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Ace’s early work Wassechgan (1999) has been included in Ryan Rice’s essay for Eiteljorg Museum’s catalogue Native Art Now!: Developments in Contemporary Native American Art Since 1992. The installation was part of Emergence from the Shadows: First Peoples’ Photographic Perspectives (curator Jeff Thomas), an exhibition at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in 1999. Wassechgan is significant due to its use of an interactive digital kiosk integrated as part of the installation. It is an early example of Ace’s emphasis on digital technology as a way to bring forward Anishinaabe teachings into a present day museum exhibition setting.
“…Barry Ace’s momentous installation Wassechgan, 1999, the Ojibwa word for “window,” interacts with a voice of elapsed time and the retention of personal, communal, and historical archives.”
Describing the installation, Rice continues:
“A wire sculpture shaped in the form of the Anishinaabe trickster figure Nanabush is placed on a stage presiding over the installation…Nanabush is the keeper of knowledge, an authoritative figure and storyteller who shares the truth to be witnessed. A touch screen computer installed to the right of Nanabush is the portal to retrieve Ace’s virtual testimonials that “reveal the ‘significance of the insignificant’ by providing an honouring space and testimonial to the lives that once were.”
Contained inside the monitor where narratives of 7 individuals important in Ace’s life and whom he believed exemplified the 7 teachings of the Anishinaabe – Wisdom, Love, Respect, Bravery, Honesty, Humility, and Truth. The original interactive work has recently been digitally archived and is now live again (view here).
Also included in the catalogue is Ace’s performance Mishshemong (King of the Loons), 2010, one of four performances as part of Ace’s Reparative Act that honoured the Anishinaabe dance troupe lead by Maungwaudaus (George Henry) who travelled to Paris in 1844 performing in George Catlin’s travelling portrait gallery exhibition. Ace was invited by Robert Houle to perform as part of Houle’s exhibition Paris Ojibwa. The work is discussed in the essay Native Performance Art: The Medium is Wide Open by Aldona Jonaitis and Elizabeth Kalbfleisch. As the late James Luna has said:
“The beauty of performance art is that there is no wrong or right way to develop one’s work, which means the medium is wide open for exploration…I believe the medium of performance art avails itself to native culture like no other medium, as one can add traditional forms such as storytelling, dance, singing, and certain ceremonial framework as part of the production. There are not rules but skills that artists need to develop, first and foremost of which is their relationship to the audience.”
This impressive and comprehensive catalogue is available Eiteljorg online book store.
View more on Wassechgan in Early Exhibitions.