Rebecca Belmore’s The Blanket
January 22, 2011 to May 8, 2011
Plug-In Institute of Contemporary Art
Unit 1 – 460 Portage Ave
Performer – Ming Hon
Cinematographer – Ryan Simmons
Stills Photographer – Ben Williams
Edited by Ryan Simmons & Ben Williams
Sound Design – Andy Rudolph
Produced – Noam Gonick
In Rebecca Belmore’s HD site-specific video installation The Blanket, performer Ming Hon struggles with a possessed blanket which is trying to kill her. This short film is divided into three sections. The film begins with the blanket terrorizing Hon. In this section, we see Hon rolling down a hill, surrounded by the blanket and we see her running through the bush, as if she is trying to escape the clutches of the blanket. You hear Hon’s haunting screams as if she is being raped and beaten by the blanket. It should be noted that this scene was shot on one of the coldest days of winter with Hon only wearing a union suit. In the next section, Hon is overcome by the blanket. In one of the shots, Ming assumes the same pose as Spotted Elk (Big Foot) after the massacre of Wounded Knee, connecting the blanket to this massacre. In the final section, Hon rejects the blanket, demonstrating that she would rather freeze than use the blanket for its warmth.
Possession is a common cinematic trope used in popular thrillers and horror films. Often this device is used to express ideas about redemption and/or reconciliation. In this case, the blanket is obviously possessed by the entire colonial history of the Hudson’s Bay Company and the blankets direct connection to the smallpox epidemic that ravaged indigenous communities during the 1700s and 1800s. By rejecting the blanket, the filmmaker is rejecting everything the Hudson’s Bay Company represents.
The video makes use of saturated blues, reds and whites and there is one exceptionally striking shot where you can see the gradient from blue to white in the sky. The use of tableaux where Hon remains still with the camera capturing her subtle movements is extremely effective in HD. In addition, the sound design by Andy Rudolph is spectacular, both in its musical composition and its ability to capture Hon’s emotional state. Even within the dense design it is still possible to hear the crisp crackle of snow under each footstep. With this work and his work on Ryan Klatt’s Yatra, Rudolph has demonstrated that he is one to watch.
The installation is two HD screens turned on their sides, with one side facing the interior of the gallery and the other side facing the Hudson’s Bay building itself. The screen facing the Hudson’s Bay building is visible from the street (without sound) and as such resembles one of the Bay’s window displays.
The producer, Noam Gonick, describes the video as “an attack on the Hudson’s Bay Company”. This raises the question, is this attack effective? Symbolically, by positioning the screen to face the Hudson’s Bay building, the video serves as a reminder of its colonial history. On the other hand politically, it might have been more effective to project these images onto the Hudson’s Bay building – even once. At least the images would have touched the building. At this point, I fear that the images will only reach gallery goers and the occasional passer-by who might be tempted to view the “window display” in the galleries main window. However, we have all seen how effective this form of advertising has been for the Bay.
– Clint Enns
Excerpt from The Globe & Mail February 7, 2011
Rebecca Belmore’s 4½-minute video called The Blanket shows a dark-haired woman wrapping and unwrapping herself in a red and black Hudson’s Bay point blanket while she moves about a snow-covered Manitoba landscape. The video is not without a sense of anger (the blanket has a poisonous history in relations between white and native Canadians), but The Blanket is also lyric, elegant and sensuous, qualities it shares with the best work in Close Encounters: The Next 500 Years, an international exhibition of contemporary indigenous art organized by Winnipeg’s Plug In ICA that opened in January in five main venues and several satellite sites across the city.
– Robert Enright
Enright’s entire Globe and Mail article titled New aboriginal art show tells stories of adaptation and transformation can be read here.