Huff: Biography, Synopsis and Witnessing

 

Biography- Cliff Cardinal

Cardinal was born in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, but has spent most of life in Toronto where he currently lives. His love for acting started at a young age as result of his mother, Tantoo Cardinal, being a well credited actress. When he was 15 years old, he took a semester off of school to focus on theatre.

Cardinal performed in Freeman’s Wake by Yvette Nolan, authour of Medicine Shows,  which showed in the Rhubarb Festival in 2005. After this, Cardinal started taking acting classes and workshops. As mentioned in Medicine Shows, Cardinal acted in “an adapted version of Tales of an Urban Indian that toured BC secondary schools in a Green Thumb production in 2007” (Nolan, 2015, 28) where he received a Jessie Richardson Memorial Theatre Award nomination for Outstanding Performance.

Cardinal only started to write after joining Native Earth’s Young Voice program where his work was influenced by George Carlin and Richard Pryor. His first play, Stitch, was shown at SummerWorks 2011 and won the Theatre Passe Muraille’s Emerging Artist Award.

The next year, Huff was shown at SummerWorks 2012 where Cardinal received the 2012 Buddies in Bad Times Vanguard Award for Risk & Innovation. The play was inspired by and based on a short story Cardinal wrote in 2005 called  “Huff”.

In 2013, Cardinal’s Maria Gets A New Life, debuted at SummerWorks 2013.

Synopsis 

The performance started with the main character, Wind, trying to killing him. He is lying on the ground with a plastic bag taped around his head and his hands handcuffed behind him.  He is talking to the audience as if he is narrating what is happening. The audience then understands that the play is going to be about how he ended up in the situation.

The play only has one performer who is acting multiple people. He describes how his parents met, referring to them as “the warrior and the princess”. He then states how after having three boys, his mom committed suicide , leaving his dad to look after them. The performer acts out what life was like for Wind and his brothers, Charles and Huff, growing up on the reserve. The audience witnesses the mischief, and drugs the brothers get into, as well as the abuse they face.

After accidentally burning down an abandoned motel they used as a club house, the brothers get sprayed by a raccoon. In order to get rid of the smell, they have to bath in tomato juice. The oldest brother then threatens to tell their dad that the younger brothers burned down the motel if they do not do him sexual favours and he then proceeds to sexually abuse them. It then becomes clear that the younger brothers are doing drugs and playing the “pass out  game” in order to numb themselves from their reality.

When the dad sees that what a mess they have made with the tomato juice, he beats the boys and Wind runs away. The youngest brother meanwhile plays the “passed out game” and ends up killing himself. The result of all those factors is why Wind tries to kill himself, but he doesn’t fall through with it. The spirit of his little brother helps him free himself.

Witnessing

The organizers around Huff did a great job of making sure that it was known that the contents of the play were going to be heavy and that some people might find it difficult to watch. I went into the play knowing and accepting this, so I was surprised that when I left the performance, I had felt under-prepared for what I had just witnessed. I feel like no “trigger warning” could have prepared someone for the violence that was portrayed.

My first thoughts of the play were that the overall performance was very well done. Cardinal did a fantastic job of acting so many different characters and making me forget it was all one person. I enjoyed the simplicity of the set and I felt that the minimal props complimented the the minimal or lack of multiple actors. I found it interesting the way Cardinal interacted with the audience. Rather than just purely “breaking the fourth wall”, I felt that the audience was an active role in the play. But, as with Jack Charles, I am not sure what that “role” was that we were playing. Were we witnesses? The enemies? Other? Making medicine?

While I did enjoy the play, it left me with a lot of thoughts and questions. I was not sure if the play emphasized enough that these awful realities are direct consequences of colonialism and its on-going effects. I wonder how I would have perceived or understood this performance if I did not have any context about colonialism in Canada. Might I have just thought that that First Nations have difficult lives on reserves? At the same time, maybe this play is not intended for someone who does not have any context. This leads me to thinking about who was the attended audience and what was the purpose of the play?

Nolan reminded me in Medicine Shows how after all the trauma and abuse Wind is face with, Wind does not commit suicide (31). Nolan states how “the telling of these stories…is a political act of resistance” and how these stories are based on the fact that “in spite of everything [Indigenous people] are still here” (31).

