LOUIS RIEL DAY: Featuring Cree Métis Visual Artist Jason Baerg

pixelated image of a portrait of Louis Riel

Honouring the spirit of Louis Riel and cultural resiliency.

Today, Manitobans are celebrating Louis Riel Day in remembrance of Riel’s political and social impact for the province of Manitoba. “Louis Riel was the driving force behind Manitoba becoming Canada’s fifth province. His dream of a province that embraces all cultures is still shared by Manitobans today.” (sited from Government of Manitoba’s website)

But Riel’s impact was larger than the locality of the battles fought in the late 1800s and his vision is  still relevant in contemporary times. As a leader who fought for the rights and cultural sovereignty of the Métis people Riel has become for many (even non-Métis people) an icon of resistance. He understood the fissures that occur in the dried up riverbeds that lie between culture and geopolitics. Today many are still praying for rain and fighting the same battle.

Riel also believed in the power of artists. He is quoted as saying “My people will sleep for one hundred years, but when they awake, it will be the artists who give them their spirit back.”

In this spirit MIXED BAG MAG celebrates Louis Riel Day with a feature on Cree Métis artist Jason Baerg. Jason’s current show at Urban Shaman in Winnipeg, Manitoba features his work from his series Nomadic Bounce. The work for Nomadic Bounce was produced as part of a residency in Australia RMIT School of Art and is about (re/dis)location. Nomadic Bounce points to the fact that whether we are near or far from ‘home’, it is an ever present concept we return to even when our feelings around home are ambiguous, even tenuous.

Brightly painted wood in the shape of thunderbolts
Detail shot of Nomadic Bounce series at Urban Shaman. Image provided by the artist.

Jason has called many places home. Born in Sarnia, Ontario Jason was young when he moved with his mother and siblings to Prince Albert, Saskatchewan to be closer to his Aboriginal family. As a teenager he ‘bounced’ back to Sarnia, Ontario where he lived with his Mennonite father. Soon after he moved to Kitchener-Waterloo to finish high school. Then there was Montreal for university, Toronto for college and art residencies in New York, Santa Fe and Australia.

Asbtract wood pieces assembled on the wall of a gallery and on the floor on a mirror

“Home is a headspace”

But like a bird, Jason always circles back to where his migration route began. For Jason home base is located in the power of Indigenous Knowledge, both the spiritual concepts and the potent visuals that speak through the language of symbols. This is what grounds Nomadic Bounce but like much of Jason’s work, with this project, he also chose to take a investigative journey around innovative techniques.

Two Abstract paintings on a wall

Nomadic Bounce was an exploration into what happens when you take traditional painting then utilize ‘cutting edge’ technologies to intervene and agitate perceptions of what painting / sculpture / installation can be.

The paintings were based on seven 33 second video clips Jason made of poignant moments he experienced at home / abroad / in transit. Two mirror sets of paintings were created: one set remained as traditional paintings that could be fixed to a wall; the other set was laser cut into shapes and intended to be used for site specific installations. A shape that is ubiquitous in this series is the thunderbolt. Jason explains that he uses the thunderbolt often as it is affirms change but not just any type of change – it is the type of change that is “dramatic, immediate, rapid.” When he brings this symbol into his work it is about shifting energy.

The original intent of the body of work was to re-assemble it each time it changed location as the idea of a journey was the core conceptual premise of the series. In Australia the laser cuts were assembled into mandalas, powerful circles that establish a sacred space and represent the cosmos. Jason imagined that the next manifestation of the work would be something similar but then the work took on a life (or lives) of its own when it disembarked at each new destination.

In Prince Albert the work configured to resemble the cityscape Jason grew up with and the view of the buildings as seen from across the river divide. In Edmonton, as Idle No More gained momentum and the Journey of the Nishiyuu topped the headlines, the pieces were assembled into four jack rabbits that were inspired by the cunning abilities of the trickster when opposing the status quo.


Nomadic Bounce installed at Strathcona County Art Gallery, Edmonton. Image provided by the artist.

The Battle of Batoche in 1885 was a defeat for the Métis people that led to the surrender and eventual execution of Louis Riel. When Jason’s work arrived at The Mendel Art Gallery in Saskatoon the Battle combined with the impact of the railway on Indigenous people was the spirit that moved the work to configure into an empty train car modeled on the post-modern solar-powered speed trains of Japan. Jason says this form was about “an act of reclamation, giving the power back to the People.”


Performance with Jason Baerg, Adrian Stimson & JS Gauthier at the Mendel Art Gallery, Saskatoon. Image provided by the artist.

