Dudes Go to Market

Fig. 2 Terrance Houle, Saddle Up, 2009. Pinhole photograph, digitally enlarged.

Terrance Houle (Bood), Adrian Stimson (Siksika), and Jamison Chas Banks (Seneca-Cayuga/Cherokee), are in Santa Fe this weekend to perform a collaborative performance artwork. The performance is called Buffalo Dudes Go to Market and will take place Saturday, August 18th, 2012 at the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts (MoCNA) at 4:45 pm.

I’ve written about Houle’s work previously on Not Artomatic, so I am reposting those entries. I’m anticipating a very interesting performance work from Buffalo Dudes. The essay below is about a series of photos taken as part of a performance by Houle at Calgary Stampede. I’m interested to see how Houle, Stimson, and Banks play with the particular dynamics of Santa Fe’s Indian Art Market.

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This  entry is about Terrance Houle’s series of photographs in the exhibition “Friend or Foe” at Or Gallery in Vancouver, BC, 2010. The show, curated by Darrin J. Martens, features work by Rebecca Belmore and Terrance Houle. The front of the gallery displays large pinhole photographs by Houle that he took at the Calgary Stampede in 2009. (See Figure 3). The Calgary Stampede is a ten-day rodeo festival that revels in all things cowboy. And how can you have cowboys without Indians? A makeshift Indian display set out on a sidewalk in front of The Metropolitan Centre features split-log fencing and a scaled down tipi. Houle, who is of Blood tribe ancestry, stands in a loincloth and commercial moccasins in front of the tipi. Each black and white photograph in this series was actually taken at the same moment, using simultaneous exposures from a number of pinhole cameras placed on-site.

Fig. 2 Terrance Houle, Urban Indian, 2004

Several Native/First nations artists work with photographic images that involve the disruptive sight of a semi-traditionally dressed Indian in clearly modern circumstances. Other artists who used some version of this approach are Jason Lujan, Merritt Johnson, Greg Hill, Zig Jackson, James Luna, etc. I think what makes this particular series interesting is the use of the pinhole camera in different locations, all depicting the same moment. If you’re not familiar with how a pinhole camera works, it’s a low-tech process that uses a light-proof box with an aperture and a manual cover. Black and white photographic paper or film is placed on the back wall of the box. No lens is necessary. Pinhole cameras need longer exposure times depending on ambient light, ranging from five seconds to several hours. Obviously, pinhole cameras are not useful for action shots. The first time an image from a pinhole camera was affixed onto paper was in 1850. It is one of the earliest photographic devices, and its precursor, the camera obscura is traceable back to ancient Rome. Houle’s photographs in this exhibition have the classic hallmarks of pinhole photography: crisp, in-focus stationary objects and a slight blur to people (or anything that moves), as well as a noticeable curvature at the periphery.

Fig. 2 Terrance Houle, Saddle Up, 2009. Pinhole photograph, digitally enlarged.










The most intriguing aspect of this series, and what differentiates it from Houle’s previous photographic work (see Figure 2), is the use of multiple pinhole cameras to capture the same (long) moment. The deliciousness of the idea is one part failure of the Western Cartesian system, one part postmodernism, and one part security camera. To unpack that statement, the Cartesian system assumes that there is a single viewpoint from which a neutral observer can determine the truth with absolute certainty. The spatial distortions that result from this least-mediated photographic technique combined with the use of multiple points of view fly in the face of supposed photographic truth and the “truth” authority of a singular viewpoint. Houle’s method here is symbolic of an overall shift in Western consciousness… away from certainty and absolute truth and toward the recognition of the viewpoints of other cultures – the upside of postmodern thought. (The downside of postmodern thought is the tendency for completely incoherent narrative). As for my “one part security camera,” I perhaps have less ground to stand on with that association, but it’s definitely a thought that occurred to me as I viewed the work in the gallery. The blurriness and distortion of the images resemble stills taken from security camera footage. Usually, we only see those images when a crime has been committed and excerpts from the footage, often from more than one vantage point, are shown to the public in hopes of eliciting information about a crime. There really isn’t a crime, per se, in Houle’s photographs at the Calgary Stampede, unless he has captured a crime against good taste, or a crime against authenticity, the indignity of cultural tourism, or a crime against history. But that’s tourism for you: an uncomfortable mingling of opportunism, appropriation, fantasy, enlightenment, and kitsch.

The “A” Word

Anna Tsouhlarakis, “Aesthetically Speaking I”, 2011. Inkjet print. Courtesy of the artist.

“Whenever the term ‘ authentic’ is used in aesthetics, a good first question to ask is, Authentic as opposed to what?” –Denis Dutton[1]

SWAIA is hosting a series of panel discussions this summer on the subject of quality in current Native American art. How is quality discussed in relationship to art in general? What additional aspects of “quality” come to light when the conversation is about quality in art created by Native American artists? How can we talk about quality sensitively, collaboratively, and productively?

