GREG STAATS, condolence
August 20 to September 26, 2009
Urban Shaman Gallery, Winnipeg
By Stacey Abramson
The work of Greg Staats overflows with poetic politics — two terms that rarely work well together. The visual language he creates speaks of loss and memory, and aspects of Aboriginal culture in a gentle yet permeating tone. Working inside the simplicity of nature and enhancing it with the complexity of the personal experience within it, his work leaves viewers relating his experiences with their own.
In condolence, Staats describes the work as outlining a “period of time to be lived through, like an opening to unlimited discussion of emotional responses to an existential loss of language.” The show’s black and white photographs and organically paced videos bring viewers into a culture and history, observed within the temporality of a particular time, and individual reflection.
Each of the photographs relate with one another, underlining a relationship to time and space that is in line with the intention of the work. Staats brings viewers into the show through his diptych self-portrait — two separate shots of a bundle of twigs loosely wrapped with twine on a concrete base.
On facing walls far across the gallery, Staats has placed six images. Auto mnemonic six nations from 2007 illustrates a memory from his childhood community. The images are of specific locations and items (a tree, a boarded up burned house, a wooden chair, among others). The viewer can make the connections between the images and Staats’ personal memory — they speak with one another about ownership and experience within memory, allowing a multiplicity of interpretations and mimicking the personal experiences that they relate to for the artist.
Six stills from a National Film Board of Canada’s video that features Staats relatives are called six nations condolence. Here the viewer is presented with another series of images, filtered twice through camera lenses. These grainy stills frame memories of the artist’s culture, as created by the filmmaker, and the choice and framing brings Staats’ artistic voice to the series’ impression.
The Mohawk verses of red oak condolence — the soundtrack to one of two videos by Staats — bleeds into the main gallery space. Relating to the condolence ceremony and mourning rituals, the verses resonate with a message of optimism and comfort.
The video metathesis also uses the Mohawk language and the condolence ceremony — on the soundtrack a reader works through a series of 21 phrases selected by Staats, struggling with pronunciations. On the screen, hands gently and ritualistically handle a string of beads beneath an opaque foreground. The memory of the past, and reality of the present mesh together in condolence. Each piece has a powerful hum of stillness and reflection to it, reflecting the deep sadness that accompanies a tremendous loss of culture.