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"Sananguagite/Pinguagite Kinaujalluaviluu: Art & Cold Cash"
Jack Butler, "Sananguagite/Pinguagite Kinaujalluaviluu: Art & Cold Cash," 2006 gouache on paper 122.0 cm x 92.0 cm. Photo: Dunlop Art Gallery.
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"No Bird Flu Flew to Baker Lake"
William Noah, "No Bird Flu Flew to Baker Lake," 2006, acrylic on paper, 91.0 x 183.0 cm. Photo: Courtesy the Artist.
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"Drawn Like Money #1"
Patrick Mahon, "Drawn Like Money #1," 2006 coloured pencil on paper, 56.0 x 76.0 cm. Photo: Courtesy of the Artist.
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"Reach for a Hand in the Dark"
Sheila Butler, "Reach for a Hand in the Dark," (detail), 2006, oil paint, acrylic, watercolour, charcoal, coloured pencil, collage 366.0 x 163.0 cm. Photo: Courtesy of the Artist.
ART & COLD CASH
Dunlop Art Gallery, Regina, Saskatchewan, Sherwood Village Branch Library
May 14 - July 7th, 2011
By Jack Anderson
If any art is recognized as 'Canadian' within the international art market, it is likely the soapstone carvings and graphic prints of the Inuit peoples of Canada's Arctic.
What is of interest to the five artists in this exhibition are the social transformations that occurred after Inuit art exploded on the international art scene in the early 1950s, largely due to the efforts of Southern Canadian teacher James Houston who set up artmaking co-operatives and collectives in First Nations communities in Northern Quebec. The outcome of his early interventions dramatically altered the lives of individuals and whole communities as a result of the introduction of market capitalism to previously nomadic fur-trading communities in the Baker Lake region.
All three of the southern Canadian artists - Jack Butler and Sheila Butler who lived and taught art in the Baker Lake region at various times beginning in the late 1960s and Patrick Mahon whose experience of the region began in the mid-1980s - lived and worked in communities affected by these changes. Revisiting the region again between 2004 and 2007, they created a temporary counter-collective aimed at de-constructing the consequences of the imported, constructed economy created by Houston's original forays into Inuit geographic, social and cultural space. Working with Inuit artist William Noah and Inuit writer Ruby Arngna’naaq, both of whom lived through those early cultural and social changes, all works in this exhibition recall a way of life before capitalism and cold cash supplanted the barter system and forever altered this region's historical means of exchange.
Each artist addresses these changes within the framework of his or her own direct experience of the Arctic. Sheila Butler's images fuse past with present by focusing on technological changes in the region over the last thirty years. In one suite of six drawings, Reach for a Hand in the Dark, she exposes not only how the transmission of knowledge traditionally passed down via storytelling was supplanted by impersonal mass-media, market-driven television imported from the south, but also how the nature of 'knowledge' itself changed as a result.
Jack Butler's large red gouache drawings of flowers arise from his childhood memories of selling seeds door-to-door in Winnipeg. Also based on Inuit 'storybone' games, his art links the geographies and histories of the north and south while embedding questions less about art and money than art and its social value.
In Patrick Mahon's drawings, ballpoint pen designs curlicue delicately around coloured pencil drawings of fish and whales. Referencing paper currency - the new means of exchange in the north - here art and money are one.
The paintings and drawings of Inuit artist and collective member William Noah address how the money brought into Inuit communities via art not only created a new way of life, but effectively erased the past. Unfolding this notion further, one of several video documents included in this show records a small group of hunters on snowmobiles traversing a barren expanse of white snow, one behind the other - in a way, poetically tracing their presence in the land as if drawing a line on paper.
Some of the affecting work here is by Ruby Arngna’naaq . Her video, The Money Stories - Nanutuak, Do You Remember When You First Used Money?, gives voice to elder members of the community who answer that very question through their own lived experience. Their remembrances, often humourous, are simultaneously disturbing.
Via the lens of Inuit art, its history and that of the people involved in its production and circulation, Art & Cold Cash exposes the cultural and social imperatives of the Canadian North and South. In so doing, it prompts viewers to not only consider how art and money operate in those regions and in Canada generally, but in the larger global art economy as well. This is interesting stuff. However, given that this particular iteration of Art & Cold Cash is a substantially edited version of the larger exhibition that has been touring southern Canada for sometime, we are teased into wanting more: problematically, we do not get it. The broader discourses around the issues (including Marxism) require further unfolding - something that does not happen here.