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"Audacoius Owl"Kenojuak Ashevak, "Audacoius Owl," 1993, Cape Dorset.
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"Burning Cold"Tania Kitchell, Part of "Burning Cold," running at the Yukon Arts Centre.
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Part of "Burning Cold"John Sabourin, Part of "Burning Cold," running at the Yukon Arts Centre.
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Part of "Burning Cold"Annie Pootoogook, Part of "Burning Cold," running at the Yukon Arts Centre.
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Part of "Burning Cold"Craig Leblanc, Part of "Burning Cold," running at the Yukon Arts Centre.
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Part of "Burning Cold"Brian Jungen, Part of "Burning Cold," running at the Yukon Arts Centre.
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"The Yukon Arts Centre"The Yukon Arts Centre hosts Burning Cold Feb 23 - April 8, 2007.
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"Congregation (detail)"Thomas Ugjuk, "Congregation (detail)," Rankin Inlet, c.1970.
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"Audacoius Owl"Kenojuak Ashevak, "Audacoius Owl," 1993, Cape Dorset.
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"Qilalugannguat Tunniyy (Tattoed Whales)"Arnaq Ashevak, "Qilalugannguat Tunniyy (Tattoed Whales)," 1996, Cape Dorset.
The Yukon Arts Centre invites artists from across the country to the Canada Winter Games
By Kay Burns
Asked about what makes up our Canadian identity, most Canadians would see sports and culture playing a significant role. The Canada Winter Games, taking place in Whitehorse — February 23 to March 10 — will integrate and celebrate a broad range of activities that showcase talents and skills of many Canadians, athletically and culturally.
Piers MacDonald, the president of the Canada Winter Games Society for Whitehorse, speaks of the significance of this event in the north. Originally, the Games could only be held in one of the ten provinces. Over the last 15 years, the Territories began to make a pitch to host the Games themselves. Given its experience with the Arctic Winter Games, Whitehorse put in a bid to host this significant Canadian event, offering a pan-northern character to it by sharing the planning with the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. In 2007, for the first time in the history of the Games, the north is hosting athletes and visitors from the south.
Over the years, the Winter Games have always included a cultural component specific to the hosting community, and plans for Whitehorse are no different. In fact, MacDonald claims that they don’t do events there without performers and artists involved. Cultural elements are simply “a much richer way of talking about who we are.”
There will be a number of cultural components occurring in Whitehorse during the Games, including a festival that features a fashion show of clothing designed exclusively by northerners, performance events, music events, and visual arts workshops and demonstrations in tents downtown (yes, in February) as well as an artists’ market where local artisans can showcase and sell their work.
But one of the most interesting events occurring in conjunction with the Games is Burning Cold — February 23 to April 8 — the exhibition developed by Scott Marsden, curator of the Yukon Arts Centre Art Gallery. Following the notion of a collaborative planning process, Marsden invited seven other curators from across Canada to put forward suggestions for five up-and-coming artists all under the age of 40 from their particular regions. This curatorial process was to seek some of the best young artists Canada has to offer, in keeping with the philosophy of the Games and the significant achievements of young people.
The curators all met in Whitehorse for an intensive two-day session to choose the artists from each curator’s short list, resulting in an eclectic mix of ten artists coming together for this exhibition. By chance, six of the ten artists are of aboriginal background (Dene, Tlingit, Inuvialuit, and Inuit) — a strong indication that indigenous cultures are exerting increasing influence on this country’s contemporary art scene.
Part of the premise of Burning Cold, while functioning as a feature event during the Games, is to pose multiple questions about the north and degrees of separation (figuratively and literally). The juxtaposition of work in the exhibition focuses partly on the notion that dwelling north of 60° creates its own isolation.
Marsden himself says that the two days meeting with the other curators provided him with a level of peer-to-peer critical dialogue that he hasn’t been able to engage in since he arrived nearly five years ago. His advice to emerging artists in the Yukon is to spend some time in the south. Though they may choose to come back in the future, in order to grow artistically they need to go south. “If you don’t have input from other artists, then that will affect your practice.”
Marsden attributes this in part to the fact that there is no art school in Whitehorse and thus less of a forum for critical engagement. However, he strongly advocates for the community of Dawson City, six hours north of Whitehorse. Dawson is a dynamic arts community that Marsden believes could become a “mini mecca” for artists, with organizations including the Klondike Institute of Art and Culture (KIAC) and the Odd Gallery providing a magnet for vibrant arts events and potential. KIAC is now in the process of developing an art school that will provide a Foundation year transferable to Emily Carr College of Art and Design in Vancouver, and Alberta College of Art and Design in Calgary.
Into this northern region, comes an exhibition for the Canada Winter Games that will push the debate, and potentially controversial questions forward — a discourse around the distinction of north and south. Is there a difference? Are artists aware of the distinction or does it matter? Given the geographic scope of this country, how is an artist’s practice different in Montreal, or Prince George, BC, or Twillingate, Newfoundland for example? What are the effects of isolation? Is there any kind of unifying Canadian art aesthetic?
