An interdisciplinary artist, writer, educator and cultural activist with a wide-ranging practice based in poetics and philosophy. Born in Zimbabwe of Chinese Toisanese parents, her family immigrated to Canada in 1977 to leave the war in Rhodesia. Recipient of numerous Canada Council and BC Arts Council awards and the Vancouver 2008 Queer Media Artist Award, Laiwan has served on numerous arts juries, exhibited and curated projects in Canada, the United States, and Zimbabwe. She was Chair of the grunt gallery Board of Directors and currently teaches in the MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts Program at Goddard College in Washington, USA. Laiwan founded the Or Gallery in 1983 and is based on the unceded territories of the xwməθkwəy̓əm, Sḵwx̱wú7mesh, and səl̓ilwətaɁɬ Peoples.
Director/Curator of Artspeak 2016–present.
Maple Tree Spiral
June 14–July 27, 2019
With Egan Davis, Anne Riley, T’uy’t’tanat Ceass Wyss, Melissa West Morrison and Marika van Reeuwyk of the Environmental Youth Alliance, Sepideh Saii, Daniel Negatu, and brothers Frank and Dance Williams.
Situated a short distance from Artspeak at the corner junction of Carrall, Water, Alexander and Powell Streets was formerly the site of Maple Tree Square. Laiwan takes the historic site of the Square as a starting point for her research project Maple Tree Spiral: the pedagogy of a tree in the city. The original Maple Tree no longer stands, and instead a statue of ‘Gassy’ Jack Deighton. As a site where one of the first city council meetings of the settlement of Gastown was held, Laiwan considers how Maple Tree Square is a space of convergence.
Maple Tree Spiral is a research project studio residency that will remain in process over time in the gallery, being shaped through events and activities with a number of contributors and with a practice dedicated to a wider understanding of trees as a way to reorient and reconfigure how we inhabit the city and urban environment. During this time at Artspeak, Laiwan will present several works informed by her research, as well as a place to share people’s tree stories, and a site of gathering for events that will take place over the course of the project.
Laiwan’s interdisciplinary research maintains a rhizomatic methodology proximate to Donna Haraway’s assertion of a deeply embodied praxis that lends itself to better comprehending and articulating multispecies sociality. Haraway has frequently spoken of the ‘… need for other kinds of stories’, particularly ones that draw attention to the relationship between human and non-human forms living alongside one another. Put simply, to shift our focus and attend to what is already there. Maple Tree Spiral draws upon what is not immediately perceptible in our urban environment.
When we first began speaking about Maple Tree Spiral, Laiwan sent me an image of Goethe’s Oak, followed by an image from her work ‘C A V E: C A V E A T’ of an engraved print of a large tree in a labyrinth. Within the labyrinth are people actively conversing; and in close proximity a Minotaur is seen digging the earth, as if trying to get out. We know this image to be a depiction of The Labyrinth of Crete from Greek mythology. Central to many stories of trees is their role as monuments both mundane (as wayfinding markers) to that of bearers of knowledge, as witnesses, and integral to philosophical and religious concepts. During my year of correspondence with Laiwan, our line of questioning around trees in the city would incrementally shift to an attentiveness of the trees we live alongside. Informed by a site-specificity in her research and practice, Maple Tree Spiral questions the narratives we are attuned to, the ones that we want to deviate from, and the ones we want to write and hear.
Meeting with several individuals and organizations over the course of a year, Laiwan started to build an informal constellation and network of relationships with the objective of how to better care for trees in our immediate environment. Laiwan describes the building of these relationships and partnerships between human and non-human forms as a process of ‘sympoiesis’ – collectively created, produced and organized, without a central node. Another term, which nuances the decentralized nature of entangled relationships that Laiwan has mentioned, is ‘holobionts’ – assemblages of different species that remain in progress and are highly interdependent. Maple Tree Spiralfosters entangled ways of knowing that allow for a reading and writing that incites other ways of living and imagining the world.
Laiwan would like to thank Hannah Doyle, Mae Stark, Marc Hanson, Cynthia Low, Britannia Community Centre, Sharon Bayly, Mrs. Chin Kow Chung, Harmony Gardens X̱wemelch’stn pen̓em̓áy, City of Vancouver Arborists Troy Hudson, Jeff D’Altroy and Terry Marshall, Karen Henry, Douglas Justice, Dana Cromie, Dan Guinan at the Native Education College, and the BC Arts Council.
