Mixed Bag Mag joins Artists & Curators from Canada at the Venice Biennale.
Mixed Bag Mag has been invited by The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery in Toronto to participate in the Creative Time Summit 2015 at the Venice Biennale. The Creative Time Summit’s theme this year is “Curriculum” and “throughout the Summit, conversations on curriculum will examine the social, infrastructural, administrative, and private conditions under which knowledge is produced and intertwined with social contracts.”
Mixed Bag Mag’s coverage will focus on how art has the potential to change the way we engage with social and political issues. With the appointment of Nigerian curator Okwui Enwezor as the head curator, this year’s Biennale has taken on a more political tone. He is the first African to be in this position. He has pushed the discussion around immigration and economy using the vehicle of art. I will be exploring his curatorial approach to engaging with the intersections of art, politics and commerce.
10 Artists from Canada will also be attending along with The Power Plant Delegation.
• Adrian Blackwell (Ontario)
• Deana Bowen (Ontario)
• Carole Condé and Karl Beveridge (Ontario)
• Jen Delos Reyes (Manitoba)
• Elle Flanders and Tamira Sawatzky, of Public Studio (Ontario)
• Justin Langlois (British Colombia)
• Duane Linklater (Ontario)
• Nadia Myre (Quebec)
Thank you to The Power Plant for this opportunity. Also thank you to each of organizations that made it possible for this trip to happen! Thanks to Galerie SAW Gallery in Ottawa for their support.
I’ve tried to write this post many times. Every time another man or woman is killed by the police and the news comes up on my feed. Another friend, usually a Black friend, sharing, yet again, a sickening story.
I am going to try and write about how it makes me feel as someone who isn’t black but has loved ones who are. I am going to breakdown what happens to my body – the taste of fear that starts to hit the back of my mouth, the hot tingling that runs from my feet up my spine. My mind goes to a place that I can’t explain, it’s primal, and my ability to offer myself some sort of logic ceases. Even inside my own head there here is no passage out. I stop thinking and my body takes over. I panic wondering how the hell I am going to protect my loved ones.
What if they have a moment where they are pushed too far and that tension breaks costing them their life? Will others be around to intervene on their behalf? As we have already seen that often doesn’t even matter.
That’s my body’s reaction. And so what is the reaction of the parents, wives, husbands, and children who find out, that at the hands of someone whose job is to serve and protect, their loved one’s life has been taken? Their bodies must sink into a spot they will never fully recover from. And if they are Black themselves, they have to continue to go out into a world that has proven it’s hostile. There is no way they can reconcile this. Not everything happens for a reason and has a silver lining if you just look hard enough. Things happen because there are systems in place that allow for racism to continue despite the fact that slavery, in North America, has legally ended. Things aren’t in the past because the mechanisms, social structures and economic drivers that positioned slavery as acceptable are still in place.
Andrew Loku. The most heartbreaking thing I read was a friend of Andrew’s who cried out that he survived war in Sudan to be killed by police in Canada.
It’s happening here folks. Close to home.
Do you have someone in your family who is Black? What about your favourite teacher? Or your high school sweetheart? A good friend, your dentist, your therapist, the great neighbours you grew up beside? If these people matter to you what will you do to protect them?
I brought my body to the Black Lives Matter Toronto Die-in for Eric Garner back in December. And who did I see there? Black people.
For all the talk of how Multicultural our society is and for all the families I see that are multi-racial I wondered where were all the people whose cousins are Black, whose friend or lover or business partner is Black? Where were all the people who don’t have to carry skin colour as a burden? Why aren’t they here to help share lighten that burden for the people they care for?
How does this craziness end? By non-Black bodies saying enough – by standing their embodied with a physical presence in the moment to say I am here committed to this cause. Let those being targeted know that you get it that there is a hatred for Black bodies and that even in saying BLACK BODIES it allows a way for us to distance ourselves. Yes, all lives matter but at this time Black Lives are the ones at risk. So what are you going to do?
Because I want you to help protect my loved ones. I want you to help be the buffer that creates a circle of safety around the people I care about who need to be protected.
I want you to show up to Black LIves Matter events because when everyone shows up, not just those who are targeted, that will be how we change this thing.
