Monday, October 28, 2013

Two artists go moose hunting: Modest Livelihood at the AGO

Duane Linklater and Brian Jungen’s film makes a bold statement, capturing a traditional practice in the shadow of Canada’s booming oil and gas industry.

Brian Jungen, left, and Duane Linklater, two of Canada s most prominent First Nation contemporary artists, have collabrated on a video called Modest Livelihood, on now at the AGO.

Colin McConnell / Toronto Star Order this photo
Brian Jungen, left, and Duane Linklater, two of Canada s most prominent First Nation contemporary artists, have collabrated on a video called Modest Livelihood, on now at the AGO.
In a huge, otherwise-empty gallery at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Duane Linklater and Brian Jungen are flaying the still-warm carcass of a freshly killed yearling moose calf, steam billowing from its upended rib cage, still full of wet crimson meat.
That this is happening onscreen — of course — and not directly in front of you mediates the intensity, though not entirely, and this is surely part of the point. Jungen and Linklater, both First Nations artists, both riding international careers, both tied to their respective tribal lands, set out to capture an unvarnished representation of daily life when they’re not rubbing shoulders with the art world cognoscenti at museums and art fairs. Mission accomplished.
“We wanted to show people it’s not a heroic endeavour,” says Linklater, who is Omaskeko Cree from Moose Cree First Nation in Northern Ontario. Jungen nods.
“It’s a family thing,” he says. “I think for most Indian folks, hunting is really just going hiking, but with rifles.” It opened Saturday.
Linklater, 36, won the Sobey Art Award earlier this month, likely Canada’s most prominent contemporary art prize, given each year to an artist under 40.
Jungen, 43, who won the first Sobey in 2002, is among the country’s best-known artists here and abroad, having built his considerable fame on his sculptural works that have typically plied a cheeky hybridization of Indian and contemporary culture, to both amusing and unsettling effect.
Linklater made a mark with a practice that’s collaborative and open-ended, built on gesture and process more than making things, and his influence here is clear, and strong. But there’s a mutual truth to be told here, and the duo had a strong affinity in telling it.
The film is called Modest Livelihood, and its 50 minutes have a decidedly homely quality. The artists trudge stoically through bush and across alpine fields, scanning the near distance for signs of their quarry. The final scene notwithstanding, Modest Livelihood is languid and broadly peaceful, punctuated with brief, infrequent spurts of ominous anticipation. It’s a quotidian ritual of shared experience; even the butchering of the moose is practical, useful, matter-of-fact. (“We were always talking, about music, art, culture,” Jungen said. “We thought we’d transfer the conversation to something else we shared.”)
For all its plainspoken, documentary quality, there are powerful undertones . Modest Livelihood takes its title from a 1999 Supreme Court decision to allow Donald Marshall, a Mi’kmaq Indian in Nova Scotia, to sell eels he had caught without a permit under an 18th-century treaty between the crown and his band.
The decision, however, stipulated limits: Marshall could only sell enough to constitute a “moderate livelihood” (“moderate” became “modest” for the piece; the artist felt it more loaded). That ambiguous term was precedent-setting, and became a benchmark for resource management among First Nations.
In Jungen’s home turf of Treaty 8 in Alberta, it takes on heavy freight. “If Treaty 8 were a country, it would be rich,” Jungen says, smiling slyly. In the film, Jungen and Linklater quicken their steps along a gravel road carving its way through the bush, and the camera shakes and blurs as they break into a run past a huge compressor pump that serves a pipeline running through the wilderness.
As they practice their “modest livelihood,” all around, famously immoderate oil and gas conglomerates siphon Jungen’s treaty territory. The government that administrates it, of course, is the same one that granted treaty rights to Indians for such things as hunting, here and across the country.
In this uncomfortable intersection lies an explosive disconnect. Linklater, whose territory includes rich veins of diamonds and gold, and decades’ worth of mining to extract it, nods knowingly.
“We both thought that limitation, in terms of the court’s decision, was extremely problematic, in terms of the context of capitalism, where there seems to be no limit to what you can accumulate in terms of wealth,” he says.
Onscreen, in close sight of the compressor pump, Jungen and Linklater skin the moose calf, gently removing its hide, methodically carving the meat into legs, shoulders and entrails as the snow turns a deep, furious purple. When they’re finished, they fold the skin and roll it neatly, to be tanned for later use.
Jungen says when the film was shown in Vancouver, it was seen as fiery, “a proclamation,” he says. “People couldn’t watch it. It was too much.”
Linklater demurs. “Ultimately, it’s about self-determination,” he says. “We knew what we wanted to do with the moose, and we had control over that.” Over anything else, treaty or not, is the eternal question, and Modest Livelihood asks it as well as any.
Modest Livelihood continues at the AGO to June 15.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

