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Issue # 3

Issue # 3

Article Listing

Remembering in America: Toward a Critical Dialogue
by Shanna Ketchum

Lita Fontaine - Sacred Feminine
by Amy Karlinsky

The Last Time I Saw Venice - Rebecca Belmore's Fountain
by Cathy Mattes

Renwick for Urban Shaman
by Loren Roberts

Feathers Float
by Jenny Fraser

Concepts of Native America
by Robert Houle

The Last Time I Saw Venice -Rebecca Belmore’s Fountain

Feature: The Last Time I Saw Venice -Rebecca Belmore’s Fountain

by Cathy Mattes

In Rebecca Belmore’s installation Fountain, water fountains are utilized as a concept to compel emotional responses. However unlike commemorative water fountains that ostensibly represent prosperity, Belmore’s Fountain contains layers of personal and global meaning. It touches on the power of place, and our common needs as human beings. Taking from the local and moving into the global, it also acknowledges the hegemonic nature of globalization and the potential for violence over our most important natural resource, water.

Using performance, sculpture, installation and video, Belmore’s highly political work often addresses history, place, and identity.  Examined themes include human’s relationship to land, the depletion of environmental resources, cultural stereotypes and women’s issues. Her body is usually her main artistic vehicle, “reinforcing the theory that culture and history are inscribed on the body”[1].

Belmore’s movements and gestures are recognizable, as she washes, sews, labours, and expresses heartache, loss, and resilience. By using her body in her performance work, references are made that recognize and honour women’s roles and experiences, as well as cultural tenacity. Her performances are intrinsicably linked to object-making, and often result in items that reflect her process and end results of her performance work.


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An example is Belmore’s performance alter-ego, High-tech Tipi Trauma Mama. Trauma Mama was an extroverted trickster, whose loudness and party-girl nature was a contradiction to stereotypical notions of Aboriginal women, such as the quiet Indian Princess, or submissive squaw. Trauma Mama came with various props during performances that later became exhibited art objects themselves. In Rising to the Occasion, Trauma Mama wore a version of a Victorian dress in a parade called the Twelve Angry Crinolines, organized at the time of the Duke and Duchess of York visit to Thunder Bay in the summer of 1987. The dress, which contained items such as a breastplate made of two fine English porcelain saucers, royalty memorabilia, trade objects, and a beaver dam bustle, is a wry comment on the impact of tourism and nationalism on contemporary First Nations realities.

In Vigil (2002), Belmore memorialized the lives of fifty women, mostly Aboriginal, who went missing in Vancouver, BC’s east end. In front of an audience in the crime and poverty plagued area, Belmore scrubbed the street clean, and ripped the thorns off of fifty rose stems with her teeth, while loudly calling out the names of the fifty missing women. She lit as many candles, then slipped into a red flowing dress that she nailed pieces of to telephone poles. Belmore violently ripped the dress, until it was completely torn from her body. She completed this memorialization, or cleansing, by relaxing against a pick-up truck, while listening to a James Brown tune.

The video made of this performance was featured in the work, The Named and the Unnamed, in which the projection screen was punctured with light bulbs. The lit bulbs made it somewhat distressing to see, as viewer’s attention was split between the surface screen and the image projected.[2] The struggle viewers had with watching the video on the textured screen was a physical reminder of the emotional anguish felt by many over this tragedy.

Fountain, which was created specifically for the 51st Venice Biennale, connects Venice and Vancouver BC, where Belmore now resides. Both locales are surrounded by water, and are places of commerce with busy ports. Fountains were imported to North America from Europe with colonization, and according to Belmore, Vancouver is “fountain obsessed.”

For centuries, water fountains have held cultural and communal significance. In towns and cities around the globe, water fountains were (and still are in some locations) a source for human consumption and survival. They were also gathering places for people to interact socially. Later, fountains became commissioned by churches, government states, wealthy individuals, and corporations such as banks to celebrate prosperity, regardless if it actually existed[3].

Commemorative fountains still compel us to believe in the powers that be, and that there is an abundance of natural, cultural, and economic resources to spare.  Rhythmic in motion and sound and often ornately designed, they are intoxicating symbols that feed our indulgent natures. Fountains have been commissioned in both Venice and Vancouver to suggest there is affluence due to an abundance of natural resources and natural beauty.  

Belmore describes Fountain as an apparition. It is located in a state somewhere between being asleep and awake. Referencing the four natural elements –air, fire, water, and earth, water is the main focus– water is our lifeline. Through a wall of hypnotic falling water a video image is projected of an industrial beach on a cold and cloudy day.

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It is Iona Beach outside of Vancouver BC. The beach is situated alongside the Pacific Ocean. It’s near an airport, sewage plant, Musqueam land, and lumber mills – all a mass of contradictions. A plane flies over the empty beach, where a pile of logs lay – perhaps leftovers from logging. The plane makes a bomb sound, and the logs become enflamed, beginning Belmore’s apparition. This fire is magic, and symbolizes the intense transformation that is about to occur.