Now at Urban Shaman the work has emerged as two wolves, both in a strong stance, reflecting their gaze upon each other. Jason sees the wolf as an innovator who leaves the pack to find new knowledge that is brought back to fuel resiliency. “The wolf is looking into the future, the past, into the community and at itself, concurrently.”

The beauty is that this series of work that began as a meditation on home has become fluid, adaptable to place and flexible – changing shape without compromising the original sum of its parts.

FYI – Jason’s show RETURNING closes this weekend at Urban Shaman so if you are in the Winnipeg area this would be a great show to check out!

Artist: Jason Baerg
Dates: January 17 to February 22, 2014
Opening reception on January 17 | Artist Talk at 9pm
Location: Urban Shaman’s Main and Marvin Francis Media Art Galleries
In partnership with Art City Youth Exhibition, Urban Shaman’s AND Gallery

More details on Urban Shaman’s website.
Also follow Urban Shaman on Facebook and on twitter @UrbanShamanInc.



Above images of Nomadic Bounce at Urban Shaman, Winnipeg. Images provided by the artist.

CONTEMPORARY ABORIGINAL ART: Resources for All The Talent

Aboriginal dance troupe performing outside on hills at night with city of Toronto as backdropKaha:wi Dance Theatre performing The Honouring at Fort York, Toronto. Image by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.

Experiencing “The Honouring” by Kaha:wi Dance Theatres

It was a mad dash to Fort York from the MacMillan Theatre just coming out of Feng Yi Ting, the contemporary Chinese opera directed by Atom Egoyan as part of Luminato ’13.

I was determined and praying to the Gods & Goddesses of Transport that they would remove all obstacles one may encounter when riding the TTC.

I made it. A little late but it was worth the sprint up to Fort York from Bathurst, camera bag and all.

Aboriginal dance troupe performing outside on hills at night with city of Toronto as backdrop

What a stunning venue! The open air, the smell of the fires, the grass covered hills, old rock walls and the cityscape in behind. The context was beautiful but the visual juxtaposition points to an unfortunate history. The Honouring is:

“a site-specific multi-disciplinary performance honouring First Nations warriors of the War of 1812, featuring Onkwehonwe families who sacrificed to protect Haudenosaunee sovereignty, culture and land. Audiences have the opportunity to understand the complexity of the War of 1812 through the experiential lens of First Nations, offering a human face to our history.  All First Nations took part in the War of 1812 as sovereign Nation allies to Britain. 
The Honouring pays homage to their personal sacrifices and belief in what was the best for their family, community and future generations.”  More info…

Here’s a sampling of just how stunning the work of Kaha:wi is:

“Kaha:wi Dance Theatre (KDT) is one of Canada’s leading contemporary dance companies, recognized for its seamless fusing of indigenous and contemporary dance into a compelling signature choreographic vision.”  Read more…

As part of a continuation of MIXED BAG MAG’s post on National Aboriginal Day and the challenge put out there to Canadians to find out more about contemporary Aboriginal art here are some MIXED BAG MAG recommendations to get everyone started.

All of these organizations, programs, artists, and exhibitions work to dismantle the legacy of stereotypes that has stopped the dominant culture from seeing the dimensionality that we all carry within us as creative human beings as well as offer a critical voice regarding not only Canada’s First Peoples but Indigenous Peoples from around the world.

The below list focuses on Aboriginal arts in Canada and predominantly new media /visual artists. Stay tuned for a part two that will  include much more!

ARTS ORGANIZATIONS AND GALLERIES THAT FOCUS ON CONTEMPORARY FIRST NATIONS, MÉTIS, INUIT & INDIGENOUS CULTURE

ImagineNATIVE Film & Media Festival (Toronto)
The imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival celebrates the latest works by Indigenous peoples at the forefront of innovation in film, video, radio, and new media. Each fall, imagineNATIVE presents a selection of the most compelling and distinctive Indigenous works from around the globe.”  More info…

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Planet Indigenus (Toronto)
Since 2004, Planet Indigenus, in partnership with Brantford, Ontario’s Woodland Cultural Centre, has explored such ancestry and cultures through Indigenous artists. Through a 10-day, international, multidisciplinary arts festivals attended by over 700,000 people… Planet IndigenUS has raised public awareness, broken stereotypes and fostered a cross-cultural dialogue between Canadians.”  More info…

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Woodlands Cultural Centre (Brantford)
“The Woodland Cultural Centre was established in October 1972 under the direction of the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians upon the closure of the Mohawk Institute Residential School. The Centre originally began its focus on collecting research and artifacts to develop its library and museum collections.  More info…

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Installation in art gallery
Installation by Roland Souliere at Urban Shaman. Image from www.rolandsouliere.com.

