HUMANITIES AT LARGE Jackman Humanities Institute Blog 15 September 2017
The public areas of the JHI include the seminar room – in which we host meetings of our research communities and working groups, and where the residential fellows meet weekly for lunch discussions – as well as a lounge, reception area, and small meeting room. All of these spaces are distinguished by their expansive blank white walls – perfect for an art exhibition, as Professor Mark Cheetham of the Department of Art noticed several years ago, when he served a term as Acting Director of the JHI. As a result of his insight, the Institute has hosted an annual art exhibit for each of the last six years, and this week we launched our seventh: ‘Morning Star’, curated by Jason Baerg and Darryn Doull. Jason Baerg is an Indigenous curator, educator and visual artist. He received his BFA from Concordia University with a BFA and his MFA from Rutgers, and has taught at Rutgers and the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico. In his practice of art curation, education and production, he is dedicated to community development. He founded and incorporated the Métis Artist Collective and has served as volunteer Chair for the Aboriginal Curatorial Collective and the national Indigenous Media Arts Coalition. In 2008, he won the prestigious Emerging Artist Award for the Premier’s Awards for Excellence in the Arts, granted on behalf of the Ontario Ministry of Culture. Darryn Doull is an independent curator, artist and musician, currently completing a Master of Visual Studies in Curatorial Studies at the University of Toronto under the supervision of Barbara Fischer, Executive Director/Chief Curator of the Art Museum at the Universtiy of Toronto. After graduating with a BFA from the Studio Art program at the University of Guelph in 2010, he worked as Assistant Curator at the Judith & Norman Alix Art Gallery in Sarnia, Ontario, curating a wide range of historical and contemporary art exhibitions, professional lecture series, project commissions, and community engagement programs. In 2015, he was awarded the Hnatyshyn Foundation Emerging Curator residency with Fogo Island Arts. Our brilliant curators introduced the JHI fellows to the theme of the art show at the fellows lunch on 14 September. ‘Morning Star’ responds to the 2017-2018 annual theme of the Jackman Humanities Institute, ‘Indelible Violence: Shame, Reconciliation, and the Work of Apology’. The curators explain: “The theme ‘Morning Star’ explores many aspects of the ongoing reconciliation process alongside identity creation and maintenance while remembering the indelible violence that comes with colonial pursuits. The exhibition largely centers on aspects of Indigenous identity, vibrancy and articulation in contemporary Canadian society.” A number of the artists in the exhibition are responding to the fraught gaze of Edward S. Curtis’ photographs, images that oftentimes attempted to situate First Nations communities across North America in a context outside of modernity via depictions in monotone photographs. Against this inscription, Nadya Kwandibens and Garry Todd both self-determine their own histories and create space for others to share a part of themselves with the viewer. The vibrant colours and juxtaposition of Indigenous individuals within contemporary urban spaces (often around Toronto) invite consideration of the complexities of what it really means to be Indigenous today.
Nadya Kwandibens, Lisa Charleyboy, 2008. Chromogenic photograph). 50.8 x 76.2 cm. Courtesy of the Artist.
Other artwork in the exhibition has more direct spiritual intonations, such as Adrian Stimson’s work Calling My Spirit Back, created specifically for Morning Star. Calling My Spirit Back is based on the Blackfoot belief that spirits are an active and vital component of everyday life. When travelling to another country, it is important to call the spirit back when leaving so as to not get dislodged or distanced from ones spirit. This work was created following a residency to Australia early in 2017 that precipitated a particularly dense series of dreams and Stimson’s own calling back upon departure. Alex Janvier’s painting seemingly bridges the formal decisions of Kwandibens and Todd with the spiritual aspects of Stimson’s work. His eloquent blend of representational imagery and abstract elements capture the challenges and celebrations of his lifetime with bright, often symbolic colours.
Alex Janvier, Key to Everyone, 1981. Gouache, 36.83x50.8 cm. Courtesy of the University of Toronto Art Collection.
Bracken Hanuse Corlett considers the troubling history of access to food and deliberate deception in Canadian First Nations communities in his work Ghost Food. Taking place in the future, the digital animation follows a brother and sister looking for food at the edge of a city. On their way, they find the spirit of Bakwas’, the Chief of Ghosts and keeper of lost and drowned souls, in an invisible house in the forest. He offers the hungry travellers food in order to capture them in his ghost world, forcing the brother and sister to make a choice between conceding to his offer or continuing on their own path, albeit at the risk of starvation. Combining oral history and Indigenous Futurism, Corlett shares his story directly with the general public, providing balance and re-calibrating perceptions of First Nations story-telling that are often skewed in the Canadian imagination. Lastly, instead of images of people, representations of dreams and spirituality, or the animation of traditional stories, Joi T. Arcand uses language (specifically Cree syllabics) to change the visual landscape. In part, her large neon signs connect to a general anamnesis that subtly runs through the exhibition, an elegiac mourning of the gradual loss of language. Instead of dwelling in a “performance of grief… the signs interrupt the visual terrain of the gallery, as if welcoming onlookers to a new world, to a new geographic form.” (Billy-Ray Belcourt, "The Optics of the Language: How Joi T. Arcand Looks with Words", Canadian Art online, posted August 29, 2017, accessed September 04, 2017. http://canadianart.ca/features/optics-language-joi-t-arcand-looks-words/) Seeing and engaging the language and syllabic forms helps bridge the past to the future during the present moment of change and growth. Overall, the articulation of place, self, history, tradition and community is in the hands of the six featured artists, probing a widening realm of hope and action.
Joi T. Arcand, ?k?wiya n?p?wisi, 2017. Neon channel sign (pink). 120.7 x 182.9 cm. Courtesy of the Artist. Photo by Paul Litherland. English translation: “Don’t be Shy”
Heartfelt thanks to Jason and Darryn for their inspirational exhibit. Please feel free to come by and enjoy the art showcased in the JHI.