Indy Behind the Scenes: Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art Walking Tour

Eiteljorg Museum Sign

Public Domain image.

One of my favourite parts of every NCPH conference is the range of walking tours, museum visits, and behind the scenes tours to local heritage sites that are setup as part of the conference.  This year I participated in a tour of the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art.

This session included a guided tour through the museum’s gallery space by the curators.  It also included a look at the collection storage space guided by the collections staff.  The tour included a great combination of the museum’s history, challenges, current projects, and a look forward to future gallery plans.

The Etieljorg’s collection has expanded beyond the original donation of material by Harrison Eiteljorg to the museum. However its mission remains deeply connected to Harrison Etieljorg’s initial motivation, “to inspire an appreciation and understanding of the art, history and cultures of the American West and the indigenous peoples of North America.”  I found the first floor of the Etilejorg a bit jarring – I was anticipating a museum focused on Indigenous history and art and was confronted with Euro-centric depictions of the American West, with many of the paintings including racialized representations of Indigenous communities.

The impression of the first floor gallery space was not a good one.  I felt deeply uncomfortable in the space and imagine that this uncomfortable feeling would be much worse for anyone from an Indigenous community.  While walking through this space with Etilejorg space it was good to hear that renovation plans for this gallery space are in process and the museum hopes to improve the juxtaposition of Indigenous worldviews with Euro-centric artists.  One of the curators mentioned a desire to contrast Indigenous artistic representations of self with American West perspectives and the importance of providing more of an Indigenous voice throughout this gallery.  I really hope that this happens and that a critical look is taken at the American West art that is being displayed.

On the other hand I thought the second floor “Mihtohseenionki” (The People’ Place) exhibition space was extremely well done and provided an excellent example of a space that is curated with participation from local Indigenous stakeholders. This space is dedicated to exploring the heritage and present day relatives of the Indigenous people connected to the land now known as Indiana.  I particularlly liked the emphasis on this space of portraying Indigenous communities in the past and the present – of highlighting the fact that there are still vibrant Indigenous communities and culture in Indiana while raising awareness about forcible removable from land, diaspora, and the impacts of colonization.

One of my favourite cases in the “Mihtohseenionki” section was a case the mixed beaded moccasin artifacts with a contemporary art piece done by a local artist.  The art piece was a woven basket done in the traditional style, but it was made of painted printouts of the Land Removal Act, and had painted moccasins illustrating the dispersal of Indigenous communities.  The contrast of a new art piece with more traditional artifacts provided an interesting narrative on looking at the history and relatives of Indigenous communities in a holistic perspective and the need to be aware of the present and future realities of Indigenous people.  Staff indicated that they hope to explore more contrasting perspectives like this in upcoming exhibit revamps.

The other highlight of my visit to the Etieljorg was having an opportunity to see their collections storage space.  Suffice it to say it was downright amazing.  It’s beautifully organized, has great compact shelving, and they create custom boxes for most of their artifacts.  The custom build boxes and supports were really well done and and excellent example of preservation being built into the collection storage procedures.

If you’re ever visiting Indy I recommend taking time to visit the Etieljorg – even if it is just for the second floor gallery space.

Technology and Highlights of the Art Institute of Chicago

I recently spent a few days in Chicago, Illinois.  This is the fourth post in a series about the museums, architecture, public gardens, and art I visited while there.  The first post can be viewed here.

When people say you could spend hours at the Art Institute of Chicago they aren’t kidding.  I spent a full day there as part of my trip to Chicago.   Overall I enjoyed the day exploring the galleries. There is a huge range of artwork and themes in the Institute and everyone should be able to find something that interests them.

There are ipad and other technology stations throughout the Art Institute.  However I saw very few of them being used during our visit.  It made me wonder about what type of media and digital interaction is most effective in museums and galleries.  In addition to the technology stations the Art Institute has a free app and open wifi.

Despite loving the possibilities of technology integrated into heritage sites I’ve rarely downloaded apps for the sites I’ve visited.  But while waiting in line for tickets to gain entry to the Art Institute I downloaded their app.  As much as I wanted to love the app I found it a bit awkward to use.  The app offers 50 tours categorized by collections, themes, or time limits.  The apps location feature that showed where you were inside the gallery was well done.  However including more than just the gallery numbers on the maps might have made it more useful.  The app does support some basic searching of the collections.  However this feature is fairly basic and not fully developed.  The app has potential but I still found myself relying more on the paper map and traditional text panels.

