The largest assembly of international Indigenous art to exhibit anywhere in the world, Close Encounters, now on in various locations throughout Winnipeg, makes it clear that in this country there is very little differentiation between Indigenous and contemporary art. Paralleling works between Canada, the U.S., Australia, Finland, Brazil, and New Zealand, this massive undertaking attempts to reframe the encounter narrative that has dominated so much of Indigenous history through the filter of Western art history. The question is, “Do they succeed?”
Jimmie Durham, Pole to Mark the Centre of the World (at Winnipeg), 2010
With the subtitle The Next 500 Years, one can speculate that the curators’ goal is too ambitious, if not, counterproductive to preset a standard for future generations, especially when there remains so much reconciliation and healing yet to occur. But the show itself breaks down to a broad survey of works and names from the past ten years with a handful of newly commissioned works. Jimmie Durham makes it official that Winnipeg is one of the centres of the world. Edward Poitras, the first Aboriginal artist to represent Canada at Venice, has an ongoing blog visible from the foyer of Plug In ICA. Rebecca Belmore offers Blanket, a brand new video that faces the Hudson Bay Building. And Michael Belmore’s Smoulder is one of the most captivating works seen in recent memory: a series of rocks with copper inlay that shimmer and smoulder - the essence of a campfire.
Michael Belmore, Smoulder, 2010-2011
While the curatorial collective of Lee-Ann Martin, Steve Loft, Candice Hopkins and Jenny Western only had approximately ten months to organize this show, the exhibition has roots dating back to 2003 when Communion and Other Conversations was held at the Banff Centre as a residency on Christianity and Colonialism for Indigenous artists. Martin was one of three curators in that collective and the sole Canadian. The program ran while Anthony Kiendl was Director of Visual Arts at Banff. He’s now the Director of Plug In and a catalyst for the current exhibition’s curatorial collective. With sites throughout the city (which has the largest urban population for Aboriginals in Canada), Close Encounters may not be relevant for the next 500 years, but it is quite important today.
Fiona Kinsella, (cake) ether (soul), 2007, royal Icing, moth, hair of a woman, air, sleep, wood, glass, redpath, fondant icing
Onwards to Saskatchewan where The Mendel Gallery isn’t what it used to be. And soon, it won’t even be called The Mendel. It will be the Art Gallery of Saskatchewan. But change can be a good thing and clearly curators Jen Budney and now Sandra Fraser have been great for the gallery in transition. Institutionalizing Saskatchewan artists alongside their national and international peers, Wonderment, curated by Fraser, lines up Saskatoon’s Joseph Anderson and Joanne Lyons with Hamilton’s Fiona Kinsella. While Lyon’s works are not as fantastical as they are creative, Anderson’s drawings take on the odd and twisted world of childhood fairytales. Together, they solicit a certain strand of child-like awe. Kinsella, however, takes the cake, figuratively speaking, but not for her cake works. While teeth, hair, and insects on icing do little visually - not pleasure, nor nausea - her Chapel (Rose) series of viscous oil densely slathered together is truly desirable to several senses.
Louise Noguchi, Crack, video installation
Curious curations continue in Variations, curated by Budney. While I have not enjoyed Regina/Toronto-based Lee Henderson’s previous works addressing Buddhism, his photo installation from 2006 depicting Saskatoon residents by candlelight, with the number of candles corresponding to each portrait subject’s age, are arresting in sheer visual impact. Also demanding of attention, Toronto artist Louise Noguchi’s video Crack startles every new visitor into the gallery with its sharp audio snap of a bullwhip. The work unsettles the viewer with its hypnotic swaying until we are literally snapped back into an unfamiliar reality.
Brian Jungen, Carapace, 2009-2011 (courtesy the artist and Casey Kaplan, photo: M.N. Hutchinson)
Back home at Edmonton’s Art Gallery of Alberta, a West Coast invasion hits several floors of the gallery with a broad survey of Emily Carr and a museum exhibition of Haida cultural artifacts. On the top floor, Vancouver-based Brian Jungen has a survey of his last ten years of work. Shapeshifter and Cetology are standard gallery favorites, but Carapace, which he first created in France at the FRAC des Pays de la Loire in 2009, undergoes its third and final transformation, and possibly marks the foreseeable end of the artist’s larger-than-life sculptural formations. Shown in an altered variation at The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in 2010, Carapace is a reassemblage of new plastic garbage bins into an inhabitable tortoise-inspired shell. Here the shell has loosened; it appears to be moving beyond you and yet it does not seem as spectacular. Playing on the globalized commodity - from cookie cutter manufactured goods to the art world itself - Jungen’s final construction is certainly different from its first two renditions in shape and execution, but it still marvelously communicates the possibilities within the architectural capabilities of the geodesic dome. Jungen, who is also part of Close Encounters, will also be showing a new body of work later this year at the AGO as the 2010 recipient of the Gershon Ishkowitz prize.
Amy Fung is an art critic and curator currently based in Edmonton. Her research interests are interdisciplinary, with a special focus on live art and the moving image. Fung has guest curated and programmed artists and projects through independent venues, community partners, and festivals, as well as The Art Gallery of Alberta. Fung is the founding author of PrairieArtsters.com and her writing can be found online and in publications including Border Crossings, C Magazine, Canadian Art, FUSE, Galleries West, etc. She is Akimblog’s Edmonton correspondent.
Close Encounters: The Next 500 Years continues until May 8.
The Mendel Art Gallery: http://www.mendel.ca/category/exhibitions/present
Wonderment & Variations continue until April 3.
Art Gallery of Alberta: http://www.youraga.ca/
Brian Jungen continues until May 8.
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