Burning Cold features eight individual artists and two collectives, each chosen as outstanding contemporary artists from across Canada under 40. They include Shuvinai Ashoona and Annie Pootoogook, both of Nunavut and both granddaughters of the acclaimed Cape Dorset artist Pitseolak Ashoona. Recently awarded Canada’s top prize for emerging artists, the Sobey Art Award, Pootoogook’s work, mainly illustrative and rendered in pencil crayon, reveals the ever-present melding of traditional and modern customs in the far north.
The Quebec-based collective BGL (Jasmin Bilodeau, Sebastien Giguere and Nicolas Laverdiere) are installation artists whose dynamic work exposes the intersection between the natural world and the modern, commercial world. Their playful and mesmerizing work has made the trio immensely popular in their home province. Vancouver’s Brian Jungen, a former Sobey Award winner, made his reputation with the startling forms he creates out of deconstructed Nikes. Incredibly intricate ceremonial masks that reflect Aboriginal heritage done up in modern throwaway media have made him an artist who continues to break boundaries and gain international attention.
Toronto-based installation artist Tania Kitchell is preoccupied with cold weather, surrounding herself with snowdrifts, and fashioning Joseph Beuys-style snowsuits out of felt. Originally from Central Butte, Saskatchewan, her video, photography and installation work explores the relationship we have in Canada with cold and landscape. From the Northwest Territories, sculptor Floyd Kuptana uses bone, steel and brass in his intricate depictions of Inuit legends. Portraying transformations between humans and animals, his work is often finished with meticulous attention to detail.
Calgary-based sculptor and conceptual artist Craig Leblanc’s work exposes the cultural context of the meeting between sport and art. He was one of 12 artists invited to participate in Making it Like a Man: Masculinities in Canadian Arts and Culture at Regina’s MacKenzie Art Gallery, and all his work questions our interactions with the public domain. Sculptor and painter John Sabourin is Dene from the Slavey First Nation in Fort Simpson, NWT. Most of his work reflects natural forms, mixing northern customs and modern abstraction.
Yukon-based Tlingit artist Doug Smarch brings modern technology to the telling of traditional stories. He incorporates 3D animation, projection, and other forms of new media into his installations, which focus on Aboriginal legends, and often include traditional materials. The final region, Canada’s east coast, is represented by the collective efforts of Emily Vey Duke and Cooper Battersby. Working collaboratively since 1994, they produce single-channel video, much of it starring themselves, that juxtaposes expectation with startling originality and surprise.
Marsden wants to demonstrate his commitment to showing this kind of work so local artists and members of the public have the opportunity to see what’s happening in Canadian contemporary art by bringing the work to them, to entice local emerging artists to look beyond their region, and to challenge the views and critical perspectives of the local art community.
Northern Art Travels South
By Jill Sawyer
As Inuit artists continue to gather renewed acclaim in Canada, their work is beginning to travel further afield, bringing new notice to art forms that are continually being modernized. In late 2006, the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) in Santa Fe, New Mexico, became the second major institution in the US to bring in a groundbreaking exhibition of art from Nunavut. It arrived there somewhat organically, after many years of planning, and has contributed to the profile of many Inuit artists’ embrace of modern techniques.
John Grimes, director at IAIA, was instrumental in the creation and promotion of the show, Our Land: Contemporary Art from the Arctic. Formerly curator of Native American Art at the Essex Peabody Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, Grimes had visited with an economic and cultural delegation from Canada’s newest province, interested in creating links between Nunavut and the Northeastern US. The idea arose then to partner with the Nunavut government to create a comprehensive traveling exhibition of contemporary Inuit artwork.
He adds that there were two goals in bringing the exhibition south — to raise the profile of modern Inuit artists, and to contribute to transferring a collection of Nunavut artwork then stored in Yellowknife to a museum in Nunavut. “We felt that this gave us an opportunity to provide fresh perspective on Inuit art,” Grimes says. “There has always been a strong focus on Inuit sculpture and printmaking, but we agreed there was an opportunity to incorporate some of the incredible work being done in video and film as well.”
Comprised of nearly 75 works in painting, sculpture, video, textile and digital art, the show features the work of emerging and established artists including Germaine Arnaktauyok, Pitseolak Ashoona, Pudlo Pudlat, Jesse Oonark, Zacharias Kunuk, and Lucie Idlout.
Our Land.... originally opened at the Peabody Essex Museum in the fall of 2004 to enthusiastic reviews. And when Grimes took on his current position at IAIA, he pledged to include it in a mandate to showcase important contemporary Aboriginal art from across the continent. With catalogue contributions from acclaimed Inuit filmmaker Kunuk, and an appearance at the Santa Fe opening by the Arviat Imngitingit dancers and throat singers, the exhibition provided a grand opportunity to communicate the full culture of Canada’s north to new audiences.