Dear Frank (Mikuska)

A very special abstract artist, Frank Mikuska, died recently.  He is significant to me because I had the privilege and good fortune to work alongside him at Martha Street Studio in Winnipeg.  I was in awe of him;  he was decades older than me, retired from his professional career and respected by established artists at the studio and in Winnipeg.

In our days in the studio, Frank taught me an important lesson.  One morning in particular, when I was expressing some doubt about making art (the  why am I doing this?  what’s the point?  kind of moaning) Frank matter-of-factly said to me  Just do the work.  He didn’t wait for a response, or further discussion. He immediately turned back to his inking table and continued working.  Problem solved.

So it was no surprise to read  Frank’s response to questions about his time making monoprints at Martha Street Studio. This is what he said in a detailed interview with Gallery One One One at the University of Manitoba:

All of the material was there; it was just a matter of doing the work. This is a carryover from what I was already doing, while I was working for the Corporation because I had to learn back there how to do things quickly, choice of image, and also the ability to say stop, stop the work, make a decision that the work is complete. That’s always come with me and I still think in those terms. I never sketch, so when I start working with these prints, it was a question of “here is a palette, start doing it.” It just kind of fell into place. The images came very intuitively.

Frank’s studio workspace was always organized, compact and clean – no small feat for a printmaker working with multiple colours of oil-based inks.  I recall how he carefully wiped every tube of oil after use. He worked quickly, efficiently, and thoughtfully.  Powerful abstract images emerged from his methodical process.

Discovery, Frank Mikuska, monoprint, 2007

Discovery, Frank Mikuska, monoprint, 2007

Divergence, Frank Mikuska, monoprint, 2004

Divergence, Frank Mikuska, monoprint, 2004

Frank treated me as an equal in the studio.  It was a tremendous gift to me – an emerging artist – but, I think, an integral aspect of his genuine respect for others and the creative process.  In the interview he also describes the atmosphere in the studio:

Working at the print shop was just phenomenal. I was captured by the number of people who were working there and they were working in a traditional sense. After a while, they were looking over my shoulder, they were looking over each other’s shoulders, and as a result, there was a terrific exuberance, people making art; printmaking. I was really happy then, no doubt about that.

Working at Martha Street Studio was a happy time for me, too.  Frank became an unofficial mentor.  He encouraged me, provided feedback, and even shared end-of-the-day ink with me.  Working with his palette for fun eventually influenced a whole series of my own work.

In reading Frank’s obituary, and the UM interview, I discovered how little I really knew about him.  We briefly discussed our shared Slovak ethnic heritage, but I wasn’t aware that English was not his first language.  I remember hearing he had a career at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation but I didn’t know that when he started, in 1955, he was one of the very first graphic designers at the newly launched CBC Television (Winnipeg.)

Frank’s contributions to the art world were significant. In one of his collaborative projects, he won the Prix Anik Award for Graphic Design of Soundscapes  for Trenody – Music of R. Murray Schafer. He exhibited in several significant group shows of Modernist art in Canada.  Frank also never mentioned that his work is in major collections, like the Museum of Fine Arts in Montréal and the Winnipeg Art Gallery.

The brief video  Mikuska: Original Monoprints by Frank Mikuska by Ron Sloan provides a very good survey of Frank’s monoprints as well as biographical information, including rare examples of his fabulous work at the CBC.

I am happy to have one of Frank’s monoprints in my home. An acquaintance once asked How long did it take him to make that? The question was posed with a wry smile and my kid could do that attitude.  I was very happy with my calm response.  A lifetime, I said.

Dear Frank, thank you.  You did the work, and you shared it with us.

 

 

 

Reclaiming everyday creativity

In a recent online writing workshop Molly Caro May  said:

When you are making art – any kind of art – you are naturally soothing your nervous system.  Creation is really organizing for our nervous systems.  Even if you’re writing about something painful, just the formation and artistry of it is really grounding.
The point is: make art.  All the time.

