Dossier | Reading Contrapuntally: Geronimo Inutiq’s ARCTICNOISE | esse arts + opinions

Dossier | Reading Contrapuntally: Geronimo Inutiq’s ARCTICNOISE

  • Geronimo Inutiq, ARCTICNOISE, exhibition view, grunt gallery, Vancouver, 2015. Photo: Henri Robideau, courtesy of grunt gallery, Vancouver, Vtape, Toronto & Isuma Productions
  • Geronimo Inutiq, ARCTICNOISE, exhibition view, grunt gallery, Vancouver, 2015. Photo: Henri Robideau, courtesy of grunt gallery, Vancouver, Vtape, Toronto & Isuma Productions

Reading Contrapuntally: Geronimo Inutiq’s ARCTICNOISE
By Sydney Hart

Focusing on the spaces in literature obscured by colonialism, literary theorist Edward Said uses what he calls “contrapuntal readings” to uncover and challenge the colonial ramifications of canonical literary works and their appreciation. “As we look back at the cultural archive,” Said writes in Culture and Imperialism, “we begin to reread it not univocally but contrapuntally, with a simultaneous awareness both of the metropolitan history that is narrated and of those other histories against which (and together with which) the dominating discourse acts.” (1)

Through this process, Said unravels the narrative, geographical, and formal consistency of canonical works, contrasting this consistency with divergent contemporary histories and focusing particularly on the resistance to the imperialism that undergirds conventional narrative structures of the nineteenth-century European novel. In these contrapuntal readings, Said questions the formal economy of the novel and spatializes the economy through which its characters thrive, to encompass the geopolitical coordinates of colonial power. The term “contrapuntal” is more widely used in music, however, to refer to a composition in which two or more independent melodic parts play simultaneously. Evoking these musical origins and their metaphoric potential, Said claims that his “global, contrapuntal analysis should be modelled not (as earlier notions of comparative literature were) on a symphony but rather on an atonal ensemble.” This model also tellingly reflects a shift from synthesis and linear narrative to rhizomatic spatializations, as Said calls upon it to include “all sorts of spatial or geographical and rhetorical practices — inflections, limits, constraints, intrusions, inclusions, prohibitions — all of them tending to elucidate a complex and uneven topography.” (2)

The Idea of North, described as a “contrapuntal radio documentary” by its creator, the Canadian composer and concert pianist Glenn Gould, was broadcast by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in 1967, as part of the country’s centennial celebrations. Gould conceived this hour-long radio documentary, the first work in his “Solitude Trilogy,” as a research-based evocation of the Canadian North, which he described as a place that was convenient for him to “dream about, spin tales about,” yet ultimately avoid. (3) The Idea of North includes six voices — those of an anthropologist, a sociologist, a prospector, a government employee, a nurse, and a surveyor — that alternate and overlap throughout the composition, in which Indigenous perspectives from the Arctic are glaringly omitted. As a collection of first impressions introducing a vaguely delineated space, the voices seem to cultivate the experience of conversing with guides to understand a mystifying region, as much as they contribute to an image of the North as a solitary, daunting place through which southern Canadians can nevertheless romantically fulfill themselves. More overtly, however, The Idea of North echoes the disjunction between perceptions of a geographical consistency in a national imaginary and the reality that the vast majority of Canadians live, as Gould did, along a thin sliver of less than two hundred kilometres in the southernmost part of the country. (4)

ARCTICNOISE, created by Geronimo Inutiq, a Montréal-based multi-media artist and electronic musician who also goes by the name Madeskimo, extends and renews forms of the contrapuntal, as found in The Idea of North. The piece also represents a kind of contrapuntal reading of, and overt response to, Gould’s well-known radio documentary. Presenting different rhythms and media and widely varying content, from glitchy geometric forms to documentary footage, Inutiq’s video installation does not offer a consistent narrative or refer exclusively to a particular place or time. Instead, each of the three video projections that dominate the space of the gallery is silent and bound to its own visually consistent system. Staged at Vancouver’s grunt gallery, an artist-run centre that notably supports the inclusion of Indigenous voices across its activities, this exhibition is but one iteration of the broader, evolving ARCTICNOISE project, which accumulates new materials and takes different forms as it travels. The abundance of contextual information around the exhibition and its related program (including a workshop on the theme of disrupting archives and a panel discussion with a talk by the artist at Native Education College) may be explained by the project’s inclusion in the International Symposium on Electronic Arts (ISEA), with its theme of Disruption, as well as the extensive curatorial team involved. (5)