This just came through my feed:
“For all you crying about this damn lion while it’s open season on black people but remain silent… I see you.” ~ Dayna Danger
Don’t be that person.
#BlackLivesMatter Tonight in Ottawa
Friday, July 21 at 8:22 pm
Vigil for Sandra Bland
More info on the Facebook Event Page
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Walk for Reconciliation Ottawa, Rideau Hall Ceremony for Survivors and Buffy Sainte-Marie.
There is always that one little girl, at whatever march or demonstration I am attending, that grabs my attention. I begin to follow along to her skips and steps in an effort to come close to the lightness she contains in her little being. She is at once a promise but also a ghost of all the other little spirits who came before her, with similar promise, but who didn’t make it.
It’s been a few weeks now since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission had their final series of events here in Ottawa closing the process of investigating and documenting the Residential School experienceon generations of Indigenous children in Canada. Much has been written and said about the TRC. As I attended the events each day I came to the realization that what I witnessing was going to best be expressed without the use of words so here I deliver a message through the images of women. Throughout the four days I ran into many friends and made some new ones. One thing was clear, that despite the heaviness of what we were participating in, there was a lightness contained inside each of the women who you see here and that lightness will continue on as a promise for a different type of tomorrow.
Below are women, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, who are putting their energies into ensuring this country will be accountable to the children lost and to the children yet to arrive.
“BlakCollectiv invites you to join us in our Black Lives Matter March. We will be meeting at 5:00pm in front of the U.S. Embassy, 490 Sussex Dr. on May 30th 2015. We will be marching in remembrance of the Black lives lost to police brutality, including cis and trans black women.
We would like everyone to join us in this march to shed light to the issues that our communities are currently facing, and to let the world know that we will not be silent!
This is a peaceful protest so feel free to bring your own posters, family and friends to support. However , we do ask that any organizations that attend to please refrain from using this march as a promotional opportunity. This march is meant for healing and remembering the lives lost, do not come with intentions to disrespect this message.
Allyship: an active, consistent, and arduous practice of unlearning and re-evaluating, in which a person of privilege seeks to operate in solidarity with a marginalized group of people. Allyship is not an identity—it is a lifelong process of building relationships based on trust, consistency, and accountability with marginalized individuals and/or groups of people.”
SUNDAY MAY 31th Truth and Reconciliation Commission “Walk for Reconciliation”
WHEN: 11 am program begins & 12 pm starts WHERE: The Walk will start from École secondaire de l’Île, 255 rue Saint-Rédempteur Street in Gatineau (next to the Robert Guertin Arena, where there will be parking) and the walk will end at The Walk will end at Marion Dewar Plaza (Ottawa CIty Hall), 110 Laurier Ave. West.
SHUTTLE BUSES FROM TORONTO & MONTREAL: Round trip buses for youth depart from downtown Toronto @ 6:00 am & Montreal @ 8:00 am and will depart home for Toronto & Montreal @ 6PM
“The Walk for Reconciliation is designed to transform and renew the very essence of relationships among Aboriginal peoples and all Canadians. It sounds so simple, but just the act of gathering and walking and sharing our stories can join us all in a shared commitment to creating a new way forward in our relationships with each other. Our future depends on being able to simply get along, respecting each other for the unique gifts we bring.
On May 31, we will walk together in Ottawa to express our determination in rebuilding the relationships among Aboriginal peoples and all Canadians. Join Us.”
Marie Watt’s sewing circle and Nick Cave’s SoundSuits provide ways to start discussions around challenging issues.
As our long winter was on it’s way out and a new spring beginning an interesting initiative began here in Ottawa. Vicki Heyman, wife of US Ambassador to Canada Bruce Heyman, launched Art in Embassies, a project started by John F. Kennedy as way to share the talent of American artists abroad as well as “start cross-cultural dialogue“.
Maria Watt was the American artist chosen to open what has become a series of events focused on the role of art as a catalyst for social change. The timing seemed oddly predestined. Marie, a woman of mixed Settler / Indigenous heritage sat on the stage at the National Gallery of Canada speaking to Greg Hill (the NGC’s Audain Curator of Indigenous Art) about the connecting quality of her work.