Molly’s statement  resonated with me.  I feel better when I’m making art and I see the joy in others when they are (non-pandemic times) visiting and ‘playing’ in my studio. An art professor friend says taking classes, and making art is cheaper than therapy.  It seems obvious, and I know this intuitively, but to hear Molly connect creativity directly to the health of our physical bodies seems to add gravitas to the statement.

There is scientific evidence that being creative (including art, craft, writing,  music making, and dancing) affects our cognitive, psychosocial and physical health.  In this article in Psychology Toda by Dr. Cathy Malchiodi, she notes the conclusion from a review of existing literature of over 100 studies:

Most of these studies concur that participation and/or engagement in the arts have a variety of outcomes including a decrease in depressive symptoms, an increase in positive emotions, reduction in stress responses and, in some cases, even improvements in immune system functioning.  

Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi named the concentrated, absorbed state displayed by artists at work as flow.  In 1990, Dr. Czikszentmihalyi published Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, by Mihaly Csikscentmihalyi, 1990

In North America (the Western world, perhaps?) we have devalued creativity in our daily lives.  What used to be the norm in public schools (sewing, cooking, art, music and woodworking classes) cannot be taken for granted now.  The opportunities for people to learn and enjoy simple creative endeavours are reduced;  it’s all considered a luxury at best, and pointless to many.  

Not surprisingly, creativity is valued when it can be commodified. Business has embraced  creativity for its contribution to profitability.  The Flow Genome Project self-identifies as The Official Source for Peak Performance and Culture.  It advertises its collaboration with companies like Google, Nike and Goldman Sachs.

It seems obvious that we need to recapture the pleasure of creating things – not for profit, or for performative value – but for our own health and enjoyment.   If ever there was a time that our nervous systems – individually and collectively – need soothing, it’s now.

Go ahead and do something creative – every day.  Better still if it’s something temporary and not Instagram worthy:  living room solo dancing,  harmonizing with your favourite singers, making and writing in a private notebook.  The writer Annie Dillard wisely said…  How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. 

 

 

More art fun!

Speaking of Inuit art, (previous post) who are your favourite Inuit artists?  Do you have one….or three?   If you’re an Art Caravan follower, you know I have a few favourites, including Kenojouak Ashevak (1927-2013) and Oviloo Tunnillie (1949-2014.)

Kenojuak Ashevak, thestar.com image

 

Oviloo Tunillie, cbc.ca image

Ningiukulu Teevee is another contemporary (born in 1963) Inuit artist on my favourites list.  (Isn’t that the beauty of lists – easily edited, amended, and never ending?)  I first wrote about her in 2015.  She works in drawing and printmaking, including lithography, etching and aquatint, as well as the more traditional stone cut and stencil.  I am attracted to the sense of humour and playfulness evident in her art.  The print, Trance, seems especially appropriate to this covid winter. (sigh)

Trance, Ningiukulu Teevee, 2014, stonecut and stencil, edition of 50

Trance, Ningiukulu Teevee, 2014, stonecut and stencil, edition of 50

Her subject matter is varied; traditional stories and legends are explored, as well as contemporary experiences and life in the Arctic.  The works express a beguiling combination of charm and edginess.

You Know your Inuk When, Ningiukulu Teevee, 2016, Madrona Gallery image

Yesterday, Ningiekulu Teevee, 2008, stonecut and stencil, dorsetfinearts.com image

Since  2004, she has contributed to the annual Graphics Collection from Cape Dorset.  Boastful Owl, is a lithograph from the 2020 Cape Dorset Annual Print Collection. (Sold out!)

Boastful Owl, Ningiukulu Teevee, 2020, lithograph, dorsetfinearts.com image

In 2017, the Winnipeg Art Gallery exhibited a solo show of Teevee’s work at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C.  Ningiukulu Teevee:  Kingait Stories caught the attention of the Smithsonian Magazine, who described the show  as unique and wonderful.

