The Challenge posed to us all by Joseph Boyden’s “The Orenda”

If history can’t easily carry the load we give it, what is its capacity? What should we ask of it? We’ve long moved past the time when we think the job of history is simply to tell us what happened, to give us the “facts,” no more and no less.
— Tina Loo in Canada’s History, Feb-March 2014, p.16

What’s happened in the past can’t stay in the past for the same reason the future is always just a breath away.  Now is what’s most important, Aataentsic says. Orenda can’t be lost, just misplaced.  The past and the future are present.
The Orenda, p. 487

A few days ago I finished reading Joseph Boyden’s The Orenda.  I’m not going to review the novel in a usual sense.  Rather, I’m going to comment on some of the implications it raised in my mind.  I’ve been thinking about genocide again. I will say I think the novel is a fine piece of work and an important choice for Canada Reads 2014.  I have no doubt Wabanakwut Kinew will give a spirited and well deserved defence of The Orenda.  I realize that some First Nations commentators are not impressed with Boyden’s novel or with Kinew’s choice.  I’m not completely clear on their specific criticisms apart from the fairly conventional two dimensional depiction of the bulk of the Haudenosaunee as bloodthirsty berserkers.  I certainly found things — the implications I mentioned above — which could cause — shall we say? — complications for some accepted narratives.

First, some background.  I found little new history in Boyden’s novel.  I grew up in “Northern” Ontario and learned in school the broad outlines of the genocidal war, the Beaver Wars between the “Iroquois” and the “Huron”, a war which grew out of pre-contact history but was fed from both sides by Europeans hoping to back the right horse.  Whichever European side might be said to have “won”, the Wendat clearly lost.  Virtually the whole Wendat Nation was killed by European disease, starvation and warfare.  Wendat survivors, women and children, were, as was the tradition, adopted as members of the Haudenosaunee.  Certainly the story of Brébeuf’s martyrdom was common knowledge in my childhood.  A fictionalized version of Brébeuf is one of the three narrators of The Orenda.

I’m not sure one can legitimately argue with the reality of the events.  There was warfare, it was brutal, the Europeans fomented its escalation, and the Wendat were very nearly exterminated as a nation.  I would be happy to argue that European supplied arms and European diseases made the devastation more rapid and complete.  But I’m not sure one can argue that the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat were not each quite content in an intention to exterminate the enemy nation.

The events are the given background to The Orenda, but then there are the implications. . .

Boyden has a character, Sleeps Long, hint on p. 194 that the brother nations of the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat are, in some sense, a disfunctional family:

“What men do, what we do, it’s a circle” she says. “It’s been a circle for a long time . . . We were once all the same people, but we’re not anymore . . .

“How is this grief explained?” Sleeps Long asks.  “How is it digested? I have never figured that out . . . We hurt one another because we’ve been hurt,” she whispers. “We kill one another because we have been killed.  We will continue to eat one another until one of us is completely consumed.”

Sleeps Long’s words to Snow Falls, the young Haudenosaunee captive/foster child, have a haunting and very disturbing resonance today as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission prepares for its final sessions, as aboriginal children in foster care are at an all time high, and as many aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities struggle with domestic and gang violence.

So, what do we do with the fact, emphasized by Boyden’s story, that the Haudenosaunee/Wendat war was a genocidal conflict involving the forced transfer of children from one group to another?

I must clarify and emphasize my own position concerning certain issues:

Nothing that occurred in the wars softens or takes away the horror, tragedy, responsibility or obligation of the Residential Schools crime nor of the assimilationist/genocidal policies of successive Canadian governments down to the present day.  I am not — could never — defend the betrayal my country’s government perpetrated on generations.  It is passed time for Truth and Reconciliation and for all Canadians to embrace and celebrate the horribly painful work of the TRC.  I am heartened that Mayor Don Iveson of Edmonton has thrown the support of my city’s government behind the TRC’s closing sessions here.

image

And so, as the TRC is winding down it’s hearings, The Orenda comes into the spotlight as Canada Reads 2014 is pumping up the reading public.  And, the questions it will inevitably raise, questions I think Boyden has consciously asking in his novel, will also be in the spotlight.