Jack Charles: Synopsis and Witnessing

 

Synopsis 

Protocol: Acknowledgement that this performance was taking place on unceded Coast Salish land.

The performance started with Charles moulding clay on a pottery wheel while the three membered band, who remained on stage from the length of the play, played music. Projected behind him was footage from the documentary Bastardly that showed Charles shooting heroin. When the footage ended, the lights came on and revealed the stage. The stage was set up as if it were Charles’s house or living area. There was a pottery area, a living room, and a kitchen area with a tea pot and kettle.

Right after the footage end, Charles stood up and started talking about his life. He started with his heritage and childhood and slowly went into talking about his acting career and his life of substance abuse and crime.

The play ended with Charles changing into formal clothes and addressing the audience as if he was in court and the audience was the judge. He was arguing for the right to have his criminal record cleared due to the fact that what led him into his life of crime was the physical, sexual, and mental abuse he faced from being taken from his family and put into residential school where he was isolated from his culture.

Witnessing

I attended the last performance of Jack Charles v. the Crown that showed in Vancouver on January 23, 2016. I really enjoy watching plays, but I did not know what to expect for this one because I have never watched a play where there was only one actor. From the first word Charles said, I knew that I would not have any difficultly watching only him for 75 minutes. Charles is a very animated, and captivating performer who has a stage presence that demands the attention of the audience. While he was talking about serious and upsetting issues, he did a brilliant job of bringing in humour without trivializing the topics being discussed.

After reading Follow the Rabbit Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington, I was interested in listening to how Charles’ experienced residential school in Australia, and how it compared/contrasted to residential schools in Canada. Yet, I learned very quickly that this play was not a history lesson. Charles gave a brief, but personal, account of his life and he did not dwell on the details of the abuse that he was subjected to in his past. In Medicine Shows, Nolan states how “good medicine” is about making connections and community (2) and it seems that Charles did this by making connections with Indigenous people in Australia and Canada.

The part of the play that intrigued me the most was the last section when Charles addressed the audience as if we were a judge or jury and he was arguing to have his criminal record erased. Due to the fact he was addressing the audience as if we were the Australian state, I could not help but feel uncomfortable and I was not sure why. When reflecting on this, I think it is because he broke the “fourth wall” and was speaking to us saying how “you did this”. While he was talking about Australia, I could not help feel guilty as a settler here in Canada.

Overall, I really enjoyed this performance. I found it to be not only interesting and educational, but entertaining and beautiful to witness. I do wish that I could see it a second time though because I feel that I would get more out of it. There was a lot of speech through the play and it was difficult to catch everything.

Rainbow Creek Dancers (Haida)

On January 17 2016, I attended a performance at the Vancouver Art Gallery. The performers were the Rainbow Creek Dancers (Haida), led by Robert Davidson. The group is named after a creek that runs behind Masset, Haida Gwaii and was founded 1980 by Robert and Reg Davidson. In addition to founding and leading the Rainbow Creek Dancers, Robert Davidson is a highly acclaimed visual artist who produces the dance group’s regalia and masks. His art has been exhibited in many public and private exhibitions and he became a master carver at an early age.

Before the performance began, Musqueam elder Debra Sparrow welcomed the performers and the audience to her territory and discussed. She briefly touched on the ancestral and historical connection to the Vancouver city space, and stated: “the city of glass was once a city of forest”.  

Following Sparrow’s words, one of the museum curators introduced Robert Davidson as a visual artist, detailing the collection of masks that reside in the Vancouver Art Gallery itself, that would be danced to life throughout the performance. After finishing her introduction the Rainbow Creek dancers entered and Robert Davidson made his introduction. He began by giving thanks to the Musqueam, and then proceeded to explain that the performance would be a fusion of both traditional and newly choreographed or altered traditional songs and dances. He then announced the healing song and contextualized it’s need – to heal the traumas of colonialism. Following this sombre performance the group went on to perform a series of dances, each introduced by Davidson. The context of the dance, what the dance was depicting, whether the song and choreography was new or had been passed down for generation, was all re-stated at the beginning of every number. As Dr. Dangeli pointed out in lecture, Davidson’s recurring introductions to performance pieces were not meant to be a translation but an oral history, a strategy to situate Haida culture in the past and present.