In 2019, Dorset Fine Arts, in conjunction with Pomegranate, published Ningiukulu Teevee:  Drawings and Prints from Cape Dorset.  Leslie Boyd’s writing accompanies the 80+ images and photographs.  Need a last minute Valentine’s Day gift?  The book is readily available through your local independent bookseller (I know, because I just ordered it!)

Where are you going post pandemic?

Let’s play a fun game to cheer us up during this covid winter.   Imagine that you, and most of the world,  are now vaccinated.  You are able to travel. (Yes.  Ahhh…..)   Which art museum / gallery will you visit first?  (Take a moment – or ten – to imagine and savour the possibilities.)

Serious contenders for my immediate attention are the Audain Art Museum in Whistler, British Columbia and the Remai Modern in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.  Both of these Canadian art museums opened in the last five years.  I haven’t visited them – yet.

Audain Art Museum, pekkau.ca image

Audain Art Museum, pekkau.ca image

Remai Modern, remaimodern.org image

Remai Modern, remaimodern.org image

Continuing on this train (caravan?!) of thought about ‘new-to-me’  Canadian art galleries, my choice is quickly decided.  Post pandemic, the first art museum I will visit is Qaumajuq,  a brand new, striking addition to the Winnipeg Art Gallery in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

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Qaumajuq is an exciting collaboration between the Government of Nunavut  (northern Canada) and the Winnipeg Art Gallery.  In 2015, the Government of Nunavut entrusted its Fine Arts Collection of Inuit art to the WAG, which  provides care, storage, and exhibition of the art, along with  mentorship and educational programming.

The partnership makes the world’s largest collection (14,000+ artworks) of Inuit art accessible to many more people.  This week a significant sculpture, Tuniigusiia, was installed outside the building.  Goota Ashoona‘s marble sculpture was commissioned by the Manitoba Teachers’ Society.

The marble sculpture,Tuniigusiia, by Goota Ashoona, was commissioned by the Manitoba Teachers' Society, wag.ca image

Tuniigusiia, Goota Ashoona, wag.ca image

Inuit artist Goota Ashoona with her sculpture, Tuniigusiia

Goota Ashoona, Jocelyn Piirainen image

The Government of Nunavut has chosen a good home for its Inuit art collection.  The Winnipeg Art Gallery is a leader in the visual arts in Canada.  It opened in 1912; it was the first civic art gallery in Canada.  Before the realization of Qaumajuq, the WAG was renown for its extensive Inuit art collection that began with a sculpture purchase in 1956.  It was also the first public gallery in Canada to exhibit contemporary First Nations art.

I’ve enjoyed imagining this trip to the Winnipeg Art Gallery.  It’s brought back good memories of past visits to the WAG, and all the great art I’ve seen there.  We WILL be visiting art galleries and museums again.  Which one will you visit first?

 

Gee’s Bend Quilts and…..printmaking?!

You are probably familiar with the Gee’s Bend Quilts – the quilts created by women from Gee’s Bend, in rural Alabama, U.S.A..  The colourful fabric works have been favourably – and appropriately – compared to works by Henri Matisse and Paul Klee.

Gee's Bend quilts, de Young Museum, 2017, T. Vatrt image

Gee’s Bend quilts, de Young Museum, 2017, T. Vatrt image

This Smithsonian article briefly outlines the history of the quilts, and the people living in their isolated community of Gee’s Bend, also known as Boykin, Alabama. Why was I surprised to learn that the quilts are inextricably linked to slavery, and poverty?

The quilts were made out of necessity, to keep the women and their families warm in their unheated cabins.  In Arlonzia Pettway‘s home, for example, electricity didn’t arrive until 1964,  running water was available in 1974, and a telephone installed in 1976.

