“Nicholas Galanin has a similar approach in his grey-scaled, two-channel video work, “Tsu Heidei Shugaxtutaan.” One channel features a nimble breakdancer popping and locking to traditional Tlingit drums and vocals; the second, a Tlingit dancer in full regalia moving to Crystal Castles-esque electronic music in front of a carved and painted Tlingit screen. It’s an exceptional pairing and an icon of the exhibition’s agenda.”
Before you can see it, you can hear it: the video projection by Tlingit artist Nicholas Galanin in the opening gallery of Beat Nation: Art, Hip Hop and Aboriginal Culture, a compendium of new work by indigenous North American artists opening this weekend at Toronto’s Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery. The work, titled Tsu Heidei Shugaxtutaan, translates as “We will again open this container of wisdom that has been left in our care,” and it has two parts. First, you hear the pounding electronic music composed by Galanin, which inspires the performance of traditional Tlingit dancer Dan Littlefield. Masked, dressed in full regalia, and carrying a raven rattle, Littlefield moves to the new beat in the old ways. Next, you hear the drumming and chanting of traditional Tlingit vocals and drums – this could be an archival soundtrack from a hundred years ago – but here a dancer (the electrifying David “Elsewhere” Burnal) is seen in an empty dance studio, dressed in slouchy hip-hop attire, and breakdancing to the old songs in new ways.
Old is new, new is old, African-American breakdancing meets Northwest Coast antiquity, but what stays the same is the power of the beat, that fundamental element found across all cultures and all times, the beat of the mother’s heart, of our own heart beating, that universal sign of life. The pulse of aboriginal art goes on, and survival comes in marvellous new forms.
15 December 2012 - 5 May 2013 | Beat Nationdescribes a generation of artists who juxtapose urban youth culture with Aboriginal identity to create innovative and unexpected new works that reflect the current realities of Aboriginal peoples today.
CO-CURATED BY KATHLEEN RITTER, ASSOCIATE CURATOR, VANCOUVER ART GALLERY & TANIA WILLARD, A SECWEPEMC ARTIST, DESIGNER AND CURATOR
Jackson 2bears, KC Adams, Sonny Assu, Bear Witness, Jordan Bennett, Raymond Boisjoly, Corey Bulpitt & Gurl 23, Kevin Lee Burton, Raven Chacon, Dana Claxton, Nicholas Galanin, Maria Hupfield, Mark Igloliorte, Cheryl L’Hirondelle, Duane Linklater, madeskimo, Dylan Miner, Kent Monkman, Marianne Nicolson, Skeena Reece, Hoka Skenandore, Rolande Souliere
Someday, perhaps, archaeologists will discover a bizarre petroglyph repeated across Turtle Island: the word “Indians,” carved deep into stone and sidewalks in the style of Cleveland’s controversial baseball team.
Tlingit and Aleut artist Nicolas Galanin journeyed from Alaska to etch his ironic petroglyph with a cement cutter at the entrance of the Vancouver Art Gallery as part of its ground-breaking aboriginal art exhibit, Beat Nation, an exhibition of 27 aboriginal artists from every region of North America, open until June 3.
“The word ‘Indian’ becomes ancient-looking when you etch it into stone, but it has other kinds of political echoes as well,” says Beat Nation co-curator Tania Willard, of Secwepemc Nation in British Columbia’s interior. “That was the idea of looking at the urban landscape in a way that excavates it to show indigenous roots and indigenous presence. It brings us back to the land of aboriginal presence and culture as embedded in the landscape.”
The exhibition of Beat Nation begins even before you enter the Vancouver Art Gallery. Carved into the cement by the Hornby Street entrance, the stylized logo‘Indians’ of the Cleveland Major League Baseball team physically imprints the sidewalk with new meaning. Interweaving the history of Vancouver with contemporary re-appropriation, Nicholas Galanin’s piece sets the tone for the work found inside. In the past, the gallery building held the Land Title office of still un-ceded Coast Salish territory. The enlightening play between space, medium and meaning throughout the gallery presents re-interpretations of tradition and the lived experience of Aboriginal people today.