First Year Emily Carr
People sometimes think going to art school is a cop out, like it’s all fun and games. It is fun, but the workload is fucking intense, I mean, you really never ever stop working there. I still did school work in my dreams, it was so intense.
First Year was the weirdest though, by far, because in a way they had to weed out people who couldn’t hack it. And they did it in this so bizarre way, because they basically turn First Year into high school. You have a seperate corridor for doing first year things and all your classes and you get to go into the auditorium for lectures. This is the Lictors returning to Brutus the Dead Bodies of his Sons. Yes, that was the one I remember the most. I had the title memorized just because it was so unwieldy. But it was an interesting concept, I mean, if you wanted to know if artists could hack art school, simulate a high school environment, but with total free thinking.
I think that is what pissed off a lot of people, because we were so ready to leave high school. None of us had felt we engaged in high school society to our full capabilities. So I kept hearing my friends say “This is high school! We’re still in high school!” And it seemed to be the queer ones who had the most trouble with the concept, because we’d do something totally ‘mo and all these people would give us weird looks like we were fucked up. I think the professors really defended the queer students though, as much as they could anyway, because they knew queer theory was just always in art, always. It’s just there.
I remember it so well, because I was in a class Judy Radul was teaching on media and I did what I thought was a hilarious little composition. I had interviewed BDSM friends about the community we were in, and I mixed it to a four track. And I had some really funny clips. I had my roommate Christie, for one, and she had wild stories! I got her to tell me all about pansexual sex clubs in San Francisco, and it was so cool because she was very matter of fact about it. She even told me what a witches wheel was, and I still haven’t seen one of those anywhere I’ve gone. And so I made my little report to the class and all these people gave me this freaked out look. And I was like “What? What? Why is that weird?” I think after class Judy said “You know, most of these people haven’t had sex yet.” Maybe a different prof told me that actually. And I was like “Whatever, I’ve only had sex three times, why is this so hard for people to talk about? Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do with sex, talk about it?”
I don’t know. I did know, however, that boys were totally willing to spill their secrets to the girls. A gay friend of mine was like “Do you know all the boys draw in the bathroom is penises? That is all they draw! I don’t think they know how to draw anything else.”
The best elder was there for first year, Shirley Bear. I can’t explain why she was the best, but she influenced EVERYONE who was there at the time. I remember one time later on in second term I walked into her office all glum. She asked “What’s wrong?” “Oh. The other day I was napping and a thunderbird flew in and started flying around and around and it dropped a mouse on my back and the mouse ran in to the base of my spine and did something and then they both went away. I feel like I am being called to something. What do I do? Do I have to start being a medicine person?” And she gave the best answer, she said “You are nineteen years old, you have to go be silly for a while.” And I was like “Hey man, awesome, now I can figure out who I am.” I honestly think that is the best recommendation for early spiritual seekers, except for that cult thing, yes, that is the pitfall. But I think going to Emily Carr for four years did help me figure myself out. And I remember by the end of it when I was on antidepressants, people started telling me “You act SO drugged.” I’m curious what it would have been like to do Emily Carr without pills, but they got rid of Shirley Bear just after first year ended, because she was freaking them out because she would smudge with students.
It hit all the students really hard. And we were trying to get her back for ages and the administration wouldn’t budge. Worse than that, we knew even if we did convince them to rehire her, she was never coming back. It was such a difficult time. I think she went to bat for the Native students a hell of a lot more than most of them knew. Ah, they probably did know. But she knew where students had to go and she would fight with people if they didn’t get it. Because Emily Carr seemed to think Aboriginal students needed studio classes badly, because they didn’t know that all aboriginals grow up doing studio really, in their own ways. So I think it was the rare person who actually got to move into a specialized area of learning. She fought for me to get into the film department, she was tough. But I don’t think Emily Carr was ready for an elder who knew that essentially all her students knew what they needed. Because we just naturally came in humble and saying we didn’t know stuff, and that was an attitude that Europeans never understood, because they assumed it meant we really DIDN’T know stuff. But mostly “I don’t know” is a really good mantra for learning, honestly, which is why you say it so much.
But the students did bond, the native students, because we had to, we still had to struggle with our race, in a friggin art school! And I remember watching other more brown native people being asked to talk about their culture in class. And I just thought, that is lazy. They’re learning about their culture right now and you’re trying to make them give answers instead of have good questions. I remember for one of our groups shows we all gave our treaty cards to Sondra Cross, who copied them and made a mobile. And this guy who’s name I have flaked on said “Yeah man, it’s called Statusfaction!” I thought that was so clever. I mean, we did inspire each other, which was the fun thing. Peter Morin went on to try to break the Guinness World Record for largest bannock. So you can kind of see where it all went. And the guys and girls did talk to each other, and they were fine with queers. They didn’t care who you were as long as you knew how to make them think. And they were having fun! They didn’t always want to make the hardcore stuff, they wanted to be silly and make each other laugh. We all knew our history to begin with, we didn’t want to talk about all the bad things. We wanted to goof off. We knew the bad things were there!
I think James Luna was one of my inspirations for being ridiculous AND political. He came to Saskatoon once and we all got to hang out with him. We went to Buds on Broadway and went dancing. And I used to talk to him about music, because he knew some funky boy music that I had never heard of before. And he did this one great transformation performance to Weezer, I mean man, such a boy! He was great. And he knew how hard it was for light skinned Native people, which was something that made me feel better. In fact, in the art community I find that skin tone amongst Native artists doesn’t really matter, they just want to know that you GET IT. And people can be clueless with any skin colour.
Apparently Norval Morriseau had a whole room full of dildos. I think Barry Ace told me that one.