If the modern Haudenosaunee, the Six Nations, are the people of the Two Row Wampum, are they not also the heirs of the Wendat Genocide?  Certainly, unlike the Residential Schools tragedy, the pain of the Wendat foster children is many generations in the past.  But I refuse to accept the doctrine that “we cannot judge the past by today’s standards.”  If we cannot condemn the Wendat genocide, how can we condemn the hanging of Riel? And if we can’t condemn the crimes of the past, why must  we honour the obligations of the past?

I found The Orenda a very difficult, challenging and painful read, not, as many might, because of the torture scenes, but because of the disturbing way the events Boyden describes between the Wendat and Haudenosaunee so long ago resonate with the very issues raised as current events by the TRC, Idle No More, and Honour the Treaties.

What are we as human beings, as brothers and sisters, as a village called Canada and as a global village, going to do with the crimes of the past?  If we dismiss a genocide, be it of the Amalekites of Old Testament times, the Roman destruction of Carthage, or Shaka Zulu’s 19th century depredations, how can we condemn the killers of the Armenians, the perpetrators of the Holodomore or even the horror of the Holocaust or the madness of Rwanda?  “It was a product of the way people thought then/there” I can here people say.

I say “No!”

Whatever Samuel told the Israelites, whatever Scipio and Cato told the Romans, whatever Sir John A. told Canada, whatever Hitler told Germany, genocide is criminally inhuman. Always. Everywhere.

I’m not saying there needs to be an apology or reparations for every genocide in history — actually, apologies would be an awfully good idea.  What I am saying is that the victims, Amalekites, Carthaginians, Wendat, Congolese, Cambodians and billions of others were people, individuals, human, like you and I.  They weren’t cardboard cutouts. They weren’t costumed interpreters working a summer job. They weren’t actors.  The were children, babies, born into genocidal hatred.

Boyden has raised a painful challenge in The Orenda, at a painful and challenging time for Canada and the First Nations and aboriginal people within Canada’s borders.  The biggest, most difficult question is “Do we acknowledge our shared history, all of it, warts and all? Or do we compartmentalize and/or write statutes of limitation?”

Wab Kinew has his work cut out for him in Canada Reads 2014.  Not because of the books and defenders he’s debating, but because of the huge challenge The Orenda presents to people of all Nations, First, Second and beyond.

I wonder. Will you step out of the circle Sleeps Long mentions?

A Meaning So Deep That None May Know: Duncan Campbell Scott’s “Lines in Memory of Edmund Morris”

Duncan Campbell Scott was famous as poet in his day and infamous in ours for overseeing Canada’s “Indian” policy, including the Residential Schools, for a quarter of a century.  Whether it is possible — or permissible — to admire the art of someone who’s attitudes and actions are objectionable is a question long discussed.  I feel that, in the end, we should be able to admire the art while objecting to the artist.  Almost every day I use Edmonton’s bridges, consider them vital to the life of my city, and am grateful that previous generations expended the effort to build and maintain them.  I am certain that these bridges, particularly the two oldest, were built by men who held views on a large number of subjects, including what to do about Canada’s “Indian Problem”, perfectly in line with those of Scott.  I expect they held similarly objectionable views about many “races” and nationalities.

But I’ll not tear down the bridges.

Just so, I feel quite comfortable reading Duncan Campbell Scott’s poetry, and feel no guilt about enjoying it, despite the tragic evil he supervised.  I do, of course, keep the evils in my mind as I read, but, if we insist on perfection in our artists, we will enjoy no art.

By the way, I highly recommend Mark Abley’s fascinating novel/history Conversations with a Dead Man, through which we may come to see Scott as a complicated, very flawed, quite real human being.  I found I could understand Scott through Abley’s book.  But, importantly, understanding a person’s motivations, attitudes and actions is not approving, defending or condoning them.  Nor is condemning the evils they did a dismissal of their good deeds.  It is quite possible, for example, to praise Sir John A. MacDonald for his desire to enfranchise women while condemning his “Indian” and immigration policies.  Some say we cannot judge historical figures by today’s standards.  I say, if we cannot judge, we can neither praise nor condemn, and history is meaningless.