In a fundamental manner, talking about quality involves talking about how we make critical judgments – assessments of value, of the degree of excellence of an art object. The description of the first session, which takes place tonight (Thursday, July 12, 2012) at Collected Works bookstore in Santa Fe, sets up “authenticity” as one of the first determinants of “quality.”

A discussion of “authenticity” could go in numerous directions. I will use a passage from philosopher Denis Dutton to identify some distinctions in the use of the term authenticity: “Despite the widely different contexts in which the authentic/inauthentic is applied in aesthetics, the distinction nevertheless tends to form around two broad categories of sense. First, works of art can possess what we may call nominal authenticity, defined simply as the correct identification of the origins, authorship, or provenance of an object, ensuring, as the term implies, that an object of aesthetic experience is properly named. However, the concept of authenticity often connotes something else, having to do with an object’s character as a true expression of an individual’s or a society’s values and beliefs. This second sense of authenticity can be called expressive authenticity.”[2]

Nominal authenticity therefore involves verifying the identity of the artist, and in the case of Native American art, the tribal affiliations of the artist. Expressive authenticity includes consideration of cultural authenticity, though interest in this this type of authenticity has potentially negative ramifications when analysis of cultural authenticity is influenced by racism, nationalist narratives, and/or cross-cultural misunderstandings.

From the point of view of artists, we might consider the assertion that artistic value is dependent upon whether or not an artwork expresses the authentic values of its maker, especially when those values are also shared by the artist’s immediate community.[3] How “immediate community” gets defined is absolutely crucial for Native artists.

I started this essay with the artwork Aesthetically Speaking I by Anna Tsouhlarakis[4] because it very graphically communicates the experience of carrying on a dialogue about art. The complex visual patterns in the speech balloons convey both more and less to us as viewers than conventional text-filled speech balloons. The body language of the figures indicate one person is speaking earnestly and the other is listening, perhaps with some confusion or skepticism. The contents of their speech balloons appear to be somewhat in opposition, implied by the strong diagonal lines and the hierarchical placement of the two speech balloons. The differences between the contents of the balloons may initially leap out at a viewer, but the two patterns share some features in common. Both are organized in bands of parallel lines and contain repeated geometric patterns. The patterns take up the totality of the field for speech. Each elliptical form shows that the women are discussing a symbol arranged into a pattern, a specific context, not just a symbol in isolation. I am using this artwork to tease out relationships between discourse, interdependent complexity, formal relationships, and categorical distinctions we attempt to make around indigenous art.

Nancy Blomberg, curator for Denver Art Museum wrote in her introduction for the book [Re]inventing the Wheel, “If we accept American Indian art as a valid category for scholarly study, then it must no longer be studied solely in isolation––for it was never created in isolation. American Indian art did not develop in a vacuum. There were many, many influences among different tribes––and from non-Indians. We have all been complicit in a false narrative of purity, immutable tradition, and isolation. We must acknowledge and celebrate the complexities of cross-cultural exchange, because the Taos School, the Hudson River School, and the Santa Fe Studio School of artists did not develop in isolation. Our segregation of American Indian art has not raised awareness; instead we have unwittingly fragmented a common narrative to the detriment of the narrative.”[5]

On that note, SWAIA is bringing together panels of speakers to address “quality” in art. The first panel includes the following: Deborah Jojola (Isleta), Matthew Martinez (Ohkay Owingeh), America Meredith (Cherokee),  Alex Pena (Comanche) and Cannupa Hanska (Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara, Lakota, Austrian, Norwegian).


Event Announcement from SWAIA:

Authenticity in Native Arts, Lecture Series: What does “quality” mean?

July 12, 2012 6:00 pm, Collected Works Bookstore & Coffeehouse 202 Galisteo St. Santa Fe

Free Admission. From its state flag and license plates to the romanticized ideology of the southwest, New Mexico is immersed in Native cultural influences; indeed, Native art is its central identity. With such a broad platform and visibility, the ubiquity and sale of Native art has the potential to be highly lucrative. SWAIA is producing a series of lectures that address these issues directly. As the producer of the Santa Fe Indian Market, SWAIA is the authority on authenticity issues in the Native art world. With panelists including artists, art dealers and experts, the lectures provide a broad and up to date view of the dialogue surrounding these controversial topics.

[1] Denis Dutton, “Authenticity in Art,” in The Oxford Handbook of Aesthetics, ed. Jerrold Levinson (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003). Also available online at www.denisdutton.com/authenticity.htm

[4] More works from Tsouhlarakis’s Aesthetics series on can be seen in the catalogue We Are Here: The Eiteljorg Contemporary Art Fellowship, 2011, pp. 84-89. Additionally, an installation work, titled “Edges of the Ephemeral,” is on exhibition at Museum of Contemporary Native Art in Santa Fe until September 15th, 2012.

