July 15, 2021 to August 20, 2021
Curated by Sarah-Tai Black
Exhibition essay by Erica Violet Lee – Download essay here
Artist talk facilitated by Jas M. Morgan
A loose retrospective of Regina-born artist, writer, and performer Thirza Cuthand’s moving image works, The Rhythm Of This Desire is an online exhibition that sits with the diverse intimacies of the artist’s vast filmography. Spanning two and a half decades, Cuthand’s experimental narratives consider the lived realities and intersections of Indigeneity, queer and Two-Spirit identity, sexuality, and madness with a mindful awareness often borne of the personal. The autobiographical, the fictive, and the performative coalesce in varying intensities throughout their work in a way that gives over space to the necessity of internal subjectivities as well as the urgencies of the oftentimes not-so-external world.
Alongside three programs of select film and video works, The Rhythm Of This Desire will be accompanied by a live-streamed performance by Cuthand, an exhibition essay authored by poet and scholar Erica Violet Lee, and an artist talk facilitated by writer, curator, and researcher Jas M. Morgan. This exhibition sees the artist’s work staged within their home territory and welcomes discussion centering the relations and collaborative practices distinct to the curation of their work within Treaty 6 Land.
Image: Thirza Cuthand, Thirza Cuthand Is an Indian Within the Meaning of the Indian Act, 2017, HD Video. Image courtesy of Vtape.
Save The Date:
Live-streamed performance by Thirza Cuthand
Friday, July 23 at 5pm CST / 7pm EST, online
Artist talk facilitated by Jas M. Morgan
Friday, August 13 at 5pm CST / 7pm EST, online
Artist and Collaborator Biographies:
Thirza Cuthand was born in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada in 1978, and grew up in Saskatoon. Since 1995 she has been making short experimental narrative videos and films about sexuality, madness, Queer identity and love, and Indigeneity, which have screened in festivals and galleries internationally, including the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City, Mix Brasil Festival of Sexual Diversity in Sao Paolo, ImagineNATIVE in Toronto, Frameline in San Francisco, Outfest in Los Angeles, and Oberhausen International Short Film Festival. Her work has been exhibited at the Whitney Biennial, the Mendel in Saskatoon, The National Gallery in Ottawa, and The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. They completed their Bachelor of Fine Arts majoring in Film and Video at Emily Carr University of Art and Design in 2005, and her Masters of Arts in Media Production at X University in 2015. She is a non-binary Butch boy who uses she/they pronouns. They are of Plains Cree and Scots descent, a member of Little Pine First Nation, and currently resides in Toronto, Canada.
Erica Violet Lee is a nēhiyaw writer, scholar, and community organizer who lives in inner-city Saskatoon. She is a member of Thunderchild First Nation in Saskatchewan. Her lifework focuses on anti-colonial resistance, joy, and love in the time of revolutions. Erica holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Saskatchewan and a graduate degree from the University of Toronto.
Jas M. Morgan is a Toronto-based SSHRC doctoral scholarship recipient, a McGill University Art History Ph.D. candidate, and an assistant professor in Ryerson University’s Department of English. They previously held the position of Editor-at-Large for Canadian Art. Morgan’s first book nîtisânak (Metonymy Press, 2018) won the prestigious 2019 Dayne Ogilive Prize and a 2019 Quebec Writer’s Federation first book prize and has been nominated for a Lambda Literary Award and an Indigenous Voices Literary Award.
Sarah-Tai Black is an arts curator, critic, and film programmer from Treaty 13 Territory/Toronto, and they are currently the acting Artistic Director at PAVED Arts. Their curatorial work has been staged at institutions such as the Museum of Contemporary Art (Canada) and Toronto’s A Space Gallery and they have spoken about arts culture, film, and moving image arts in their many forms as a guest of the National Gallery of Canada and Canadian Art.
Sponsored by Vtape
Vtape is a vibrant distribution organization that represents an international collection of contemporary video and media artworks by artists. We make this collection accessible to curators and programmers, educators, scholars, and public audiences worldwide.