Urban Shaman (Winnipeg)
“Urban Shaman Contemporary Aboriginal Art is a nationally recognized leader in Aboriginal arts programming and one of the foremost venues and voices for Aboriginal art in Canada.”  More info…

Young naked females wrapped in Hudson Bay blanket holding a teddy bear between the two of them.
Blanket 1 by Keesic Douglas part of Close Encounters exhibit at Urban Shaman. Image from www.artsforall.ca.

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Installation in gallery of patchwork flags and dolls
Work by Natalie Ball at Grunt Gallery. Image from www.grunt.ca.

Grunt Gallery (Vancouver)
Grunt is an artist-run centre founded in 1984 in Vancouver, BC, with a vision to be an international renowned artist-run centre furthering contemporary art practice. Through the exploration of our diverse Canadian cultural identity we offer innovative public programming in exhibitions, performances, artist talks, publications and special projects.” More info…

Gallery room full of canvases painted in West Coast art style
Work by Andrew Dexel at Grunt Gallery. Image from gruntarchives.tumblr.com.

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AbTec (Montreal)
AbTeC is a network of academics, artists and technologists whose goal is to define and share conceptual and practical tools that will allow us to create new, Aboriginally-determined territories within the web-pages, online games, and virtual environments that we call cyberspace.”  More info…


Work by Skawennati Fragnito of AbTec. Image from www.facebook.com/skawennati.

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Large painting by Isaac Narciso Weber of OCADU’s Indigenous Visual Culture Program, exhibit as part of  Planet Indigenus Festival. Image by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.

Indigenous Visual Culture Program @ OCAD U (Toronto)
The program prepares students to engage in complex and evolving global discourses in Aboriginal history, art history and contemporary art practice across a range of expressions, material and media.”  More info…


Work in foreground by Tara Bursey from OCADU’s Indigenous Visual Culture Program, exhibit as part of Harbourfront Centre’s Planet Indigenus Festival. Image by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.

CURRENT & RECENT EXHIBITIONS CONTEMPORARY FIRST NATIONS, MÉTIS, INUIT & INDIGENOUS CULTURE

Logo that says Indigenous And Urban

Indigenous & Urban @ The Museum of Civilization (Ottawa)
OPENING TODAY!
“Live. Engaging. Diverse. Inspired and challenged by contemporary urban life,Canadian Indigenous artists address issues of identity and stereotypes through humorous and thought-provoking works. Indigenous and Urban is a summer-long program featuring visual and media arts, music, dance, film, readings and interactive workshops.”  More info…

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IN THE FLESH (Ottawa)
“In the Flesh examines the hierarchical relationship between humans and animals within a cultural and museological context, and investigates colonial politics, as well as issues of gender as they relate to the mastery of the natural world…In the Flesh grants us visual access to nature while calling into question the politics of representation. As the guest catalogue essayist Ariel Smith notes: “With In the Flesh, the Ottawa Art Gallery participates in a city-wide indigenization of gallery spaces to coincide with the National Gallery of Canada’s Sakahàn: International Indigenous Art exhibition. This indigenization does not exist within a vacuum, and we must reflect on the ways in which these acts of claiming space respond to and are in conversation with both the current and historical politics of Indigenous cultural sovereignty.””
More info…

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Sakahàn: International Indigenous Art (Ottawa)
CURRENTLY RUNNING UNTIL SEPT 2, 2013
“Sakahàn—meaning “to light [a fire]” in the language of the Algonquin peoples—brings together more than 150 works of recent Indigenous art by over 80 artists from 16 countries, celebrating the National Gallery’s ongoing commitment to the study and appreciation of Indigenous art. This exhibition is the first in an ongoing series of surveys of Indigenous art. The artworks in Sakahàn provide diverse responses to what it means to be Indigenous today. Through their works, the artists engage with ideas of self-representation to question colonial narratives and present parallel histories; place value on the handmade; explore relationships between the spiritual, the uncanny and the everyday; and put forward highly personal responses to the impact of social and cultural trauma. The artworks range from video installations to sculptures, drawings, prints, paintings, performance art, murals and other new, site-specific projects created specifically for this exhibition.”  More info…


Cover of Sakahan Catalogue. Image from www.amazon.com.

