“… history, in its traditional form, under¬took to ‘memorize’ the monuments of the past, transform them into documents, and lend speech to those traces which, in themselves, are often not verbal, or which say in silence something other than what they actually say; in our time, history is that which transforms documents into monuments.” (1)
Tiohtià:ke, the Kanien’kéha/Mohawk word which means “where the people divide” and “broken in two,” describes the territory that encompasses Montréal. In 1535, Jacques Cartier encountered the St. Lawrence Iroquoians at the fortified village of Hochelaga at the base of the mountain he later named Mont-Royal. In 2017, the city of Montréal celebrates its 375th birthday as a French colonial mission, but this unceded territory has also been known as an important crossroads for trading and cultural exchange by Indigenous peoples across Canada, going back many generations. The works in Hannah Claus’s exhibition hochelaga rock address this dual history of Tiohtià:ke/Montréal. They grapple with the legacy of colonization by deconstructing a monument to our past, the commemorative stone dedicated in 1925 on McGill University’s campus to Cartier and the St. Lawrence Iroquoians of Hochelaga. Claus’ work responds to this stone memorial by challenging western Eurocentric knowledge of time and space by centering and reclaiming culturally-rooted Indigenous histories and cosmologies. Her work actively reasserts Indigenous worldviews and lived experiences of time to produce indigenized temporalities that unsettle colonial narratives.
Porous and transient, history often escapes us as we try to grasp a truthful understanding of our past. It evades totality in and of itself when inconsistencies and discontinuities are uncovered and ultimately distort a unified concept of temporality. Western Eurocentric notions of the fixity, measurability, categorization and divisibility of time, history, and even land, are deemed self-evident, rational systems imbued with a set of values by colonial settler societies. In her series of digital prints of the Hochelaga Rock, Claus presents a complexity and disruption of Canadian historical narratives to reveal a transformative, non-linear journey and understanding of the lands and peoples of Tiohtià:ke. She does this by overlaying Indigenous histories and temporalities over the surface of the prints. One photograph of the rock is manipulated to produce dark, void-like shapes all over the image. By removing random pieces of the text on the stone’s plaque and throughout the image, a further dislocation of information blurs the linear, rational aspect of the rock as a readable document of the past. The dark shapes almost appear like bullet holes shooting through the rock, destabilizing its solidity, authority, and official status. In another photograph, these text shapes reappear, but with bright colours emerging from them, like agents that can still shape narratives of the future
In another series of digital prints, Claus has written narratives that were shared with her by different First Nations from across Canada regarding the origins of Hochelaga. The title of these works, “Otsirà:kéhne,” refers to the fires that would welcome visitors to Kanien’kehà:ka territory. Brightly coloured text superimposed over the monochromatic imprint of Hochelaga Rock’s plaque creates a sense of temporal disjuncture, revealing the flattened surface of the monument’s image as it transforms into a contemporary document. Also in the gallery space is an installation, “words going from one place to another.” Each of these acrylic plastic laser cut forms has a word engraved in Kanien’kéha over the barely legible original text of the plaque.
These words were chosen by the artist as ones we should remember: land, water, air, fire… words that have always been important in bringing peoples together. The works in hochelaga rock reveal that Western preconceived notions of temporality and history — its universality and moral authority — have never been a priori, but are always constructed and inherently tied to a rigid Western cosmology that we must challenge as we work collectively towards a decolonization of history, time, and space.
(1) Michel Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge and the Discourse on Language. Trans. A.M. Sheridan Smith (New York: Pantheon Books, 1972) p. 7.
Megan Mericle is an artist, writer, researcher, and activist who lives and works in Montréal. Currently working under the artist Nadia Myre, she earned her Master’s degree in Art History from McGill University, and a BFA from the University of Lethbridge, Alberta, where she grew up in Treaty 7 territory. In her mixed-media installation work, she re-uses plastics, integrates 3D printing processes, and addresses themes of environmentalism, social engagement, and the effects of capitalism and colonialism. Megan also volunteers at organizations that combat food insecurity, and has significant experience working for labour unions in the university context. She currently sits on the articule’s Board of Directors as secretary.