January 13th - February 24th, 2017
Installation view, Estevan Art Gallery & Museum, Kimowanihtâwak ᑭᒧᐊᐧᓂᐦᑖᐤ S/he Makes It Rain, Jan. 13 - Feb. 24, 2017.
Kimowanihtâwak, ᑭᒧᐊᐧᓂᐦᑖᐤ, S/he Makes It Rain
Essay by AMBER ANDERSEN
Like many galleries and museums the Estevan Art Gallery and Museum is using Canada’s sesquicentennial celebration as a point of discussion, particularly through the lens of Saskatchewan’s history. Ranging from exhibitions on environment to economy to mental health, each exhibition is meant to examine, through visual art and artefacts, aspects of us as a Canadian community and how we represent ourselves, each other, the land, places and people that make up this city, province and country. History is slippery, depending on who wrote it. It is constantly changing and evolving, but simultaneously considered concretely past tense even though it is so intrinsically tied to our future. Understood as both fact and constructed narrative, our focus with this years programming is to discuss history and to ask questions. Who gets to be the author of history? Who does history represent? Who is underrepresented? What are we proud of? What should we be concerned about?
Jason Baerg’s Kimowanihtâwak, ᑭᒧᐊᐧᓂᐦᑖᐤ, S/he Makes It Rain is one of the fourteen exhibitions we are presenting this year.
Jason Baerg’s artwork ties to philosophies that stretch the imagination and make one consider the intangible interconnectedness that that we share, not only with each other through language/culture but the link we share as people living off of the same land. Raised in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan his journey as an artist and academic have taken him all over the globe. As a professor, scholar, community member/advocate/activist, and artist, it is obvious that Baerg uses his platforms wisely in espousing the ties between language, survival, history and future.
The work in Kimowanihtâwak represents a suite of paintings created for the developing Oskâyi Askîy series. All of the works are acrylic paintings that have been laser cut. Baerg often references the importance in “utilizing technology to drive the aesthetics forward. 1” This is not your standard painting show, or is it? Perhaps this is a nod to art historical discourse and critical writing favouring European traditions. After all a stretched canvas sits perfectly on the walls of an art gallery, an institution that has historic ties to Europe. The Indigenous populations of Canada have, obviously, different art historical traditions. Often art, tradition, history, and community are intrinsically tied together. This is evident in the Cree culture.
Jason Baerg, (top to bottom) Kimowanihtâwak ᑭᒧᐊᐧᓂᐦᑖᐤ S/he makes it rain, Waskawâkamipayiw ᐊᐧᐢᑲᐋᐧᑲᒥᐸᔨᐤ the water moves and Kiskiciwan ᑭᐢᑭᒋᐊᐧᐣ waterfall, and Pîsimwêyâpiy ᐲᓯᒣᐧᔮᐱᕀ rainbow; sunbeam; sundial, all acrylic on laser cut canvas, 2016.
I recently read an extremely interesting and eye opening article on Cree education in preparing for this exhibition. I learned, from the article, that Cree is mother tongue to over 80,000 individuals in Canada according to the 2011 census. It has the highest number of speakers of any of the Canadian Indigenous languages. 2 This becomes extremely significant when thinking of Jason Baerg’s work. Exposure to and education of any topic are key elements to growth, sustainability and development –whether speaking about language or environmental practices. This was echoed in the article “In Their Own Words: The Fight to Preserve Cree Language” by Linda Besner featured in the Walrus. 3 This article focused on the teaching of Cree language at Onion Lake Cree Nation in Saskatchewan. A Cree immersive school, this program teaches Cree to children from kindergarten to middle school and strengthens their ties to their community at Onion Lake, to each other and to the environment. Better grades, stronger students and less behavioral problems are things listed as benefits of this program. Instead of learning about their Cree heritage in a historical sense, if they learn about it at all, learning the language makes culture (history, sacred teachings, traditions) accessible and more vital to the students in the community and acts as a bridge to a greater understanding of their identity.