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Border Cultures Part One: homes, land (Windsor)
2013

“Border Cultures: Part One (homes, land) brings together artists working locally and nationally with those exploring these issues in Ireland, Mexico, Palestine to list a few. Using drawing and printmaking, sculpture and photography, video and sound-based installations, artists in this exhibition develop nuanced critiques and perspectives on questions of nationhood, citizenship and identity in the border-lands” More Info…


Installation by Dylan Miner. Image by Frank Piccolo on wcontemporaryart.wordpress.com.

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Contemporary Aboriginal art in a large gallery space with white wallsInstallation view of Beat Nation: Art, Hip Hop and Aboriginal Culture at The Power Plant, Toronto, December 2012 – May 2013. Photo by Toni Hafkenscheid.

Beat Nation (Toronto)
2013
Beat Nation describes a generation of artists who juxtapose urban youth culture with Aboriginal identity to create innovative and unexpected new works that reflect the current realities of Aboriginal peoples today. ”  More info…

Contemporary Aboriginal art in a large gallery space with white walls
Installation view of Beat Nation: Art, Hip Hop and Aboriginal Culture at The Power Plant, Toronto, December 2012 – May 2013. Photo by Toni Hafkenscheid.

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Poster for Fashionality featuring the work of Dana Claxton.

Fashionality @ The McMichael (Kleinberg)
2012
“Fashionality” is a newly coined term that refers to the visual culture and semiotics of dress and adornment. Combining the words “fashion,” “personality,” and “nationality,” it reflects the interplay between clothing, identity, and culture.”  More info…


Poster for Fashionality featuring the work of KC Adams.

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Art work by Luke Parnell. Image by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.

Not So Fast | NSF (Toronto)
2012
“Objects tell a story and reveal a history through the way they are made. In the current state of late-capitalism, value is often measured in terms of speed and efficiency. NOT SO FAST | NSF invites a reconsideration of time and place to present different kinds of value. This exhibition brings together works by seven Indigenous artists who address the many products and by-products of consumer society.”  More info…


Work by Tania Willard. Image by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.

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AboDIGITAL (Kelowna)
2012
“In aboDIGITAL, Mi’kmaw artist Jordan Bennett examines the interface of audio-visual technologies and the internet with his First Nations heritage. Bennett’s art deftly blends such seemingly disparate elements as Mi’kmaq worldview, hip hop culture, ceremonial practice and graffiti aesthetics, creating dynamic works that express the fluidity, vitality and continuity of Aboriginal cultures in the present.More info…

Painting of a google search with the words "why are native americans' and the resulting drop down of resultsPainting by Jordan Bennett. Image from www.alternatorcentre.com.

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Artist Sonny Assu with Decolonize Me curator Heather Igloliorte.

Decolonize Me (Ottawa)
2011
“Decolonize Me features six contemporary Aboriginal artists whose works challenge, interrogate and reveal Canada’s long history of colonization in daring and innovative ways. Deliberately riffing on the title of Morgan Spurlock’s film, the pop-cultural phenomenon Super Size Me (2004), the exhibition’s title emphasizes the importance of recognizing the role of the individual within larger discussions of shared colonial histories and present-day cultural politics.” More info…


Decolonize Me show at Bishop University. Image from www.ubishops.ca.

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Image from www.ago.net.

Inuit Modern @ The AGO (Toronto)
2011
The exhibition considers how the Inuit have coped with and responded to the swift transition from a traditional lifestyle to one marked by the disturbing complexities of globalization and climate change.  More info

& The Inuit Modern Symposium
“Inuit artists and thinkers reflected on this statement during a three-part online symposium..
. It explored the questions: What are the current issues affecting Inuit art today and how has modernity complicated life in Canada’s far North? How has Inuit art changed the way that Canada and Inuit are viewed internationally?”  More on…

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Image from the cover of Close Encounters Catalogue.

Close Encounters: The Next 500 Years
2011
“A banner project for Winnipeg Cultural Capital of Canada 2010 Program comprised of a large-scale exhibition focused on presenting Indigenous art from around the world. This is an incredibly important show, featuring the work of a number of renowned Canadian Indigenous artists, complemented by some of the most innovative and engaging work drawn from Indigenous populations across the globe” More info…


Work by Pudlo Pudlat. Image from www.closeencounters.ca.

Aboriginal dance troupe performing outside on hills at night with city of Toronto as backdropKaha:wi Dance Theatre performing The Honouring at Fort York, Toronto. Image by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.