With gratitude to A Space Gallery
Toward A Praxis Of Baby Dyke Relations, or: “I did everything myself!! (Well, almost)”
July 15, 2021
There is an intimate and unguarded honesty that lives throughout Thirza Cuthand’s film, video, and performance work. It is both urgent and contemplative, charming and radical, and often materializes through Cuthand’s unselfconsciously refined ability to return to the personal as a means for their ongoing acts of self-determination and autobiography. To begin our programming with the earliest of Cuthand’s works is an instinctive choice that grounds us within the enduring feeling of their ongoing practice. These are not conceptual kernels in their infancy that cumulatively lead to more recent preoccupations, but more so beautifully organic movements from past to present which echo the interconnected and reciprocal experience of subjectivity and relations over time. The work here is diaristic in nature and a lived document of the experience of coming into knowledge and understanding, with Cuthand often navigating the slippage and tensions between subject and object with a playful self-awareness. It is an affective archive of the realizations and rightful rebellions which come to the fore as we begin to understand the ways in which the world works upon and around us in all of our specifities.
Please note, the works in this program reference pedophilia, suicidal ideation, self-harm, and the targeted anti-Indigenous violence of colonial psychiatry.
Lessons in Baby Dyke Theory, 1995, Hi-8, 3:30
In 1995, when Thirza Cuthand was 16, she felt like the only lesbian at her Saskatoon high school. This turned out to be untrue, but the lack of visibility in her high school coupled with the lack of representation of Queer teenagers in the ’90s made her make her first video, a comedic short about teenage lesbian loneliness and trying to bribe classmates to come out with the promise of candy.
Bisexual Wannabe, 1997, Hi-8, 3:00
Brokenhearted, a young lesbian considers doubling her dating possibilities.
Working Baby Dyke Theory, 1997, Hi-8, 5:00
A teenage lesbian’s attempts to form friendships with older lesbians leads her on a disturbing ride through the ageist terrain of the dyke community.
Untouchable, 1998, Hi-8, 4:25
A girl with a bad habit of falling for older women befriends a boy lover. This video is an examination of relationships between adults and teenagers. It involves ice cream trucks and bowie knives.
Helpless Maiden Makes an “I” Statement, 1999, digital video, 6:12
By using clips of evil queens/witches this video plays off the sadomasochistic lesboerotic subtexts commonly found in children’s entertainment. A helpless maiden is tiring of her consensual s/m relationship with her lover, and “evil” queen. She wants to break up. An impassioned monologue in a dungeon with our heroine in wrist cuffs quickly becomes an emotionally messy ending in flames. This video was inspired by the artist’s own childhood “kiddie porn”, Disney movies that turned her on to no end and kicked off many a prepubescent masturbation session.
Manipulation/Dictation, 1999, Super 8, 4:00
Originally constructed using a Super 8 camera and a walkman, ‘Manipulation/Dictation’ investigates processes of lesbian seduction, betrayal, and the expectation that both parties can still be friends later.
Anhedonia, 2001, 16mm/digital video, 9:00
‘Anhedonia’ doesn’t play to the back of the church; it shoots directly to the point with poetry and images that evoke controversy in one mindset and passion in another. It shocks people into opening their eyes to the source of the illness in the Indigenous community and meets depression and suicide head-on. Statistics, split images, words, and flesh meld together making this short film long on compassion, screaming out for help, and recognition of the mentally ill’s dream of someday having a normal life.
Sight, 2012, Super 8, 3:23
Super 8 footage layered with Sharpie marked lines and circles obscuring the image illustrates the story of the filmmaker’s experience with temporary episodes of migraine-related blindness and her cousin’s self-induced blindness later in life. Paralleling the experience of blindness with mental illness, Cuthand deftly elucidates that any of us could lose any of our abilities at any time.
