Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Winnipeg Round Up, Sculptural Vocabularies and Close Encounters, January 19 - 22, 2010

More will be said on both Sculptural Vocabularies and Close Encounters: The Next 500 years, but I wanted to acknowledge the span of the past few days.

First, Sculptural Vocabularies was a collaborative symposium organized by The Winnipeg Art Gallery along with Mentoring Art for Women Artists and coordinated by the WAG's Adult Education Coordinator, Anna Wiebe. As a first of its kind initiative in Canada to focus specifically on women in sculpture on an international scale, it brought out over 100 delegates from across the country, despite so much going on with shows opening at Platform, Urban Shaman, Maison Des Artistes, and Gallery 1C03, much of which was parallel programming for Close Encounters, and of course, the bone crushing conditions of minus forty Celsius conditions that some would call invigorating, while others would not.

Image credit: Aganetha Dyck, Checkers and Bees, from exhibition The MMasked Ball, 2009

The programming for the conference was mostly even, with a questionable opening keynote by Catherine Widgery, who did not show much of her public art works. Widgery received one of Winnipeg's largest public art commissions ($365,000) in 1999 for her "River Arch", which I have never noticed though have passed on more than one occasion, and suffice to say when pointed out directly, fails to engage me as a work of art or design. Widgery's personal artistic practice was far more interesting, and that was one reoccurring theme: the divide of a personal artistic practice and the compromising profession of working in public art. Other themes included a focus on process and temporality, as well as interdisciplinary approaches to the field of sculpture.
The last day of Sculptural Vocabularies overlapped with the opening day of Close Encounters: The Next 500 years, a city wide international exhibition on Indigenous art that again, is a first of its kind. The panelists on Saturday were the strongest lineup including the morning panel featuring Mary Anne Barkhouse, Faye Heavyshield, and Nadia Myre moderated by Candice Hopkins, and the afternoon one on one conversation between Lee-Ann Martin and Rebecca Belmore. I describe this line up as the strongest as the work is inherently more political. While I was dismayed by the lack of men present for the first two and a half days of the conference, the greatest disparity was still not through gender, but through race relations, as a question, or rather, a rude request from the a woman in the attendance calling on Heavyshield to speak aloud the Blackfoot language was embarrassing and infuriating all at once.

The conference ended on a high note, with a candid and personal conversation between Martin and Belmore, who in a t-shirt, jeans, and fluorescent sneakers, who couldn't remember a single date, still stole the show by simply being  an artist wholly immersed in a process that can only be described as electrifying.

Image credit: Marja Helander, Mount Annivaara Utsjoki, 2002 , c-print,  117x93cm
The rest of the afternoon was spent revisiting main sites for Close Encounters which included Plug In, The Hydro Building, and 109 Pacific Avenue, formerly the Costume Museum of Canada. As the first exhibition in the world to bring together contemporary Indigenous artists from around the world including Canada, U.S., New Zealand, Australia, Brazil, and Finland, Close Encounters is certainly being described as important. Featuring over 30 works, with about 10% of that being newly commissioned works, the exhibition's curatorial strategy is to radically shift the encounter narrative of Indigenous art that often looks to the past and instead, consider future possibilities that will address new themes and issues. If opening night was any indication, certainly dialogues were provoked from those whose excitement and fervor over the contemporary boundaries bubbled and brewed, to those who questioned why so much of the work has already been seen, accusations of nepotism, and the classically provocative contention of being Indigenous enough.

Curated by the powerhouse team of Lee-Ann Martin, Steve Loft, Hopkins, and Jenny Western, the exhibition seems quite aware of all of these issues, though I am sure this will be argued, and really, it is that passion in the discussions to come that is the most exciting element of this star-studded exhibition. 

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