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"They Were As Numerous As Grass"
Lynne Allen, "They Were As Numerous As Grass," 2002/2004, lithograph, woodcut, 22” x 22”. Photo: Martha Street Studio.
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"The Seven Grandfathers"
Ahmoo Angeconeb, "The Seven Grandfathers," 2005, lithograph, 3.5' x 1.75’. Photo: Urban Shaman Gallery.
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Lynne Allen, "Journal Page," 2006, digital print, relief. Photo: Martha Street Studio.
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Lynne Allen, "Assorted (Artefacts)," 2000-2002, lithograph on goatskin. Photo: Urban Shaman Gallery.
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"Ita Ta Win"
Lynne Allen, "Ita Ta Win," 2006, digital print, wood cut. Photo: Martha Street Studio.
LYNNE ALLEN, Shortcut to Heaven
Martha Street Studio
Mar 15 – Apr 20, 2007
AHMOO ANGECONEB and LYNNE ALLEN, Across a Divide: Two Master Printmakers
Urban Shaman Gallery, Winnipeg
Mar 16 – Apr 28, 2007
By Amy Karlinsky
Two intriguing shows in Winnipeg this spring have both been initiated, in part, by the presence of printmaker Lynne Allen, a Tamarind master printmaker, Fulbright scholar, and head of the School of Visual Arts at Boston University. Allen, who was in Winnipeg earlier in the year, delivered a week-long workshop for Aboriginal artists at the Manitoba Printmakers Association Martha Street Studio. The first show, at Urban Shaman Gallery, curated by Director Steve Loft, is Across a Divide: Two Master Printmakers Ahmoo Angeconeb/ Lynne Allen. This is a spacious show, beautifully installed, and supported by ample white space and cryptic wall quotes, provoking the viewer to examine the underpinnings of the two distinct bodies of work. Two-person shows lend themselves to questions about similarities and differences, and in this case the differences are striking.
On one side of the gallery, Allen’s complex prints and printed objects draw upon the technical wizardry of printmaking, utilizing numerous techniques of lithography, intaglio, silk screen, and chine collé. Her approach to image-making is veiled and multi-layered, made with the knowledge that there are multiple truths and perspectives, multiple sign systems and conventions to uncover and bear witness to the history of racism and colonization in America.
Her lithograph A, B, C’s of Civilization, for example, mimics the form of an early education primer. The elegant penmanship tells us that A is for Arrow, B is for Bullet, C is for Colonization, D is for Disease, E is for Escape. It’s confrontational and accurate — a history that often escapes the official textbooks — but I can’t help thinking about the unwritten “P” for Post modern, with Allen’s well-used strategies of irony, mimicry and pastiche.
Many of Allen’s prints at Urban Shaman and at Martha Street Studio employ readymades of found imagery and found texts, either hand made, or made through photo-mechanical processes. Newspaper articles, photographs, and hand-written diaries find their way into these works, indexes of personal history, autobiography, and cultural lessons.
Allen’s work is about historic transformation at a very personal level. Her grandmother and mother were both members of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in South Dakota, and her grandmother translated the Sioux winter counts into written English. The “wintercount” is a significant Plains Aboriginal accounting of the significant events of the past year, where elders met and recounted the important exploits and follies which were then recorded onto buffalo robes.
The wintercount is an example of Plains historical record-keeping, a fact overlooked in simplistic and romanticized accounts of Aboriginal life, where Europeans are thought to own the idea of recorded linear history, and Aboriginal people are relegated to cyclical time. If the wintercount throws a wrench into simple binary oppositions about the nature of history and its evidence along racialized lines, then Allen’s work shores up this complexity through the many references to her maternal ancestry and the implications for her own identity.
A view across the room to the work by Ahmoo Angeconeb presents us with a symbolic language that, on the surface, seems less technical, less veiled and more symbolic. Angeconeb’s work is primarily in lino cut.
Angeconeb was born in Sioux Lookout in northwestern Ontario, and he has traveled extensively in Europe, particularly in Germany, where a market for his work has developed. He studied art at York and Lakehead Universities, and was a graduate student and art instructor at Dalhousie University in Halifax in the mid- to late-1980s.
If Allen’s preference for multi-layering make the relationship to her subject matter oblique and abstract, Angeconeb’s preference for single-layering, repetition and opaque colour, and the selective use of coloured grounds provide a more immediate access to his subject matter. Lino cut is a much simpler relief printmaking technique, with variations allowed for in multiple coloured plates or in hand colouring, as this artist prefers.
Norval Morriseau’s iconography of connecting energy lines, totemic animals, bright colours and X-ray vision, in the service of an Anishnaabe cosmology are evident here as an influence and a beginning point. We have seen printmaking ventures in the 1970s and 1980s, based on the Woodland style which saturated the market through large editions. The images centered on single animals and birds, and it’s not easy to reinvigorate a tradition as potent, as omnipresent and as genuinely radical as the iconography developed by Morrisseau.
Angeconeb works out of the Woodland tradition, but he is neither a copyist, nor a cheerleader, preferring to borrow, transform and invent with the help of Asian, Egyptian, and Inuit sources. I am a fan of his direct imagery. Some of Angeconeb’s prints of animals look like those of Cape Dorset artist Kananginak Pootoogook with their complex arrangements of torso, head, and limbs. Other prints by the artist show a fascinating juxtaposition of animals taken from an Aboriginal cosmology and European heraldry, as in The Pommerngrief Meets the Anishnawbe Thunderspirit. Still others use devices for organizing spatial compositions that are more typical in traditional Asian art. These confrontations and hybrid borrowings are productive, raising Angeconeb’s art to an inventive and playful level.
Beliefs related to the seven sacred animals, and the spiritual cosmology of the Ojibwa, utilize a drawing style that is personalized and unique, with an interest in the formal concerns of bilateral and radial symmetry. I am thrilled to see this artist’s work in Winnipeg. He has contributed to the development and transformation of the Woodland iconography.
At Martha Street Studio, more of Lynne Allen’s work was displayed in Lynne Allen: shortcut to heaven.Characteristic of the versatility of this studio and its programming, the work of some of Allen’s workshop students, all artists in their own right, has been displayed as an adjunct to the Allen exhibition. Director and curator Sheila Spence has again parsed out the 20 Allen works with ample space, a much-needed foil to the density of these smallish pieces. Each Allen work is a little virtuoso of printmaking technique, a rainbow roll here, what appears to be complex reverse incising of text, ghosted images from earlier plates, and embossing. They are astounding dramas, with tons of history within the frames, filled with contradictions. The history of Plains iconography comes alive here.
There are aspects of prints which resemble Ledger Drawings, a form created by chiefs and others who were imprisoned and subject to the American military as American colonial expansion moved westward. These drawings, made on top of ledger account books, showed everyday scenes of riders on horseback, camp life and military battle. The drawings were made in colour, a kind of forced ethno-identification and display. Allen recalls these layers, and her shortcut to heaven resides as a palimpsest of past visual text related to Sioux life.
The workshop participants’ work looks nothing like Allen’s — a hallmark of a good teacher and good students. KC Adams’ aerial views using tone on tone white are airy, serene and compelling portraits of vastness, landforms and space. The digital prints of Scott Stephen are colorful abstractions of speed and physics. Between Martha Street Studio and Urban Shaman — all in all, a good season for printmaking in Winnipeg.