There were a few aspects of the Rainbow Creek Dancer’s performance that I especially took note of. Firstly, the majority of their dancers involved them depicting animals that had specific cultural significance and meaning. Secondly, every member of the dance group played a role in every single song. Whether that would be to hold a sheet of fabric to camouflage dancers, drumming, singing or dancing – the performance was the result of a collective effort and all members contributed to the final product. Another notable aspect of the performance was the large age range of the dance group, from elders to toddlers, a community formed on stage that truly emphasized kinship and teaching, or more specifically, the passing on of tradition.

Watching the Rainbow Creek Dancers I began to reconceptualize what it means to be ‘professional’. Though many interruptions (such as a child crying and running off stage) took place throughout the performance and a relaxed atmosphere was seemingly encouraged, the performance group was undoubtedly professional and were clearly extremely practiced and poised, able to share themselves and their culture with immense feeling and precision. Throughout the performance I began to understand how conceptions of professionalism are incredibly linked to victorian colonial standards and how the Rainbow Creek Dancers exemplify what decolonial professionalism can look like.    

“People might pay attention and hear our message”

While on this day we invoke our culture bringing forward a copper ritual, seldom seen outside of our homelands. We bring this copper from the great Pacific where it was washed and touched by people of the ocean and then in a journey across this land touched by elders and children, washed in the rivers and lakes, blessed in Sundance and ceremonies, carried by Powwow dancers, and touched again by the people of the land. It has been cleansed with smoke and brought here to be broken. This is our wealth of place, of culture and everything that is dear to us including life itself and all that the great nature provides. We name the copper Taaw in respect for the great life-giving oolichan oil, in contrast to the poison from the Oilsands. With this in mind we break this copper. We break it at the doorstep of the Government of Canada with a great sense of celebration. We break this copper not as a slight to Canada or an insult to Canadians who have shown us nothing but support and encouragement. In breaking this copper we confront the tyranny and oppression of a government who has forsaken human rights and turned its back on nature in the interests of the almighty dollar, and we act in accordance with our laws.” –Guujaaw, prayer from Parliament Hill quoted in the Lalakenis/All Directions: A Journey of Truth and Unity exhibition brochure, pg. 21

“Beau thinks that traditional indigenous culture is something we can all learn from as a way of being with, dealing with, and dialoging with nature that would lead us away from resource extraction and domination model.” –Scott Watson, quoted in the Vancouver Sun article “Lalakenis recounts indigenous journey that shamed the federal government”, published the 14 January 2016, http://blogs.vancouversun.com/2016/01/14/lalakenis-recounts-indigenous-journey-that-shamed-the-federal-government/

“Of course, being Beau Dick is an advantage sometimes! Being a well-known artist as well as Hereditary Chief meant that people might pay attention and hear our message.” -Beau Dick, Lalakenis/All Directions: A Journey of Truth and Unity exhibition brochure, pg. 8

Beau Dick/ Walas Gwy Um

Beau Dick (Walas Gwy Um) is a Kwakwaka’wakw Hereditary Chief and artist. He was born on Village Island, Kingcome Inlet, BC and raised speaking only Kwakwala. When he was six years old, Beau was relocated to Vancouver where he spent the rest of his childhood. Beau began carving at an early age under the tutelage of his father (Benjamin Dick) and his grandfather (James Dick). Beau later studied under the renowned artists Henry Hunt and Doug Cranmer. He now resides and works in Alert Bay, and is currently in his third year of residency at UBC.

Beau’s work is known for its power, emotion, originality, and creativity. He not only explores traditional Kwakwaka’wakw artistic styles, but he also incorporates a wealth of other Indigenous and Western practices and media. In 2012 Beau received the Jack and Doris Shadbolt Foundation’s VIVA Award for Visual Arts, and his work is exhibited in numerous museums and galleries around the world including the Canadian Museum of Civilization (Gatineau, QC), the Museum of Anthropology at UBC, and the Vancouver Art Gallery.