The central projection directly faces viewers as they enter the gallery. Featuring interviews and re-enactments, the video broaches topics such as the Inuit and Cree reconciliation of the late eighteenth century and shifting jurisdictions between provincial and federal governments of Canada. The video montage includes material from documentaries such as Inuit Knowledge and Climate Change by Ian Mauro and Zacharias Kunuk, in which elders and hunters are interviewed about the social and ecological consequences of the warming Arctic and about Inuit expertise regarding climate change and ways of adapting to it. This video footage is culled from the archives of Igloolik Isuma Productions, Canada’s first media-distribution company specializing in Inuit and Indigenous films. Since the late 1980s, Igloolik Isuma has produced independent community-based films and media to tell authentic Inuit stories while preserving and augmenting Inuit culture. (6)

Two other, smaller projections face each other on the side walls, as if corresponding to the “ears” of visual noise flanking the central projection. The left-hand video interweaves historical and cartoon images. One presents a captioned cross-section of an eye and the outline of a narwhal, with abstract, geometric forms that multiply and fragment images, creating grid-like patterns in a frenetic proliferation of colours and shapes. The idea of “noise” becomes prominent here, as the atomization of forms takes over the projection surface and images become increasingly illegible. The “noise” created by the abstraction of images thus points more to the texture of the media than to any particular thematic reference.

The right-hand video offers a rolling view of La Vérendrye, a wildlife reserve in the province of Québec, which at first glance might seem to provide a more transparent and straightforward representation of place than the other two videos. A car window reflection betrays the technical apparatus that captures the landscape, interrupting views of an expansive snow-covered forest. The footage was shot on a consumer-grade digital camera, with sequences seemingly slowed down in post-production, as if the landscape is languidly being taken in. However, any expectation that the video approximates a Romantic depiction of vast and unpeopled swaths of Arctic taiga is quickly foiled when one considers that La Vérendrye is less than three hours from Montréal, in the southern part of the province.

In the central video, we see footage of snow banks, with someone lamenting their diminishing numbers and another person decrying how wind directions have changed, thus eradicating landmarks traditionally used by the Inuit. Such accounts of climate change in Inuit lands open a possibility of understanding “arctic noise” as the background environmental changes that scramble paths, rendering the landscape more unfamiliar and unintelligible. This echoes the symbolic failure of noise: noise that reveals the background while we wait for content, noise that belies the limitations of a technological apparatus, noise that muddles content to render meaning undecipherable.

Inutiq’s rearranging of interviews, documents, and artefacts so that their content is scrambled and problematized into “noise” may suggest the foregrounding of environmental factors, inviting the viewer’s criticality and openness to alternative and potentially urgent meanings. (7) The noise of the exhibition thus complicates an understanding of place by resisting coherent narratives, and it instead highlights how media and place can be tightly intertwined to inform each other. In this way, Inutiq displaces the Romantic aspects of Gould’s project, shifting the infinite object from place to media. The bewildering noise of media in ARCTICNOISE, how it evokes varied perceptions of place, also cautions us against mistaking representations that seem unintelligible for those that are meaningless.

As an artist whose practice is informed by Inuit traditions and foregrounds Inuit voices, Inutiq’s use of media and archival material differs widely from Gould’s The Idea of North. ARCTICNOISE strengthens a correspondence between contrapuntal forms and methods, while suggesting various narratives that the project can be read with, or against. Crucially, however, the contrapuntal aspects of Inutiq’s work avoid any semblance of a seductive, totalizing image of place, providing instead noise that elicits questions about identity, historical continuity, and how media shapes our understanding of place.

(1) Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism (New York: Random House, 1994), 51 (emphasis in original).
(2) Ibid., 318.
(3) “Glenn Gould Radio Documentary — The Idea of North,” Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, accessed October 12, 2015,
(4) This disjunction is reflected in the term 49th parallel, which metonymically refers to the entire Canada-U.S. border, a paradoxical limit in the Canadian imaginary, since almost three quarters of Canadians live south of the 49th parallel north.
(5) The exhibition was guest curated by Yasmin Nurming-Por and Britt Gallpen and produced in conjunction with Glenn Alteen and Tarah Hogue, of grunt gallery, and Kate Hennessy and Trudi Lynn Smith, of the Ethnographic Terminalia Collective.
(6), the organization’s current iteration, is an online video distribution platform for Inuit and Indigenous cultures worldwide, at which Inuit Knowledge and Climate Change, among other source material for ARCTICNOISE, is available to view:
(7) Jacques Attali, Noise: The Political Economy of Music (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1985), 33.

Tags artistes: 

Subscribe to the Newsletter

 Retrouvez nous sur Twitter !Retrouvez nous sur Facebook !Retrouvez nous sur Instagram !





Esse arts + opinions

Postal address
C.P. 47549,
Comptoir Plateau Mont-Royal
Montréal (Québec) Canada
H2H 2S8

Office address
2025 rue Parthenais, bureau 321
Montréal (Québec)
Canada H2K 3T2

E. :
T. : 1 514-521-8597