Bars and blocks, Arlonzia Pettway, 2000s, soulsgrowndeep.org image

Recycled and scavenged fabrics were used for the quilts.  In the excellent NYTimes video about the Gee’s Bend quilters, While I Yet Live, one of the women recalls … Sometime you walking along the highway, you see an old piece of material, you went to pick it up and run home and give it to my momma. And, you know, she put it in a quilt.

Anna Mae Young’s quilt, below, is made of used work clothes.

Gee's Bend quilt, Anna Mae Young, 1976, Smithsonianmag.com image

Gee’s Bend quilt, Anna Mae Young, 1976, Smithsonianmag.com image

The idea of artwork being both beautiful and useful is worth exploring.  Of course, William Morris’ quote comes to mind:  Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful. (Beauty of Life lecture, 1880)  Is it sacrilegious/naïve/cheeky to suggest that several well known abstract expressionist paintings could be easily swapped out for these quilts?  One could hang the quilt on the wall and take it down when needed. Goodbye Pollack, welcome Pettway!

I am sorry to say that I didn’t know anything of these artworks until October 2017.  I visited the deYoung Museum during a brief stay in San Fransisco (sigh….remember those days?!), and, as often happens, happily stumbled upon new and challenging work.  The Quilts of Gee’s Bend exhibited alongside the shows Revelations:  Art from the American South and Coming Together: Artistic Traditions of the Quilt and the Print.

I had never seen a collaboration between quilters and printmakers.  Quilting and printmaking?  How does that work?  Paulson Fontaine Press in the San Fransisco Bay Area worked with the quilters to produce limited editions of intaglio prints. Here is a very brief video from their studios, where the soft ground and aquatint etchings are produced.

Louisiana Bendolph quilt top on a soft ground plate, Paulson Fontaine Press image

Paulson Fontaine Press image

The collaboration began in 2005, and continues to the present. In 2005 and 2007, (then) Paulson Press printed an edition of  four of Louisiana Bendolph’s quilt designs.  As recently as October 2020, they released three new editions of Gee’s Bend prints by Mary Lee Bendolph and her daughter, Essie Bendolph Pettway.

 

Paulson Fontaine Press exemplifies the democratic nature of printmaking.  Working with the artist quilters of Gee’s Bend, they print the artworks in editions of 50. The art becomes accessible to more people.  Museums are collecting, and exhibiting the works.  Commercial galleries are offering the prints for sale.  Paulson Fontaine Press is also contributing a portion of their sales of the latest print release to the Equal Justice Initiative.

Useful and beautiful artwork, indeed.

 

 

Spider woman Louise Bourgeois….but so much more

Louise Bourgeois is probably best known for her spider sculptures.  One of the largest graces/guards/threatens (depending on your personal reaction to arachnids) the entrance to the National Gallery of Canada.

Maman, Louise Bourgeois, 1999 National Gallery of Canada image

Maman, Louise Bourgeois, 1999 National Gallery of Canada image

From October 2017 to July 2019 San Francisco Museum of Modern Art produced the very engaging exhibition, Spiders. Because of their size, volume and apparent solidity, the sculptures invite interaction with the viewer, albeit tentatively, in some cases.

Spiders, Louise Bourgeois, SFMoMA 2017, T. Vatrt image

Spiders, Louise Bourgeois, SFMoMA 2017, T. Vatrt image

Spiders, Louise Bourgeois, SFMoMA 2017, T. Vatrt image

Spiders, Louise Bourgeois, SFMoMA 2017, T. Vatrt image

The exhibition also included more intimate pieces.

Spider, Louise Bourgeoise, SFMoMA 2017, T. Vatrt image

Spider, Louise Bourgeoise, SFMoMA 2017, T. Vatrt image

This smaller Spider from 2003 is made of stainless steel and antique tapestry.  SFMoMA calls it an uncanny combination of materials that is both beautiful and disconcerting.  The exhibition’s curator Sarah Roberts wrote about the artwork, referencing Bourgeois’ personal history.  She says that Bourgeois laid bare a more fraught and complex psychological landscape–bright with devotion and protection but also darkened with feelings of guilt, rage and fear of abandonment or failure.  