In 2013, Beau and an entourage comprising his daughters Linnea and Geraldine and other community members walked from Quatsino, BC down Vancouver Island to Victoria in order to break a copper (named Nunmgala) on the steps of Parliament. In 2014 they magnified their previous journey and travelled cross-country to break the copper Taaw, made by Haida carver and former president of the Haida Nation Giindajin Haawasti Guujaw, on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. They thereby conducted traditional copper-breaking ceremonies, “marking a ruptured relationship in need of repair [in this case, between the government and the First Nations of Canada], and passing the burden of wrongs done to First Nations people from them to the Government of Canada” (Watson, Lalakenis/All Directions: A Journey of Truth and Unity exhibition brochure, pg. 3).

Now is an exciting time for First Nations of the Northwest Coast. Through media coverage and a new exhibition at the Belkin Art Gallery at UBC, Beau Dick’s journeys to Victoria and Ottawa are just now being published and spread in order to raise awareness about the vast range of injustices committed by Parliament to the Indigenous Peoples of Canada. As a part of this awareness-raising, Beau decided to host a public feast on the 15 January to honour the opening of Lalakenis/All Directions, the premiering of the Great Hall at the new UBC Student Nest, and the third year of his residency, and to spread a strong message about the current state of Canada and the necessity for change.

 

The Lalakenis Feast, 15 January 2016

I am trying to think of how to write a short blog post about a feast that lasted for at least 12 hours and that incorporated a plethora of presenters, speakers, ceremonies, dance and music, food, and community engagement, in addition to profound silence, tears, laughter, love, meditation, self-reflection, and a tremendous sense of communal support. Because there were so many individual elements of the feast that merit their own blog post, I will focus for now on the overarching message that the event sought to spread.

I was volunteering to help prepare food (“for 1000 people”, we were told two nights prior to the event), and I came out of the kitchen in the middle of the pipe ceremony conducted by Gyaaustees. Although my seat toward the back corner of the hall prohibited me from viewing what was happening within the circle of participants around the central altar (which displayed belongings that Beau and his entourage had taken with them to Ottawa, in addition to the coppers and other ceremonial items), I nevertheless felt the silence and the overbearing emotion of the participants. This testified to the pipe ceremony’s ability to heal individuals and to bring together communities through the sharing of both sacred tobacco (as Yvette Nolan discusses in Medicine Shows, pages 2 and 61) and profound communal experiences and understanding. The sense of community that was thus established served as a basis for the rest of the evening’s events as we welcomed guest speakers, dance groups, and music performances and enjoyed food and drink, a fashion show, photography, and the Grand Finale.

Some of my favourite portions of the event included the Fancy Dances performed by Rebecca and her family, during which one could observe how their regalia were designed to be danced. The Haida Procession was also fantastic with their dramatic entrance, their incredible masks and regalia, their animated movements embodying the characters of the masks, and the confidence, heavy footsteps, and powerful eye contact of each member of the group. The Grand Finale was enormous—with the amount of beautifully-crafted masks (more than $2 million worth, as Gyaaustees had informed me earlier in the evening), the number of participants who took part in embodying and displaying the masks to the witnesses, and the energy involved both within and leading up to this moment— and was well worth the wait until the end of the feast.

The range of speakers at the event included Jasmin Starrchild (who spoke emotionally about world peace), David Suzuki, guests from the Oceans and Fisheries Research Centre and Greenpeace promoting sustainable resource extraction practices, the curators of the Belkin Art Gallery, Chief Bob Joseph on his work as part of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the planned TRC research centre, and Dr. Mique’l Dangeli. As one of the last speakers, Dr. Dangeli stated that when she first saw the feast’s proposed schedule, she could not see the through line between the different elements and topics covered by the presenters and performers. However, now that the event was drawing to a close, we all understood the message implied in the links between the artists, dancers and musicians, lawyers, activists, and leaders in environmental science and policy. Dr. Suzuki seemed to have summed it up well when he stated that the lifestyles that settler colonialism has attempted to eradicate are actually those that we must assume for the sake of sustaining our planet and supporting ourselves. Yet every speaker, performer, dancer, artist, helper, participant, and witness contributed to the grand message of the evening, reinforced by the ongoing support of the community and finally heard (judging by the amount of witnesses in attendance at the feast) by the wider public: We must stop the mass exploitation of the earth’s resources and the abuse of Indigenous peoples!

