Presented virtually at this time: Bob Boyer, Hannah Claus, Wally Dion and Dayan Miner curated by David Garneau. View the video presenting the exhibition at PFOAC.
Tanshi, hello, bonjour.
I'm David Garneau, curator of Kahwatsiretátie.
The title of the fifth edition of the Contemporary Native Art Biennial, Kahwatsiretátie: Teionkwariwaienna Tekariwaiennawahkòntie, was gifted to BACA 2020, by Kahnawa;ke Elder Otsitsaken:ra and faith keeper Niioieren. They explained to exhibition Ie'nikónirare Faye Mullen that the phrase evokes the interconnectedness of all things. It describes kinship as a continuous circle, and conveys the idea that these relations require our active maintenance. The art works selected for Pierre-François Ouellette art contemporain (PFOAC) are aesthetic and conceptual kin. They are abstract, often minimalist blankets or maps embodying an ambivalent relationship to contemporary life.
As part of our curatorial strategy, we asked senior artists to select kin to show with them. They could be family or community members, students or mentors, anyone they felt artistic kinship with. Of the PFOAC artists, Dylan Miner chose Kay Mayer and Graham Paradis (who are showing in other locations). Hannah Claus selected Peter Morin, with whom she will do a performance in honour of late artist Annie Pootoogook (1969-2016). Following this thread, I choose my mentor, the late Métis artist Bob Boyer (1948-2004). I also picked another Saskatchewan artist (now living in upstate New York), Wally Dion, who is an artistic heir to Boyer's legacy. Both are known for blanket paintings. Boyer painted his political thoughts directly onto blankets. Dion salvages motherboards to produce digital age crazy quilts. He seems to be suggesting that Indigenous folk are adaptable. We can engage new technologies for our own purposes, and can repurpose techowaste as Plains people did, taking care to use all parts of the buffalo.
Blankets were important trade items. Indigenous people got technologically advanced textiles; Europeans got furs to make the garments they craved. However, as Boyer's "Small Pox Issue" suggests, Natives received more than they bargained for. Dion picks up this thread. "Ghost Dancer" alludes to the crisis ceremonies held on the Plains in the late 1800s. Suffering from imported diseases and government imposed deprivations, Plains Peoples held dances to hurry the apocalypse and cleanse the earth.
Hannah Claus' "Invaders" consists of three iconic Hudson's Bay blankets. Red with wide black bands near the edges, they are decorated with silver-plated pins arranged to evoke the Covenant Chain. The Covenant Chain, explains Claus, "is a series of agreements between the Haudenosaunee and the British represented by three links of a silver chain, symbolizing peace, friendship and respect." She acknowledges an ambivalence toward trade blankets. They signify a bad deal, the possibility of biological warfare, however, they "also provides protection and warmth. Even today, blankets are offered as gifts in ceremony to honour one's relationship with another."
Claus' chine collé works, "the route that ocîcâhk preferred," are ghosts maps, white on white remembrances of journeys taken and yet to be launched. Ocîcâhk was a Cree guide who in 1723 drew directions for French settler/explorer, Sire Verandrye who wanted to get from Lake Winnipeg to North Bay. Claus' version describes the negative spaces of the original birch bark map: "lakes, rivers, ponds, mountains, the vertebrae and marrow bones of the land. These are scattered in the air as all that was once known to be has changed over time, disrupted by the encroachment of colonization and economy."
Dylan Miner also explores negative spaces. Writing about his work, Ron Platt explains that Miner "probes the spaces that exist between environmental colonialism and our shared realities in the contemporary world." Miner takes great joy in harvesting plants, in perpetuating Métis stewardship practices. "earth, sky, water // aki, giizhig, nibi" are a series of samples from his visual passage through nature. Mixed-media paintings with ink, dye, mineral, earth, smoke, bitumen, copper, and cyanotype on cotton, this collection is a record of nature made from nature. They literally embody what they represent. The inclusion of bitumen reminds us of resource extraction. As with the other work in this exhibition, Miner cannot simply enjoy nature and the world without also acknowledging human intervention and exploitation. He is aware of his footprint, how we are all implicated in the slowly unfolding environmental catastrophe.
A certain ambivalence courses through the Pierre-François Ouellette exhibition. All of the artists make beautiful things about our fraught histories and continuing bad relations. And yet there is a hopefulness here, a sense of endurance if we remember where we come from and where we best go." - David Garneau, Curator, BACA 2020