Doctor of Philosophy
Art and Visual Culture
Merritt. David R.
Knabe, Susan M.
This dissertation challenges settler-colonial ways of knowing, which attempt to decontextualize, instrumentalize, and isolate beings into taxonomies. It offers as an alternative, a multi-valent approach to understanding plains bison, beings that were strategically extirpated in a genocidal campaign waged by American and Canadian governments against Indigenous peoples. Weaving together discursive writing, storytelling, intermedia artworks, and community-based relational practice, Wilson has produced an unconventional dissertation that conveys the multi-epistemic approach required to understand settlers’ past, present, and decolonized future with bison. These varied approaches are employed to address Wilson’s key research question: How does the patriarchal legacy of settler colonialism affect interspecies relations, and how might we envision new ways of doing and being? She addresses this question in three sections. Part 1 narratively discusses works from Wilson’s thesis exhibition Remnants, Outlaws, and Wallows: Practices for Understanding Bison at the McIntosh Gallery (2021) and her contribution to the GardenShip and State exhibition at Museum London (2021-2022). This section explores the works in these exhibitions through their vital materiality and the methodology of their creation. Part 2 combines audio and written storytelling to layer narratives, theory, and criticism into illustrative vignettes. These vignettes take a creative and critical approach to archival records to trace the forced migration of specific bison, whose descendants populate almost all the plains bison herds in the North American conservation system. Extensive footnotes accompany the main narrative text; within these sub-texts, Wilson explores the theories and concepts enacted in the narratives. Part 3 of this dissertation documents Wilson’s thesis exhibition, its coverage in local media, and her contributions to the GardenShip and State exhibition as part of the larger body of her thesis work. Part 4 documents how she relationally developed and delivered this dissertation’s findings to communities beyond the academy.
This dissertation and the connected artworks reflect Wilson’s process of confronting and attempting to unlearn the reductive and isolating taxonomical perspectives that arise from colonialism’s continuing legacy. They suggest ways of knowing through relationships and manifest what happens when we critically reconsider received facts with care, attention, and time. While bison are the centre of this text, Wilson’s multi-valent methodology enacts an enmeshed way of knowing these more-than-human beings and our world.
Summary for Lay Audience
This dissertation invites readers to critically reconsider the Western understanding of bison promoted through scientific, historical, and taxidermic representations. Wilson offers an entry point to multiple, alternative ways of knowing bison through inter-media artworks, narratives, and critical writing. These different strategies weave a web of imaginative, empathetic, and subjective experiences that encourage the reader to recognize their own place in histories of ecological-colonialism, Indigenous expulsion, and genocide and in relation to the more-than-human world.
Wilson, Michelle Margaret, "Remnants, Outlaws, and Wallows: Practices for Understanding Bison" (2022). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 8562.
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