The past is populated by giants whose shoulders we sit upon, but whom we would not tolerate as neighbours.   Byron was a vile, arrogant libertine. Coleridge an out of control addict.  Milton a regicide, a traitor, and an abuser of his own daughters.  For all we know, Virgil or Homer supported infanticide.  Surely Scott’s friend, the poet Archibald Lampman had ideas and attitudes similar to Scott’s.  But Lampman is now remembered as a poet who died tragically young, perhaps before he could establish any darker reputation.  I doubt I would want to spend much time with any of them.  But, I refuse to turn my back on Don Juan, Kubla Khan, Lycidas, The Aeneid, The Iliad or The City of the End of Things.  And, despite the genocidal policies of Canada’s Government which were overseen so long by Duncan Campbell Scott, I will not turn my back on his great elegy “Lines in Memory of Edmund Morris”.

The Poem

Scott begins his elegy in unlikely short, three beat (for the most part) lines, alternately rhymed (also, for the most part).  This sing song opening almost threatens the dignity of the thing, but Scott handles it with a gentle, clever wit.  We can feel the love Scott feels for Morris as he holds an unanswered letter from his dead friend.

In the second stanza, Scott places Morris’ letter before us, conjuring the illegibility. The “cuneiform or Chaldaic” made by Morris’ “cryptic fist” most immediately presents the lost future, doubly lost because of Morris’ death and because of the mystery of what was written clearly on the mind while cryptic on the page.

Scott’s question to Morris is very felicitous:

How can you read the writing
In the vacancy of dreams?

And his anticipation of the future in:

I would have you look over my shoulder
Ere the long, dark year is colder,
And mark that as memory grows older,
The brighter it pulses and gleams.
And if I should try to render
The tissues of fugitive splendour
That fled down the wind of living,
Will they read it some day in the future,
And be conscious of an awareness
In our old lives, and the bareness
Of theirs, with the newest passions
In the last fad of the fashions?

Here Scott is marvellously prophetic in the sense Sir Maurice Bowra meant in a lecture I mention elsewhere.

And then the verse changes.  Looser, more alliterative. Sometimes four beats, sometimes five, now and then three.

An image of pre-dawn. A beautiful evocation of the pre-waking world, with hints of the prehistoric.  And then “the tendril-like images” of the pre-dawn light are transformed into the first stirrings of love.

And twilight.

And then the new moon brings us back to the almost sing song rhythm.

And memories of Crowfoot’s grave near Blackfoot Crossing on the Siksika reserve east of Calgary.  Did Morris truly mark the site of Crowfoot’s last tipi with a ring of stones? Morris visited the area with Scott in 1907, seventeen years after the great Chief’s death.  I start to wonder if Morris is the only subject of this elegy.

A sensitive retelling of stories heard, melancholy, as though the tales and the tellers are now only memories, like Morris.

And Scott’s memory of Nepahpenais in his traditional dress, “A Man!” seemingly followed by the unspoken “not a savage.”

And, in contrast, Morris’ sings English pastoral doggerel as he draws the Saulteaux Elder (Morris’ chalk drawing is now in the Art Gallery of Ontario).   Scott calls the song “Foolish”. But then

the song has a change
Into something wistful and strange.

What became of the youth?

And so, Scott composes the full tale of Eliza and her youth.

The fading echo of the horn, the falling light of sunset, dusk and night.  The tiny hopeful flicker of the distant chalet light.  The meaning of the scene is hidden

So deep that none might know

A shift to blank verse.

Tears are the crushed essence of this world,
The wine of life, and he who treads the press
Is lofty with imperious disregard
Of the burst grapes, the red tears and the murk.
But nay

and

We of the sunrise . . .

A sort of pantheistic cycle of life thing gets happening here and then:

Catch up the sands of the sea and count and count
The failures hidden in our sum of conquest.
Persistence is the master of this life;
The master of these little lives of ours;
To the end–effort–even beyond the end.

And then the Akoose scene.

Old Akoose, sunrise image of youth, dies at sunset, sleeps like the dinosaurs.  Scott seems to see only extinction for the “Indians”.  They will abandon their culture or die.

But there is something challenging about the final stanza.  What is this “something of soul or essence” which escapes the “old world” at death, this “gold kernel”, this “lovely wraith of spirit” which “shall flame with presage, not of tears, but joy”?