Love & Numbers, 2004, digital video, 8:03
A Two-Spirited woman surrounded by spy signals and psychiatric walls attempts to make sense of love, global paranoia, and her place in the history of colonialism. Spliced in between her monologues are the binary codes of all the psychiatric drugs she has taken.
in all ways known
August 4, 2021
In our second program, Cuthand’s storytelling augments its internal subjectivities with a heightened awareness of external constellations of understanding and perception. What might it feel like to be understood by others as we have come to understand ourselves? What taxonomies and hierarchies must we refuse in order to honour ourselves, our ancestors, our kin? Here, both who sees us and the ways in which we are seen guide Cuthand’s narrative methodologies which consider a multiplicity of time and being. The “we” and “us” used here are, of course, too broad. The care of these works lies within their specificity and their call that 2 Spirit, queer, and trans Indigenous futures are here with us now.
Please note, the works in this program reference suicidal ideation.
Thirza Cuthand Is an Indian Within the Meaning of the Indian Act, 2017, HD, 8:40
Contemplating mixed-race identity in Canada, Cuthand presents us with images of blood ties and land ties for Indigenous people, and questions the use of the words “white-passing” and “light-skinned.” As a light-skinned Indigenous woman, Cuthand reiterates that racism and discrimination still happen for her, just in different ways. Community belonging is contrasted with the different experiences she has from her darker-skinned family. Ultimately, a video with more questions than answers, it situates the artist’s body in historical trauma and ongoing colonial survival.
Medicine Bundle, 2020, HD, 9:33
Cuthand discusses a medicine bundle in her family, and the bear cub spirit attached to it, as it heals her family through trauma and disease brought about by colonization.
Boi Oh Boi, 2012, HDV, 9:32
After a long period in life identifying as a Butch lesbian, Cuthand considers transitioning to male. This experience involved a six-month period of her life during which she went by the name Sarain, which she would have been called had she been born a boy, and asking to be called by male pronouns. Complicated by mental health crises, Cuthand found themselves in a mental health group home for women, having to hide their gender dysphoria. After a considerable amount of thought and discussion, Cuthand changed her mind and decided to remain a Butch lesbian. Explaining her decision, she touches on the desire to maintain a connection to the lesbian community, as well as the sexy genderfucking that happens when one is a masculine woman. Shot partially on location in Hamburg, Germany, riding back and forth on the UBahn is a metaphor for her eventual acceptance of fluctuating between a masculine and a feminine gender. In a nod to her two-spirited ancestors, she mentions that she would have been able to make up her own gender had colonization not happened.
2 Spirit Introductory Special $19.99, 2015, RED, 4:37
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Through The Looking Glass, 1999, digital video, 12:30
Half-breed Alice attempts to become queen and struggles with the Red Queen and the White Queen’s disapproval of her racial transgressions.
A funny and quirky take on race, this piece stars Cosmosquaw as the Red Queen, Shawna Dempsey as the White Queen, and Thirza Cuthand as Alice.
2 Spirit Dreamcatcher Dot Com, 2017, HD, 4:56
‘2 Spirit Dreamcatcher Dot Com’ queers and indigenizes traditional dating site advertisements. Using a Butch NDN ‘Lavalife” lady (performed by director Cuthand), ‘2 Spirit Dreamcatcher Dot Com’ seduces the viewer into 2 Spirit “snagging and shacking up” with suggestions of nearby pipeline protests to take your date to and helpful elders who will matchmake you and tell off disrespectful suitors. It’s the culturally appropriate website all single 2 Spirit people wish existed. Following up on her video “2 Spirit Introductory Special $19.99” this work examines the forces of capitalism through envisioning a “financially unfeasible” service for a small minority community.
Just Dandy, 2013, HDV, 7:37
Invited to speak at an Indigenous Revolutionary Meeting, the narrator describes an intimate encounter with an Evil Colonizing Queen which leads to Turtle Island’s contraction of an invasive European flora.
