Beautiful Books: The Land We Are

June 16, 2015

The publication of The Land We Are, edited by Gaberielle L'Hirondelle Hill and Sophie McCall, coincides with the release of the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. Throughout The Land We Are, art offers a pathway into the decolonization movement, a place from which to imagine a more just future while refusing to “close the book” on a history that is ever-present in the lived experience of Canadians and Indigenous peoples. In this edition of Beautiful Books, The Land We Are publisher ARP Books takes us through some of the design decisions that went into this book, and how it reflects and builds upon its message of the paramount importance Indigenous artistic expression.

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This spring, ARP Books published The Land We Are: Artists and Writers Unsettle the Politics of Reconciliation, edited by Gaberielle L'Hirondelle Hill and Sophie McCall. It was an ambitious project with twenty contributors and over a hundred images. For the book design, our goal was to reflect the tone of artwork it features: vivid, contemporary, and thought-provoking. The book needed to move readers between reading, looking, and thinking. We achieved this by using  creative typography and layouts, and a larger format (it’s 6.5 x 9.5’’) with colour images throughout.

The cover was designed Sébastien Aubin, a founding member of the  ITWÉ Collective, a group of artists and designers dedicated to research, creation, production and education in the field of Aboriginal digital culture. The cover image is a still from the performance piece Hair by Peter Morin and Ayumi Goto. Here, Morin becomes the scissors that cut the hair of residential school students. With stones tide to his arms, legs, and torso, the artist’s body at once signifies the burden of colonial violence and the healing potential of pain through ceremony. 

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The interior design was a collaboration between the contributing artists, the editors, and designer Terry Corrigan from Relish New Brand Experience in Winnipeg. Each chapter of the book has a unique layout. The book begins with a visual essay by Dylan Robinson and Keren Zaointz on the mixed success of the City of Vancouver’s strategy to integrate Indigenous culture into the cityscape.

 

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Exploring the push to showcase Indigenous art in public spaces from the artists’ perspective, the second chapter interweaves the poetic voices of the New BC Indian Art and Welfare Society Collective alongside images of their collaborative work, Underlying States. The drawings were created in the style of the “exquisite corpse,” a method made popular by the Surrealists in the 1920s. It is a game with folded paper where every participant makes a drawing without knowing what has come before. 

 

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The book moves between poetry, visual art, and theoretical writing that interrogate the current era of reconciliation in Canada. The innovative and moving chapter “Writing Touch Me”is a dialogue between artists Skeena Reece and Sandra Semchuk before and after creating Reece’s video work Tough Me. Beside stills from the video, at once reflective and emotionally charged letters between these two renowned artists are shown with the editors’ “tracked changes” as the chapter was prepared for publication. The design works to create tension by showing how survivor testimonies are shaped and constructed for public consumption.

 

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Because the material demanded printing in colour throughout, we had fun using coloured fonts in the section openers and the front and end matter. 

 

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The publication of The Land We Are coincides with the release of the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. Throughout The Land We Are, art offers a pathway into the decolonization movement, a place from which to imagine a more just future while refusing to “close the book” on a history that is ever-present in the lived experience of Canadians and Indigenous peoples.


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