Monuments often function as a way of validating and reinforcing the stories we tell about a particular group or community. Montreal-based artist Scott Benesiinaabandan (Obishikokaang Anishinabe First Nation) explores the historical complexities that are often buried under the metaphorical weight of memorials, statuary and other structures that commemorate colonial stories. His practice is informed by Indigenous belief systems that suggest that the land itself retains and communicates fragmented layers of past events, and his methods are derived from what he calls “an intuitive psycho-geography that reflects notions of the subconscious effects and stories of monuments, histories, and spaces.”
Benesiinaabandan’s site-specific installation, newlandia: debaabaminaagwad (2018), is composed of abstracted digital imagery derived from hundreds of photographs he took at the location of two different types of monuments on the Toronto campus of Ryerson University—a statue of school founder Egerton Ryerson, and a cluster of colossal Precambrian boulders nearby. These are combined with images he made of the three flags that represent the traditional caretakers of the territory where these structures now stand: the Mississaugas of the New Credit, Mohawk Warrior/Unity, and the Two Row Wampum. Benesiinaabandan processed this multitude of collected documentation through 3D modeling software, deriving mathematical algorithms through the contrast maps found in each photograph. The software, using its internal logic, output an assemblage of images that are abstracted interpretations of these elements. The artist refers to these as “image maps.”
Adhered to the sidewalk adjacent to the Ryerson statue, the resulting imagery takes the form of an abstracted shadow-like silhouette, and these fragmented patterns are also seamlessly conformed to the irregular surfaces of the boulders in nearby Devonian Pond, recalling Indigenous petroglyphs and ancient ceremonial sites. Literally and metaphorically, these digital landscapes speak to a highly contentious past that renounced Indigenous rights to their traditions and ancestral lands. Egerton Ryerson held beliefs that influenced the establishment of the Indian Residential School system that has had a devastating impact on First Nations, Metis’ and Inuit people across Canada; and the two-billion-year-old boulders were displaced and “imported” from the Canadian Shield to the man-made pond. Benesiinaabandan’s abstractions offer new material interpretations of a metaphysical perspective, enacted through contemporary transformations of this historically charged site. By reimagining the land through counter-narratives, his installation is a gesture toward acknowledging these histories and reclaiming Indigenous legacies—thereby framing powerful and imaginative trajectories for a possible future.
Presented in partnership with The Ryerson Image Centre and Ryerson University