Writing history into the world, together
Winnipeg artist says new work profoundly impacted by unique moment in time
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 04/08/2020 (1037 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The COVID-19 pandemic hit artist Kandis Friesen hard, but she’s bouncing back with a new solo art exhibit, The Cedar, the Birch, Our Hands at Full-Mast, Behind the After, at Plug In Institute of Contemporary Art, thanks to the help of her friends.
The 42-year-old artist saw most of her exhibitions, talks and research travel cancelled this past March, which left her in a bind.
“I lost income and was left without housing,” says Friesen, whose early days of the pandemic were devoted to figuring out a way to get from Winnipeg, where she’s originally from, to Montreal, where she currently resides.
“A very kind artist in Winnipeg took me in, and I finally made it back.”
Friesen was still in lockdown in Winnipeg when several high-profile encounters with the police left three Indigenous people — Jason Collins, Stewart Andrews and 16-year-old Eishia Hudson — dead within a period of 10 days.
“The mass abolitionist movements against racist police violence that have risen during the pandemic have been incredible,” Friesen says. “We are watching colonial monuments fall and state violence being called out in massive solidarity, which I’m not sure I could have imagined happening on such a large scale before this.”
Friesen says history is one of the primary materials she uses in her work, so it is no surprise that this unique moment in history has had a profound impact.
“I am deeply driven by materials and their inherent qualities and possibilities,” says Friesen. “I’m been thinking about concrete and plastic as the key materials of neoliberal expansion and how we might reckon with such accessible and destructive materials in our current crisis.”
Though Friesen has worked in artistic fields throughout her life and had been actively pursuing creative opportunities since making the move to Montreal in 2000, it was only a few years ago when she decided to go to school for formal training, graduating in 2018 with her MFA from Northwestern University in Chicago at the age of 40.
Friesen cites growing up in a family of creative thinkers, builders and makers as an early influence. Her father is an architect and self-taught historian, her mother is an installation artist and her extended family includes a carpenter and two working artists.
“My grandparents were all farmers,” she says, “who are people who must know how to build, grow, make and mend anything and everything.”
This admiration of making and building is expressed through her collage and assemblage art works that utilizes video, sound, sculpture, installation and text.
“We all live collaged and blended lives, but many of our histories and stories are not reflected in the textual world around us — some are buried, some are echoes, some are so latent they seem disappeared,” she says. “I’m interested in working with the latencies, the covered things, the internal spaces that often stay internal, or pushed to the edges and blurred.”
While the blur of the pandemic has been difficult and stressful for Friesen, she acknowledges that the situation has highlighted the economic precarity faced by many people.
“We need a different system, one that offers a living wage and security, not emergency funds and violent evictions of unhoused communities.”
After a visit to her home community of Winnipeg, Friesen (now back in Montreal) is gearing up for her next big move to Berlin for a residency at the Québec Studio at the Künstlerhaus Bethanien. In the meantime, she’ll give a livestreamed art talk, May There Always Be Sunshine (The Wind and the Void), on Tuesday, Aug. 18, at 6 p.m.
“I’ll be speaking about my practice within a larger context of monument, memorial and historical memory,” she says, “thinking through the ways we understand, deconstruct and build histories through material form.
“At this moment, masses of people are making clear and direct assertions of how public memory will occupy public space. I will be speaking about the possibilities of monument through montage, assemblage, disintegration and dispersal.”
She hopes the exhibition, her talk and her work resonate and connect with viewers; she’d like her work to function as “folk art.”
“I want visitors to value the stories of my family, of state exile, of banal bureaucratic violence, of incredible material ingenuity, of different forms of time and history,” Friesen says.
“The pervasiveness of philosophical, artistic and creative practices that are not currently written into official art histories but will be written into the world, because we are writing them, somehow, perhaps together.”
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Frances Koncan (she/her) is a writer, theatre director, and failed musician of mixed Anishinaabe and Slovene descent. Originally from Couchiching First Nation, she is now based in Treaty 1 Territory right here in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Updated on Tuesday, August 4, 2020 9:00 AM CDT: Adds photo