“My work draws from my experience as a Scottish German Seneca person in the US growing up in Oregon…[I explore] Indigenous moments in history and European history – those nexuses.”
This was on the eve of the Roundtable Discussion on the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls that was also taking place in Ottawa that week. On the Friday, as Carleton University was hosting the National Roundtable, the Carleton University Art Gallery (CUAG), in collaboration with Art in Embassies, was holding a roundtable on Indigenizing the Gallerywith Marie as the honoured guest participant. If a nexus “is a series of connections linking two more more things” than what was happening at that precise moment in Ottawa, in the social spaces where art, academia and politics converge, was a moment where Indigenous women’s voices were being prioritized.
“will highlight the rich history of commerce and trade in Ottawa. The word “Ottawa” comes from the Algonquin word adawe, which means “to trade.”
Along with their blankets participants were requested to write a story that illustrated the importance of that blanket to their family. The stories become the currency and their richness is revealed in their ability to criss-cross countries and cultures, span many generations and fuse past with present. With her works involving blankets Marie does what she can to have the stories available for audiences to read (view some of stories from the NGC install here). At her National Gallery talk she related a few of them to us. One story was Peter’s. The blanket he gave to Marie came from a concentration camp. If I remember correctly, it was his wife’s and it was all she had when she was liberated from the camp. Eventually that same blanket would be used to wrap and protect art work purchased by the couple in the life they created together. Marie feels that such a story flies in the face of Hitler’s denigration of art and is a perfect symbol of reclamation – a blanket’s meaning transformed by its new role.
The stories are also ways for people to enter into the intimate space of another. In this complex historical moment where we struggle to understand the meaning of words like reclamation and reconciliation sometimes the way of navigating that complexity is through the simple act of creating a space for people to share moments. This is the strength of the Art in Embassiesinitiative which has been infused by Vicki’s desire to explore art as social practice precisely because it can build bridges and foster understanding between disparate social circles. As a way of gathering a diverse group together for a common goal, another event that was held as part of Marie’s visit to Ottawa was a sewing circle. It was moving to see people of all backgrounds, ages, and genders stitching together in the Great Hall at the National Gallery. And the artist was present! Marie took the time to speak with people as well as listen to new stories being shared. For Marie, it’s about being affable in her process. As she says, a sewing circle is about “tucking yourself into something as humble and familiar as cloth. It’s a safe space that’s a much more informal space – getting together in a neighbourly way.”
In these informal spaces people can digest what they might otherwise feel challenged to confront. Marie’s work, although not overtly political, is charged by a political climate that does it best to ignore Indigenous rights and a national leader who publicly declared that the issue of #MMIW (Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women) as not “really high on our radar.” As a Seneca woman she uses her art as a way to generously share Indigenous teachings to a non-Indigenous audience.
The next artist speaking as part of the series is Nick Cave. Nick’s work is also about looking at social as well as disciplinary nexuses of art, dance and fashion. Like Marie, he uses the act of sewing and assemblage to move a challenging conversation forward. The intense subject of racial profiling prompted Nick to look at ways we disregard and denigrate. His first “soundsuit” was created by gathering discarded sticks and twigs, the things that surround us during our day that we ignore and allow to become invisible. The final product functioned as both apparel to be worn by a dancer during a performance and sculpture to be inserted into a gallery space. Whether still or animated by performers whose race and class are concealed inside the soundsuits, Nick’s work is meant to break open a space. They are impossible to ignore. As performers climb inside they have a chance to access the feeling of being connected with something seemingly foreign from their everyday but yet some of the materials that Nick utilizes, like Marie’s blankets, are humble ones that are familiar to all.
Again, the timing of this event is important. After months and months of the heaviness of how racial profiling is being executed – literally – by agents of power, we need to widen the discussion around race that has been split open by the murders of black men at the hands of the police. The problematics of race isn’t just an American issue. Here in Canada the erasure of Black bodies in cultural, academic and political institutions has the potential to fester and become a much deeper problem. We need to have the challenging conversations immediately and those conversations have to happen in places like the National Gallery of Canada, an institution where Black contribution to Canadian history and art has been close to absent. No time like the present.