Transcendence Space in Dana Claxton: Made To Be Ready Exhibition

Claxton

Claxton was born in Yorkton Saskatchewan and comes from the Lakota Heritage- Wood Mountain reserve. Most of her practice works in film, video, photography, and single multi channel video installation and performance art. Claxton investigates beauty, the body, the socio-political and the spiritual. She is well known as her works have been shown internationally. Claxton currently 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.

Made To Be Ready

The exhibition composes a total of four works that includes photographs and a video work focusing on indigenous womanhood and sovereignty. The subject of these pieces includes indigenous women “[captivating] the life force of Lakota cultural belongings that are actively used in domestic work, warfare, social space, ritual and the ritual.”

Prior to entering the gallery space, I was huddled amongst other visitors at the foyer of the building where the opening reception was held. The reception began as the curator, Amy Kazymerchyk, introduced and welcomed visitors. Next, Claxton spoke but before she briefly explained the exhibition and expressed her thanks, she first acknowledged that we were on unceded territory of the Coast-Salish people. After the opening remarks, viewers entered the gallery space.

Inside the gallery space, the lights were turned down low as the only lights visible were from the displayed works.

‘Uplifting’ is a digital video that stretches across the one whole wall in the gallery space. It is a silent piece. The video contains one light source coming from the right side diminishing towards the opposite side, creating an even line of light. The other spaces are dark making it hard to determine where the surfaces start and end. It was interesting to where this particular piece was placed within the gallery, as visitors too would enter from the right side of the gallery where the main light source space was lit.

An Indigenous woman enters the scene from the right slowly crawling towards the left wearing a bright red jumpsuit. She crawls slowly in a pattern, one hand in front of the other and one knee at a time. As she reaches the opposite side, she gradually stands on her feet while struggling to pull out something from her jumpsuit. What is eventually revealed is a cultural belonging of hers. The regalia what is known to be a necklace, hangs around her neck as it has long beads. Shortly after she stands, she quickly disappears and the video restarts.

Cultural Belongings 96 x 72 inches, LED light box

An Indigenous woman makes way to lit light with a wooden rattle. There seems to be a division or a clashing as she wears traditional regalia, like the intricate headpiece with assortment of beading and the cape but, also wears modernized fashion pieces like high heals and a beige cocktail dress. Behind her, there is a trail of cultural belongings scattered on the ground. It is hard to tell if she is leaving these belongings behind or if she is hauling them with her.

Headdress 32 x 48 inches, LED light box

The image is of the same woman from ‘Cultural Belongings’ wearing her headdress. Her face is not visible as the colourful beads cover her face. The main focus is on details of the intricate assortment of beading. Personally, I saw this image of a self- portrait of the woman, the regalia, and or her Indigeneity.

The placement of  both ‘Cultural Belongings’ and ‘Headdress’ are hung across from one another. This display works well as it creates a sense of dialogue between the woman and the regalia.

Buffalo woman 1 and 2, 108 x 42 inches, ink on silk windbox

Two 108 x 42 inches of silk hang from the ceiling as a woman is imprinted on both of them. The same woman wears a blue dress but posses differently in the two images. In one posture she holds what is believed to be a skull of buffalo close to her as her eyes are closed. The other is her holding the skull up high as she looks up into the distance. It is hard to determine which position comes first as the artwork moves depending on where the viewer observes it from.

Dana Claxton: Performing with ‘Indigenous Motion’

A bit about Dana Claxton from her opening of Made To Be Ready:

Dana Claxton is a Hunkpapa Lakota Sioux performance artist, photographer, and filmmaker from the Wood Mountain reserve in Southwest Saskatchewan. Through her practice which she situates within a contemporary art framework, she critiques the representation of Indigenous people within Western anthropology, art, and entertainment. In particular, she is interested in exploring notions of Indigenous womanhood, beauty, and sovereignty. During her remarks at the opening of her exhibition Made To Be Ready at SFU Audain Gallery, she acknowledged the Coast Salish peoples for having shared their knowledge of the land with her and for the welcoming she has received from them to have pursued her practice here for over 30 years. She thanked the woman who has been working with her for over 25 years as the performer who often appears in her film and photographic work, as well as curator Amy Kazymerchyk for working closely alongside her with this exhibition.

