Text by Amber Berson
It is often easier to understand history as a clear and simple division between right and wrong, good and evil, black and white. Tyler Rock’s latest series Frontier challenges the viewer to consider the shades of grey contained within a particular historical event – specifically the ‘Almighty Voice’ incident, which refers to a young Cree man’s struggle with the North-West Mounted Police in Saskatchewan in 1893. Almighty Voice supposedly butchered a stray cow without a permit to feed his family and was arrested. Believing he was to be hung, Almighty Voice escaped from jail, eventually shot and killed an officer searching for him and became involved in one of the biggest manhunts in early Canadian history. Diverging versions of the story continue to divide communities, although all agree that the incident had a major impact on the Riel Rebellion and the shaping of Saskatchewan. It is a history always being retold, pivoting between readings of the same story.
Rock’s work- representing a personal interpretation of the story – aims to highlight the parts of history open to discussion. His glass works act as bridges between the present and the past; presenting a glimpse into a history with which we otherwise have no direct connection. And as with all objects, we are impelled to apply interpretive readings to his works, to reshape the histories to meet our needs. However, Frontier is meant only to illustrate a point of view in a much larger story. Rock’s work is neither confrontation nor translation; the artist refuses to tell us which story to believe. Instead, Rock has created a snapshot of a moment that has come to partially represent the history of a place.
Rock constructs objects imbued with history that become mementos in their own right. Through reinterpretation of the events, Rock’s Frontier series positions the artist as storyteller. Rock shifts the reading of history to reflect the way a small incident between two communities has left a permanent scar on place. Confirming that locations and national histories affect personal identity, Frontier is as much an imagining of all the untold moments of the ‘Almighty Voice incident’ as it is a manifestation of Rock’s own relationship to his past. Literally suspending a moment in the story, Frontier is not the story of Almighty Voice or of his impact on Saskatchewan history. It is one artist’s illustration of a moment in history that is as much about the narrator as it is about the narrative.