I applaud the audacious spirit that Vicki has brought to the cultural table here in Ottawa and I look forward to participating in more of these types events that create a nexus for change by widening the circle of social influence.
You can follow the conversation at #artconvoAIE. More events will be coming up in 2015!
On Saturday May 23, R.A.P.S.Ody, Ottawa’s only monthly urban arts cypher returns to The Flava Factory with its fourth edition. The show’s feature, international spoken word artist and Canadian rapper from the group Missing LinX, Just Jamaal The Poet, will be performing a rap set including shooting a LIVE RAPSODY MUSIC VIDEO.
WHEN: Saturday, May 23 Sign up at 6 pm & show starts at 7 pm
WHERE: The Flava Factory 1075 Wellington Street Ottawa
HOW MUCH: $10
The show begins with an open mic session followed by the popular two round $200 cypher battle. Artists looking to compete must arrive at 6:00 pm to register; while the open mic sign up is done in advance by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Oh my! Where does one start?! First let me say this. There is nothing boring about Ottawa. So let’s just put that “it’s the city that rolls up the sidewalks at night” myth to rest. Just when I think I might get a breather from events the Writers Festival ends by seguing this city into another festival celebrating the arts – The National Arts Centre’s Ontario Scene. ”Imagine 600 Ontario artists, from all disciplines, performing in the national spotlight on the stages of Ottawa/Gatineau: that’s Ontario Scene.”
The biggest limiting factor to Ontario Scene is that my body only allows for me to be in one place at one time. I may have to settle for 300 Artists, 30-ish events and maybe 1 less day.
I have already clocked two events with back to back nights at Carleton University Art Gallery for the Opening and Artist Walk Thru of the current exhibit “Human Nature.” This show “presents fourteen contemporary Ontario artists whose works look at the state of the natural world and our impact on it.”
Images by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.
Graffiti Boxman Project. Photo Flips BSC. Kwende Kefentse.Credit James Park Photography.
“Century Song is a live performance hybrid showcasing the extraordinary Canadian soprano NEEMA BICKERSTETH. A radical revisioning of the recital form from one of Canada’s most exciting theatre companies, it is part classical song, part dance, part projection, and entirely theatrical.” Find outmore…
Digging Roots. Raven Kanatakta and Shoshona Kish. Photo Ratul Debnath.
DECLARATION is a great Ontario Scene initiative that will be running from April 29 to May 3.
“DECLARATION is a celebration of Indigenous peoples’ right to engage in the creation and evolution of arts and culture, as asserted in Article 11 of the 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Created by Toronto-based ARTICLE 11, DECLARATION is an immersive, live, sound and image installation and performance-creation lab. It offers the rare opportunity to witness established Indigenous artists mid-process as they take risks and explore new approaches and collaborations in a responsive, interdisciplinary environment.”
Read more about the full DECLARATION programming here.
Santee Smith. Image by Red Works.
John Morris, NAC Executive Chef
Also, on the menu, literally, is food – the best of what Ontario has to offer in the culinary arts.
On Monday night:
“le café presents a WINEMAKER’S DINNER that showcases and complements the delightful wines of Pelee Island, Canada’s oldest and most southerly wine region. For this special occasion, National Arts Centre Executive Chef JOHN MORRIS will prepare a sumptuous five-course menu with all-Ontario ingredients, and every course will be paired with the finest varietals that Pelee Island has to offer. Winemaster MARTIN JANZ, of Pelee Island Winery, will be in attendance.”
On Tuesday night:
“Experience the innovative and mouth-watering creations of more than a dozen top chefs from across the province as they vie for the $10,000 top prize in the ONTARIO CULINARY CHALLENGE. Each chef will prepare uniquely Ontario small plates, using a selection of 100% local and regional meats, cheeses, fruits, and vegetables. With the support of Wine Country Ontario, chefs will be partnered with Ontario wineries to produce the perfect food-wine pairings, which attendees can sample throughout the night. Rub elbows with chefs, sommeliers, and media, sample some of the province’s finest wines, and cast your vote to award the first-place prize for the very best of the best in Ontario’s culinary arts.”
