamloops. On the south bank of the Thompson River are the city’s affluent neighbourhoods, the downtown centre, the regional hospital, major cultural institutions like the KAG, the Kamloops Symphony Orchestra, and the Western Canada Theatre, in addition to the Thompson Rivers University. “By contrast,” Dubinksy notes, the northwest side of the river “is much more culturally diverse, has a growing Aboriginal population, and has several low-income areas. In another direction across the rivers [to the east] is the Kamloops Indian Band.”[49] As Dubinsky exemplifies, culture is tied to the ways in which a region is/has been developed, to the ways that it has been geologically-archeologically re-planted and continues to be colonized/constructed. During my visit to Kamloops, I witnessed a First Nations homeless population downtown near and around the KAG, presenting a visible socio-economic disjuncture within the city. Speaking to her curatorial focus, Neville stressed that Weather Systems is about the relationships between natural and built environments, with no intentions of speaking to cultural environments.[50] However, I see the cultural environment as a vital component with in how the exhibition participates with/against its local environment as well with/against forms of Indigenous knowledges.

A guiding principle for the KAG is to be relevant for local and regional communities.[51] If to be relevant is understood as being meaningful for the community, relevance occurs over time when needs are met, when responsibility is taken and dealt, and when trust is built. It does not occur through didactic or pedagogical practices, nor does it occur through social practices with clearly demarcated results. Participation does not prosper within closed environments or with predicted outcomes. In terms of participation, what does it mean for me to write “topographic table” on Twitter in front of a wood-sculpted local topology? Not much, because no matter who accepts the prompts, the results will always be the same.

Responding to the writings of late Lakota legal scholar and philosopher Vine Deloria Jr. (1933-2005), scholar and Yellowknives Dene First Nation Glen Coulthard stresses the ways in which “land occupies as an ontological framework for understanding relationships.”[52] Conversely, Western European traditions have understood the world through various notions of time, such as through history, development, progress, innovation, industry, growth, efficiency, and so forth. Coulthard argues,

[I]t is a profound misunderstanding to think of land or place as simply some material object of profound importance to Indigenous cultures (although it is this too); instead it ought to be understood as a field of “relationships of things to each other.” Place is a way of knowing, experiencing, and relating with the world.[53]

Under this framework, Accord of Wood is not simply a pile of logs exhibited in a gallery space. Displaced from its roots, the wood (along with its markings of rootedness) comes to signify a whole network that its trees encompass. Interestingly, Koh intends for Accord of Wood to be a series of works that continually transforms the acquired wood as it travels and develops additional alliances. Koh details her objectives with the work to Neville in an email exchange:

Starting out as logs, [the wood] will subsequently get milled into planks the next time it travels [for an exhibition], then planed at the next, then maybe assembled into a crate at the next, then perhaps built into something practical. The project will [address] issues of how resources are transported and traded and transformed into good[s], where the value gets added and so on.[54]

Indeed, Koh’s project depends on negotiations, on mediating her own wants with the will of the object and with the will of the affiliated systems. Sociologist John Law asks: “how can we describe socially and materially heterogeneous systems in all their fragility and obduracy,” precarious networks who refuse to change their course of action?[55]


Kwon called for practices that attend to our psyches and sense of belonging under the current global economic condition. Approaches proposed by translation, global art histories, and TEKW attempt to address these conditions through the local by identifying the larger connections and protocols at play. While translation attempts to understand the degree and scope to which globalization fosters dislocation, inequality, and injustice, a failure to fully recognize its extent will always remain. While Appardurai’s relations of disjuncture emerges in acts of exchange and communication, such a failure to wholly translate is actually necessary towards accepting the existing limits of how we can communicate with care. Translation is a practice in accepting these breaks, while continuing to repose new questions of translation within specific contexts. Questions such as: participation according to whom? Participation with whom? When? How? Questioning expected forms of globalized episteme and knowing can potentially lead us to new spaces located in the tangled system, perhaps even expanding such systems. While we are engaged in the difficult task of sense-making, the first step is to loosen some of the network’s tightly bound knots.


