Archival image featured in Apparition of the Wild.
Jamie Ross is a Montreal-based multidisciplinary artist, writer and video artist whose work delves into psycho-geography and the deep mythical and historical links that bind people to places, integrating a respect for oral storytelling and documenting queer culture as well as traditions of the past. In his latest exhibit at Skol, entitled Apparitions of the Wild, he explores the return of Eastern Ontario forests, documenting their ghost towns through four video works and his book Fallow Le Friche, published by False Fresh Press and Videographe.
In these poetic, dream-like narratives, Ross blurs historical fact and real archival footage with mythmaking, magical ritual and interjections about his own deeply felt connection to the forests and rural areas of Eastern Ontario, as well as his dedication to preserving traditions and languages of the past. While documenting his travels in rural Eastern Ontario and his encounters with people in the region, Ross often reflects on his own personal history in the videos and text. “There have been two languages to die in my family within memory,” Ross writes in Fallow Le Friche, “Gàidhlig Gaelic and AnishinàbemowinOjibway. I study them at night in my room by myself. In the winter.”
Archival footage of lumberjacks in Ross’ work traces back to the history of settlers in the region, as well as homosocial ritual. Ross also writes about the connection between queer sexuality and the woods: “Beyond the paranormal, a long history linking queer, female and anti-social bodies with the hinterlands: the forest landscape was brutally at odds with settlement, the family and above all with the precarious success of the North American agricultural colonies. Medieval forests in Europe once sheltered lunatics, banished men and medicine women.”
“Forests are so fucking sexy,” he explains via email, about his own connection to the woods. “I have always been attracted to sex in the bush, and the fact that forests are regrowing in Eastern Ontario, where they had so recently been completely clear-cut is very exciting. The forest has consumed so much of what was built on the land, once it was wrestled free from its animal and plant inhabitants, but also of its human ones too. Once you establish the utter injustice that permeates all settlement, you start to see the subsequent abandonment as a release, a sigh of relief, lead by the regrowth: birches and aspen.”
There’s a sense of transcendent longing articulated by Ross in these videos. He mentions the word logos, “which in Greek meant binding and collecting before it referred to semiotics and speech, and it is through that same understanding that I see the powerful impulse to reach out and touch places far-flung from the city.” But he cautions that “language carried to its hyperbolic and unhinged extremes is not productive – to inhabit a romantic fantasy of the past, no – but that’s why modern-day communities are so forefronted in these works. I miss my ancestors who are gone; the more I learn about our history, the more I long for a future that includes and accounts for all their pasts.” Ross also thinks this longing can be productive, explaining, “we inhabit the forests as tourists. I think we can use longing to begin to reinhabit, after taking our leave, re-establishing nation-to-nation relationships with First Nations and allowing the forest to regrow in our midst.”
Apparitions of The Wild is not merely a meditation on the past, but a political critique of our connection to the land, as well as of Canada’s poor treatment of First Nations people, one that searches for a hopeful future. Ross writes, “This land is unceded from the Algonquin Anishinàbe First Nation – never signed away – who have had their massive land claim finally accepted for negotiation by the Crown. The implications of settler abandonment and subsequent sylvan regrowth are therefore vast.” ■
Apparition of The Wild is on Nov. 30 – Dec. 15, Centre Skol (372 Ste-Catherine W, # 314). The vernissage takes place tonight, Nov. 30, 5:30 p.m., free