Alright, time for a 2nd shot of espresso and I will be ready to go.
Evergreen Cityworks campaign gets Canada talking about city building.
Since April a dialogue on city building has been quickly connecting cities across the nation. The goal, utilizing data collected from round tables hosted in urban centres, is to “build a vision and action plan to make Canadian cities healthy and exciting places to live, work and play.” I got involved because I believe in the power of gathering in small circles. When we come together with a spirit of openness ready to dream about a different kind of future anything becomes possible.
Often the discussion of city building revolves around practical issues like infrastructure and public transportation. My goal, in convening several intimate round table conversations in Ottawa for the #WeAreCities campaign, was to expand the discussion to consider what it means to build cities that offer respectful, safe and celebratory places for everyone.
“Create a big vision for your city and tell us about it” was one of the exercises each group was given. The round table at Carleton University Art Gallery was stacked with PhD students from Cultural Mediations all working in the space of decolonization / indigenization so naturally the visions encompassed ways to nurture a vibrant Indigenous presence in Ottawa. This city has a large urban Aboriginal community and for many the presence of First Nations, Inuit and Metis leaders gathering in Ottawa to work in law, policy, and culture gives the city a richer dimension. The round table also included PhD student Kanatase Horn (PhD Candidate in Legal Studies) along with Wahsontiio Cross (PhD Candidate in Cultural Mediations). Their vision was to have Ottawa renamed by the Algonquin people from this area. Here Kanatase reflects further on what that vision could mean.
Change the name change the relationship
“Decolonizing and Indigenizing urban spaces is often met with a certain amount of resistance. In a country that has a difficult time balancing individual rights while simultaneously ‘celebrating’ pluralism, it’s to be expected. The atmosphere is tense to say the least. However, this tension should not prevent us from exploring the possibility of decolonizing urban spaces, since considering Canada’s history of colonization, as well as ongoing settler colonial processes of assimilation and erasure, Canada needs to change. Urban spaces provide fundamental locations for that change.
When Indigenous people move to urban areas from their home communities, they usually face economic and social oppression, racism, and increased exposure to police, as well as the criminal justice system as a whole. Rather than the consequence of individual choices however, such negative experiences should be understood as the result of larger structural realities anchored in settler colonialism. And this is why Decolonizing and Indigenizing the urban space, especially in the Nation’s Capital, is important to support and be a part of if you desire to live in a just society for all.
Simply put, these types of actions can initiate the changes necessary to turn Canada from a settler colonial society into a genuine post-colonial nation. It should not, however, be seen as a project that is inherently political. Instead, it should be seen as a project that takes place at every level of society, where there is room and space for everyone to participate. One example of an action with deep symbolic meaning would be the changing of the name of the city of Ottawa to an Algonquin word chosen by the Algonquin people from the unceded territory that Ottawa is located on. Such an action could initiate the kind of social and cultural changes that would make urban spaces more welcoming spaces for Indigenous people as well as Non-Indigenous people since the act of Decolonizing and Indigenizing does not mean prioritizing Indigenous people over others. These types of actions mean placing priority on relationships with each other and the land.
Decolonizing and Indigenizing urban spaces like Ottawa means recognizing that we exist on the land together – land that is the traditional territory of the Algonquin people. While changing the name would be a symbolic gesture, its potential for social and cultural transformation in the hearts and minds of citizens is huge! It would mean going back and trying to adjust our lives so that it reflects the vision that Indigenous people held when they invited settlers to live on their lands with them. This is not about producing exclusions or apartheid like living conditions. Rather, it means living on the land, even in an urban space, in such a way that our traditional hosts would deem appropriate and respectful to all of those around us.”
Is this even possible?
Name changing may seem like a complicated, seemingly impossible task but my co-facilitator Manjit Basi of Citizens Academy was quick to point that India went through it’s own process of name changing that started early in the pre-colonial era after independence. In 1956 the state of Travancore-Cochin was changed to Kerala and then more recently Bombay to Mumbai (1995), Calcutta to Kolkata (2001) and Mysore to Mysuru (2014) proving it can be done without unravelling a country.
There is no reason that we can’t do the same and the participants of this We Are Cities’ round table have proposed an action that could create a lasting legacy that speaks to reconciliation.