In a short video from the Tate Bourgeois says I transform hate into love.  That’s what makes me tick.

Spider, Louise Bourgeois, 2003, T. Vatrt image

Louise Bourgeois was born in Paris on Christmas day in 1911.  (Yes!  She was creating the Spider sculptures as an octogenarian.)  She studied mathematics and art in Paris. (Interesting to note: she had a print shop next door to her parents’ tapestry gallery in a suburb of Paris.)  In 1938 she moved to the U.S.A. with her American husband.

After they settled in New York City, she created The Personages.  I find this series as compelling as the Spiders, but for different reasons.

Personages, Louise Bourgeois, artoronto.ca image

Personages, Louise Bourgeois, artoronto.ca image

Personages, Louise Bourgeois, whitney.org image

Personages, Louise Bourgeois, whitney.org image

Hauser & Wirth’s catalogue of her work for Art Basel 2013 is definitely worth a look.  It includes images of Bourgeois, the Personages, and background information.

The appeal of Personages is multi faceted.   They are made of malleable, natural materials:  wood and plaster.  (They were eventually cast in bronze.)  The scale is more human-sized, as opposed to the intimidating size of the Spiders.  She successfully uses the Modernist aesthetic of abstract symbols to evoke the presence of individuals – people to whom she felt connected, but from whom she was physically separated.

In an interview with the New York Times, Bourgeois said this:  Suddenly I had this huge sky space to myself, and I began doing these standing figures. A friend asked me what I was doing.  I told him ‘I feel so lonely that I am rebuilding these people around me.’

Perhaps the emotion contained in the works – the yearning, the loneliness, the love, the regret – is what I find most appealing.  It’s palpable.  At this time of year, in the midst of a pandemic, those emotions resonate deeply.

 

 

All I want for Christmas…..

The Art Caravan has compiled a brief list for this year’s Christmas wish list. Since the best  gifts are books and art (dark chocolate goes without saying,) I chose one book and one work of art.

Without too much deliberation – it seemed an easy choice – Guerrilla Girls:  Art of Behaving Badly  is at the top of my list.  Goodreads.com gives it 5 stars.  The New York Times rates it as one of the Best Art Books of 2020.  It comes with a punch-out gorilla mask – who could resist?

Guerrilla Girls: The Art of Behaving Badly

Just for fun, I decided to make the choice of artwork hypothetical – price is not a consideration.  (It is, after all, a wish list.) This made the selection far more difficult.  I considered a sculpture by Oviloo Tunnnillie, the Inuit sculptor.   Here is my 2016 post about this remarkable artist, with several images of her sculptures.  The ones I like the best are of Sednas, and are in museum collections, so, hypothetically speaking, not available.  (One can makes one’s own rules in this game.)

I decided to shop for a print by Sybil Andrews, the British printmaker and welder (!) who eventually settled on Vancouver Island, after World War II.  Her linocut images, carved in the machine age style, are colourful and dynamic.

Skaters, Sybil Andrews, 1953, artsy.net image

It seems like the perfect choice, doesn’t it?  It’s a wintry scene, created in Canada, for someone with a fondness for printmaking and outdoor skating.

Since we know, and the pandemic is emphasizing,  that the best things in life aren’t things, I have a third and final wish, which is a non-material item.  (See above about making the rules.)  My wish is for high quality art education in all schools, at all age levels, as part of the basic curriculum.  This would include practical classes, wherein all students learn to draw, play a musical instrument, sing and participate in drama classes. In addition to the hands-on learning, art appreciation opportunities would be provided.  Students would attend art shows, and performances by professional actors, musicians and dancers.  Artists would regularly visit schools to lead workshops and give performances.