The floor plan and layout of the galleries in the Art Institute can be confusing at times.  This is mainly due to the how the Institute developed.  The first permanent building of the Art Institute opened in 1893 and since then eight expansions for gallery and administration space have been undertaken.  The nature of adding additions onto older buildings has resulted in parts of the Institute being disconnected and only accessible by one or two routes.  For example, not all of the galleries on the second floor are accessible from the same stairwell or elevator.  Even with good planning this can add some additional walking to a visit as you often have to loop back to access a gallery that is only accessible from one spot.

Some of my favourite exhibitions from my visit included: Ethel Stein, Master WeaverMargritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926-1938, and the public art section that includes Chagall’s America Windows. An interesting video about the conversation and installation of the Chagall windows can be seen here.

I also found the Indian Art of the Americas gallery interesting. I had assumed that this gallery would focus mainly on First Nation artwork from the United States.  The collection is much more broad in its scope and includes works from both South and North American with a large percentage of the collection being made up of Mesoamerican and Andean ceramics, sculptures, and textiles.

The gallery had more of a museum feel to it focusing on the history of the numerous Indigenous peoples and their traditional practices.  The gallery contained very little from the 1900s and didn’t address current trends in Indigenous artwork.  That being said, the Institute is well known for its Amerindian art and the items on display were well contextualized and highlights a number of cultures.  Though I did wonder how involved (if at all) Indigenous communities have been in collection, display choices,  and interpretation. 

The Art Institute is definitely worth a visit if you’re in Chicago.  If you have a limited amount of time I would recommend doing some research beforehand to map out what you want to see and planning your visit around must sees.  Looking at everything in the Institute in great detail during a single visit simply isn’t possible.

Ayumi Goto and Peter Morin Performances and Installation

Re-posted from the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre. 
 
As part of the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre’s ongoing critical and creative Healing and Reconciliation through Education programming, the SRSC is pleased to announce new, original performances and installations by visiting artists Peter Morin and Ayumi Goto.

Peter Morin is a 2014 Sobey Award-nominated Tahltan Nation artist, curator and writer. He will present an original performance called escape stories Friday, April 25 at the Art Gallery of Algoma at 3 pm in collaboration with Ayumi Goto. This performance is, in part, related to Morin’s 2012 visit to Algoma University and the site of the former Shingwauk Indian Residential School, as well as his participation in the SRSC-sponsored artist residency Reconsidering Reconciliation held at Thompson Rivers University, Kamloops, Scewepemc Territory, in August 2013. He recently returned from London, UK, and a series of performances exploring the kidnapping of an Inuk baby and his mother from the land in 1547, which forms the foundation for escape stories. The performance will take place within the Education Gallery at the AGA, which currently houses Why the Caged Bird Sings: Here I Am by Cheryl L’Hirondelle, who similarly participated in visiting artist and residency events put on by the SRSC.

Ayumi Goto is a performance artist based in Kelowna, Okanagan Nation territory. Born in Canada, she draws upon her Japanese heritage to trouble sedimented notions of nation-building, cultural belonging, and structural racism in her creative work. Like Morin and L’Hirondelle, Goto has been engaged with the SRSC and other partners in explorations of the role of art and artist in healing and reconciliation. Over a course of 105 days in 2013, Goto ran 1568.5 km around communities in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Ontario to recognize and pay homage to the Journey of Nishiyuu, in which six young Cree men led by guide Isaac Kawapit, walked from Whapmagoostui, Northern Quebec to Ottawa to raise awareness of Aboriginal issues. She reinforced the walkers’ laborious efforts to bring attention to the Idle No More movement, as well as attempting to transform her own relationship to the land. Her installation at the SRSC, which will open Saturday, April 26 at 7 pm explores this experience through the daily poetic and visual responses she created.

Both Morin’s performance at the AGA and Goto’s installation at the SRSC are open to the public and free for all to attend. Refreshments will be served and the artists will be available for conversations after each event.

Commemorative Art: Walking With Our Sisters

Yesterday artist and author Christi Belcourt, hosted by Shingwauk Kinomage Gaimig, gave a talk at Algoma University. Her talk focused on her art practice, traditional art, and the Walking With Our Sisters project. 

Walking With Our Sisters is a commemorative art installation in memory of missing and murdered Indigenous women  in Canada and the United States. The work is a floor installation make up of beaded moccasin vamps arranged in a pathway on red fabric.  Each pair of vamps represents one missing or murdered Indigenous woman.  Vamps were chosen as the focal point of this project as they are part of an unfinished pair of moccasins and represent the unfinished lives of women.

