Public Studio: Fusing Environmentalism, Indigneous Rights and Technology

Submitted by Sonja Johnston on Thu, 12/12/2019 - 13:36

Public Studio, JHI’s Artists in Residence for 2019-20, is the collaborative art practice of filmmaker Elle Flanders and architect Tamira Sawatzky. For a recent Thursday Fellows’ Lunch they treated us to a brief retrospective of a few of their exhibition works before giving us a preview of their newest installation opening in January 2020. The following text was provided by Public Studio, with contributions from Kimberley Yates.

“We Are All Animals”, located in front of a condo across from High Park in Toronto, is a permanent public art installation that addresses the co-existence of ecology, environmentalism and technology. The installation includes three limestone coyotes in the courtyard, an inscription in bronze—reminding us that “we are all animals”—and a large LED screen displaying different landscape scenes changing over the course of days, months, years.

“We Are All Animals”—Three-piece permanent public art installation commissioned by Daniels Corporation.


“Wood Between Worlds” was an LED public art installation that used an “open world” video game design, providing viewers with the opportunity to roam freely and explore their surroundings, without the constraints of traditional video game design (i.e. completing challenges before reaching higher levels). The installation was mounted outside the TD bank at Queen Street and Bay Street in Toronto.

“Wood Between Worlds”—May 27th to September 3rd, 2019. Public artwork, looping video on LED screen, TD Arts Wall, Toronto


Much of their recent work is a series of partnerships and collaborations with Indigenous women, whose voices we hear in their film pieces. In "The New Field", Public Studio walk the entire Bruce Trail (900km) in advocacy for the Indigenous people of the Bruce Peninsula, who are fighting to establish their claim on unceded land, and on the waters around the peninsula. While actively exploring the question: "What does decolonisation look like?", they were joined by artists, activists, scientists, writers, curators, philosophers, educators, and youth groups.

The New Field-A Performative Durational Work
“The New Field”—A Performative Durational Work.


Public Studio's presentation concluded with a preview of their upcoming exhibition "This Place, Neyaashiinigmiing" at the Doris McCarthy Gallery at UTSC that will use film installations to tell the story of this unceded land and Indigenous peoples’ battle over the last century with high-security, white, “old-boys” hunting lodges in the area.  The histories of fish, nuclear power, and the Indigenous peoples’ struggle for their land are very much entangled.

The ensuing discussion focussed in on Public Studio’s use of video game environments, something that is unusual for the art world, as well as “passive mode” gaming—wandering around exploring a created world without specific goals. A discussion also rose around issues of women gamers.

Public Studio | Artists in Residence: This Place, Neyaashiinigmiing

This Place, Neyaashiinigmiing weaves a set of narratives about genetically modified fish, nuclear power and private hunting islands, against the backdrop of the Bruce Peninsula’s unforgettable landscape. In an immersive installation of video, sound and drawings, the work examines the ongoing court case between the Saugeen Ojibway Nation (SON) and the Canadian Government contemplating how exploitative threads from Canada's colonial history continue today and have deep environmental and social impacts.

This Place, Neyaashiinigmiing, Public Studio 2019

"This Place, Neyaashiinigmiing"—Public Studio 2019. The Saugeen Ojibwe Nation land claim sets a precedent in Canadian law in their interpretation of waterbeds as land.


Canadian Senator Justice Murray Sinclair has famously argued, regarding Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation initiatives, that “reconciliation is a verb, it is something you do.” As today’s corporate and state apparatuses feel ever-more opaque and insurmountable, we are increasingly reminded that any such conciliatory “doing” will only be possible through solidarity across cultural and class divides, between Indigenous and settler Canadians.

Public Studio in collaboration with Nyle Miigizi Johnston, an artist, muralist, storyteller from Neyaashiinigmiing, as well as other members of the Saugeen Ojibway Nation (SON), artist Ange Loft and composer Dave Wall have created This Place, Neyaashiinigmiing, sketching imaginative and poetic associations between the political, ecological, and legal narratives that play out across Indigenous and settler history. Together, our stories weave contrasting tales of past and present, creation and colonization, dispossession and perseverance.