Sometimes we go to the North, and sometimes the North comes to us. Actually, more often we don’t get to interact at all. José Babin wanted to bring together the artists from countries of the Arctic with those of the south. In NORDICITÉ, the audience moves around the space of Maison de la culture Maisonneuve and meets with art and artists that have made the journey here. Babin was generous enough to talk about the project.
Babin first went to Nunavut in December 2004 in order to give a workshop to the Inuit puppeteers of the TV show Takuginai, the only TV show in Inuktitut at the time. “It was a clash,” she says. “The immensity of the territory struck me. Also the darkness. There were only two hours of sunshine.”
But even more so she was struck by the Inuit people, “their determination and resilience, their great talent with art. Also all the pain carried for so many years and the hard time they have.”
She was especially struck by their stories. For example, “They told me about the killing of the hunting dogs by the Canadian Government in the sixties and how this event was a catastrophe for their way of life.”
Before she left Iqualuit, she bought a map where the north and the south were reversed, while at the bottom was the phrase, “Our Point of View.” The image stayed with her, and motivated her many years later to hear what exactly that Northern point of view was. This question led her to the circumpolar regions of Finland, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, and Nunavik over a period of five years.
While she learned many things, the most important is that “there are many different Norths.”
For example, she notes that there is many differences between Nunavik’s communities and the people from Kirkenes in the north of Norway where there are still see traces of WWII and occupation by the German army.
“Different countries have different stories,” she says. Also, that the people of the North come from many different origins.
“But I felt some similarities,” she says. “In all those circumpolar countries, I felt collaboration and a great sense of humanity. I guess it may be some sense of survival that is left, even in the European modern North. You don’t leave someone in the cold. You help.”
In particular, she notes how the Northern Norwegians welcome Syrian refugees in Stamsund.
In regards to art, she says that the North provides a “deep feeling of time and space.” She also points to the unique quality of the light as a great inspiration. Even in her own piece, she says that she re-writes the last scene of her show each time it mounts. “It is a never ending reflection that moves with time, like the ice of the North pole.”
Although people in the North face special problems, like the cost of travel and the fact that political decisions made in the South rarely reflect the realities that Northerners face, she says that contemporary Northern artists have a particular problem of misperception. “People from the South often think traditional artistic work is the only one that exists,” she says.
NORDICITÉ Meeting Point is partially intended to address this. Bringing the artists she met in her travels or through the recommendations of professional associations and artists, she has worked with Theatre Incliné to bring co-productions to France, Italy, Norway, and Japan. As if taking her hand, the public is invited to “follow [her] in this impressionist travel in time and space.”
Among those participating are Mary Lucina Pootoo, a Throat singer from Salluit, Nunavik; electroaucoustic musician Nicolas Letarte from Montreal; performer Allison Akootchook Warden from Anchorage Alaska; and media artist Stéphanie Lagueux from Terrebonne. Also, there will be a program of short films.
“There are no ready made answers about the North,” she says, but she hopes that visitors “catch a glimpse of the immensity they face and will want to know more about the North and the people living there.”
“We must care about the North, and listen to what it has to say.”
NORDICITÉ Meeting Point is at Maison de la Culture Maisonneuve (4200 Ontario Street E), on November 13-15 at 8 p.m., with an additional matinee on November 15 at 1:30 p.m. Tickets are available by phone at 514-872-2200 or at lepointdevente.com.