Photo: of an art installation called Elk
Vancouver City Centre


By Dana Claxton

Curator Rita Beiks

Dana Claxton is a Vancouver-based artist and educator working in film, video, photography, and performance art. Born in Saskatchewan, Claxton’s mixed Euro-Canadian and Lakota First Nations ancestry provides her with strong cultural roots that ground her in different cultures and with gifts of openness and curiosity that are evident in the exploration of her uniquely relevant range of topics.

When asked to conceive an original work for this site relating to the theme of “the city before the city,” Claxton considered precolonial landscapes and animal nations such as elk, deer, bear, beaver, mink, raccoon, skunk, and coyote populations that circulated through these lands according to their own natural logic. In particular, elk form a crucial aspect of First Nations subsistence and spiritual economy. In the Lakota Sioux community, they hold power as sources of sacred mana, integral to ceremonial life. Elk were plentiful in this area for thousands of years, yet have disappeared in less than two hundred. Those living in the early Musqueam villages could simply open their doors to find the elk. Today, Musqueam people are forced to trade up north and into the interior for elk, as their use remains intrinsic to Musqueam society and culture.

Claxton questions out loud: What does this mean for society today? How are we respecting the “four-leggeds” still among us? What is our relationship with them? Who is responsible for considering them and making sure they are safe? How do we live with them?

She is asking us to ponder the same questions as we look through the grey concrete forest to see the aestheticized elk, alive in a celebration of colour, where it once may have been standing.

Commissioned by the City of Vancouver Public Art Program In partnership with the Capture Photography Festival and the Canada Line Public Art Program—InTransit BC