Sandra Alland introduces a showcase of memes and video art by Fallon Simard.
When in Tkaronto/Toronto last September, I was fortunate to meet Anishinaabe-Couchiching First Nation artist Fallon Simard on a panel at Bi Arts Festival. Simard’s stunning work examines ‘state violence perpetrated on to Indigenous bodies within a context of colonialism.’ As part of ‘Bodies in Resistance’, he projected and described his meme art for an enraptured crowd.
Simard’s memes mix his texts and digital artwork with stock/celebrity photos and already-famous memes, exploring ‘intersections of land, extraction, mental health, and violence’. Searing and hilarious at once, Simard’s pieces highlight communities in crisis and resistance. His cutting visual humour laments – and rejects – co-optation and erasure by cis people and settlers. With current repression of Wetʼsuwetʼen and other Indigenous resistance across Canada, his work forms an urgent part of exposing that state’s corrupt and disingenuous ‘reconciliation’ project.
This showcase features twelve images from Simard’s 2018 meme series, ‘Over Researched and Under Invested’. The series focuses on trans and two-spirit justice and celebration, as well as interrogating policing in queer communities, sex-worker exclusion, and colonialist exploitation by galleries and universities.
In esse Magazine, queer Cree-Métis-Saulteaux curator Lindsay Nixon outlines some of the implications of Simard’s web-based art:
‘Simard’s memes light-heartedly consider the complex effects of colonialism on the Indigenous body as if to say, yes, we are hurting and our embodiments can be painful but we are still here — alive, laughing, coping, and loving, despite it all… (His) memes disrupt the assumed disconnection between digital worlds and real life by asking, aren’t Indigenous bodies commodities just like web-based productions: monetized, objectified, and their parts deconstructed for settler consumption?’
The day after the panel, I caught more of Simard’s work in curator Amanda Amour-Lynx’s brilliant two-spirit exhibition, ‘Shapeshifters’. Moving the memes into a gallery space and ‘translating’ them into high-quality photographs evoked additional ideas and questions. What kinds of art (and artists) get to be ‘legitimate’? How does the mainstream dismiss the work and chosen media of marginalised communities from serious contemplation? What happens when the gallery is reclaimed by those often excluded from it?
In addition to several impressive meme collections both online and on the wall, Simard makes equally-compelling video art. Writing about his videos for Canadian Art magazine, Indigenous queer disabled filmmaker Thirza Cuthand says:
‘(Simard) forces you to consider Indigenous issues without a friendly “Indian” guide… (His) experimental, politically charged work gets to the heart of issues of Indigenous sovereignty and struggle.’
Simard’s video work moves away from the gleeful sarcasm of his memes, embracing a more haunting, bereft and glitchy aesthetic. Cuthand describes Land Becomes Ghost (2016, featured here):
‘…screenshots of news articles and protest advertisements about the Site C Dam repeat in a cycle with an anxiety-provoking soundtrack. Television static obscures the images as the title of the work reminds us that lands that people have lived on and made a living working with will soon be a distant memory.’
Find Fallon Simard online:
Sandra Alland bio (audio):
Sandra Alland is guest editor at DAO from 25th March to 26th April. Check out all San’s commissioned pieces on their Project page. Audio versions of all pieces can be found on San’s dedicated SoundCloud channel.