Certainly this may just be Scott’s Christian affirmation that something of Morris has carried on after death and will rise in other “latitudes”.  But the death he’s just described is that of Akoose, an archetype of the “Indian”.  Could it be that Scott had his own premonition of the First Nations resurgence we’ve witnessed, first in the sixties and most recently with #IdleNoMore and #HonourTheTreaties?  Could this be “a meaning so deep that none might know” in Scott’s time?  “Persistence is the master of this life” Scott writes, and what has shown persistence – and patience – more than the aboriginal peoples of Canada?

I’m not concluding that Scott had any conscious idea that the “Indians” would persist and successfully resist assimilation.  But the implication is in the words of his elegy for his friend Edmund Morris.  And I’m certainly not in any way trying to defend Scott’s handling of Indian Affairs for a quarter of a century.  What I am doing is arguing that Scott was a fine poet and that, in his elegy his poetry surpassed the grave flaws of both his character and his time.

I’m glad that I look back at his old life from what he termed the bareness of mine, with those newest passions and fads of fashion which tempt us all for unlike Scott, I am conscious of the small seed, that gold kernel planted in his time — in his mind perhaps — which is blossoming now, at last, in ours.

Duncan Campbell Scott’s “Lines in Memory of Edmund Morris is available online at Poem Hunter, among other places.

What’s on at the Art Gallery of Alberta.

On the Friday between Christmas and New Year’s Eve I found myself in the Art Gallery of Alberta.  The Art Gallery of Alberta is certainly not an unusual place to find me, but this visit brought a somewhat remarkable realization to me:  Red-blooded, square-jawed, two-fisted Edmonton, home of the Oilers, the Oil Kings, the Rush, the (unfortunately named) Eskimos, home base of the Loyal Eddies and the First Battalion Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, the Gateway to the Oilsands and the North — Edmonton, the self-styled “City of Champions” loves the Arts!

I stood in the lobby chatting with staff about what they had all expected to be a quiet day.  It was a kind of miserable wet snow day outside.  One would expect Christmas dinner left overs to be still being picked over in cozy homes.  New Year’s Eve celebrating should have been in preparation.  I looking into the gift shop.  Customers were lined up to make purchases.  There was no Boxing Week sale in the gift shop.

At about the five and a half hour mark of a six hour day, over four hundred people had been through the galleries.  Suddenly that number came into perspective for me.  My family ran an Edmonton area golf course in the 80s and 90s when demand far outstripped tee-time supply in the region.  In those heady days four hundred golfers was considered a very busy sunny summer weekend day with sixteen or more hours of day light.  And here, on a snowy, cold, wet day in midwinter, over four hundred Edmontonians took time out from or with their families and holiday celebrations to look at art.  I understand the next two days were similarly busy.

I’m going to say a little or a lot about all the current exhibitions, but first a little more about my realization.

There has been a long and divisive debate in this city about the cost of building a new arena, principally as a venue for the erstwhile champion Edmonton Oilers.  There has been a little bellyaching in some quarters about the cost of the marvellous public sports/recreation centres in our city.  The owners of FC Edmonton, our (soccer) football team, have expressed a desire for a new stadium, but the cost has kept such a thing a pipe dream.  The City of Champions seems a little ambivalent about some of its potential champs.

But, when the Art Gallery of Alberta desperately needed a new building, the debate wasn’t about money, it was about the design!  The Winspeare is one of the finest concert spaces there is, and it is busy, busy, busy.  Same for the Citadel and who knows how many smaller theatres, art galleries, music clubs, festivals.  Every single day year round you can find live theatre, music, dance, poetry, opera, festivals of all sorts. And they’re all packed!

Sure the big sporting events haul in sponsorship and advertising dollars and a crowd for an afternoon or evening or two a month, but, every day an Edmonton artist hangs up her work and crowds gather, from hard-working youngsters like Cayley Thomas pulling them in at Wunderbar, or Aaron Paquette mesmerizing at the Bearclaw, to the Citadel veterans filling the house for the 423rd annual production of A Christmas Carol.

Or the Art Gallery of Alberta overwhelming its staff with the epic draw of glorious shows year round.

A note to Mayor Iveson:

Can we replace those “City of Champions” signs with “Festival City” or “City of the Arts” or something?

And now, a quick (?) tour of the current exhibitions at the Art Gallery of Alberta.