[5] Nancy J. Blomberg, “Advancing the Dialogue,” in [Re]inventing the Wheel: Advancing the Dialogue on Contemporary American Indian Art, ed. Nancy J. Blomberg (Denver: Denver Art Museum, 2005) pp. 19-24.

Video Installation – Kateri Tekakwitha

One of the current exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Native Art in Santa Fe right now is a selection of recent works created in response to the history of Kateri Tekakwitha (1656-1680), an early Mohawk-Algonquian convert to Christianity. She is beatified by the Catholic church  and is in the process of canonization. I will be writing more about this exhibition and other work currently on exhibition at MoCNA – but time runs short! I took a brief segment of video of Marcella Ernest’s video installation work and wanted to make that available sooner, rather than later. The full video is four minutes long and is projected on a screen of pasted-together pages from a bible. I only have 30 seconds of it in the video above. It’s worth viewing in person. If you stand close to the screen, you can easily read the biblical passages. This work deals with Kateri’s physical disfigurement from smallpox scars and her exercise of physical mortification as part of her devotion to her new religion.

The works in Soul Sister examine the complexity of responses to Kateri Tekakwitha, from analytical to devotional.

To see the work in person, visit the Museum of Contemporary Native Art in Santa Fe.


Postcommodity Speaks

Postcommodity collective artists Raven Chacon, Kade L. Twist, Steven Yazzie and Nathan Young speak at IAIA’s Museum of Contemporary Native Art in Santa Fe (108 Cathedral Place, Santa Fe, 87501) from 11:30am-1:00pm on Friday August 20th. Here are photographs from their work P’oe iwe navi ûnp’oe dînmuu (My Blood is in the Water), taken on Wednesday. I’ll probably have new photos on Friday. Questions about the work? Come see the work in person and hear the artists speak.

Postcommodity Collective, P’oe iwe navi ûnp’oe dînmuu (My Blood is in the Water), MOCNA, Photograph by Lara Evans

Detail of P’oe iwe navi ûnp’oe dînmuu (My Blood is in the Water), Note the drop of blood suspended in the air. Photo by Lara Evans.


Home Fires – The Creative Energy of Native Women Artists.

Saturday August 14th  –  School for Advanced Research, Santa Fe

Home Fires Aug 14th Event at School for Advanced research, Santa Fe

I attended a special evening event in celebration of a new book: Art in Our Lives: Native Women Artists in Dialogue. I was part of the book project, along with Sherry Farrell Racette, Cynthia Chavez Lamar, Felice Lucero, Eliza Naranjo-Morse, Dyani Reynolds-White Hawk, TahNibaa Naataanii, Gloria Emerson, Heidi Brandow, Shannon Letandre, Diane Reyna, and Erica Lord. The School for Advanced Research brought the group together for a series of meetings where we spoke about our lives, our art-making, our cultures, families, and educational/career paths.

Toward the end of our last meeting, we spoke about how important this experience of sharing with other Native women artists had been to us and how it put things into a new perspective us. We wished we had this experience years before. We decided (with SAR support) that we should put together a book based on our conversations and research. The last substantial book about Native Women artists was Women of Sweetgrass, Cedar, and Sage, by Harmony Hammond and Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, in 1985. That means that the youngest artists in our group were in preschool through the first grade! We wanted a book that would be a resource for the next generation of artists as well as those interested in Native art and culture.

Dinner at SAR

After two years, the book is finished and we have our advance copies. More will be available in two weeks. You can find it on the SAR Press website and on Amazon.com, where you can view significant portions of the book online.

The launch of the book at SAR on the 14th was a beautiful event with introductions and brief remarks about the book from Cynthia Chavez Lamar and Gloria Emerson, followed by a lovely dinner under the old oak tree on the campus. We had after-dinner conversations and signed books. It was a lovely evening!


