IDEA EXCHANGE (Cambridge, Ontario)

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Body of Waters

July 12 – October 12, 2019

“When water accumulates it is called a body, a body of water. A human body is also a body of water. Body of waters and bodies of water, a conversation: encounters on ocean shores and river edges, accumulations and movements, gravitational pulls, generational pulls, history, geography, the stains of industry.

This exhibition brings together six artists – Barry Ace, Erika DeFreitas, Lindsay Dobbin, Merritt Johnson, Anne Riley, and Ehren “Bear Witness” Thomas – whose work brings the human body into contact with water where they consider the many ways water shapes and is shaped by human life.”

Lisa Hirmer and Iga Janik

Exhibition link


In Nayaano-nibiimaang Gichigamiin: The Five Great Lakes (2016), Ace’s textile work utilizes reclaimed and salvaged electronic schematics and circuitry (capacitors and resistors) to replicate the traditional floral and geometric motifs used by the Anishinaabeg (Ojibwe, Odawa and Potawatomi people) whose homeland is the area surrounding the Five Great Lakes. Through the referencing of traditional cultural art practices, such as beadwork, juxtaposed against contemporary ephemera, disparate materials and found or sourced objects, Ace creates a confluence between the historical and contemporary.

Nayaano-nibiimaang Gichigamiin: The Five Great Lakes (2016) presents an honouring blanket for each of the Great Lakes. By using the Hudson Bay blankets, Ace points to the long narrative of colonization and trade history the blankets have with the peoples of the Great Lakes. The blankets also carry with them culture specific signs and semiotics as they became assimilated into Anishinaabeg material culture. The trade blankets were at one time revered and were offered as highly valued gifts and worn as regalia on important occasions, even fashioned into garments such as coats. When these blankets were decorated with a beaded blanket strip, for instance, they took on an even greater cultural and spiritual significance.

Scarlet Blanket

Gichi-aazhoogami-gichigami: Lake Huron (Great Crosswaters Sea) –  this blanket represents the central homeland of the Anishinaabeg and Manitoulin as a sacred spiritual centre. The black velvet covered blanket strip is comprised of beaded Thunderbird medallions trimmed with horsehair with alternating floral motifs comprised of electronic capacitors and resistor stem and leaf work. The centre medallion with floral motifs is trimmed with copper wire simulating horse hair and referencing the importance of copper as a sacred medicine of the Anishinaabeg.

Green Blanket

Anishinaabewi-gichigami: Lake Superior (Anishinaabeg Sea) – the black velvet covered blanket strip is embellished with red velvet medallions with horse hair and copper wire trim and electronic component floral motifs. Embedded in the center of four medallions are Canadian silver dollars from the early 1960s depicting a French voyageur and Anishinaabe paddling a canoe during the fur trade.

Gray Blanket

Aanikegamaa-gichigami: Lake Erie (Chain of Lakes Sea) – the purple velvet covered blanket strip represents the sacred wampum belts of the Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabeg that were originally carved out of shells; with the dark purple beads carved from the quahog clam shell. The white shell beads are replaced with white electronic components arranged to replicate a wampum belt. The belt represents a wampum peace belt between the Haudenausone and Anishinaabeg. One side has the Haudenosaunee Great Tree of Peace depicted by the turtle with a pine tree on its back and a vigilant eagle perched on top. Below the tree are the weapons laid down in peace. The opposite side has the thunderbird representing the Anishinaabeg and the two motifs are contained inside two white squares that joined together by two rows of white resistors.

White Blanket

Gichi-zaaga’igan: Lake Ontario (Big Lake) – the purple velvet covered blanket strip, like the blanket strip for Lake Erie, also represents the sacred wampum belts of the Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabeg that were originally carved out of shells with the dark purple beads carved from the quahog clam shell. The white shell beads are replaced with white electronic components arranged to replicate a wampum belt. This belt represents the five Anishinaabeg communities from Manitoulin Island to Mjikanning (Rama) who came together to push the Haudenosaunee below Lake Ontario during the fur trade and competition over access to the beaver. The five diamond shaped motifs representing the five Anishinaabeg communities are repeated on either side of the central medallion with beaded thunderbird. If the blanket was worn across the shoulders, it could be read from the right or left side.

Multi-coloured Blanket 

Ininwewi-gichigami: Lake Michigan (Illinois Sea) – the red blanket strip and three medallions with fire motifs connected by a band of electronic component resistors represent the Council of Three Fires of the Anishinaabeg; also known as the People of the Three Fires, the Three Fires Confederacy, or the United Nations of Ojibwe, Odawa and Potawatomi. In Council, the Ojibwe were addressed as the “Older Brother,” the Odawa as the “Middle Brother,” and the Potawatomi as the “Younger Brother.”  In addition, the Ojibwa are the “keepers of the faith,” the Odawa are the “keepers of trade,” and the Potawatomi are the designated “keepers/maintainers of/for the fire”. Originally, the Three Fires Confederacy had several meeting places, but Michilimackinac (the strait between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron), became the preferred meeting place due to its central location. From this place, the Council historically met for military and political purposes. The Three Fires Confederacy still exists today and meet regularly each year at various locations including Manitoulin Island.

Ace’s artist statement, as referenced above, provides additional historical details. Available for download here.