It’s a big wish, I know.  But think of all the benefits:  happier, healthier, creative individuals.  Employment created for artists and teachers. We know that art brings a myriad of benefits to our lives.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone had the same exposure to arts and culture?

The original Art Caravan

The original Art Caravan

I’d be happy to hear your three wishes.  And please, pass the (dark) chocolate.

 

Take a break from Netfl*x – virtual dance performances

The things we learn during a pandemic!  Who would have believed, pre-covid,  that watching dance presentations virtually could be enjoyable?  My few vague memories of professional dance performances are static/full stage view/one camera angle/small screen televised programs of traditional ballet.

Thankfully, the filming of dance has developed into a specialized art form.  Dance videos are a legitimate form of entertainment.  I got a glimpse of this a few years ago, watching this 2015 City and Colour music video of Dallas Green’s Lover Come Back.

Like a professional sporting event, it’s a different experience watching dance virtually, rather than in person.  I can hardly believe I am typing this, but it seems (based on my covid mandated dance viewing) that both in-person and videoed presentations can be satisfying experiences.  As long as the performances, choreography and filming are exceptional, the experiences are enjoyable, albeit in different ways. (Close ups: check.  Dancers’ expressions: check.  Going out for dinner with friends before or after: impossible right now.)

The Dance Victoria organization quickly pivoted to a virtual season of dance performances early in the pandemic.  You may recall my March post about Ballet BC’s presentation of Romeo + Juliet.   A highly anticipated, in-person dance presentation was cancelled; fortunately, a video of the performance was made available to subscribers.

Romeo + Juliet, Ballet BC (image by Michael Slobodian)

Romeo + Juliet, Ballet BC (image by Michael Slobodian)

Dance Victoria’s 2020-2021 season continues virtually.  Compagnie Hervé KOUBI, a French/Algerian dance company opened the season.  Watch this short video to get a sense of the physicality of this remarkable company of dancers. Here’s a trailer for  What the day owes to the night – the full performance I recently viewed….twice.

Compagnie Hervé KOUBI, What the day owes to the night, NY Times image

Some dance companies are offering free content.  Most of these performances have been created in response to the pandemic and its restrictions.  The Guggenheim offers these Works in Process. Highly creative, they are site specific, and take place outdoors, near Lincoln Center in NYC.  The National Ballet of Canada is presenting Expansive Dances, a series of three different solos.   Ailey Forward is available this month from the renowned Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre.

With all of the paid and free performances, there are supporting material and bonus features.  For example, the Dance Victoria interview with the artistic director, Hervé Koubi, was fascinating, and added to the enjoyment of What the day owes to the night. There is even a behind the scenes video for Expansive Dances.

Take a break from Netfl*x.  Download the Ailey Forward schedule, and watch some dance.  It’s another way to make this festive season just ‘a bit’ more unique.

7 reasons why Zarina Hashmi is my latest art crush….

How do you not fall for a person who said, I always had a suitcase ready….suppose I had to go somewhere?  Or, when speaking about her art (reason number two) she said,  My work is connected to language and to poetry. You know, my work is about writing.  The image follows the word.

January, 2020, I saw some of Zarina’s work in Marking Time: Process in Minimal Abstraction at the Guggenheim Museum in NYC.

Untitled, Zarina Hashmi, 1977, 20 sheets of needle pierced laminated paper, Guggenheim image

Untitled, Zarina, 1977, T. Vatrt image

Untitled, Zarina, 1977, T. Vatrt image

Untitled, Zarina, 1977, T. Vatrt image

Untitled, Zarina, 1977, punctured paper, T. Vatrt image

I was fascinated by her use of paper. In these works, paper is everything, with nothing added to create the image – rather it is the manipulation of the paper that results in the art.  The paper is the support,  the medium, and the subject.  (Reasons number 3 and 4:  shared love of paper and the manipulation of paper to create images and structures)

