|Emily Carr, Indian Church (1929)|
Living and working in Vancouver as an art historian, it is difficult to avoid conversations, questions, and debates concerning Emily Carr. Few Canadian artists have had more of a longstanding and direct impact on the guiding art historical discourse of this city and province (some argue all of Canada), and her controversial works have inspired fierce debate and critical conversations about both the aesthetic re-presentation of this part of the world and the engagement modern artists have had both formally and contextually with First Nations culture. In short, she is quite literally an institution in this town, lending her famous name to Emily Carr University of Art and Design and making her presence permanently felt at the Vancouver Art Gallery where her works are always on display and frequently inspire new exhibitions (see "In Dialogue with Carr: Douglas Coupland, Evan Lee, Liz Magor, Marianne Nicolson" as the most recent example).
Perhaps for this reason alone, I was uncertain at first about previewing the new documentary about Emily Carr screening at the Vancouver International Film Festival. Do we need to continue and contribute to the conversation about Carr? Can audiences look beyond her seductive images of the West Coast and their spiritual undertones to arrive at a more critical response to their impact on picture-making in British Columbia? Can we move the Emily Carr discourse in a new direction? Michael Ostroff’s Winds of Heaven: Emily Carr, Carvers, and the Spirits of the Forest is described as “a filmic journey into the deep brooding mystery and inner beauty of Emily Carr’s paintings—a lyrical, luminescent and entertaining impression of the life of Carr and her connection to the First Nations people of the Northwest Coast.” To my ear, this sounds like more of the same about Carr that needs questioning. But with the addition of commentary by art historian and critic Marcia Crosby (who has done ground-breaking research into the artistic representation of First Nations-- see further reading for Crosby's work and recent critical discussions of Carr at the end of this post), I am hopeful that this film will have moments that cut through the carefully constructed Carr narrative and open up people's eyes to the complexities and tensions of Carr’s legacy to the art of this city, our province, and the country. Taking the family to see the film over Thanksgiving weekend seems like no more appropriate time.
Winds of Heaven will be playing at VIFF on Saturday, October 9th @ 6:30pm; Sunday, October 10th @ 4:00pm; and Wednesday, October 14th @ 1:00pm
A short introduction into the life of Emily Carr from a local perspective
Crosby, Marcia. "The Construction of the Imaginary Indian" in Vancouver Anthology,. Stan Douglas, ed. (Vancouver: Talonbooks, 1991), 267-291.
Dawn, Leslie. "The Enigma of Emily Carr: A Review Essay" BC Studies 152 (2006): 97-103.
Moray, Gerta. Unsettling Encounters: First Nations Imagery in the Art of Emily Carr. UBC Press, 2007.