The next shot is of Belmore, flailing in the water, struggling with a bucket. The bucket she urgently struggles with seems to represent various burdens, stemming from historical occurances, or from events that will soon take place.

After struggling, a calm descends over Belmore as she kneels and holds the bucket under water. Does her calmness mean she’s given into the weight of whatever she is besieged with, or that she now has a firm hold?

She then rises and walks onto the shore. Belmore fiercely throws the contents of the bucket towards the camera lens. Instead of water, it is now blood that covers the screen. Belmore stares at the lens that is now distorted with the blood. With the same calmness that came over her in the water, Belmore confronts the viewer.

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I interpret this sheet of blood to be a stain separating the viewer and Belmore. Stains have the potential to be permanent. Removing them can take immense work, and they seem to always leave a lasting mark, or memory of their existence. This bloody stain can be interpreted in several ways. One is that it represents history that Belmore is throwing back at the viewer for reflection. Belmore suggests that she is taking the weight of colonial history, washing it from her body, and splashing it on the screen where it becomes an object for reflection.[4] 

However, the stain represents much more than colonial history. The impact of globalization on natural resources is a stain that also needs to be rendered visible.

Globalization is becoming a powerful tool that is promoted as being inclusive and progressive. Globalization is “a set of processes leading to the integration of economic, cultural, political, and social systems across geographical boundaries”[5]. According to cultural theorist Ulf Hannerz in  “Scenarios for Peripheral Culture”, “Because of the great increase in the traffic in culture, the large-scale transfer of meaning systems and symbolic forms, the world is increasingly becoming one not only in political and economic terms, as in the climatic period of colonization, but in terms of its cultural construction as well; a global ecumene of persistent cultural interaction and exchange. This however, is no egalitarian global village.”[6]

 It can be argued that globalization stems from the process of capitalist development. Large-scale Western corporations lead the way for globalization. They thrive off of locating cheap labour in marginalized countries, benefit from global financial markets, and target natural resources in Third World countries. Belmore recognizes this inequality, and the impact it can have on everyone’s access to natural resources.

 In the late 1990’s the World Bank reported that 80 countries had water shortages that threaten health and economies. Over forty percent of the world has no access to clean water or sanitation. With these statistics, water may replace oil as a future cause of war between nations.[7] As societies become more inter-linked through globalization, any regional catastrophe can have great global repercussions. Belmore’s apparition warns viewers that violence may occur, if we do not take better care of our natural resources, and each other. The stain makes reference to blood that may be shed.

 Belmore’s acknowledgement of inequalities and what the environmental situation may become affirms that globalization is disguised hegemony. Hegemony loosely translated means the “capacity of dominant classes to persuade [often through force] others to accept, adopt, and internalize their values and norms”.[8] There are common threads that link humans together because of globalization, however the outcomes vary. They depend on whether your homeland is considered to have economic stability and political and social potential, and on what type of impact hegemonic entities have had. Belmore throws back this shared history that in diverse ways affects everyone for reflection.

 Cultures inform our assumptions and perceptions of the world we live in. It is, in my opinion, inherent within us. Not in a scripted way with a historical cultural traits that define the conventions of ethnicity.[9] Culture identity is encoded in memory, and inscribed in our psyches. As Belmore embarks on creating work that references global conditions, she speaks with an Indigenous global consciousness, while expressing resilience. This resilience comes from Belmore’s Aborginality – her inherent culture, from which she draws her voice to speak about global concerns.

 Fountain is a warning of sorts. However it also carries the message of cleansing, renewal and possibility. As we are exposed to her apparition, through the wall of falling water that intoxicates viewers, she effectively reminds us that despite history and present day hegemonic globalization “we are water, we are blood…we are all connected.”[10]

[1] Robin Laurence, “Fountain of Truth”, www.straight.comm

[2] Jann Bailey, Scott Watson, “Introduction in Rebecca Belmore – Fountain (British Columbia: Kamloops Art Gallery, The Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, 2005),9.

[3] Lee-Ann Martin, “The Waters of Venice: Rebecca Belmore at the Venice Biennale” in Canadian Art, Summer, 2005,

[4] Scott Watson & Rebecca Belmore, “Interview” in Rebecca Belmore – Fountain (British Columbia: Kamloops Art Gallery, The Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, 2005),27.


[6] Ulf Hannerz, “Scenarios for Peripheral Cultures” in Culture, Globalization, and the World-System, edited by Anthony D. King (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997),107.

[7] Author Unknown, “Global Water Shortage Looms in New Century” in Arizona Water Resource, Volume 8, #3, November – December, 1999.


[9] Benjamin Graves, “Homi K. Bhabha: the Liminal Negotiation of Cultural Difference”,, 1998

[10] Robin Laurence, “Fountain of Truth”,, May 26, 2005


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