Sonya Kelliher-Combs and Nadia Myre at NMAI’s Heye Center in NYC

Sonya Kelliher-Combs, Common Thread, 2010, reindeer and sheep rawhide. On display at the Heye Center, New York City

There is a review of the exhibition “Hide: Skin as Material and Metaphor,” published in American Craft Magazine – and it’s worth reading. I am familiar with the work of both artists and would love to go see the exhibition… but it’s all the way in NYC and I’m all the way on the left coast. I first saw Kelliher-Combs work when she spoke at the Native American Art Studies conference in Alaska a couple years ago. Some of her work was in an exhibition at a local gallery there in Fairbanks, so I made a visit to see the work in person. It definitely looks better in person than in photographs. To see more of Nadia Myre’s work, here is a link to the artist’s website: http://www.nadiamyre.com/Nadia_Myre/home.html

Here is an extended quote from the exhibition review:

“Animal skins-hides-have played an important role in traditional Native American culture and identity, and the National Museum of the American Indian has regularly exhibited such venerable objects as beaded deerskin garments and paintings on buffalo hide. But this two-part exhibition, curated by Kathleen Ash-Milby, is not about tradition. Contemporary artists who are known in the art world but retain strong ties to their Native communities were invited to address skin as an actual art material and as a vehicle for comments on a range of social issues. The first part highlights two makers known for multimedia work who find in skin or its representation a medium for revealing personal statements in ways that are simultaneously sophisticated and primal.

Alaskan-born Sonya Kelliher-Combs (Inupiaq/Athabascan) combines organic and synthetic materials in works that convey intimacy in their tactility, yet are baffling in their hidden meanings.

Unlike Kelliher-Combs, Nadia Myre (Anishinaabe), an artist living in Montreal, does not use organic materials to comment on skin. Her preoccupation is scars, and more than half of her part of the exhibit is devoted to The Scar Project, a communal work. Since 2005, Myre has held workshops in which she provides participants with 10-inch-square canvases and invites them to render their own scars-bodily or mental-by cutting and “suturing” the raw cloth. The 240 canvases (out of some 500 in the project) are arranged on both sides of a large gallery.”

To read the entire review by Beverly Sanders, please click HERE

 The exhibition is on display until August 1st. Beginning September 1st, the theme of hide continues with a selection of photographs titled “Showing Skin” and work by Michael Belmore. For more info about the exhibition CLICK HERE. 

For information on visiting the George Gustave Heye Center, National Museum of the American Indian, located at One Bowling Green in New York City, CLICK HERE.

All links open in a new window.

By the way, anybody in NYC seen this show? What do you think?

Red Painting After Kerry James Marshall’s “Black Painting.”

Lara Evans, Red Painting after Kerry James Marshall's 'Black Painting,' linocut print, June 2010

While I am working on several longer and fairly academic postings about works by Terrance Houle, Rebecca Belmore, and Kerry James Marshall, I will post this short piece in response to one of Kerry James Marshall’s paintings on exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery. First, Kerry James Marshal is an African-American artist and his figurative paintings use color  symbolically, collapsing the color black with the racially identifying term Black. Marshall uses solid black paint with little or no value or tonal differentiation on the skin. It is an interesting conceptual technique, and it got me thinking about the similar use of color terminology in relationship to Native Americans – Red. I stood in the gallery for a long time in front Marshall’s Black Painting (sorry, I haven’t been able to get an image of it yet). I took notes. I made some sketches. The entire painting is black with just very slight differences in shade and surface. Looking closely, the painting depicts a Black couple in a black bed in a black bedroom at night. You can make out the bed, nightstands, lamps, books on the nightsand (Angela Davis, If they Come in the Morning), and a Black Panther flag against the far wall above a dresser. The painting is quite large, taking up nearly the whole wall in the gallery.

I decided to make my own version as a Red Painting: an Indian couple in a red bedroom. I’m the odd combination of artist and academic. I often use my own artistic practice as a way of thinking through academic ideas and problems. Pictures and physcial objects help me undertand abstracts more fully. I wanted to make  Red Painting because I don’t think that a red painting could do the same thing that Marshall’s Black Painting did. I had the chance to do some linocut printing in the printmaking studio at The Evergreen State College and took the opportunity to execute my idea. I used the same composition, but mirror-imaged. The books in my version are labelled in Cherokee text that translates as “This is their home.” I also included an abalone shell on the dresser and a dog (rez dog?) sleeping on the bedroom floor.

Issues of race, color, and skin tone are not identical from one situation to another. While there are similarities, the Red Painting just does not work the same way that Marshall’s Black Painting works. There is also the reality of the color itself – red is a bright primary color and since about 64% of our eyes’ cones are designed to perceive red, that means that looking at a large red field is fairly taxing on the physical structures of our eyes. Looking at a black painting causes pupil dilation and over the course of looking for a couple minutes, you can pick out more details in the dark expanse of the canvas. Not so with looking at a completely red painting. You begin to pick up less detail with prolonged viewing, and probably feel a bit frustrated, too. My experiment was doomed to failure, but I knew I had to create the work anyway. I also wanted to share my failure because I think there is something worth learning from in the failures that happen when we try to translate an idea, a practice, a representational trope across the boundaries of race and culture. I hope to get into this a bit more with the other entries I’m working on.

I’m back from summer travelling and hope to get a lot more writing done this month. With judicious breaks for sunshine, housecleaning, and curating an exhibition.