Brian Jungen & Duane Linklater: Modest Livelihood
Modest Livelihood, currently on view at Catriona Jeffries Gallery in Vancouver, is a collaborative exhibition, which marks Brian Jungen and Duane Linklater’s first foray into film. Three short films, Lull, Stalker, and Lean play in the main gallery space providing a backdrop for the exhibition’s centerpiece film, titled Modest Livelihood, from which the exhibition has borrowed its name. Given a cursory look, Modest Livelihood may appear to be a slow-moving home movie–with no beginning or end–displaying panoramic images of the vast Canadian landscape. However, upon closer observation, the film is so much more than just a silent Canadiana hunting documentary. Modest Livelihood takes viewers on a unqiue journey through the sublime Canadian landscape, a landscape that is undeniably linked to the history of art in Canada; more importantly, the film is an artistic venture that encourages viewers to reconsider their own perceptions and biases.
The title Modest Livelihood is an allusion to the 1999 Supreme Court ruling verifying First Nations hunting and fishing rights, while also limiting them to a ‘moderate livelihood’, and denying these activities in relation to an ‘accumulation of wealth’. For Jungen who is of Swiss and Dane-zaa ancestry and Linklater who is Omaskêko Cree, the Hunt is an integral activity tied to their identity and heritage. Modest Livelihood, shot by cinematographer Jesse Cain, is derived from 50 hours of footage documenting the artist’s experiences during two moose hunting trips near Fort St. John during the Fall of 2011.
The film seems to present a voyeuristic view of the artists (mundane) daily events as they hunt a moose, under the tutelage of Jungen’s uncle, First Nations elder, Jack Askoty. The trope of silence is used to counter this voyeurism; its use can be interpreted in a number of ways. On one hand it could reference the silencing that First Nations people have encountered since the arrival of colonialism. However, in this silence, there is also autonomy. The silence in Modest Livelihood is a deliberate decision made by the artists to encourage contemplation. Viewers are unable to hear the conversations and stories shared between the men.
Silence protects the sacred, culturally-specific, knowledge being passed down from Askoty to Jungen and Linklater. In this silence, difference emerges. Viewers are presented with the notion that there are certain types of knowledge which people from other cultures cannot understand, suggesting that certain things can only be understood and fully appreciated only by those who live and experience it. The silence can be seen as a reclamation of their sacred rights.
Modest Livelihood also challenges the stereotype of Canada’s First Nations being traditional, dwindling cultures. Jungen and Linklater represent themselves as modern, plaid-shirt wearing, baseball-cap sporting men. Modest Livelihood visually articulates that First Nations culture is alive and thriving, that it has developed and changed with the times and is not something relgated to the past.
The ‘climax’ of the film is when Jungen and Linklater shoot the moose. The exhausting job of gutting, skinning and quartering the massive animal provides an intriguing juxtaposition to the stunning and tranquil scenes of the majestic northern autumn landscape. Modest Livelihood does not romanticize the handling of the slaughtered moose, instead the film captures the painstaking process involved in butchering the moose in the field. Following the careful skinning of the moose, the two artist’s roll up the hide to take with them. All that is left are the entrails and a circular blood patch, marking where the moose had once lay. The final scene of the film presents two ravens circling the site where the moose was killed–they are looking for their next meal. These ravens signify not so much of the end of the film, rather the start of the cycle again.
Kate Galicz finished her MA in Art History and diploma in curatorial studies from York University in 2007. She is currently the Director of Appraisal Services at Heffel Fine Art Auction House. Kate loves anything kitsch, fashion, and is crazy about her furry four-legged friend.