Of Heaven and Earth: 500 Years of Italian Painting from Glasgow Museums

As I read the catalogue for this show of works from Glasgow’s municipal museums, I couldn’t help but think that the legacy the Scottish city enjoys thanks to Victorian collectors is very parallel to the artistic wealth that has been being built by and for Edmonton’s citizens.  Certainly the emphases are different, but our artistic riches, and the resource available to us, are remarkable.

Of Heaven and Earth is a representative selection of the Italian paintings in Glasgow’s collections, from Buonaccorso’s mid-14th century St. Lawrence which greats visitors on their left as they enter the second floor gallery, to what I find a most endearing piece, Luigi da Rios’ Overlooking a Canal, Venice: from 1886.  A quirky hobby I have is looking up on Google StreetView the locations of old paintings.  Sadly, I can confirm Peter Humfrey’s suspicion in the catalogue “Almost certainly this house no longer exists.”  How wonderful that the house and it’s people survive in da Rios’ painting!

For those who might pursue my little hobby, there is a surprise waiting for you, courtesy of Marc Quinn, in the digital View of San Giorgio Magiore: a big pink something not in the church court around 1760 when Francesco Guardi painted his marvellous view:

Back to Guardi’s painting: stay for a moment before the painting and admire the reflections on the water.  A beautiful – and dignified – presaging of all that was best of Impressionism.

What startled me most on my first visit to Of Heaven and Earth was suddenly finding myself standing a foot or two from Botticelli’s Annunciation.  I just gasped.  Look at the angel’s face and upraised right hand.  It’s as though he has thrown the golden shaft of the Holy Spirit (a Hail Mary pass?).  Is Mary bowing to the angel? or has she felt the Spirit penetrate her, curling in shock? No reproduction in a book can compare with being in the presence of these paintings.

Consider the Adoration of the Magi from about 1500:  Notice the sculptural pastiglia elements on clothing and jewelry.  They can’t be missed — unless you’re looking at a flat colour plate in a book.

Salvator Rosa’s two heroic Baptismal landscapes from the mid-Seventeenth Century somewhat dominate the show just by their size.  And they are oh so grand!  His blasted oak trees smell more of Friedrich than Poussin and so, perhaps, are more attractive to the modern eye than most landscapes of the time.  This is a sublime wilderness the Romantics would admire.

There is so much to love in Of Heaven and Earth!  There are pre-Raphaelite hints in Aldi’s tiny, jewel-like Painter and his Model, and, of course, there are paintings created pre-Raphael.  Hints of Goya, of David.  And look at the charming old violin teacher by Andreotti from the late Nineteenth Century! Norman Rockwell would have been proud to produce this piece, but I’m not sure he could have managed the pathos intermingled with joy that I see in Andreotti’s lovely little moment.

I’ve mentioned just a few of the forty-one pieces in Of heaven and Earth, but each could stir raptures. If you see only one exhibition at the Art Gallery of Alberta this year — I think you’re being very foolish — but if you see only on exhibition this year at the Art Gallery of Alberta, please make it Of Heaven and Earth!

Of Heaven and Earth‘s only Canadian showing ends March 9th

Chagall: Daphnis and Chloé

A note I made one day while walking through Chagall’s amazing series of lithographs from the National Gallery was simply:

“childlike dream/memory”

Chagall’s vivid lithographs — “the colours!” is a common response to the collection — are illustrations for a novel written in the 2nd or 3rd century by the Greek, Longus.  Little or nothing is known about the author.  There is something fascinating about the idea of illustrating longus’ Daphnis and Chloé as the novel is constructed as the the story Longus imagines to be represented by a painting he has seen.  So, Chagall is, in a sense, recreating the painting Longus admired.

The character Daphnis, the ideal shepherd in the bucolic world of pastoral poetry, is far older than Longus.  Theocritus had killed off Daphnis in his poetry five or six centuries before — just as Milton would kill off that other great shepherd Lycidas more than a millenium later.  Chagall’s lithographs magically recreate the dreamworld of the pastoral.

