To understand just how far Inuit art has travelled from the days of soapstone carvings, head to the outdoor skating rink on Brewery Creek in Gatineau on Feb. 22. There, behind Galerie Axe Néo-7, you will hear, live, the primordial, unnerving, mystical screeches and growls of Inuit throat-singer Tanya Tagaq providing a soundscape to a showing of the classic silent film of 1922, Nanook of the North.
Call it performance art. Call it Inuit art. Call it an embrace of our Arctic heritage. Call it unforgettable.
The performance by Tagaq, winner of the 2014 Polaris Prize, will actually be inside Axe Néo-7 in one of the exhibition galleries. Seating is extremely limited. But Brewery Creek skaters will hear her for free via outdoor speakers as the Nanook film, a docudrama, unspools outside.
Tagaq’s soundscape for Nanook was commissioned by the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival. She has performed the soundscape many times since in Canada and abroad.
Skaters on the creek Feb. 22 can also go ashore to visit temporary pavilions by Axe Néo-7, with ice sculptures and reproductions of work by some of the Arctic’s most celebrated artists, including Shuvinai Ashoona and Tim Pitsiulak. (Actually, the art-filled pavilions are already in place.) This celebration of Inuit creativity is all part of an exhibition at Axe Néo-7 running until March 5. Titled Floe Edge: Contemporary Art and Collaborations from Nunavut, the exhibition offers a wide range of contemporary Inuit art, from video to drawings and outré fashion.
Inside the gallery, head straight for the sealskin decorated stilettos by Nicole Camphaug or the matching sealskin bra and panties by Nala Peter. They are totally impractical, drenched in kitsch and thoroughly delightful, thus possessing all the qualities of the over-the-top garments seen on the runways of Paris or Milan. And, of course, sealskin fashions – even ironic ones in an art gallery – would undoubtedly send all the bleeding-heart European seal-huggers into a frenzy of outrage. Consider this show an upraised Inuit middle finger in the faces of Brigitte Bardot, Paul McCartney and other self-appointed protectors of Canada’s big-eyed baby seals.
The sealskin fashions and an equally kitschy pair of impractical sterling silver snow goggles, by Mathew Nuqingaq, take centre-stage in a room whose walls are filled with the stunning landscape photographs by Niore Iqalukjuak, who works for an Inuit advocacy group travelling around the Arctic and, in his spare time, taking photographs everywhere he goes. Iqalukjuak is typical of the artists in Floe Edge: they tend to be artists with other jobs who find creative ways to combine art and work, whether that means being a parka seamstress creating political fashions, or a jeweller creating snow goggles that serve as an objet d’art. The objects seen in Floe Edge were selected by Kathleen Nicholls from the Iqaluit-based Nunavut Arts and Craft Association.
The most eye-popping work in Floe Edge is “Gauge,” a multi-channel video created by a team of Northern and Southern artists who painted a giant wall of snow with a series of evocative dark shapes. The painted wall appears to rise and then to sink rapidly into the snow. This is accomplished through the magic of time-lapse photography and the changing ocean tides that alternately cover and reveal the wall. Be prepared to “ahh” and “ooh.”
Floe Edge does not contain a single soapstone carving, or a print of a snowy owl. Instead, we get works like “Hunter with Kativak” by Mona Netser. Hunter is a metre-high, doll-like sculpture standing atop a white pedestal resembling a jagged snowy cliff. The hunter’s long hair completely obscures its face. The effect is haunting and malevolent and, like a performance of Tanya Tagaq, totally unforgettable.
Floe Edge continues at Axe Néo-7 until March 5. For info, here. For a teaser of Tanya Tagaq’s soundscape for Nanook of the North, check out this video:
Those interested in Aboriginal art might want to take in three other concurrent exhibitions.
One is a group show of some of the country’s top female Aboriginal artists, including Ruth Cuthand, Daphne Odjig, and Ottawa’s Rosalie Favell. The show at the Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada Art Gallery in Gatineau is called Mamawo Payiwak: They Gather Together in One Place. The show continues until May 27. For info, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Continuum: Abstraction in Contemporary Indigenous Art is a small exhibition on Aboriginal abstract art at Carleton University Art Gallery that runs until April 19 and showcases works by Rita Letendre, Robert Houle, and Alex Janvier.
Ottawa artist Barry Ace uses everything from beadwork to repurposed computer parts to create multi-media art referencing Aboriginal iconography. His solo exhibition, Mnemonic (Re)Manifestations, continues at Karsh-Masson Gallery in Ottawa City Hall until March 6.