Thursday, January 31, 2008

Jude Norris, "Between the Lines: Digitized Dialects and Encoded Traditions" Harcourt House, January 10 - February 16, 2008*

The works of interdisciplinary artist Jude Norris span over two decades and two continents. Trained in the European tradition of visual art and design and exhibiting on both sides of the Atlantic in performance, video and film, and installation, Norris began combining her Cree heritage into her works as she eventually explored her roots. The result is Between the lines: Digitized Dialects and Encoded Traditions, currently exhibiting at Harcourt House until Feb 16.

An accumulation of her antler, braids and nest series, it is a return of sorts, as Norris’s first solo exhibition occurred here in the Edmonton region. During her artist lecture last weekend, she spoke of her antler pieces as collaborations with the land and with the animals, finding the beauty in its shape, placing them in arbitrary positions and building off of intuition. Though explanations posited on intuition always leave an empty hollow feeling where a thought should be, the antler series is by far the weakest visuals in the show, and the words reflect the end results. The “encoded traditions” hang listlessly on the wall and their dull metallic colouring draw away from the beauty of their natural forms. Coated within a new context, the antlers do not speak to what they are supposed to represent, and even just as a basic visual stimulant they are neither striking or engaging.

Norris fares better with her video “Strong Woman Dress,” a loop of images featuring contemporary Metis women from across North America accompanied by a short audio description of who they are and what they do. Norris created this piece as a reaction to all of the negative media images of First Nations women, and she excels in celebrating the positive, reaffirming the belief that we can go on so long as our hearts remain strong. The audio repeats in a style of a mantra, a description Norris prescribed to her antler series, but which in fact is also at work in the video works, and succeed far better aurally.

The strongest piece, however, is her “Buffalo Basket” which dates back between five to eight years in the making. Inspired by her time in Vancouver and witnessing the nomadic mobility of used shopping carts by the homeless (many of which were and remain First Nations people), Norris creates an experience that is at once soothing and alarming, drawing her viewers in with scent and sound, but retaining an element of surprise with what they see inside of the basket. Resembling a baby carriage for a shell with the dome of a sweat lodge, “Buffalo Basket” wails and groans from the back corner of the gallery. Nestled inside a peat moss bed there rests a monitor with visual and audio of buffalo roaming.
It’s the sound of the buffalo that surprises most viewers, many of which have never heard the deep neigh of this animal. And it could dawn on the spectator that the foreignness of this animal’s voice as preserved in its fragile and nomadic carriage speaks to the larger issues of homelessness and cultural conservation as being silent and invisible issues to the popular mainstream. But inside of the gallery, the incessant sharp grunts of the buffalo echo throughout the space. Even with Harcourt’s carpet, the sound is not entirely absorbed, resonating fully and freely for all who enter to hear.

Image credit: "Buffalo Basket" Jude Norris, 2007

*First Published in Vue Weekly, January 31st to February 6, 2008

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