[1] Acknowledgements: I would like to thank the curator and artist of Weather Systems, Charo Neville and Germaine Koh, for agreeing to speak with me about my research; Dr. Alice Wai Jim for her support and guidance throughout the development of the project; and my colleagues in the Ph.D. seminar Global Art Histories at Concordia University (Fall 2013) for their constructive comments and vigorous engagement in the topic at hand: how can we do global art histories?
[2] Miwon Kwon, “The Wrong Place,” Art Journal (Spring 2000): 33.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Kelly P. Bannister, “Indigenous Knowledge and Traditional Plant Resources of the Secwepemc (Shuswap) Nation,” in Indigenous Intellectual Property Rights: Legal Obstacles and Innovative Solutions, ed. Mary Riley (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2004), 282; Marianne Ignace and Ronald Ignace, “The Secwepemc: Traditional Resource Use and Rights to Land,” in Native Peoples: The Canadian Experience, 3rd edition, eds. R. Bruce Morrison and C. Roderick Wilson (Don Mills, ON, Oxford University Press, 2004), 380.
[5]Andie Diane Palmer, Maps of Experience: The Anchoring of Land to Story in Secwepemc Discourse (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005), 58.
[6] Juneja quoted in Mariachiara Gasparini, “Interview with Prof. Dr. Monica Juneja,” Cluster of Excellence: Asia and Europe in a Global Context, Universität Heidelberg, accessed October 14, 2014,
[7] For more on global art and global art history, see Hans Belting, “Contemporary Art as Global Art: A Critical Estimate,” in The Global Art World: Audiences, Markets and Museums, eds. Hans Belting and Andrea Buddesieg (Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2009): 38–73; James Elkins, “Art History as a Global Discipline,” in Is Art History Global? (New York; London: Routledge, 2007), 3-23.
[8]Celia Haig-Brown, “Taking Indigenous Thought Seriously: A Rant on Globalization with Some Cautionary Notes,” Journal of the Canadian Association for Curriculum Studies 6:2 (2008), 16.
[9] “GVC | Global Visual Cultures,” GVC: Sharing Knowledges In/From the Global South, accessed December 2, 2013,
[10] James Clifford, Routes: Travel and Translation in the Late Twentieth Century (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997), 211.
[11] Françoise Massardier-Kenney, “Antoine Berman’s way-making to translation as a creative and critical act,” Translation Studies 3:3 (2010), 260.
[12] Clifford, Routes, 85.
[13] Berman quoted and translated in Massardier-Kenney, “Antoine Berman’s way-making,” 262.
[14] Germaine Koh, “Signals: An interview with Germaine Koh by Matthew Kabatoff,” Rhizome (January 30, 2001), accessed December 7, 2013,
[15] Germaine Koh, email interview with the author, December 7, 2013.
[16] Charo Neville, phone interview with the author, December 3, 2013.
[17] Palmer, Maps of Experience, 19.
[18] Palmer, Maps of Experience, 166.
[19] Nancy J. Turner, Marianne Ignace, Ronald Ignace, “Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Wisdom of Aborigional Peoples in British Columbia,” Ecological Applications 10(5, 2000), 1276.
[20] Palmer, Maps of Experience, 19.
[21] Marianne Ignace and Ronald Ignace, “The Secwepemc,” 385.
[22] Ibid.
[23] “And whereas it is just and reasonable, and essential to our Interest, and the Security of our Colonies, that the several Nations or Tribes of Indians with whom We are connected, and who live under our Protection, should not be molested or disturbed in the Possession of such Parts of Our Dominions and Territories as, not having been ceded to or purchased by Us, are reserved to them, or any of them, as their Hunting Grounds.” “Royal Proclamation of 1763,” derived from Clarence S. Brigham, editor, British Royal Proclamations Relating to America, Volume 12, Transactions and Collections of the American Antiquarian Society (Worcester, Massachusetts: American Antiquarian Society, 1911), 212-18. Published on “Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada,” Canadian Government website (2013), accessed March 2, 2014,
[24] “[W]hile the Proclamation seemingly reinforced First Nation preferences that First Nation territories remain free from European settlement or imposition, it also opened the door to the erosion of these same preferences.” John Borrows, “Wampum at Niagara: The Royal Proclamation, Canadian Legal History, and Self –Government,” Aboriginal and Traty Rights in Canada: Essays on Law, Equity, and Respect, ed. Michael Asch (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2002), 170; Olive P. Dickason and David McNab, Canada’s First Nations: A History of Founding Peoples from Earliest Times, 4th ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 57.
