“Claxton is from the Lakota First Nations-Wood Mountain reserve in Southwest Saskatchewan. She lives and works in Vancouver, where she is an Associate Professor in the Department of Art History, Visual Art and Theory at the University of British Columbia. Her work has been shown internationally at the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Walker Art Centre, Minneapolis; Eiteljorg Museum, Indianapolis; and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney. She’s participated in the 17th Biennale of Sydney, 2010; La Biennale de Montréal, 2007; and Le Havre biennale d’art contemporain, 2006.” (SFU website)
“I’m influenced by my own experience as a Lakota woman, as a Canadian, a mixed blood Canadian, and then my own relationship to the natural and supernatural world. So taking that whole bundle of experiences, it all goes in to the artwork, I think that’s where the multi-layering comes in because I’ve had a very multi-layered life. And it’s all those experiences that go in to the work.” – Dana Claxton 2007
Exhibition- Dana Claxton: Made to be Ready
Showing at Audain Gallery, Vancouver from January 14 – March 12, 2016
From Audain Gallery’s website and Facebook event page:
Dana Claxton’s practice explores the spiritual, political and cultural life of Indigenous peoples of the Americas, specifically those of Plains First Nations. Her films, videos, photographs, multi-channel installations and performances critique the representation of Indigenous people within Western anthropology, art and entertainment.
Claxton’s new photographs and video works in Made To Be Ready are informed by her attention to Indigenous womanhood and sovereignty. Drawing on the ideas of Anishinaabe writer and scholar Gerald Vizenor, particularly his notion of survivance which unifies survival and resilience as a means of resistance, Claxton’s photos picture Indigenous women commanding their own mediation of cultural, political and spiritual ways of being and doing.
The women in these works captivate the life force of Lakota cultural belongings that are to be actively used in domestic work, warfare, social space and ritual. They counter the commodification of Indigenous aesthetics and the preservation of “artifacts.” The works are charged with Claxton’s concept of the Indigenous made-to-be-ready, which draws attention to the everyday aura of aesthetic forms, inverting the concept of the modernist ready-made and its attention to the aesthetic aura of everyday forms.
After walking through the front doors, the first thing to be seen was a reception area. It was a large room with a bar and snacks on the right, a microphone in the centre and some seating on the left. Further to the left was the entrance to the exhibition. The exhibit comprised of four pieces of art that were located on each of the four walls.
A digital video that took up the entire wall. It started with a shot of an empty, concrete room that was lit up from a light coming from the right side of the screen. After about 30 seconds, a shadow creeps into the picture from the right. Soon, a woman enters, crawling on the ground. She is barefoot, with her long, brown hair loose around her shoulders and she is wearing a red jumpsuit. She is obviously in pain and she struggles to crawl across the room from the right side of the screen to the left. When she gets to the left she lies down and rolls onto her back. She starts sobbing. She then tries to get up, but she can’t. She is pulling on her clothes to help her move, but she remains on the ground. After a few minutes, she finally makes it her feet, but she is crouched down. After more fighting, she slowly manages to stand. Still crying, she reaches into her shirt and pulls out and leather necklace with a pouch and tassels on the end. She holds it out in front of her.
A 96 X 72 inch image that is lit up in a LED box. The image of is of a woman wearing a modern-looking, cream-coloured dress, cream shoes and with a cream cape. Over her face hangs an assortment of beading, necklaces, and other type of dangly jewelry. She is holding a wooden stick with an animal head carved on the end. The animal looks like it could be a horse. The cape she is wearing is long and drags on the floor. At the end of it, there is a comply of different items like a drum, beading and other types of instruments. It looks as if the cape is dragging these items.
Two 108 x 42 inch pieces of silk hanging from the ceiling, one directly in front of the other. Both pieces show a woman wearing a blue sequin dress. The piece in the back shows a woman holding a buffalo skull up in the air and she is looking at it. The piece in the front shows the woman holding it at her chest with her eyes closed.
A 32 X 48 inch image that is lit up in a LED box. The image appears to be the same woman from Cultural Belongings, but this time it is just a close up of her face showing in detail the assortment of beading, necklaces, and other type of dangly jewelry that hang over her face.
At 7:45 pm, the curator, Amy Kazymerchyk, went to the microphone and said a few words about the exhibit and about Claxton. Kazymerchyk then introduced Claxton who said a few words about the exhibit, but mainly said thank you to people who supported her in the project. After the announcements, the reception continued.
I arrived at the Audain Gallery just after 7:00 pm. After taking off my jacket and getting myself a drink, I went into the exhibition room. The dimly lit room was already quite full of people and there was an energized, fun vibe present. I was expecting there to be quite a few pieces of art, so I was a bit surprised that there were only four. After walking straight into the room, the first piece to right was called Uplifting, and counter-clockwise after that was Cultural Belongings, then Buffalo Woman, and lastly, Headdress.
I found it very powerful how Claxton chose to critique and challenge not only the way Indigenous people have and continue to be represented, but the way Indigenous women in particular have been represented. I also appreciated how instead of focussing on the negative impacts of these false representations, Claxton’s work focused on resistance and re-representation by Indigenous women and their bodies.
I felt that the piece that intrigued me the most was Buffalo Women. When standing directly in front of the the piece, the two images of the woman blurred together and gave the illusion that the woman was moving. The piece was also quite haunting with the woman almost looking like a hologram from the way the silk was lit up. I also found the woman herself intriguing. Her blue, sequin dress alluded that she was a modern, elegant woman, yet she was holding a rough, Buffalo skull that contrasted against her persona. The way she was holding the skull made me feel that was not her trophy that belonged on a wall, but this was something sacred to her.
While there were only four pieces, I still felt that I did not have enough time with them. I feel that sometimes the simpler something is, the more there is to analyze because there is more room for interpretation.