Ice fishing artwork has Mi’kmaq roots

by | Oct 24, 2014 | A&E

Phil Witmer
A&E Reporter

Jordan Bennett’s multimedia exhibit Ice Fishing premiered on Wednesday at 401 Richmond Street in Toronto and runs until Oct. 31. Bennett, a Newfoundland-born multi-disciplinary artist, created the work as a method of reconnecting with his Aboriginal Mi’kmaq roots.

“We all need a set of skills to fall back on,” said Bennett in the atmospheric short film that simultaneously served as the exhibit’s introduction.

Bennett spent several weeks in his family’s home of Stephenville Crossing in western Newfoundland building an ice fishing shack from scratch, drilling through 24 cm thick ice, and sometimes waiting hours for fish to bite.

“I was inspired by two things. One was the idea of drilling holes into the floor of an art gallery, and the second was thinking about how all the ideas that my ancestors put forward are just as contemporary as more current ideas,” said Bennett.

The first part of that plan was definitely present, as mock ice-fishing holes complete with varnished floor to mimic the slippery conditions were spread out.

Attendees were led through the actual shack that Bennett used to fish and invited to sit on buckets to watch illuminated virtual holes.

Bennett called this the “interior” portion of the exhibit.

“You view my experience from the outside with the video and then you get to live a version of it yourself,” he said.

Jen Moss, a producer and writer with the National Film Board of Canada, aided Bennett in translating his vision into a physical space.

“We wanted to make more of a story in the artwork and we did that by making his (Bennett’s) piece into a full space that can be interacted with walked around in, touched, felt,” said Moss.

The concept of a living installation plays into what may be the driving force behind Ice Fishing, which is the passing down of knowledge curated by the Mi’kmaq and other First Nations peoples.

“I only used what I had to create the project and carry out the fishing. All I want to do is hand down these traditions,” said Bennett.

Humber Aboriginal Resources elder Shelley Charles noted the added importance of Bennett’s ancestral exploration in light of the recent acceptance of Newfoundland’s Qalipu Mi’kmaq as Status Indians recognized by the government of Canada.

“For the Mi’kmaq people, reclaiming their status as a nation has been a long time coming,” Charles said.