Aimée Dawn Robinson at the Chu Niikwän Artist Residency
The Chu Niikwän Artist Residency is a partnership between the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre (KDCC), the Yukon Arts Centre and the Yukon Art Society. Now in its third year, the residency provides three visual artists with studio space in Whitehorse for three weeks at the end of summer. This year’s residency culminates in an exhibit, Meeting the Currents, which opens at the KDCC on Nov. 7.
The residency also includes curatorial support for the artists. This year’s curators include Nicole Bauberger of Whitehorse and Lori Beavis, who lives in Montréal. The curators selected all three participating artists, Asad Chishti, Robyn McLeod and Aimée Dawn Robinson. Of course, COVID-19 threw the participants a few curveballs. Rather than travelling to Whitehorse, McLeod created her work in Ross River, and Beavis tuned in remotely from Montréal. Instead of gathering in person in their studios, participants connected via Zoom. Aimée Dawn Robinson’s Seven is the first in a series of stories featuring the Chu Niikwän artists and their work.
For the three-week residency, Dawn Robinson travelled from her cabin in the woods to her temporary studio space in the Old Fire Hall, provided by the Yukon Arts Centre. She found the transition from her hermit-like existence to a more social, urban environment to be the reversal of most residency situations, where artists seek solitude and go into retreat.
Dawn Robinson is primarily a dancer, but is also a visual artist. She incorporated both these disciplines into her residency piece, entitled Seven.
The title is in reference to a shooting which occurred on August 23, 2020, the day before the residency officially began. In Kenosha, Wisconsin, police officer Rusten Sheskey shot at 29-year-old Jacob Blake seven times. Blake, who is African American, was hit four times. In September, Dawn Robinson performed a variation of the piece at Wondercrawl. She wrapped seven trees and stumps with bright red fabric, then danced with them to “There is a Balm in Gilead,” an African American spiritual song. She found the Wondercrawl experience “a really cool part of the residency.”
“The audience was really respectful,” Dawn Robinson says. “It had this really great calm, quiet feeling to it.”
For the main piece that comprises Seven, Robinson combines dance with a very long garment she created from fabric donated by Yukoners in response to a call on ArtsNet. She embellished the piece with seven fabric rosettes.
The effort it took to sew the garment, and the integration of decorative elements such as the rosettes, stem from Robinson’s northern Hungarian ancestry. For Robinson, her creative effort, combined with the beauty of the piece, are necessary for its solemn purpose. It will be worn by the artist and six other performers during a healing procession along the Yukon River.
“It needs to be beautiful, it needs to be somewhat formal and it needs to have a lot of effort put into it,” Robinson says.
The procession will start from the Old Fire Hall and end at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre on the day the exhibit opens. Afterwards, the garment will be installed as a sculptural work in the show.