The “Object Lives” research group re-assembled in Montreal in early May 2016. Our hosts were two of our institutional partners in this project: the McCord Museum and the Gail and Stephen A. Jarislowsky Institute for Studies in Canadian Art. A great deal of preparation took place before this second workshop. Team members selected objects for group analysis after lengthy discussions during our monthly virtual meetings where we set priorities and scanned the wealth of the McCord collection. Monday and Tuesday were spent immersed in the McCord beginning with a private tour of the permanent exhibition “Wearing our Identities – The First Peoples Collections”, accompanied by the curator of this exhibition Guislaine Lemay. The inspired exhibit, itself a collaborative work with Indigenous scholars and communities, set the tone for our own labours.
McCord staff laid out a rich assemblage of artefacts and we slipped almost immediately into the rhythm of “close looking” we first shared at the Pitt Rivers Museum the previous spring. Quiet study was interspersed by intense conversations, questions, observations and discoveries. Occasional muffled shrieks could be heard as particularly delightful discoveries were made. Intense corner conversations took place as two or three debated meanings and others huddled over a snowshoe, saddle or bag. Some of these discoveries are revealed in other blog posts from this workshop. Others will emerge in our virtual exhibition (to be launched in early summer 2017); and still others will appear in our edited volume with McGill-Queen’s University Press. I don’t mean to tease. But just as the discovery process needs time, so, too, does the process of digestion where we figure out the significance of the look, cut or weight of the objects we saw.
Guislaine Lemay, Curator of Ethnology and Archaeology at the McCord generously contributed to our dialogues. Gilbert Gignac, formerly of Library & Archives Canada, also joined us on Tuesday, offering his expertise on the Peter Rindisbacher print and watercolour. Full-throated discussions took place among Laura Peers, Julie-Ann Mercer and Gilbert Gignac considering the production and circulation of these influential representations of northern colonial life.
On Wednesday, the Jarislowsky Institute, at Concordia University, provided another essential space where we presented individual draft findings from the previous year’s work. We profited enormously from this period of intensive discussion, with focused presentations and time to assess the future development of these themes. This element of the workshop extended our group collaboration through a more formal presentation and discussion format. Montreal was a tremendous next step in the articulation of this project.