[25] 1% is federal Crown land (which includes First Nations reserves), and 5% is privately owned. Fred Bunnell, “Social licence in British Columbia: Some implications for energy development,” Journal of Ecosystems and Management 14 (1, 2013), 1.
[26] Marianne. Ignace and Ronald. Ignace, “The Secwepemc,” 385.
[27] Email from Charo Neville to Germaine Koh, February 5, 2013, as part of the administrative documentation for Accord of Wood.
[28] Kamloops is an anglicized pronunciation of how the region was referred to by the Secwepemc, as Tk’emlups. M. Ignace and R. Ignace, “The Secwepemc,” 383-385; “Historical Timeline,” Union of BC Indian Chiefs, accessed March 2, 2014, .
[29] Marianne. Ignace and Ronald. Ignace, “The Secwepemc,” 384.
[30] Rob B. Hatch and Garry Gottfriedson, “Interview with Land-Claims Activist and Native Writer Garry Gottfriedson, Member of the Secwepemc First Nation,” in Global Realignments and the Canadian Nation in the Third Millennium (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2010), 93.
[31] In a letter to the Colonial secretary, Trutch detailed his reasoning: “Much of the land in question is of good quality, and it is very desirable, from a public point of view, that it should be placed in possession of white settlers as soon as practicable, so that a supply of fresh provisions may be furnished for consumption in the Columbia River mines, and for the accommodation of those traveling to and from the District.” Lands and Works Department, 17 January 1866, Correspondence Outward, Vol. 8a, quoted in Robin Fisher, “Joseph Trutch and Indian Land Policy,” BC Studies: The British Columbian Quarterly 12 (1971), 10.
[32] Hatch and Gottfriedson, “Interview with Garry Gottfriedson,” 93.
[33] Catherine C. Carlson, “Indigenous Historic Archaeology of the 19th-Century Secwepcmc Village at Thompson’s River Post, Kamloops, British Columbia,” Canadian Journal of Archeology 30:2 (2006), 193-94; “History of Lands,” Tk’Emlups te Secwepemc. Tk’Emlups Indian Band (2009-2013), accessed December 13, 2013,
[34] Numerous publications address this, but the Deregulation Backgrounder is a helpful document that outlines how legislation has facilitated the forest industry’s expansion. See West Coast Environmental Law, “Deregulation Backgrounder”, Forest and Range Practices Act and Regulations, 2004, accessed on April 12, 2014,
[35] Clifford, Routes, 11.
[36] Arjun Appadurai, “Grassroots Globalization and the Research Imagination,” Public Culture 12:1 (Winter 2000), 5.
[37] Neville, phone interview.
[38] Kamloops Art Gallery, Annual Report 2013 (Kamloops BC, KAG, 2013), 10.
[39] Neville, phone interview.
[40] Neville, phone interview.
[41] Markus Miessen and Yulia Startsev, “Sneaky Prosthetics,” in Germaine Koh: Weather Systems, ed. Paloma Lum (Kamloops, BC: Kamloops Art Gallery, 2013, 13.
[42] Hans Belting, “Contemporary Art as Global Art,” 38–73.
[43] Haig-Brown, “Taking Indigenous Thought Seriously,” 18.
[44] Identifying a socio-economic and political division, the North/South paradigm refers to the presence of MEDCs (More Economically Developed Countries) in the Northern hemisphere and LEDCs (Less Economically Developed Countries) in the Southern hemisphere.
[45] Haig-Brown, “Taking Indigenous Thought Seriously,” 12.
[46] Makere Stewart-Hawawira, The New Imperial Order: Indigenous Responses to Globalization (London: Zed Books, 2005), 35 quoted in Haig-Brown, “Taking Indigenous Thought Seriously,” 12.
[47] Clifford, Routes, 11.
[48] Lon Dubinsky, “In Praise of Small Cities: Cultural Life in Kamloops, BC,” Canadian Journal of Communication 31 (2006), 88.
[49] Lon Dubinsky, “A Tale of Relevance in Two Museums in Two Small Cities,” Museum Management and Curatorship 22:1 (2007), 16.
[50] Neville, phone interview.
[51] KAG, Annual Report 2013, 7.
[52] Glen Coulthard, “Place Against Empire: Understanding Indigenous Anti-Colonialism,” Affinities: A Journal of Radical Theory, Culture, and Action 4 (2, Fall 2010), 79.
[53] Ibid.
[54] Email from Germaine Koh to Charo Neville, September 22 2012, as part of the administrative documentation for Accord of Wood.
[55] John Law, “Actor Network Theory and Material Semiotics,” in The New Blackwell Companion to Social Theory, ed. Bryan S. Turner (Oxford, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), 143.


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