Apps for smartphones, YouTube videos, and a multitude of other technologies are being harnessed to advance the growth of this language. Language is part of a lifestyle, an overall way of living and interacting with each other. It can designate what community you are from, it tells of your traditions or perhaps, even your beliefs. Furthermore, Cree, as a language stems beyond just words strung together to create meaning, as explained best by Besner when she states:
…Cree words are as complex as English sentences. Unlike English, which is a noun-based language, Cree is organized around verb-based descriptive phrases. Cree places an emphasis on relationships – rather than floating alone as separate units of meaning, the words for people, animals, and objects are embedded with narratives about how these things interact with each other and the environment. 4
A simple glance at the titles of Baerg’s works in this exhibit demonstrates this notion. They are also a pointed clue into the artist’s desires to think about the important cultural lessons we can derive from Indigenous people. All of the titles in the exhibition allude to weather or environment. Oskâyi Askîy, which this exhibition is a part of, means “The New World” in Cree. As Baerg explains:
The Oskâyi Askîy project is an abstract body of work that considers a disconnected rapport with the environment as a result of misdirected human desire. The Sky, Animals and Land are processed through technology and are translated as flesh, fauna and playful apparatus. As a working methodology, this space acts as an exploratory arena to consider solutions to the social and environmental calamities at hand. 5
In this way, Baerg is talking about two important issues in tandem, the survival of Indigenous cultures that were imposed upon and nearly wiped out and the environment, which he sees as facing similar horrifying consequences. Stepping back and looking at the artworks, the organic shapes that seem like leaves or fauna are mixed with geometric shapes such as circles and crosses. Mixing in the use of lasers for precision cutting, the effect of the handmade elements are nearly taken out of the equation with the major exception of the abstract painterly marks that sit on both the front and back of each work. Cut outs of holes and draping elements play with the rigid associations of painterly structures such as frames. They also speak to an organic quality that highlights their environmental concerns. The laser cutting references back to Baerg’s desire to challenge and advance the role of painting across communities (both Indigenous and settler). Most importantly, they nod to the fact that they aren’t really breaking rules, so much as they highlighting that the rules of their culture remain mostly unknown to break. However, that is changing.
Kimowanihtâwak, ᑭᒧᐊᐧᓂᐦᑖᐤ, S/he Makes It Rain shares a similar thesis to the Besner article which is that growth and development are necessary components to keeping anything healthy and growing, whether that is an art practice, a language or environmental outlook. Education can bond and by learning more about the original peoples is to strengthen our relationship to each other and the world. Perhaps Besner best summarizes this when she explains:
Cree speakers stress that the language carries a visceral experience of the traditional worldview. It’s one thing to be a possessor of a nose; it’s quite another to have a mikot – a short form of “I will take in.” The word reminds the speaker that she is literally the air she breathes. 6
Jason Baerg, Konapoy ᑯᓇᐳᕀ Water melted from snow (detail), acrylic on laser cut canvas, 2016.
1 Mendel Art Gallery, March 21, 2013, Jason Baerg: Returning, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pLpz10nBXrw accessed on January 12, 2017
2 Linda Besner, March 25, 2016, The Walrus In Their Own Words: The Fight to Preserve the Cree Language, https://thewalrus.ca/in-their-own-words/ date accessed on January 12, 2017
JASON BAERG BIOGRAPHY:
Cree Métis Visual Artist Jason Baerg graduated from Concordia University with a BA in Fine Arts (Drawing and Painting) and subsequently completed Graduate Studies in New Media from George Brown College. Formally he pushes new boundaries in digital interventions in drawing, painting and installation. Baerg has presented at such international art events as the Luminato Festival, the Toronto International Art Fair, and Art Basel Miami. Jason Baerg has given formal artist talks at such institutions as the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, New York City’s Parsons School of Design and the University of Toronto. In 2008, Jason Baerg won the Emerging Artist Award for the Premier’s Awards for Excellence in the Arts, granted on behalf of the Ontario Ministry of Culture. He has sat on numerous art juries and won awards through such facilitators as the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council and The Toronto Arts Council. Dedicated to community development, Jason Baerg currently is completing an Aboriginal outreach curatorial project at the new Judith and Norman Alix Art Gallery in his birthplace of Sarnia, Ontario. 1
1 Jason Baerg Jason Baerg http://www.jasonbaerg.com/#!bio date accessed on January 15, 2017