5 things to see and do at Art Toronto 2013

Posted by Aubrey Jax 

Art Toronto 2013Art Toronto 2013 opened today at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. TIAF is Canada's only international art fair, and it's a great chance to immerse yourself in some of the best contemporary and even traditional artwork Toronto has to offer via both established and young galleries, plus be exposed to art from around the world (13 countries in total are participating.) Before you go down to check out almost 200,000 square feet of art spanning the four day The Toronto International Art Fair, here are some highlights to look out for.
Art Toronto 2013The fun percent
TIAF can feel like a surreal, colourfully psychedelic stock market floor. An amazing amount of money is going to change hands this weekend — and has already. Last night, Loch Gallery sold $3-million worth of art to what I'll wager was a handful of people at most (one Edwin Holgate painting went for over $575,000.)
Observe the rich and powerful both in their natural habitat (a place where they can conspicuously spend money) and out of their element (few of the people signing cheques have an arts education or much affiliation with at least early to mid career artists, who tend to hang around thrift stores rather than Bay Street.) For those with slimmer wallets, there are also a number of works going for under $1000, including some lovely $200 drawings by Roselina Hung, which you can browse on
Art Toronto 2013The actual art
In total 110 galleries are showing at Art Toronto this year, but don't be daunted by the idea of visiting a hundred galleries. When wandering the exhibits it's easy to block out the stalls showing work that doesn't interest you and zero in on the ones aligned to your tastes, whether you're entranced by Paterson Ewen's large scale painting, Dean Baldwin's "Piano Bar" (a full bar set up on baby grand piano) or 3D baby animals frozen in death (Nicholas Crombach's resin sculpted calf and Rebecca Fin Simonetti's taxidermied stillborn goat are your picks in this case.)
Stand out works in the show are, of course, Max Streicher's "Quadriga" a.k.a. "those flying white ponies" (look up!), Evan Penny's surreal portraits, Wyn Geleynse's film screening on a pair of eye glasses, Pascal Caputo's half-missing canvases, Mitch Mitchell's terrifying giant breathing... bag.
Most impressive galleries include Belgium's Galerie Van Der Planken ($5000 Marcel Dzamas, Liesje Reijskens's hi-fi femme photos, Tomballe's disco ball penguins), Toronto's Le Gallery (Simonetti, illustrators Luke Painter and Mitsuo Kimura) and London's Cynthia Corbett Gallery (Tom Leighton and Lluis Barba's phenomenal collages, a private room to shoot selfies in.) Art Metropole also has a large set up where one can easily lose an hour or two browsing books.
Art Toronto 2013Get your start as a collector
Art Toronto isn't all walking around for hours in heels and grimacing — there are some great chances to sit down. Blessed are those who sit. If you're into learning about collecting art, curating, contemporary photography, or why painting is alive and well, the fair invites you to rest your weary body in a (likely semi uncomfortable) chair and take in some of their scheduled daily programming. The full schedule is here.
Something smart phone wielding visitors might find interesting is Thom Sokoloski's "ALL THE ARTISTS ARE HERE," the first thing you'll see as you come in. The huge panel of red-framed black and white portraits of each artist works with a map of QR-Codes, meaning you can learn more about the artists, and bookmark the ones you want to remember.
Another cool feature this year: you can browse and search over 2200 works showing at Art Toronto here in this Artsy gallery, and if you register for a free account, you can building a shareable gallery of your favourites.
Art Toronto 2013Save yourself some walking
It's not hard to lose track of Toronto's art scene. Galleries are scattered across the city and the majority of art shows (and even galleries) come and go without much press or advertising fanfare. Art Toronto is one remedy for that. While you can connect with galleries from all over the world, by locating the in ones Toronto showing work that really resonates with you you'll easily be able to make a connection, keep tabs on them in the future, and drop by their openings. As in years past there's a great mix of Toronto galleries, from established places like Olga Korper and Mira Godard to emerging ones like LE.
Art Toronto 2013Realize that art is really weird
With all the talk of millions of dollars changing hands, it's worth taking time to remember the actual artists. Many working artists I know can't even afford smartphones (even those showing in TIAF) and a life dedicated to searching for truth and/or beauty probably doesn't include too many trips to grand scale market places like Art Toronto — but it totally should. It's pretty magical to see all these individual works in one place, and with all the variety the fair offers you're sure to see something challenging or wonderful, once the suits chatting in front of it move out of the way. The truth is out there.
Art Toronto runs Friday and Saturday 12-8pm, and Sunday and Monday 12-6pm. General Admission tickets are $18. Passes and student deals are available.
Photos by Derek Flack

Thursday, October 24, 2013