Secrets, skating and sharing

Top exhibitions of 2016 made emotional mark


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The Ephemerals are having some fun with their status as Winnipeg’s premier indigenous curatorial supergroup. Last week Jaimie Isaac, Niki Little and Jenny Western launched Trio, a paper doll set and homage to the 1987 Dolly, Linda and Emmylou album.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 29/12/2016 (2170 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The Ephemerals are having some fun with their status as Winnipeg’s premier indigenous curatorial supergroup. Last week Jaimie Isaac, Niki Little and Jenny Western launched Trio, a paper doll set and homage to the 1987 Dolly, Linda and Emmylou album.

I have to say though, this year I’ve really admired their solo work.

Organized around the four quadrants of the medicine wheel and four stages of life, Little’s Enendaman | Mnminigook (“intention and worth” in Oji-Cree) opened in January at Aceartinc., the product of the artist-run gallery’s first Indigenous Curatorial Residency. A beautiful exhibition and a strong show of commitment by the gallery, ripple effects of the collaboration will continue to be felt in programming cycles to come.

Isaac, meanwhile, has been making waves at the WAG, first with Qua’yuk tchi’gae’win: Making Good, which recast the gallery’s in-between spaces as potential sites of reconciliation, and most excellently with the recent, righteous Boarder X. The vibrant look at board and skate culture’s influence on indigenous art and identity continues through the spring.

(Remaining Ephemeral Jenny Western was no slouch herself, welcoming a second child and assuming regional art review duty at the national website

Also at the WAG, this summer’s career survey of groundbreaking stone-carver Oviloo Tunnillie — a woman and artist defiantly and cheerfully unbothered with others’ expectations — and the ongoing, overwhelmingly diverse Our Land both helped generate buzz for the new Inuit Art Centre, which breaks ground next year.

Curator Kegan McFadden’s multi-venue Since Then for the 10th Núna (Now) festival was one of the year’s most ambitious projects, expanding the Icelandic event’s focus to include non-Icelandic and, notably, indigenous artists. The result was a sprawling network of exhibitions that at turns challenged and nuanced familiar narratives of diaspora and settlement, and the work was excellent.

Enough about curators. At Plug In this spring, quirky South Korean conceptualist Kim Beom’s Continuing Education took a jaundiced but empathetic, humorous and unhinged look at educational institutions — it was a scream. At Platform just this month, Vancouver artist Ho Tam rebranded himself as a magazine with incisive, affecting results. Known for baroque installations and live-projected performances, erstwhile Winnipegger Daniel Barrow’s ghoulish wit sparkled and oozed in Dark Watercolours, his show of prints and multiples at Martha Street Studio.

A Rube Goldberg of the still life genre, for Plunder Dupes at Actual Gallery Ian August made jerry-built forgeries of Mesopotamian artifacts looted from the Iraq Museum in Baghdad. These became the subjects of lurid, larger-than-life paintings that somehow tapped into the perverse strangeness of witnessing ongoing cultural and human tragedy from a position of helpless remove.

Erica Mendritzki is the Earth Mother and we’re all flops, basically. Bouncing ungovernably between tones of voice and artistic vocabularies, her Sinon L’hiver / Snowed in and Felt Up at the Maison des Artistes was the most bracing and off-putting thing I saw all year. The paintings and sculptural tripping hazards slurred between image, text and greasy abstraction, projecting the hostile environments women navigate onto a blasted winter landscape littered with hidden obstacles and suspicious yellow-grey smears.

Possibly the most remarkable art event this year was one I made a point of missing. Taking it to the Grave was 28-year-old Andrew (Glamdrew) Henderson’s fabulous “living funeral,” during which the artist and terminal cancer patient had audience members’ coded secrets tattooed on his own skin. He died several days later.

I didn’t think a critic needed to be there, and I didn’t think I could shut that part of me off. Or I’ve been close enough to death and don’t seek it out, whichever. It’s comforting to know it happened.

This year has given us plenty of chances to reflect on loss, missed opportunity and the consequences still to come. It’s reassuring to see that artists, curators, and institutions here can take a hard look at themselves and share deeply, contributing to something greater in the process.


Steven Leyden Cochrane is a Winnipeg-based artist, writer and educator.

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Updated on Thursday, December 29, 2016 8:34 AM CST: Adds photos

Updated on Thursday, December 29, 2016 8:44 AM CST: Adds slideshow

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