Leah Snyder of MIXED BAG MAG and Manjit Basi, founder of CITIZENS ACADEMY, are partnering to host a We Are Cities Round Table.
As the Nation’s capital, Ottawa has a unique cultural position and plays a significant role in determining the direction Canada will take on many important issues regarding the environment and human rights. Located on traditional Algonquin territory, the city has an active First Nations, Inuit and Métis community as well as a growing immigrant community; a large Francophone population with the province of Quebec just minutes away adds another element to the cultural milieu. Often labelled as a city of bureaucrats, in reality Ottawa has a thriving arts community that includes not only National institutions but a vibrant independent arts scene.
All of the above makes for an interesting dynamic and fertile ground to create big shifts especially around what deep diversity looks like in an urban context.
We would love your contribution to the conversation on city/community building in Ottawa. Please join us!
WHEN: Tuesday, March 17, 2015 5:30 – 8 pm
WHERE: Carleton University Art Gallery
1125 Colonel By Drive (St. Patricks Building)
“With your help we will build a vision and action plan to make Canadian cities healthy and exciting places to live, work and play. The campaign will bring peoples’ ideas together and build on the city-focused initiatives that are already taking place across the country. We Are Cities will help connect existing city-building work in order to strengthen and mobilize our collective efforts to enable the change we need. We Are Cities was launched by a number of organizations that believe that a prosperous future for Canada depends on thriving cities. For cities to succeed, citizens need to take an active role in identifying a path forward to achieve resilience, prosperity and inclusivity.” Find out more on www.wearecities.ca and follow at#WeAreCities.
Canada is known for its tradition of depicting resplendent and majestic landscapes but the inspirational legacy passed down by artists like those in the Group of Seven aren’t echoed by the contemporary artists featured in the National Gallery of Canada’s show of new acquisitions.
The vignette of Lawren Harris’ North Shore, Lake Superior, as seen from the Gallery’s water court and framed by rose granite walls, shares with us a vision of the Great White North as a pristine place. Now the more North you go the more you experience the impact of global warming. The Inuit populations located in Northern Canada are the canaries in the coal mine of climate change. The situation is dire and artists in Canada have responded.
I entered the Shine A Light exhibit at a different point each time and each time I was confronted by works that overwhelmed me with a sense of dread. Artists used to celebrate this land. Now artists like Edward Burtynsky, David McMillan and Isabelle Hayeur scatter themselves across the globe to photograph how human populations are manipulating, extracting and polluting their environments often beyond the point of no return.
Edward’s work is by far the most familiar. His command of composition is always breathtaking, even exhilarating because of the scale of the photographs. They suck you in. They are cinematic making you feel a part of the terrain. He places you at ground zero, he’s like the Weegee of the environmental crime scene and you can’t look away.
David McMillan and Isabelle Hayeur are lesser known but have equally challenging content. David photographs Chernobyl and Isabelle the dead waters of America. The discombobulating viewpoint of Isabelle’s photographs drown you. David’s work brings back the ghosts of the cold war, the stuff of children’s nightmares and threats of nuclear winters. Glasnost saved us from a global moment of disaster but nuclear technology was still devastating for many Russians. His work provides a document of disaster that irradiates how our modern material culture is forever stuck in some plastic purgatory that’s going to be hard to get out of.
The content of David Hartt‘s photography in Stray Light, also about location documentation, is aesthetically more palatable, you could even say seductive. Instead of cold war ghosts you feel a guilty sense of nostalgia for that time before the OPEC crisis, a time when North Americans thought there was no real harm in living large. The video component of Stray Light takes us into the building of the Johnson Publishing Company (JPC) former home of Ebony Magazine. As the video transitions smoothly from room to room, accompanied by the lush music of jazz flutist Nicole Mitchell, because of what I witnessed en route to David’s work I can’t shake off a sense of foreboding.
The African sculptures made of wood and stone seem confined in the plastic fantastic world of JPC. People move in and out of the scenes hedged in by office structures that conflict with the softer movements of their bodies proceeding through the space. Watching the final moments of the iconic Ebony in it’s place of conception is like entering a crypt in a necropolis that lures you with its beauty. It feels like the oxygen is going to be sucked out of the building and eventually the space will become a time capsule shrink wrapped for the archive and searching for its final resting place.
