Saturday, October 13, 2018

Rebecca Belmore - Facing the Monumental

October 2018 - Toronto ON

I briefly commented in my weekly recap that I had attended this exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario. I had included some of these photos and some videos of her work.

Rebecca Belmore (born 1960) is an interdisciplinary Anishinaabekwe artist who is particularly notable for politically conscious and socially aware performance and installation work. She is Ojibwe and member of the Lac Seul First Nation.

Before we headed to the fifth floor exhibit we were greeted with this installation on the main floor.

Rebecca Belmore’s Wave Sound sculptures encouraged people to pause and listen to the wind and waterways. Listen to soundscapes recorded at the three locations: Lake Minnewanka’s shoreline in Banff National Park (Alberta); Lake Superior’s ridge at Pukaskwa National Park (Ontario, near Ojibways of the Pic River First Nation); and Green Point’s seaside cliffs in Gros Morne National Park (Newfoundland). 

Belmore has performed and exhibited nationally and internationally since 1986. Her work focuses on issues of place and identity, and confronts challenges for First Nations People. Her work addresses history, voice and voicelessness, place, and identity. To address the politics of representation, Belmore's art strives to invert or subvert official narratives, while demonstrating a preference for the use of repetitive gesture and natural materials. Belmore's art reveals a long-standing commitment to politics and how they relate to the construction of identity and ideas of representation. She has exhibited across Canada, the USA, Mexico, Cuba and Australia. In 2005, OCAD University conferred an honorary doctorate on Belmore in recognition of her career.

She was the first aboriginal woman representing Canada at the Venice Biennale in 2005. She also received Canadian Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts in 2013.

State of Grace depicts a young Indigenous woman slumbering, draped in white cloth that spills around her body. She looks serene, relaxed. Yet the paper on which the photograph is printed has been slashed into vertical strips, suggestive of a latent violence inflicted on her body.

Click on this link to go to her website to watch Fountain - Fountain deals with elementals of essences: fire + water = blood.

“The Fountain”, consists in a video footage projected onto a screen of real falling water. The artist is seen in a lake struggling in the waves while trying to fill up a bucket. When she finally fills it up, she walks to the shore and throws the content of the bucket (red liquid supposedly blood) toward the viewers. The effect created by the real waterfall in the room including its sound enhances the corresponding image and sound of water in the video. What’s more, as a viewer I felt taken aback by this provocative action.

Source - AGO

A highlight of the exhibition is a pair of new works, Tower and tarpaulin, installed side by side. 


The works stem, Belmore writes in the exhibition catalogue, from recent experiences in Vancouver, where she was struck by the opposing forces of rapid condo development and homelessness.


“I understood the severity of land as real estate – everything owned, everywhere for sale, and how, in our so-called great cities, the reality of owning anything is out of reach for most of us, with no solution in sight,” Belmore writes. Staring into the construction site of yet another condominium, she recounts, “all I could think about was landlessness and those who are without a home.”


On the AGO’s Level 5, a slender spire, constructed of shopping carts and clay, Tower stands over 15 feet tall. Shopping carts, the makeshift home of the homeless, are here re-imagined as a shiny metal condominium. The clay, which runs down the centre of the structure before pooling out at the bottom, reminds us that these carts represent, for the homeless, their own piece of earth, however transitory. 


To the right and down sits tarpaulin, cast from clay sourced from beneath the city of Winnipeg; a sculpture of a tarp-like blanket, bunched on the floor, is a meager shelter for an absent person.

In many ways this reminded me of the Homeless Jesus sculptures we have in Toronto. Click here for links to other Homeless Jesus.


Source - National Gallery of Canada

With Tower (2018), tarpaulin (2018) and Thin Red Line (2009), Belmore alludes to the social impacts of climate change and economic disparity, the worst of which have yet to come. “The world will be a different place in 20 years, and we have no idea what that looks like,” she commented recently. “I think that’s why we have conversations, that’s why we have to listen, that’s why we make art.”

By far the Named and Unnamed film titled Vigil was the most moving and we watched the thirty minute production mesmerized and saddened.

Performing on a street corner in the Downtown East Side, Belmore commemorates the lives of missing and murdered aboriginal women who have disappeared from the streets of Vancouver. She scrubs the street on hands and knees, lights votive candles, and nails the long red dress she is wearing to a telephone pole. As she struggles to free herself, the dress is torn from her body and hangs in tatters from the nails, reminiscent of the tattered lives of women forced onto the streets for their survival in an alien urban environment. Once freed, Belmore, vulnerable and exposed in her underwear, silently reads the names of the missing women that she has written on her arms and then yells them out one by one. After each name is called, she draws a flower between her teeth, stripping it of blossom and leaf, just as the lives of these forgotten and dispossessed women were shredded in the teeth of indifference. Belmore lets each woman know that she is not forgotten: her spirit is evoked and she is given life by the power of naming.

Some of the cliches that came to mind were:
A woman's work is never done
Women always have to clean up the mess
The video we watched had yellow lights which made me feel like I was watching from behind a chain link fence.

I found this interesting art history project video by students about the Belmore exhibit Named and Unnamed and also speaks to residential schools.

 Pelican Falls

Mixed Blessing, 2011. Hair, plaster of Paris, hoodie

Belmore speaks about how the figure is wearing a black hoodie with the intersecting words “Fucking Artist, Fucking Indian” in the crosshairs. She talks about how we are targets, and also about how being a badass Indigenous artist is an awesome and joyful thing, full of responsibility. Fucking Artist! Fucking Indian! “The role of an artist is a worker, art-making is a job,” she says. “I am the artist amongst my people. Every society has its artists, and we have the responsibility to speak about how we are collectively in this moment in time. We have the responsibility to carry the past and look towards the future.”

Black Cloud, 2001

Rebecca Belmore produced this drawing during her tenure as Koerner Visiting Artist in Queens University's Department of Art in 2003. The text is a rubbing taken from the base of the Sir John A. Macdonald monument located in Kingston's City Park. Across the three sections of the piece, the artist elegantly drops words from successive versions, to shift the meaning from a declaration of the political identity of Canada's first Prime Minister to emphatic declaration of the inevitable "fact" defining subjective existence.

The audio portion of this exhibit, in a separate room, was the playing of God Save the Queen.


Rebecca Belmore has provided us with only a few ingredients in her installation, but these are enough to piece together her meaning. 

Saskatoon artist and critic Bart Gazzola explains that this work acts as a memorial for the victims of the slaughter at Wounded Knee. He explains, Chief Big Foot and his people were left overnight, in a blizzard, and many of the bodies were frozen into grotesque representations of suffering when soldiers finally returned to dispose of their work. This slaughter happened in late December, and when the survivors were taken from the field they were placed in a church so they could die under the Christmas banner declaring, “peace on earth. (Gazzola, 2007)

This was the last image as you left.

Source - Mia

The female figure in Fringe assumes the same reclining pose as the beautiful odalisques depicted by nineteenth century European artists, but bears an ugly slash from shoulder to hip. The deep scar running across the figure's back is created with the help of special-effects make up. What appear to be thin rivulets of blood running from the gash are composed of small red beads, a detail that evokes both Belmore's heritage and the trauma inflicted on indigenous peoples. Despite the graveness of the woman's injury, Belmore's Fringe is also about healing. The wound is not fatal, but the scar will never disappear.

1 comment:

  1. Her style is very vivid and provocative. I remember seeing Fringe here.


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