The story of Daphnis and Chloé, in summary, is that Daphnis, a mortal, and Chloé an immortal nymph, fall in love, and, after various vicissitudes, marry and live happily ever after.  Without the specific context of the text, Chagall’s illustrations give little for the viewer to hold onto.  They seem, in fact, to be childlike memory/dreams of a bucolic world.  Certainly there is darkens in the world of Daphnis and Chloé — I think of the blood red beast being gutted in “Sacrifices made to the nymphs” — but mostly we have the colour, and the light, and a feeling of simple cares in a world of sunlight and warm rains, of toy-like villages on green hillsides in a world still young.  When we stand before Chagall’s beautiful lithographs, we are in the position of Longus, so,

Tell yourself a story!

Until February 16th.

Brenda Draney: Suspend

The small gallery at the top of the stairs on the second floor, the RBC New Works Gallery, is a tremendous venue for mid-career Alberta artist to show their work in the company of the historic works usually hosted in the larger rooms of the AGA.  In the New Works Gallery on sees a snapshot of the current moment in Alberta contemporary art.  Always provocative, always powerful, rarely conventional.

Brenda Draney’s new works, collectively titled “Suspend”, fascinating in their own right, are also a stimulating counterpoint to and conversation with the historical works in the other rooms of the second floor, and with Chagal’s lithographs in the Poole Gallery downstairs.  In this series of story fragments from her native Sawridge First Nation and Slave Lake community, Draney emphatically shows that she knows, in the words of Pliny the Elder, “when to lift the brush from the canvas” ( quod manum de tabula sciret – Histories, XXXV,xxxvi. 81).  There are no extraneous marks. Draney’s linen ground shows through everywhere.

These paintings, like Chagall’s lithographs, are illustrations.  But the story illustrated is far more epic than the fable of Daphnis and Chloé.  Draney illustrates the destroying flood and fire the Sawridge and Slave Lake community has survived and overcome.  Draney’s minimalist marks are illustrations of a mythic in scale but very real story of survival, sharing and love.

When I first looked at Draney’s raw grey/brown linen canvases, I thought immediately of some of Alex Janvier’s works, although there is little else obviously linking the works.  I was pleasantly surprised on reading the little book of the exhibition, that Janvier has been an important influence on Draney.  And here we come to what I think is the conversation between Draney and the forty-one pieces from Glasgow across the second floor landing.  Yes, Draney is contemporary with a big “C: and yes she stands in the Turtle Island aboriginal tradition, and yes, she is firmly rooted in the deep history and community of Lesser Slave Lake.  But look again at the rapid, fluid brush work of Botticelli’s Annunciation, at the threatening landscape shared by Rosa’s two monumental canvases.  And look at the impasto of the views of Venice, the piercing individuality of the old violin master, the almost backgroundless women, staring down at the Venice canal:

We stood on the cement front step and I could feel it unsteady underneath me, almost floating. (Brenda Draney, Watermarks: Resonant Absences in Painting and Memory, p. 20, quoted in Kristy Trinier, Brenda Draney: Suspend, p. 5)

Wherever else they may have been aiming, reaching, seeking, the path of the 500 years of Italian painting leads, somehow, through Brenda Draney’s Suspend.

Until March 9th.

Megan Morman’s Now You See It

Now You See It moves me strongly.

I know many in the Edmonton visual arts community have issues with the AGA, just as many in the Edmonton Theatre community have issues witht he Citadel — everybody wants to take potshots at the biggest battleship.  Would we each like it to be different? Certainly. Would we like it to vanish? Heaven forbid!  Personally, I thought at first that Randall Stout’s design for the new AGA was neither the best nor the worst of a bad lot.  I confess now that I was an idiot.  Stout’s design is a wonderful blend of audacity and caution — perfect for Edmonton.  And I predict the AGA building will soon be a beloved icon, even among those (few) Edmontonians who never set foot in the place.

More strongly, I had hoped that the new AGA would be large enough to have a gallery dedicated to rotating exhibitions of the Gallery’s permanent collection, most of which remains warehoused in perpetuity.  I’ve been pleased that Gallery A on the main floor, which currently hosts Angakkuq, has been used somewhat in the way I had hoped.

And so, we come to Morman’s Now You See It.
The artist has covered the infinite walls of Manning Hall with a gargantuan word search puzzle, and the sought words are the surnames of artists whose works are warehoused in the AGA’s permanent collection.  What an unexpected and unexpectedly powerful statement!