One of the most inspiring parts of Walking With Our Sisters is the community involvement and support.  The project has been entirely crowd-sourced.  In June 2012 a call was put out via social media asking people to create moccasin tops for the exhibit.  By June 2013 over 1600 vamps had been received.  Vamps were donated from people across Canada and the United States and from as far away as Scotland.  A map of participants can be seen here. Photographs and descriptions of some of the donated vamps can be seen here.

The collective and is deeply rooted in community and volunteerism, with the organization of the touring being done by a collective. Christi Belcourt described Walking With Our Sisters as a memorial and rooted in ceremony.  Her description of the far reaching impacts of the project and the community support was moving and inspirational.  Walking With Our Sisters is scheduled to visit over 30 communities in the next five years. The full tour schedule can be seen here

National Gallery of Canada Visit During NCPH

One of my favourite parts of the NCPH conference is how participants are encouraged to take a break from traditional sessions and explore the local heritage landscape.  Last year I look an amazing walking tour in Milwaukee and this year I had a chance to explore the National Gallery of Canada. Despite living in Ottawa a few years ago, this was my first visit to the Gallery.

I really enjoyed the contemporary art and Canadian art sections of the Gallery located on the first level.  However, I was struck by how little a presence indigenous art played in the main Canadian portion of the Gallery.  There was a small section of contemporary Aboriginal art amongst the main collection that showed a prominent Norval Morrisseau painting and a few other small works by Ontario based Indigenous artists.

This was paired with a small Inuit art exhibit that is tucked in the basement of the Gallery.  The exhibit was well done and featured a number of stone carvings and stonecut prints from the 1960s onwards.  The one thing that struck me about this particular exhibit was the lack of people looking at it.  The rest of the galleries were fairly busy during my visit, but the Inuit exhibit was quiet enough to hear a pin drop.  The signage to lead you down into the lower level where the Inuit exhibit isn’t very prominent, so perhaps this contributed to the quietness.

One great experience I did have in the Canadian Art exhibit was participating in a Docent’s Choice talk.  These 10-minute talks occur multiple times daily and feature a Gallery volunteer discussing one piece of artwork from the National Gallery collection.  Docent’s Choice activities are free of charge with admission.  The Docent’s Choice activity I participated in focused on Graveyard Entrance painted by Emily Carr in 1912.  

The volunteer who ran the activity spoke about the history surrounding a number of Emily Carr’s works, Carr’s role in the larger Canadian art scene, and her interactions with Indigenous people in Canada.  The activity also included a closer examination of the motifs and techniques used in Graveyard Entrance.  This talk was well done, interactive, and informative. I would recommend taking ten minutes out of your visit to the gallery to participate in a Docent’s Choice activity.  The talks are different every day and are a neat way to learn something beyond a text panel.

Places of Conversation

This week my work is hosting a number of visiting artists and scholars who specialize in work relating to apology, denial, reconciliation, and Indigenous issues more broadly.  It’s been great to have the opportunity to listen to and talk with individuals who are passionate about their work and who approach historical and contemporary issues in creative ways.

Many of the events being held this week focus on the interaction of students with established practitioners and professionals.  For example, one event involved a print making class having the opportunity to speak with artists who have experience working with historical sources, addressing difficult topics, and Indigenous art practice. The students had the opportunity to participate in discussion in a relaxed, informal environment and interact with people who are well known in their respective artistic fields. 

This event reminded me of the importance of spaces which facilitate open discussion and the joy of having many points of view in one room. In this instance the discussion was help in an archival space and part of the discussion focused on the ethics behind using archival material in artistic, research and curatorial practice. I like the idea of archives being places of conversation, places of educational development and safe spaces for new and established scholars to interact.

Seeing a well known scholar or artist speak at a conference is one thing.  As a young scholar or student asking a question during the presentation might be intimidating, as might approaching the speaker without an introduction.  Having opportunities for students to interact with established professionals in a low pressure environment can be a huge boon in terms of networking, confidence building, and professional growth.

I also think it’s important for academic institutions to open their doors to people outside of the academy.  Some of the visiting scholars this week are from other universities, but some also have their own studio practices or focus on community based work.  Broad community engagement and remembering that there is a big world outside of your own institution (academic or otherwise) have the potential to open new avenues of collaboration.

What type of spaces do you think best encourage conversation amongst new and established professionals?