CEASE WYSS, ANNE RILEY
July 13, 2019
Join artists T’uy’t’tanat-Cease Wyss and Anne Riley for a warm time feast, gathering to honor the maple trees near Cottonwood Garden. The gathering will start at the south east entrance of Strathcona Park and we will walk through Cottonwood Garden for a short plant talk and end with a community picnic with bannock and berries.
DANIEL NEGATU, SEPIDEH SAII
July 6, 2019
Please join us July 6 at 2pm for more stories about trees and the reception for “Maple Tree Spiral”.
DANIEL NEGATU is an artist born and raised in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and is now based in Vancouver. His time-based photographic works have been exhibited in Ethiopia, South Africa, Burkina Faso, United States, France and Canada. His interest and research considers the convergence of indigenous African/Ethiopian mediums with technological driven forms such as cinema, photography, VR and AR in order to create new ways of telling stories, engaging audiences to foster community values.
SEPIDEH SAII is an artist based in Vancouver. Her work has been shown in galleries and film festivals throughout Europe, Canada, the United States, and Japan. In 2014, she exhibited her film, “Behind the Scene”, at Whitechapel Gallery alongside artists Shirin Neshat and Bill Viola. Saii has extensive experience teaching film production at Simon Fraser University, Emily Carr University of Art Design, and the University of Oregon. In 2009, she received her MA in Fine Art Media at UCL’s Slade School of Fine Art in London, England.
June 29, 2019
In conjunction with Laiwan’s exhibition “Maple Tree Spiral: pedagogy of a tree in the city”, horticulturist and tree-whisperer Egan Davis will lead a tree walk this Saturday, June 29th at 2PM.
Participants will meet at Artspeak for this 1-hour walk, venturing along the streets of Gastown, Strathcona and Chinatown. Egan will be speaking to plant diversity, resilience and adaptation, street tree selection and the nursery industry, Vancouver’s urban ecology and interconnectedness.
EGAN DAVIS is a leader in the professional horticulture industry. He is a qualified Red Seal Horticulturist from Vancouver, BC. Currently, Egan is the principal instructor for the Horticulture Training Program at the University of British Columbia. With past experiences at VanDusen Botanical Garden, Park & Tilford Gardens and the Mendel Floral conservatory in Saskatoon, Egan has a unique background focused on public and botanical gardens. For his entire career, Egan has also run a residential garden consultation, design and build company. As a board member of HortEdBC, Egan has contributed to the industry and has a keen interest in promoting Red Seal certification in BC.
June 22, 2019
As Part of Laiwan’s exhibition Maple Tree Spiral: the pedagogy of a tree in the city, Saturday June 22 at 2pm: T’uy’t’tanat Cease Wyss will lead us with K’emk’emel’ay: Large Groves of Maples – Stories of Maples and Other Skwxwu7mesh stories. There’ll be food, beverages and Cease’s special Labrador tea.
T’uy’t’tanat – Cease Wyss is an indigenous plant educator and interdisciplinary artist of Skwxwu7mesh, Sto:lo, Metis, Hawaiian, and Swiss heritage. She has extensive experience producing various formats of media art for almost 30 years, and works as an ethnobotanist with traditional training by Indigenous elders. Cease combines culturally focused teaching with storytelling as a means to share knowledge. She recently co-authored Journey to Kaho’olawe, covering more than two centuries of the Kanaka family’s migration to the Pacific Northwest coast, and was also a recipient of the City of Vancouver Mayor’s Arts Award for film and new media in 2010. Among her long list of artist residencies and presentations is the Stanley Park Environmental Art Project, where she helped create public artworks after a storm devastated Stanley Park in 2006. Cease was the Vancouver Public Library’s Indigenous Storyteller in Residence in 2018. She is currently working in collaboration with artist Anne Riley on a project titled A Constellation of Remediation, toward creating Indigenous gardens in vacant gas station lots in the city, commissioned by the City of Vancouver’s Artist Initiated Projects Public Art Program.