Understanding where we are from is about the blood coursing through our veins and it is about the land we are on. It is about the extension of these facts back through time, across the circumstances that have coalesced to produced this moment. The long take of identity means reconciling stories told by one person against stories told by another, and against whatever material artifacts remain. Nicole Kelly Westman’s Inherited Narratives (2014) is an archive of this entirely common but no less profound attempt to make sense of biological and cultural inheritances.

After her grandfather’s death nearly ten years ago, Westman received a large Tupperware container full of his belongings, things that then sat untouched by the artist for many years. Upon rediscovery, these rocks and books and documents seemed to both corroborate and challenge the understanding she had of her grandfather and the place where he lived and died—Pine Point, North West Territories, a place she travelled to many times growing up.

Displayed across the exhibition space, Inherited Narratives becomes as much a story of Pine Point as it is a record of her grandfather’s proclivities. These heirlooms and ephemera speak back to Westman as heritage, in an intimate register, asking to be made sense of through an imaginative bridging between past and present. This is a heavy burden we ask objects to bear, to perform an Otherwise of memorialization despite the utter indifference objects have to our need to remember or make sense. Westman addresses this, in part, by remaking these inherited narratives as art objects, as when she blows up an article written about the town’s first resident (and a distant relative) into a poster, or reconstructs town fair ribbons as textiles. Westman, for all I know, has introduced objects herself, so that inheritance, as it is actually, becomes a living document, a story without end.

The stories we tell ourselves about our lives are not always so easily corroborated by the material traces that remain, and yet, as Joan Didion once remarked, we (must) tell ourselves stories in order to live. Westman’s work positions itself at this crux of desire and disregard, drawing attention to the ingrained hierarchal forms we use to interpret historical remains, inviting a polyphonous remembrance of her own family tree.

EXHIBITION TEXT: Talking Back, Otherwise
CURATED BY: cheyanne turions

Beckly and Westman's Romance and Nostalgia, for The Coast by Jade Nauss