After watching this 12 minute video from the Hammer Museum, I was completely smitten with Zarina Hashmi. In the video, Ms Hashmi speaks about her life, and her work.  Not only is it a well produced, informative film, it reminded me that I saw the show Zarina: Paper like Skin  when it traveled to  The Art Institute of Chicago in 2013.  At the time I remember thinking Wow!  A printmaker! This is beautiful, meaningful work….from someone I’ve never heard about before. (Reason number 5:  good art stays with us and repeatedly delights us)

Zarina Hashmi was born in India, but was, truly, a citizen of the world.  She earned a degree in mathematics and studied printmaking (reason number 6) in Bangkok, Tokyo , and, notably, in Paris, at the renowned print shop, Atelier 17.

I just made my personal life the subject of my art. So I have to write about what I’ve gone through.  Oh, it’s very painful. I have opened up my life to the scrutiny of strangers.  (reason number 7:  her honesty)

Luhring Augustine in New York City has a good website with images of her work, and biographical information. This short video from the Tate will solidify your admiration for this artist – at least, it did for me.

Zarina Hashmi, Tate.org.uk image

 

 

 

Attention ~ Caribou Crossing

The Art Caravan enjoys multi-genre artistic projects.  Think of Michael Oondatje’s book, The Collected Works of Billy the Kid, or The Memory Palace , multi-sensory installations by Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller and Sarah Anne Johnson’s thematic work which uses photography as a springboard to other visual interpretations.  The works are complex in form, and meaning – the best kind of art, don’t you think?  It challenges us, the audience,  to ask questions, examine preconceptions, interpret freely.

Maureen Gruben‘s exhibition Tuktuuyaqtuuk (Caribou Crossing) at the Legacy Gallery is a fascinating combination of poetry, installation and sculpture, documenting a life unfamiliar to many of us.  Born and raised in Tuktoyaktuk, Ms Gruben’s work reflects life in the Western Arctic.

Infinite # 13, Maureen Gruben, 2020

Infinite # 13, Maureen Gruben, 2020

Infinite # 13, Maureen Gruben, 2020

Infinite # 13, Maureen Gruben, 2020

Tuktoyaktuk (English) / Tuktuuyaqtuuk (Inuvialuktun) means Looks like a Caribou. Initially, it was jarring to see that several of the pieces are composed of different parts of a caribou.  Consider  this untitled piece, below.  Imagine my surprise, and curiosity, when I discovered the main structure is a caribou heart sac – the membrane that contains the muscle of the heart.  Its translucent beauty is transformed into a nest like object – a symbol of (perhaps?) home, nurture, growth, life.

untitled, Maureen Gruben, 2020

untitled, Maureen Gruben, 2020

Superseded  is the foundational piece of the show.  Its colour commands immediate attention while the other artworks seem to reflect the natural Arctic palette. The  manufactured, hard-edged materials used in this piece contrast vividly with her wide-ranging use of natural materials in the other works.

Superseded, Maureen Gruben, 2020

Superseded, Maureen Gruben, 2020

With Superseded, Ms Gruben repurposes the red tin plates (government issued markers) that were used to divide the land into distinct ownership parcels.  The beautiful line of soldering overlaying the plates could echo the wandering journeys of the caribou, and, presumably, their hunters.  Such a line is also found in caribou skulls. How curious is that?

Superseded, Maureen Gruben, 2020

Superseded, Maureen Gruben, 2020

Challenging questions about ownership, settlement, indigenous life, and boundaries emerge….but subtly, like the fine line in a caribou skull, or the delicacy of a heart sac. Superseded does what good art can do – give visual pleasure, as well as challenge us intellectually and emotionally.

This five minute video from the Legacy Gallery is a tour of the exhibition, with commentary.  It’s worth watching, especially for people unable to view the works in person.  I’m happy to report the show is on for another two weeks, so I will see it again.