read her exhibition statement here

Uplifting, 2015, digital video

Photo from CBC review: http://www.cbc.ca/beta/arts/dana-claxton-wants-to-change-the-way-you-think-about-indigenous-women-1.3403600
Uplifting, 2015, Photo from CBC review: http://www.cbc.ca/beta/arts/dana-claxton-wants-to-change-the-way-you-think-about-indigenous-women-1.3403600

In particular, I discussed my experience of her film performance Uplifting, which I found to have had quite a resonating effect for me through the motions made by the Indigenous woman performing in it. The film was set up next to the entrance of the gallery and featured a spotlight cutting across the screen horizontally in the center. A woman dressed in a red jumpsuit appeared from the left side, slowly crawling in on her hands and knees. She moved in a pattern of putting her left hand down, then pulling her right knee forward, lifting up her right hand and placing it down on the ground, followed by her left leg dragging in from behind. The whole time she moved, she appeared to be struggling and in pain, but she seemed empowered by a determination to keep going despite her weakness. Her movement can be related to Karyn Recollet’s notion of the ‘in between spaces’ and ‘Indigenous Motion’ that she describes in our readings “For Sisters” and “Dancing ‘Between the Break Beats’: Contemporary Indigenous Thought and Cultural Expression Through Hip-Hop”, of which she states as spaces that are “linked to an impulse that forms the base of all movement and creation” as a way to release the weight of colonialism felt within one’s body (420). The slow pauses of the woman picking her body back up into motion between her sudden dropping of hands and legs back onto the ground as she completes each step seems to illustrate this idea.

As the woman reached the end of the right side of the screen, she collapsed down from her hand and knees onto her stomach, rolling over on her side into a fetal position. She turned over onto her back, breathing heavily, and started tugging at the red jumpsuit material on her chest. Her pulling of the fabric became more aggressive, acting as a moment of climax within the performance, until she suddenly was able to use this force to sit right up into a V-shape position with her legs pointing outwards. She paused to catch her breath, and then slowly starts pulling out a cultural belonging that appeared to be a neck piece of a fringed pouch out of her chest. She slowly rolled up to stand with the neck piece, until she became grounded in her stance as she raised it above her head. This journey the woman undertook and her moment of overcoming her struggle seems to further illustrate Recollet’s explanation of ‘Indigenous motion’, which she views as the idea that there are portals into other worlds where one can connect with to undergo a transformation of self-identity (418).

 

Dirt Worshipper, 2015

Dirt Worshipper, 2015, Photo: Rebecca Ou

As another performance example of Claxton’s work apart from her Made To Be Ready exhibition, I introduced Dirt Worshipper, a live performance I got to see at the Slippery Terms faculty exhibition held at the AHVA Gallery on campus last September 2015. In this work, Claxton performed repetitive actions of ripping the fabric of a large printed sign that read ‘Dirt Worshipper’ in bold purple letters with a vibrant teal background up on the wall at the back of the gallery. She progressed in a linear direction from left to right, ripping a strip of the fabric in intervals of eight with her hands. It made a tearing sound that seems to resonate as another form of pulsation with the ‘in between beats’ that Recollet discussed taking place. In keep with her practice, this work was an act of engaging with cultural racism and the releasing of terms such as ‘Dirt Worshipper’ that have been imposed as stereotypes onto Indigenous peoples.

 

Thinking about digital media, performance, and cultural belongings:

How might the use of mediation in Claxton’s exhibition through the projected video, illuminated lightboxes, and theatrical lighting in the exhibition space extend or diminish the performativity and liveliness of the cultural belongings? Since this was not a live performance, how might this alter or affect our experience of the cultural belongings as a ‘lived force’?

Opening Reception of “Dana Claxton: Made to be Ready” January 13, 2016

Artist

“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

xlargeShowing 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.

Opening Reception

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.

Uplifting

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.

Cultural Belongings

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.

Buffalo Woman

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.

Headdress

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.

Witnessing

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.