Originally from Newfoundland, Montreal-based animator, filmmaker and visual artist Glenn Gear is often inspired by the exploration of his identity as an urban Inuk with ancestral ties to Nunatsiavut. “I find once you’re really embedded in those creative processes, you can uncover so much about yourself,” says Gear, adding that he typically produces content for his community and other Inuit across and outside of Inuit Nunangat. “I’m always grappling with that idea of being on the land and belonging to the land, but also feeling comfortable in the city.”
Speaking with Gear, it is hard to miss the playful energy that is so apparent in much of his work. His recent animation Kablunât: Legend of the Origin of the White People (2016) draws from a Nunatsiavummiut legend recorded by a Moravian missionary. Making use of archival photographs collected over nearly nine years, Gear reinterprets the legend for a contemporary Inuit audience, while framing the story as a reclamation from colonial retellings. “I wanted to literally insert myself in that narrative, break it apart and see what was there in a kind of dreamlike way,” he notes.
In 2016, at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, Gear expanded his practice outward to include installation, creating a piece comprised of two opposing murals, representing the city and the wilderness, respectively, that met on a third wall where his own footage from Nunatsiavut was projected on a circular “portal.” “I think people pass back and forth all the time, so I don’t want to set up an artificial division between ‘the urban’ and ‘the wild’,” he explains. “I think home is always that space in between.”
– Emily Henderson
Emily Henderson: How did you get started as a filmmaker?
Glenn Gear: Before I got heavily involved in filmmaking, I was always interested in animation. Animation was not something that I studied during my BFA or my MFA, but was something that I came to shortly after I graduated. I was always interested in moving images and moving pictures. I was introduced to a few animators at Concordia University very early on and immediately fell in love with the process. My introduction to filmmaking came about first and foremost through thinking about narrative and non-narrative ways of developing stories. So, even though I do not have a background in filmmaking or animation, those are skills I picked up along the way with a background in photography and installation work.
EH: Can you tell me a little bit about your installation work?
GG: Three years ago I did an installation at the Banff Center for Arts and Creativity called Untitled, Nunak (2016) that consisted of a large mural spanning three walls of my studio space. One side represented the urban and the other side was my interpretation of the wild, immense land of Labrador. On one wall there was a human being, a man in his underwear, and across from him a bear in a similar pose. Together, they are opening up a portal on the third wall between them. The portal was a meeting place between these two worlds that opened up into a video projection set to the sound of a drumbeat created by a friend of mine, Mohawk artist Lindsay Dobbin. It was made up of animation, video clips of Labrador and images of life along the coast. As an urban Inuk, I’m always grappling with that idea of being on the land and of the land but also feeling comfortable in the city. And, as a queer Inuk, it’s always important to find other likeminded beings to kind of share that, which will happen more easily within urban environments.
EH: Something that I hear a lot from artists is the way they use their work to explore and connect with their identity. Do you find this important in your work as well?
GG: Absolutely. That is the really exciting part, when you are deeply involved in a process of making and creating whether it’s through film or animation or anything else, you can uncover so much about yourself. You can understand the way you relate to materials—whether they are digital or more traditional and analog. I always say that my hands are slightly ahead of my brain, but I trust my process and I trust that something will come out of it. You just have to give yourself the space and to trust and to be open to it. It’s a very intuitive process that’s taken me a long time to come to.
EH: Could you tell me about the film The Fifth Region (2018)?
GG: That work is very close to my heart, as it was the first documentary I worked on in a traditional manner as an associate producer as well as an animator. In working with Aeyliya [Husain] and with Gabriel [Nuraki Koperqualuk], we met a lot of urban Inuit and we had a lot of similar understandings of home and the urban environment. I think people pass back and forth between the city and the land all the time so I do not want to set up and artificial division between “here is the urban” and “here is the wild, here is home” because I think for us “home” is always that space in between. I met some incredible folks that helped solidify my own ideas of Indigeneity in the city and what that means, especially for Inuit.
EH: Can you tell me about the creative process behind your animated films such as Kablunât: Legend of the Origin of the White People (2016)?
GG: I came across a traditional legend that was transcribed by a Moravian Missionary by the name of F.W. Peacock. For me, rereading this as an Inuk, I thought it was a kind of interesting layering of history where I am taking back this transcribed story that I had not heard but read it through the filter of this missionary who was actually quite sympathetic to the Inuit. I felt I could re-interpret this story from the point of view of my Kablunât background and my Inuit background and see it from both sides. I did a lot of research into the public archives through Memorial University, through the federal archives in Canada and even the Library of Congress in the US. I was really looking at settler and Inuit life along the coast and searching for that story through the photo archives. It took me many years to amalgamate and collect all that work and I finally just started collaging those colonial photographs [of Inuit] that were taken by the Kablunât that eventually became the film.
EH: Who would you consider to be your intended audience(s)?
GG: Audience is something I always think about. Foremost, I do think I work for myself and my family—families connected to my own who are both settler and Inuit—and for communities within the Nunasiavut region. It also becomes broader, so settlers and maybe other folks who are not Indigenous can understand and can maybe tease out or glean different things from my work. So, at times it can be for a broad public, but it is always for my community. You may not get some of the nuances that are embedded in there, but someone who does not have an Indigenous background can still understand the story and appreciate all the archival footage.
EH: What do you hope audiences take away from your work?
GG: I think throughout a lot of my work there is a playfulness. I emphasize a really strong link between people, animals and the land. We are always going back to the land, so there is a knowledge of place and being as well as a joyfulness or vitality that can come out of that. I think a lot of outsiders do not see Indigenous cultures as dynamic, but rather something that’s fixed in time and place and behind museum glass. Whereas, for a lot of Inuit, I think we really see the ways in which we are interwoven with new and emerging technologies. We are very adaptable. We have had to be self-sufficient. And, I really love that resiliency of our culture.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity
This Profile appeared in the Summer 2019 issue of the Inuit Art Quarterly.