Inventory: On the land, on the body, on and off the walls…
by Jaimie Isaac
Beyond the traditional walls and white-cube space of the gallery, these projects highlight works on and about the land, and depict the body as space, standing in harmonious tension with Canada 150 discourse.
Taking up physical space in, out and on a large gallery, the Insurgence Resurgence exhibition (September 22–April 22, 2018) performed a major shift at the Winnipeg Art Gallery (WAG), curated by Dr. Julie Nagam and myself (shameless mention). This exhibition celebrated and asserted Indigenous presence on these lands long before 150 years. The WAG’s largest-ever contemporary Indigenous exhibition featured 12 new commissions from artists across Canada considering movements of political insurgency and cultural resurgence. One of the artists commissioned was Kenneth Lavallee, a Winnipeg-based artist, who created a monumental-sized design on a four-story canvas currently pinned to the tyndall façade of the WAG, entitled Creation Story (2017). Lavallee’s work draws on local histories, the parallels of Indigenous mythologies, classical Greek and biblical texts to explore balance, harmony and connection to the universe. His work evokes a sense of movement and water, inspired by creation stories and the destruction of the “great floods.” Creation Story makes the wall come alive with rich, teal-coloured curvilinear lines that contrast the building’s late modernist, pale tyndall stone structure. Creation Story will leave a lasting mark on the WAG’s exterior, with a mural that will hold a permanent memory of taking up space for Indigenous contemporary work at the WAG and in Winnipeg. WAG curators also teamed up with Wall- to-Wall Mural Festival/Synonym Art Consultation to partner and support a collaboration mural between artists Dee Barsy (Winnipeg) and Jordan Bennett (Stephenville Crossing, Ktaqmkuk) called Mawpile’n (Tie It Together) (2017), which will grace the walls of Great West Life at 650 Broadway Street in the West End of Winnipeg and on the WAG for the duration of the exhibition.
From August 18 to September 4, 2018, Plug In Institute of Contemporary Art presented a project called STAGES: Drawing the Curtain, a series of temporary public sculptures and performances, featuring nine artists: Abbas Akhavan (Toronto), Pablo Bronstein (London, UK), Erica Eyres (Glasgow, Scotland), Kara Hamilton (Toronto), Federico Herrero (San José, Costa Rica), Toril Johannessen (Tromsø, Norway), Divya Mehra (Winnipeg), Krista Belle Stewart (Vancouver), Ron Tran (Vancouver) and curated by Jenifer Papararo (Winnipeg). STAGES was a public exhibition that situated Winnipeg as a stage and space for public art and performances – both material and immaterial – that spoke to audiences about theoretical and situational considerations. The two-week public exhibition and programming was ambitious, with six guided tours, a speak- er series, a publication and several performances throughout the city.
Canada’s first-ever Indigenous Tattoo School debuted during the 2017 Summer Indigenous Intensive initiative at UBC Okanagan in Kelowna in July. The School featured instructors Dion Kaszas, Amy Malbeuf and Jordan Bennett of the Earth- line Tattoo Collective, guest mentor artists Dean Hunt, Nahaan, Pip Hartley (NZ) and artist participants Amberley John, Sheldon Piere, Louise Danika Nolte, Jerry Evans, Maani Oakes and Ippiksaut Friesen. Their collaborative act of revival declares and reclaims this traditional practice of identity declaration: Indigenous cultural tattoo practitioners taught and tattooed each other following their nation-based knowledge and style. Students, visiting artists, curators and faculty were of the many that were marked that month and skin was the canvas, imprinting permanent signals of resurgence.
Indigenous Fashion & Wearable Art, an Ociciwan Contemporary Art Collective partnership with Western Canada Fashion Week (WCFW), presented three Indigenous contemporary artists as designers at the Fall 2017 fashion week in Edmonton: Jeneen Frei Njootli, Meghann O’Brien and Sage Paul. As the Ociciwan website explained, “These artists/designers explore fashion and the body, using traditional material or traditional garment making techniques to inspire and inform contemporary fashions. Each artist has created a fashion line that narrates histories and innovations of Indigenous people; creating a surface of insights on cultural complexity and diversity, that can be worn for special occasions or in daily life.” In the fashion industry, with its routine habits of cultural appropriation of Indigenous cultural materials and design, in often awkward or harmful stereotypes, the work of the Ociciwan Collective and the artists presented an example that Indigenous fashion from Indigenous designers can be honoured and acknowledged, while decorously highlighting their diverse cultural identities to revolutionize and reframe perceptions of Indigenous cultures.
A mammoth project, LandMarks2017/Repères2017 created a deeper connection to the land through a series of contemporary art projects in and around Canada’s National Parks and Historic Sites from June 10-25, 2017, “inspiring dialogue about people, places and perspectives that have shaped our past and are vital to our futures.”1 This project brought together a team of curators working with artists across Canada with multiple experiences and projects. David Diviney, Ariella Pahlke and Melinda Spooner (a.k.a., ACT) curated al-loca- tion with artist Ursula Johnson; Véronique LeBlanc curated Subsistences with Raphaëlle de Groot and Wanderer and (re) Marking with artist Douglas Scholes; Natalia Lebedinskaia curated Coalescence with artist Michael Belmore; Kathleen Ritter curated Wave Sound with artist Rebecca Belmore and Long View with artist Jin-me Yoon, as well as Weaving Voices with artists Chris Clarke and Bo Yeung; Tania Willard curated Freedom Tours with artists Cheryl L’Hirondelle and Camille Turner, Being Skidoo with artist Jeneen Frei Njootli, Stitching my Landscape with artist Maureen Gruben, and Many Voices: Indigenous Art at Bellevue House National Historic Site. Through an array of places, experiences, histories, differences and voices, LandMarks2017/Repères2017 was a symbol for a multi-space meeting place to express concerns for environmental, social, political and cultural territories that cast a wide net in exploring the complexities of Canadian discourse.
The new installation of PA System, Alexa Hatanaka and Patrick Thompson, Towards Something New and Beautiful + Future Snowmachines in Kinngait, was shown at the Art Gallery of Ontario as part of the exhibition Every. Now. Then: Reframing Nationhood, curated by Andrew Hunter with Anique Jordan, until December 10, 2017. This new work is a collaborative schema that features youth from Kinngait (Cape Dorset) as Embassy of Imagination. Towards Something New and Beautiful + Future Snowmachines in Kinngait features sculptures of snowmobiles cast in aluminum from the remains of a local school that was lost to arson; it exposes issues of education and the lack of youth programming in the North. Collaborating Embassy of Imagination artists included Christine Adamie, Lachaolasis uk, Moe Kelly, David Pudlat and Nathan Adla. In keeping with the socially engaged and relational art practices of PA System, the cast aluminum sculptures are being sold with proceeds going to support elder and youth trips out onto the land and future Embassy of Imagination projects. PA System’s other notable and mesmerizing work Gauge, 2013–2015 is on tour with the exhibition Floe Edge: Contemporary Art and Collaborations from Nunavut, currently at Urban Shaman Contemporary Aboriginal Art Gallery in Winnipeg. A most captivating film, Gauge shows the creation of large-scale, moving paintings on giant ice walls – ephemeral works created and erased by icebergs moving by the tide of the Arctic Ocean.