The Association of the Unknown Shore is a new, interdisciplinary partnership that centres on co-produced practice-as-research. It will be a network of artists, academics, curators, and the Church of England. The Association will build a wider network to include Inuit artists and cultural organisations, contemporary art curators, and local artists to focus on collaborative, wayfinding goals and on questions of audience and spectatorship.
We respond to the Brigstow Living Well with Difference theme by acknowledging entangled networks of Inuit and British material cultures in the city of Bristol. To do this we address the legacy of Martin Frobisher’s attempt to ‘discover’ the Northwest Passage. Frobisher’s three voyages (1576-78) instead encountered Nunavut, in what would later be named ‘Canada’. These voyages enacted complex events, including the disappearance of four sailors; the capture and hostage-taking of four Inuit people who were brought to UK as proof of a strange and ‘savage’ land; a resource-extracting venture which turned into the first major gold-mining fraud in European history and involved the embedding of Nunavut ore in the British built environment; and a bungled attempt to establish a British colony – including the building of a small ‘English’ house at the summit of the Countess of Warwick's Island (now known as Kodlunarn Island) - which became the first step in the eventual establishment of British sovereignty over this northern half of the American continents. Three people from Nunavut - Arnaq, Callicho, and Nutaaq – were brought to Bristol and died here, their deaths registered at St Stephen’s Church. Before he died, Callicho performed an Inuit hunting display on the Avon. English oak, English stone, brass anvils and bells were left on Baffin Island and have become part of contemporary Inuit culture. Two thousand tons of Nunavut Amphibolite were incorporated into the fabric of buildings in Britain. The traces of Callicho’s hunting displays – the kayak and spears – are lost, but assumed to remain in England. Songs were exchanged between Inuit people and sailors. These voyages mixed peoples, ideas, objects and practices and they link the material pasts, presents and futures of the people of Bristol and Nunavut.
The project asks:
1) How might Bristol productively acknowledge its ongoing colonial legacy and contribute to the work of truth and reconciliation with Canada’s First Nations, Inuit and Metis people?
2) What is the potential role of arts practice within this process? How might contemporary enactments, ceremonies, and rituals devised in response to the archival and material records of this history make visible Bristol’s role in north American colonisation?
3) What are the mutually transformative exchanges that might occur between and across participatory art; the research practices of historians and geographers; the social mission of the Church of England; museum practice; and the work of Inuit cultural organisations?
4) How might a conversation between the 16th-century technologies of exploration and representation and the contemporary technologies used in this project be used to ‘indigenise’ Bristol’s history and contemporary urban landscape?
5) How might the Association bring a distributed, participatory artwork to a diverse audience, local and international?