Thirza Cuthand’s NDN Survival Trilogy
August 13, 2021
Bringing together three of Cuthand’s recent short films, NDN Survival Trilogy asks: what might decolonization look like in daily practice? Here, the relations between resource extraction, postcolonial futures, and lived Indigenous realities are made visible as the artist moves between dystopic fictions and personal histories.
Reclamation, 2018, HD, 13:11
“Reclamation” is a documentary-style imagining of a post-dystopic future in Canada after massive climate change, wars, pollution, and the after-effects of the large-scale colonial project which has now destroyed the land. When Indigenous people are left behind after a massive exodus by primarily privileged White settlers who have moved to Mars, the original inhabitants of this land cope by trying to restore and rehabilitate the beautiful country they feel they belong to. Complicated by the need to look after southern climate refugees, this Post-Dystopic society struggles to reinvent itself as a more healthy community, with opportunities for healing from shared trauma, and using traditional Indigenous scientific knowledge to reclaim Canada environmentally.
Indigenous people demonstrate the jobs they are doing to heal Canada, the Earth, and themselves, like clean water projects, gathering litter, disposing safely of hazardous wastes, planting trees, conducting healing circles and ceremonies, playing together, and having discussions about what it feels like to be left behind on what was seen by White settlers as a dying, disposable, planet.
Extractions, 2019, HD, 15:13
A personal film about Canada’s extraction industry and its detrimental effects on the land and Indigenous peoples. This film parallels resource extraction with the booming child apprehension industry currently operating in Canada which is responsible for putting more Indigenous children into foster care than were in Residential Schools. As the filmmaker reviews her life and how these industries have affected her, she also reflects on having her own eggs retrieved and frozen to make an Indigenous baby.
Less Lethal Fetishes, 2019, HD, 9:24
Cuthand uses a latent gas mask fetish as a jumping-off point for looking at her role as a participant in the Whitney Biennial during a contentious year for the museum which had a war profiteer on the board. Faced with calls to withdraw, Cuthand talks about the considerations she had for trying to come up with a way to protest while also being implicated in Kander’s artwashing. Using the gas mask as a potential protest image, she also discusses visiting Chemical Valley, a site in southern Ontario where 40% of Canada’s petrochemical industry lies, and how her visit also left her implicated in artwashing petrochemical money.
EARTH AND WATER AND ME: A PERFORMANCE BY THIRZA CUTHAND
In this live-streamed performance, Cuthand will explore her connection to the earth and what it feels like to belong to the prairies when you are living in someone else’s territory. Using their body, soil, water, and projections of the prairies with a recorded monologue about her homeland, she hopes to recreate the feeling of laying on the ground in a place where you know you belong.
Friday, July 23 | 7:00 PM EDT / 5:00 PM CST
Curated as a part of The Rhythm Of This Desire: Works By Thirza Cuthand at PAVED Arts, July 15, 2021 – August 20, 2021.
The Rhythm Of This Desire:
Thirza Cuthand & Jas M. Morgan
Friday, August 13 at 5pm CST / 7pm EST
Join us for an online conversation between artist and filmmaker Thirza Cuthand and writer, curator, and researcher Jas M. Morgan as they discuss the ongoing intricacies of Cuthand’s practice from 1995 to present.
PAVED Arts is an artist-run centre operating on Treaty Six Land, encompassing the traditional homeland of numerous First Nations, including Ktunaxa, Tsuu T’ina, Woodland Cree, Stoney Nakoda and Plains Cree in the west; Beaver Lake Cree and Dene in the north; Blackfoot, Sioux, and Anishinaabe in the south; with the Cree and Metis nations spanning the entire territory.
We further acknowledge that the settler state of Canada has failed to honour Treaty Six. PAVED Arts advocates for decolonization undertaken in good faith, as an imperative to learn from the indigenous world view and thereby engage in sustainable land-based knowledge and practices. We are committed to involve BIPOC+ artists and cultural workers at every level of our organization so as to reflect the spirit of this time and our community.