I’ll let a few of the names make the point:

John James Audubon
Jackson Beardy
Frederick Banting (yes, the co-discoverer of insulin as work in the AGA collection!)
Paul Emile Borduas
Catherine Burgess
William S. Burroughs (!)
Edward Burtynsky
Emily Carr
Alex Colville
Joe Fafard
Lawren Harris
A. Y. Jackson
Alex Janvier
David Janzen
Cornelius Krieghof
William Kurelek
Arthur Lismer
Henry Moore
Norval Morrisseau
José Clemente Orozco
Jane Ash Poitras
Bill Reid
Jean-Paul Riopelle
Diego Rivera
August Rodin(!)
Allen Sapp
Tom Thomson
F. H. Varley
Andy Warhol(!)

And so on. And on. For a long time.  A long, long time.

Maybe we could find forty-one pieces to send off to Glasgow for a temporary exhibit! Or better, when we build that new arts complex next to the new Museum down the road from the new entertainment complex/arena — maybe we should find a permanent exhibit space for some of the AGA’s permanent collection.

Thank you, Megan Morman for rubbing the sadly hidden collection in our collective face.  The hiding demands action.

Until January 31st.

Hunting Blind

Robin Arseneault and Paul Jackson’s instalation outdoors on the City of Edmonton Terrace is challenging to appreciate under this winter’s snow, but fortunately, Hunting Blind is a permanent exhibit.  Come back on a sumer afternoon, enjoy a drink and some snacks in the shade of Aurora Borealis.  Then wander over to the edge, sit down on the little bench behind (in front of?) one of the pac man ghost like bird cutouts.  Look through the eye holes.  What’s that structure on legs you see?  What’s sticking out of it? Is it pointed at you?

Go order another drink and consider the relationship between artist, art, and viewer.

The Intellection of Lady Spider House

Anyone who actually reads what I write here will know that I recently said of Conceptual Art “What the Hell?!” (I paraphrase).  But, I love The Intellection of Lady Spider House!  Certainly when it opened in the lead up to Hallowe’en it had a little more power, and certainly reading the text of the concept — Geoffry Farmer and a collective of artists came into possession of a collection of old funhouse props — homage to Bruce Conner’s 1959 Spider Lady House — collecting — reclassifying — (I paraphrase) adds layers, dimensions and depth, but, really, if you can physically negotiate the multiple trip possibilities, just explore the space! And enjoy the quiet dimness.  Maybe chat for a while with the silent, waiting lady in the corner.  “Is she Lady Spider?!” I suddenly ask myself.  Get caught in her web.

Today a young couple and their toddler rode the elevator down from the thrid floor with us.  “Spooky!” said the baby-faced father with a happy, comfortable grin.  He “got” conceptual art, and critics be damned!

Until January 12th.

Cabinets of Curiosity

The Intellection of Lady Spider House ties in nicely with Cabinets of Curiosity in the BMO World of Creativity (The Kids Gallery as we’ve called it for almost 20 years now through two buildings).  Here we have a compact, interactive, kid-scale, wacky, crazy collection of every imaginable type of whatnot.  This is crawling into a slightly creepy but always safe Tomboy’s junk drawer writ remarkably large.  I have an overwhelming vision of some Ray Bradbury novels.  Here children can examin the Illustrated Man, sip Dandelion Wine (non-alcoholic of course), and now and then worry that Something Wicked (mom or dad checking in from Angakkuq) This Way Comes.

Even if you’re a grown up, even if you’ve no kid tagging along, take a tour of the Cabinets.  If you open yourself to it, maybe you’ll find a surprise within.

Until June 1st.

Angakuuq: Between Two Worlds

Between two worlds.

Here we are.  Soapstone shamans dancing, drumming, hunting. Whalebone and ivory and fur.

Here we are.  Human transforming to animal transforming to human.

Here we are. Lithograph and the carved stone (lithos) whence the print was taken.

Here we are. Arctic lithographic prints of mythic story and Eurpean lithographic prints of mythic stories.

Here we are. Sawridge paint on canvas and Italian paint on canvas.

Here we are. The viewer transformed into a bird within the piece of art she views.

Here we are. The joy of dark childlike curiosity and . . . . the quotidian world of work and routine.

Here we are. Angakkuq. Between two worlds.

In Gallery A until February 16th.

Words cannot describe.  You must look and see.