My initial response to Geoffrey Farmer‘s Leaves of Grass was “this is obscene.” After more time spent with the work my response was still “this is obscene.” His process (a team spending countless hours cutting and pasting), the content (17,000+ cut outs from 5 decades of Life Magazine) and the final presentation (100+ feet of archivally problematic paper, grass and glue) illustrate the absurdity by which we hold on to the past. We collect, categorize and create hierarchies of meaning that allow for justifications of all kinds. We trap ourselves in a constructed story from which we can no longer budge. Leaves of Grass is an absolutely breathtaking piece but as stunning as it is, the work is suffocating. There is too much to take in with no place for the eye to rest; a well executed entanglement of wicked questions. Do our strategies for classification make perfect sense? Are they nonsense? How do they really help?
Junk culture. That is what we are left with and this is the legacy that many of the contemporary artists in this show are trying to illuminate.
David Armstrong Six, The Radiologist, 2012 (Courtesy of the artist and Parisian Laundry. Photo: Matthew Koudys)
The shadowside of Readymades
“Combining found objects with a variety of materials – plaster, plywood, steel, rebar – his sculptural explorations merge the raw and the readymade into aesthetically intriguing and ambiguous compositions.” (sited from Shine A Light catalogue)
David Armstrong Six continues in the tradition of the readymade but Duchamp and the Dadaists weren’t working at a time when people had to be concerned about an impending environmental crisis. Bricolage takes on a different meaning when we are at risk of burying ourselves alive in a rubble pile of our own making. Maybe ‘l’art pour l’art’ is no longer enough to redeem the materials.
This is the question that An Te Liu seems to be trying to tease out as he works with casting the materials that accumulate from our post-modern predicament with packaging. Arranged like collection of Brâncușis, the five pieces are beautiful to behold but lack the life force that Brâncuși’s pieces, made of wood and stone, exhale. Rendered in ceramic and metals they give the impression of impotence like the materials they reference, materials that will persist in the environment without the capacity to be generative.
From the room with the David Armstrong Six’s readymades and An Te Liu’s towers you can look out across the Donald R. Sobey Family Gallery and view Luke Parnell’s Phantom Limbs from above. Here yet another graveyard is encountered. The 48 wood carvings laid on the ground are made to represent the homecoming of the ancestors when the Haida Repatriation project succeeded in having ceremonial objects and human remains returned to Haida Gwaii from private and public collections. Luke gave each carving a different expression. Contained under cases of plexi some look understandably pissed.
The Shine A Light catalogue, arranged alphabetically with each artist’s name, ends with the work of Lawerence Paul Yuxweluptun and a 2 page spread of his painting Red Man Watching White Man Trying to Fix Hole in the Sky (see above). This work hasn’t been publicly viewed for nearly 2 decades. Now seems like the requisite moment to bring it out again to remind us that in those 20 years we haven’t transitioned forward with many solutions. Instead we see a global trend to become more entrenched with ‘pie in the sky’ ways of living. Suffering with the collective trauma of watching our world come to the brink of disaster do we brush off our artists as Chicken Littles? Because the sky is indeed falling, our ozone layer is literally breaking apart into pieces.
On the back wall of the 2nd floor is The Arsenal, a work by Jutai Toonoo. It is a large scale oil stick drawing of T cells. He created the work at a moment when he was trying to understand the pathology of the cancer his mother was stricken with. The helpful T cells fight against viruses, bacteria and diseases.
Our material culture is replicating faster than stage 4 cancer. It metastasizes in places as topographically different as Chernyobyl, Nunavut and India. The micro T cells, as the subject of Jutai’s work, are metamorphosed into a macro landscape that covers a large expanse across the Gallery’s wall. The allied cells shine like a phosphorescence glow in an inky black sea. After the challenging content of Shine A Light his work highlights hope. We are in need of an arsenal of solutions to push back the chaos. Encoded in the DNA of the planet are the cellular memories that can transform a landscape in crisis.
Above images by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag unless otherwise noted.