Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Creating work for the exotic other

eagleclanhat018 When I first started carving I also sung and drummed in a traditional Nisga’a dance group, they are the Git Muk Mukia Nisga’a.  It was important to me to know more about my culture as I am a Nisga’a/Haida carver.  Its ironic, half of the pieces in the old days were created for dance groups and now unless the pieces are donated most dance groups couldn’t afford to buy the masks, rattles ,bowls, etc. they need to perform.wolvesbowl016   I suppose it’s a change in audience, in the old days the work was created for Native peoples, now the work is created for a colonial audience.  Most of the work I create isn’t even functional and I know a lot of the work created by other carvers isn’t functional either, so who are we making it for?  Not for ourselves, but for the non-exotic other, for the person who has enough money to pay for it.

DSC00298 DSC00300 So once in a while I need to create something functional, a rattle, a bowl etc.  I’ve been experimenting with creating a mask that a drummer or singer could wear while singing.  My first experimental singing mask was more like a carnival mask(though quite restrained comparably).  I feel this was a failure and has since been taken apart.  My second attempt has been much more successful.  I had a eureka moment while creating this mask and it ended up being quite different than I intended.  When worn it looks like a small figure sitting on your forehead, the figure is wearing a blanket which wraps around your head, the blanket advertises your crest, in this case the eagle(Laxgiik) clan.  I am hoping to create more in this style but with actual clan figures(eagle, wolf, etc.). DSC00305 DSC00306

Both pieces are made from bass wood, I use bass wood for a lot of my new work because here in Toronto it is readily available to me.  Bill Reid, Lyle Campbell and other carvers have used Bass wood so I don’t feel like I’m totally out there in using a material not traditionally used by my people.  I mention this because my new work “52” is made from bass wood and not cedar, it’s a nice wood.  It carves like a less gooey yellow cedar and has none of the allergenic oils, it doesn’t smell as nice though, it kind of smells like an intense cardboard.

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A brief history of northwest coast design


historyofdesign007 I would like to explain the meaning behind my piece “A brief history of Northwest coast design”.  This work consists of eleven planks placed side by side to make up one installation.  Each plank is representative of a moment in the history of Northwest coast art, together they tell a story.  The story begins the day before first contact or the good old days as I call them, the second panel takes place much later when our culture was documented and collected.  After this what wasn’t collected was allowed to fall, some literally rotted on the side of the road others were painted over to be used in our new world.  Though hidden the art survived, kept by artists, storytellers and elders they just needed time to bring the art back to the people.  Recovery began with a few master artists publicly displaying their work and a full renaissance began.  Many artefacts were kept by museums around the world, however only an infrared camera could reveal the designs hidden under a hundred years of patina.  Once recovered the designs were painted on plywood and published for a new generation of artists to learn from the masters.  It would seam we have come full circle, however there are gaps in our knowledge and some of the designs are now untranslatable and the meanings are lost. DSC00311

The design I chose for this piece is a raven box design because I always think of the raven as the being who found the pieces of the world and put them together.  On each wing is a human which is who the story is about and on the chest of the Raven is mouse woman.  She is a witness and helper, especially when some one is traveling between worlds, as this work travels between contemporary and traditional.DSC00310

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

new project, “52”

DSC00322 I’ve been thinking about this piece for about a year now, I still don’t have a solid title.  The original title was “52”, but I  knew that was just a working title.  The installation consists of fifty two carved figures each in a transparent acrylic box.  The figures are 9.5”/5”/2.25”, they will fit in the boxes snugly.  When installed the boxes will lay on the floor in rows of four. DSC00302

I roughed out each figure on the band saw and now have begun carving the details.  Each figure is identical with one exception, each will have a different facial expression and none will have eyes.  I’ve ordered the acrylic for the boxes and will construct them soon.  With the price of the acrylic and the wood I figure this project will cost me about $800 to $1000 dollars to produce, I love it. DSC00324

This work is inspired by the Haida repatriation project and an interview I saw on T.V.  The Haida’s repatriated the remains of our ancestors from museums from around the world  and brought them back home to be buried.  In the interview I saw, a Haida woman was speaking of her experience of hearing voices in the halls where the Haida remains were being held.  I will talk more about this project as it unfolds


Past Now


DSC00310 I had a recent exhibition of my work, I exhibited with Meryl McMaster.  She is first nations photographer, for this exhibition she fused pictures of herself with old Curtis photographs.  The exhibition was called Past Now, I had four pieces in the show; “Evolution” my totem pole, “Obsession, Desire” a panel, “A brief history of Northwest coast design” an installation piece and a new piece called “transformation mask” which is as good as calling it “Untitled” because it is a transformation mask. DSC00320

The curators were Lisa Meyers and Suzanne Morisette, they did a good job, I thought Meryl and my work worked well together.  The idea of past now fits, Meryl ghosting herself with the Curtis photo’s and my work though traditional in style comes from a contemporary place, our work is past now. DSC00313

The new piece “transformation mask” is the first transformation mask I have ever created.  For this reason I used the Eagle(Laxgiik), my crest, and the beaver, my main sub-crest, on the inside.  It was a lot of fun, I haven’t worked under that kind of pressure in a long time.  I miss the days when I would carve seven days a week for ten hours a day, I spend a lot more time here in Toronto being an artist rather than creating art.DSC00315