Territory and Identity

[Winter 2003]

by Jacques Doyon

Territory is one of the bases of identity. We are made of the places where we grow up and the communities into which we integrate ourselves, whether they are local or national, professional, personal, or linked to daily life.

Each dimension of our pluralistic identities is materialized in concrete spaces, manifested in differentiated movements and paths, anchored in our interrelations with groups of people each of whom is distinct. Mobility, adaptation, and migration have become widespread in these times of accelerated change.

The evolution of the European Community is particularly representative of the upheaval in notions of national identity that is occurring in this era of renewed globalization. Yann Mingard and Alban Kakulya, of the Swiss group Strates, have produced a remarkable series, Une frontière à l’est de l’éden, which documents the places of the new borders of Europe planned for 2006. Desolate landscapes of a sometimes sublime beauty, access and control posts, surveillance technologies, the confluence of various streams of immigration, sites of detention and makeshift lives, portraits of border guards and stowaways remind us that on the national scale the establishment of a new border redefines the ideologies of belonging and exclusion.

Exploration of local landscapes and territories has been conducted exemplarily for the last thirteen years by the Italian group Linea di Confine, introduced to us by Michèle Cohen Hadria. Following the tradition of Italian photography of the 1970s, this group distinguished itself by granting photographic commissions to Italian and international artists recognized for their interest in these issues and by holding workshop-laboratories aimed at stimulating the involvement of young photographers. Their work is rooted above all in exploration of the visual reality of the urban and natural landscape; more recently, the focus has been the interaction between individuals and the territory. The selection of works presented here includes many portraits and daily activities, but on the whole it is structured by an evocation of places of living, of transit, of work, and of power.

The series Unsettled by Scott Walden is intended to rescue from oblivion an event that marked the modernization of Newfoundland, the last province to enter Canadian Confederation, in the 1960s. This involved the forced abandonment of coastal villages to concentrate economic development in urban areas. The series shows the state of buildings that were left, abandoned, at these sites, which constituted the fabric of small communities whose names have disappeared from official maps. These are not portraits, but traces of what were places of belonging and identification . . . and an evocation of radically changed lives.

The Bigger Picture: Portraits from Ottawa – a project by curator Karen Love, commissioned by the Ottawa Art Gallery – is in a sense a fragmented self-portrait of a community. Photographs and artworks of all provenances (institutional and individual collections, as well as journalistic, professional, and personal archives) explore the various modalities of the portrait, from snapshots to posed shots in the studio, the street, the home, and the workplace. Here, the territory prevails as a fragmented cultural and social context conditioning all representation. This exhibition is the sequel to a major exhibition and a publication, Facing History: Portraits from Vancouver, published by Presentation House, in Vancouver.