The Denver Art Museum’s “each/other” is a sort of experiment, comparing and contrasting – and then combining – the work of two contemporary Indigenous artists who have established themselves as important voices in community art-making.
Both Mary Watt and Kannupa Hanska Luger are known to engage in a creative process that brings people together to contribute both intellectual energy and actual labor to finished products. As the show presents them, the pair are not as much a producer as they are co-creators, allowing for free-form collaboration to guide their art direction.
Wat is perhaps most famous for organizing sewing circles where people gather with needle and thread and wish to share personal stories that they symbolically into large quilts with the aim of capturing communal history, struggles and hopes. do sewing.
Luger owes much of his fame to his “Mirror Shield” project, where he posted instructions on the web to create reflective shields that protesters used to protect themselves from officers attempting to sabotage their collective actions. Can be used.
The shields were made of soft cardboard but their power came from the fact that their reflective fronts forced the attackers to look back at themselves as they engaged, sometimes violently, against peaceful demonstrators.
Both artists create other types of work, and do so with considerable success, but “each/other” aims to highlight the power of participatory art and to focus on the act of creation rather than the object being displayed in the end. .
This makes the show an unusual offering for DAM and other traditional museums of its kind, which for centuries have now largely gone the other direction. Art museums elevate deemed objects by placing finished objects on pedestals or hanging them on walls in gold frames. The challenges lie in chipping marble or applying loose pigments to canvas, although this is not openly worshipped.
And so, “each/other” requires a different kind of lookup than what DAM visitors are accustomed to. Its content is awe-inspiring but even more so when you know the story behind.
Exhibition curator John Lukawik brings this point home for visitors by billboarding a quote from each artist on the wall at the gallery’s entrance. You can’t miss them and they serve as real instructions to proceed.
This from Luger: “Art is not an object, it is a process. It is a verb, not a noun.”
This from Watt: “Collaboration is an active agent in this work, not just a means to an end.”
In such a situation, viewing the work itself becomes an interactive process. For example, Watt’s “Associative Species: Brutal Mother and Canis Familiar” appears at first to be just a collection of random words, sewn into small pieces of fabric that are strung together into a large collage hung on the wall. are connected.
But an accompanying read of the curator’s text reveals a deeper narrative. The piece was created during a sewing circle where participants discussed topics of equity as they pushed thread through reclaimed wool blankets. Texts, which include words such as “agency,” “distractor,” “guide,” “nurture” and so on, take on a richer meaning.
For the most part, “Each/Other” serves as a short-retrospective of each artist’s career output, offering a sampling of signature works.
Viewers are confronted by Watt’s “Skywalker/Skyscraper (Babel)” and other pieces that stack thin layers of neatly folded wool blankets into impossibly tall, slender towers that look like skyscrapers. Let’s copy. They are reminiscent of the Iroquois ironworkers whose labor – at famed heights and without protective shields – was capable of building the skyscrapers in Manhattan.
We also see her “Butterfly,” which was actually created in 2015 when she was an artist-in-residence at DAM. The piece, which originated from a local sewing circle, combines wool blankets, thread, and tin jingles to add to the story told by two young indigenous girls about their experiences as powo dancers.
From Luger, we get “Each One,” a 2018 piece made of 4,000 clay beads to recreate a photo taken by Kali Spitzer that captures the face of an indigenous woman. The piece draws attention to the “thousands of missing and murdered indigenous women, girls, gay and transgender people in Canada” and implies that the blame resides collectively, as collateral for the infiltration of outside workers during periods of increased naturalization. Resource extraction as collateral for infiltration into the country.
There is a sample of Luger’s video work, as well as a series of costumes he created for performance pieces. His “emergent” is also a set of ceramics shaped into the animal’s skeletons, drawing attention to the lasting impact of mass slaughter of bison herds in the West during the 1800s.
After that, the exhibition moves to a higher concept. Before the show’s opening, DAM commissioned Watt and Luger to create a piece together, having never collaborated before.
The result, among the exhibition’s shoir pieces, is also titled “Each/Other” and to create it, artists asked participants from around the world to embroider the message into the bandana, while considering that “acts of collaboration” Helping to heal broken bonds with the environment and together with each other.”
The bandana is shaped into a larger-than-life feline bearing words and phrases such as “hope” and “be an ally”. These have different languages and symbols. The object acquires versatility as your knowledge of its creation increases.
As a holistic exhibit, “Each/Other” fits well into the Denver Art Museum’s efforts to update its connection with Native American art. DAM, in many ways due to its location in the West, was a pioneer in the collection of indigenous art and is traditionally regarded as “museum-quality” art.
It has a mixed heritage. In some ways, it presented art by Native Americans as “other than American”. And there will always be questions – though perhaps improbable – of how some of the art was acquired and whether the artists were properly compensated.
But DAM puts a lot of effort these days to tell a different story and tell it fairly and inclusively. It is taking steps. In addition, it is bringing new life to a collection of art that had felt pristine and stagnant for many years. Shows like “One/Other” remind visitors that Indigenous art is important and ongoing, that its sounds spread and evolve, and that the exciting part is still to come.
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