Group Exhibition /RUTS/
Satellite Project Space
December 1-8, 2018
The title of this timely exhibition reflects current concerns about a general lack of understanding of (and sometimes fear or resentment of) cultures other than our own. /RUTS/ is the phonetic transcription of the homophones ‘routes’ and ‘roots’.
It is fascinating to see how 4th-year students in the School for Advanced Studies in the Arts and Humanities at Western University considered issues around colonization and Indigenous history to pose the questions “how did we get here?” and “what does it mean to be Canadian?” Studying with First Nation artist and filmmaker Shelley Niro in their ‘capstone’ course, 23 students produced 18 works that examine identity and societal place – their own and others’.
The works are mainly wall installations, but also include a sculptural floor work, two projections, and several interactive works, all with statements providing background information on motivations for their production. At the opening, two works included performances of a song and a piano composition.
The variety of approaches, combining research with personal reflection and expression, is impressive.
For example, “Voices of Silence” by Cassandra Haley considers a number of cooperative research projects between scientific and Indigenous communities. The results are three posters illustrating vividly how scientific studies provide evidence confirming the validity of ancient Indigenous oral histories that settlers considered myths. Among these are the Black Swan of New Zealand supporting the occurrence of rising sea levels seven thousand years ago, and Hawaiian myths about volcanoes that have also been proven factual.
The graphic poster “HERE” by Misha Apel and Sarah Zapata relates directly to the Indigenous people of Canada. They begin from the recognition that despite all attempts to assimilate and even erase them, Indigenous people are still HERE, “present and prominent in Canada.”
They created a striking image of a solid black map of Canada against a white ground. The artists chose black as a symbol of loss and mourning. There are no borders because these are a product of colonialism. Arranged across the country are four ‘word clouds’, one for each letter of the title. The words in fine script of white, yellow and red have specific references.
The first includes all the residential schools, referencing the suffering caused by the attempt at aggressive assimilation of children taken from their families. The second ‘word cloud’ names the languages of the First Nations, referenced by the 2016 Statistics Canada Census of Aboriginal Languages.
The third cloud names the 93 Indigenous groups in modern Canada who are still present and contributing to the country. Finally, the fourth group names individual people, the 308 women who were identified by CBC News as missing and murdered but that authorities refused to accept “involved foul play.”
This large image is powerful and delicate at the same time. The brilliant word clouds float atop the dark country, asserting their realities, declaring their presence.
Other works that drew my attention are more personal, exploring the artists’ own heritage.“Inconclusive” is a paper collage on canvas by Jasia Carroll-Wooley that riffs on statistics presented as the backdrop, over which she has created a brilliant vision of personality, imagination, or spirit as an attempt at self-representation. All those statistics based on racial background, and gathered, graphed, itemized, analyzed – what could they possibly tell us about any individual? They are flat, unemotional, general. She is colourful, multifaceted, exciting, a young woman of mixed background who refuses to be reduced to a statistic.
Nara Monteiro considers her own mixed background in the witty “Social Profile of a Potted Plant.” She created beaded felt medallions with symbols relating to parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents, and hung these from a branch as her own personal family tree. Linked by string, they finally meet at the base where the symbol of an eye hovers above a small plant pot. The eye, she tells us, is her own symbol: “I am the seeker and examiner, doomed to fail at making sense of my bloodlines but gifted with the
inherent richness in this plurality of histories.” And in fact, her family has strains of six different groups, including Indigenous, and she is from Brazil. She chose to use the traditional native beading tradition in creating a symbolic language illustrating her genealogy, another sense of connection with one line in her ancestry.
On the other hand, Noelle Schmidt examines her Hungarian family history through a poetic narrative in 11 parts written on the wall around three small square dark paintings. The minimalist approach of “an inheritance” is quiet and stunning, as she unpacks an awareness of the violence and genocide in this history, from her grandfather who was in Hitler’s army, to the Holocaust concentration camps, and finally to the systematic violence against Indigenous people in Canada. This is a work that stays with you.
/RUTS/ is a challenging exhibition, demanding thoughtful attention. I was lost in it for hours, and came away impressed with the care all these young people gave to a difficult and important topic. Back home online I found that even the New York Times recently ran a special discussion on ‘How To Be More Empathetic’ (nytimes.com, 12/06/2018) asserting that “We’re all in this together, and researchers say that connection and compassion are crucial to a sustainable and humane future.” This exhibition and the University course that inspired it tell me that creative approaches to these serious issues can help us see our way through the most difficult tmes.
Professor Emerita, Visual Arts, Western University
The following students all showed their work in this exhibition:
Hina Afzaal, Misha Apel, Sarah Ball, Nicole Barrett, Kirri Bergen, Jasia Carroll-Woolery,, Keyona Gallucci, Margaret Graham, Cassandra Haley, Michael Juranka, , Aman Kular, Megan Levine, Devon Lowrie, Morgan McAuley, Nara Monteiro, Diyana Noory, Jill O’Craven, , Vicky Qiao, Noelle Schmidt, Julia Sebastien, Sarah Zapata,
The Satellite Project Space is located at 121 Dundas Street, London ONImages provided by Madeline Lennon, and Patrick Mahon.