Recap on graduate student-led 2023 Critical Relations Symposium, Encounters

The Critical Relations Symposium was held on April 28 and 29th, 2023. Organized by the It’s Lit! Club, the symposium offered undergraduate and graduate students an opportunity to share their research with the wider campus academic community.

Below is a recap of the events held in April, from the desk of co-organizer, and It’s Lit! Club Treasurer, Jess Beaudin:

The 2023 Critical Relations Symposium: Encounters was opened with song, story, and collective discussion by Anona Kampe, a knowledge keeper from the Penticton Indian Band. Anona’s requested self-introduction highlighted for us the critical role her own relations play in her interwoven understanding of self and place–she is a mother, a daughter, a teacher, a student, and she lives in mutually fruitful relation with nonhuman beings and with the land that is often called Penticton, on Syilx territory.

Anona shared a simultaneously traditional and seasonally non-traditional telling of captikʷł–a story of a boulder-carrying competition among the earth’s beings– after which we were each called to share our personal takeaway or experience of the story. Like the repetition and emphasis used throughout the story, this collective and iterative processing reinforced the multiple meanings of the story, and inscribed these meanings for those in attendance onto the non-consensual marked land to which the story refers: the now-settler-deconstructed boulder heritage site near Summerland, BC. Opening our symposium in this way drew attention to the encounters between settler and Indigenous lifeways, as well as human encounters with what we linguistically collapse, violent in its terminological simplicity, into ‘the land’.

Read about the site and its alterations.

The intimacy of this opening to our symposium and welcome to those attending perfectly framed our topic of Encounters across story, history, and forms of being.

Our first and only panel submitted as such, “Fostering Interconnectedness through Artistic Interjections” hosted Miriam Cummings, Ronan Fraser, and Annie Furman, three MFA students from UBCO working in theatre and creative writing. As a throughline, their presentations employed art as a method and mediating encounter, intervening politically, environmentally, and interpersonally through a desire to do better, be better, and make better through their work.

Our second and concluding panel of the day, “Encounters Across the Mechanical”, brought together Larissa Piva (UBCO MFA), Brianne Christensen (UBCO MA), and Nathalie Kurkjian (UBCO BA). We witnessed explorations of artificial intelligence technologies and art, the author as function set in conversation with paratexts, and epistemological liberation and limitations through language construction. These considerations for how we encounter texts–considerations of form, construction, language, and boundaries, helped shift our framing to the how of encounter, in addition to the what. 

Presenters, organizers, and faculty enjoyed dinner together the evening of April 28th, 2023 at Kelowna’s Frankie We Salute You, before returning, rested and well-caffeinated the next morning for our third panel: “Encountering Loss and Memory”. This panel hosted Bibek Sharma (MFA), Zev Tiefenbach (MFA), and Andisha Sabri (MFA), all of whose works confront geographical space and disconnection, cultural inheritances, and post-memory in exploring identity.

We were honoured to have Nancy Holmes present her work, “Place, Play, Love: Community art as ‘non-proscriptive space” as a keynote for our symposium. Dr. Holmes’ presentation came in two parts: first, she shared stunning images and information about the MANY bee species local to the Okanagan and British Columbia more broadly–an educational talk very much in line with her work as representative of Border Free Bees; second, she spoke to the value of community-based art projects and the power such projects hold for incremental ethical shifts toward nonhuman beings with whom we share this earth. Her presentation articulated a powerful message regarding how artists and academics alike can engage with and activate critical masses in the public in order to create change.

Our final panel, “Living Precariously: Embodied Encounters”, was composed of Karyann Dorn (M-IGS), Claire Miller-Harder (MFA), and Britt Mackenzie-Dale (PhD Candidate UNB) (absent). Like some of our other panels, our final panel was emotionally-laden insofar as it drew together systemic homelessness and the opioid crisis in southern Alberta and elsewhere, and Mennonite women’s embodied resistance to abuse and silencing. In both cases, the act of writing and its oration became an outcry–a site and an encounter with truths that are both repressed and ignored.

We are so grateful to all who shared their work and attended The Critical Relations Symposium: Encounters. In closing, I want to extend our collective gratitude to Dr. Nancy Holmes, whose donation back to our conference enabled us to create our first Critical Relations Symposium Student Paper Prize, awarded to two participants in this year’s symposium! To this, we also extend our heartfelt congratulations to both Brianne Christensen and Zev Tiefenbach, whose exceptional presentations are well-deserving of extra accolades. We treasure all the incredible presentations and the work that made selecting awardees so very difficult for this event. Lastly, we look forward to the next iteration of the Critical Relations Symposium, hosted by It’s Lit! Club!”

Below are some photos from the two-day symposium.