MATERIAL MATTERS: MATERIALITY OF ANISHINAABEG-BIIMAADIZIWIN – UPCOMING EXHIBITION AT CENTRAL ART GARAGE (Ottawa)

Material Matters – Materiality of Anishinaabeg-biimadiziwin (Anishinaabeg culture).
Central Art Garage. Curated by Danny Hussey and Bridget Thompson. October 2021.

Opening this October 2021, Ace’s solo exhibition at Central Art Garage will feature four new large scale works based on Anishinaabe regalia and material culture.

Drawing from multiple facets of Anishinaabeg culture, Ace’s textile, paper, and sculptural works coalesce a multiplicity of themes and concepts through historical references, traditional knowledge, found objects, photographic imagery, cultural research, and material culture. He creates contemporary works and then disrupts the reading of these works through the introduction of other elements, to create a convergence between the historical and contemporary.  He intentionally draws upon traditional cultural art practices passed on to him, such as beadwork and quillwork, and then melds these mediums with newly found and disparate contemporary materials, creating a new dialogue. His up-cycling of reclaimed and salvaged electronic components and circuitry (capacitors and resistors) are foundational to his signature style, as he transforms the refuse of our technological age into complex reworked contemporary Anishinaabeg floral motifs.

For the exhibition, Material Matters – Materiality of Anishinaabeg-biimadiziwin (Anishinaabeg culture), Ace created three life-sized mixed media on paper ceremonial dance regalia works and one large scale sculptural wall panel comprised of more than 8,000 wooden beads.

The medium chosen to construct the three regalia works, Jingle (2021), Traditional (2021) and Buckskin (2021), is paper. Ace chose paper due to its delicate and ephemeral qualities, and as a metaphor for the fragility of cultural knowledge, memory, spirituality, and ceremony in our post-colonial society. In using the contemporary medium of electronic components (capacitors and resistors) to recreate Great Lakes style floral motifs, Ace draws attention to the longstanding aspects of Anishinaabe cultural continuity, survivance, innovation, and change as direct responses to perceived cultural stasis. The materiality of the paper and electronic components is integral to understanding these works. Ace incorporates Nepalese lokta handmade paper that is derived from the fibrous inner bark of the Daphne bholua and Daphne Papyracea plants. These regenerating lokta plants grow in the Himalaayan forest regions of Nepal. Nepalese women harvest the lokta in protected conservation areas and this paper product supports a longstanding local economy that is based on a renewable resource. The lokta bush regenerates to full maturity in 5 to 7 years.  The earliest surviving lokta paper documents date to 1,900 years old, where it was used for sacred Buddhist texts due to this longevity and resistance to decomposition from the elements. Similarly, Anishinaabeg used birch bark to record sacred texts. The lokta paper melds seamlessly as a ground material for Ace’s Anishnaabeg ceremonial regalia.

Sacred motifs of Anishinaabeg power and protection are overlaid on top of the lokta paper, as represented by manidoominens (glass beads) which translate from Anishinaabemowin to “spirit berries” of energy. The integration of glass beads coalesces with the electronic component floral motifs referencing Anishinaabe beadwork and medicinal plants, and together these glass beads and component floral works are a simile for individual and collective healing as they both store and release energy, as does the sound made by the copper cone jingles. The curvilinear stem-work pattern also references electronic circuitry schematics and can be read as a fully functioning system, and like our global society, it is in a constant state of vulnerability and susceptible to disruptions, malfunctions, breakdowns, or attacks rendering the system damaged or inoperable. For Indigenous peoples, this pertains to residential schools, loss of language, dispossession of land, poverty, substance abuse and other adverse impacts. As well, it is also demonstrable of how we have sought new and innovative ways though cultural revitalization, control of education, self-determination, and self-government science, medicine, and advocacy to monitor, manage, troubleshoot and repair these dysfunctions and aberrations.

Symbols of Power and Resistance (2021) is Ace’s first large scale work. The 121 x 244 cm wood wall panel consists of close to 10,000 individually painted and wired 3/4 inch wooden beads in the form of an Anishinaabe wampum belt fragment. The work is a focused element based on one of Ace’s textile works from Nayaano-nibiimaang Gichigamiin, a series of honouring blankets for the Five Great Lakes. For this work, Ace linked five Hudson Bay trade blankets each adorned with a unique Anishinaabe inspired blanket strip that remixed intricately designed floral motifs and geometric iconography comprised of traditional glass-cut beads and contemporary electronic components (capacitors, resistors, and diodes). Each blanket pays homage to one of the Great Lakes and recounts Anishinaabeg historical and cultural narratives using mnemonic iconography and code embedded into each blanket strip. The suite of contemporary honouring blankets bear witness to the persistence of Anishinaabeg cultural continuity, through the confluence of the historical and contemporary.

Symbols of Power and Resistance (2021) is drawn from a specific fragment of Ace’s honouring blanket for Gichi-zaaga’igan: Lake Ontario (Big Lake) that consists of a suspended white Hudson Bay blanket with a purple velvet covered blanket strip and geometric motifs and medallions, representing the sacred wampum belts of the Haudenausone and Anishinaabeg. The original wampum belt depicts the five Anishinaabeg communities from Sault Ste. Marie to Manitoulin Island to Mjikanning (Rama) who came together during the fur trade to form a confederacy to challenge the Haudenausone, who were invading Anishinaabeg territory, forcing them back to Lake Ontario. For Symbols of Power and Resistance, three of the five diamond shaped white motifs are set against a purple bead ground (symbolic of Quahog shell beads used in wampum) representing Anishinaabeg alliance communities who came together for resistance and who are watched over and protected by the Thunderbird and medicinal flower motif on a raised medallion trimmed with simulated synthetic horsehair. The fragment also points to the adverse impact of colonization on traditional knowledge and culture.

This exhibition provides Ace with a new opportunity to work in large scale examining the relationship of material and materiality and how it informs his work. As well, the suite of mixed media regalia paperworks provide an opportunity for self-reflection and are clearly indicative of Ace’s cultural knowledge of Anishinaabe protocols, ceremony, teachings and initiation that as dancer he personally underwent upon entry into the pow wow dance circle. These paper works can also be read in the context of his personal meditations on his site specific Paris dance performances A Reparative Act in 2010.

All works in the exhibition will be available for purchase at Central Art Garage.