Ashley Caranto Morford on de-firsting and the CHESS 2017 Summer School:
“It’s not only that Devine’s map defaces and reclaims the colonial space of the gallery that makes Battle for the Woodlands such an empowering tool for and of de-firsting — it is also that this piece is literally painted overtop a nineteenth-century colonial map of Canada, thereby overtly suppressing and invalidating the colonial vision, as well as colonial assumptions that Western “civilization” has rights to the land and water.
“Colonial maps often present land as a commodity. They fail to acknowledge our relationship with the land, or they present that relationship as one in which humanity takes and takes and takes from the land and never gives, that is, as a relationship that is one-sided, abusive of the land, and that fails to see the land as living. What is perhaps most powerfully de-firsting about Battle for the Woodlands is that, in it and through it, Devine deconstructs this notion of land as commodity. She shows the land and waterscapes as living, as is most clearly offered in her envisioning of the Great Lakes as animals, painted in a colour that is also reflective of blood. As Devine said in her CHESS keynote and as Battle for the Woodlands shows, the land and water are our “lifeblood…our kin, our lungs and heart.” As we come to understand and to celebrate the land as living and as life-giver, so too should we come to understand our relationship with the land as one that should be of kinship. Devine’s de-firsting work urges us to re-map our own understanding of this land not as commodity but as kin…”