Artist ‘speaks truth to history’ at Carleton gallery

Carleton University Art Gallery (CUAG) opened its exhibition What Is Said and What Is Done June 18 in conjunction with Sakahàn, the largest exhibition of contemporary, indigenous works currently at the National Gallery of Canada.

The multimedia exhibition displays video, sculpture, photography, and installation pieces by Anishinaabe artist Rebecca Belmore in Belmore’s first solo show to be held in Ottawa.

CUAG director Sandra Dyck said she considers Belmore a senior artist with a strong presence.

“She’s always been somebody who speaks truth to history. There aren’t many works but the impact of the work is very powerful emotionally and aesthetically.”

The viewer is initially confronted with a video installation titled “March 5, 1819,” in which Belmore re-enacts a tragic moment in the history of the Beothuk people who resided in Newfoundland. The video portrays the brutal capture of a Beothuk woman, Demasduit, by colonial settlers and the murder of her husband Nonosabasut as he tries to rescue her.

The experience is visceral, overwhelming, and harrowing as the viewer stands between two projectors displaying the hopeless attempt of a couple to escape their enclosing captors.

Curator Heather Anderson described the state of the viewer as between both “witness and perpetrator.”

Belmore said she specifically placed the actors in contemporary dress so the viewer may relate to the man and woman on an individual, everyday level.

“I think history can be sort of cold and it seems very distant. What does it matter? Why should I care? But I think it really is about trying to give historic moments or individuals some kind of emotional landscape to be within,” said Belmore.

Anderson described the multiplicity of the exhibition’s title. “In a sense you can say, ‘what is done is done, let’s move on, move forward,’ but it’s also in a sense what is the difference between what is said and what is done. It could be read very tragic or you could also bring some optimism, some idea of change,” she said.

As the viewer walks through the gallery space, they are confronted with the ambiguous installation of a capsized canoe haunted by its lack of presence. It appears at the edge of an evocatively draped black cloth, suggesting the elegant motion of water.

“There’s an absence of whoever was in the canoe or if there was even someone in the canoe. It’s this idea of being in the process of turning over,” explained Belmore. “It is about the absent body and the idea of the power of water and that we should have more reverence for that body of water.”

The exhibition is provocative, powerful, and emotionally impactful. Belmore creates a temporal and spatial tension within her works through the representation of a people who are absent and yet alive in a historical and emotional moment of time.

“Our presence as aboriginal women is basically for the most part absent in history,” said Belmore. “I guess that’s why as an artist living in the moment here today I am interested in trying to look at that history or the lack of that history.” 

This capsized canoes is one of the installations at the exhibition (photo by Yuko Inoue)
This capsized canoes is one of the installations at the exhibition (photo by Yuko Inoue)



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Exposed and Avant-Garde – Naked “LVNDSCVPES”

Self-taught artist Natalie Bruvels released her latest seriesLVNDSCVPES at La Petite Mort Gallery May 24.

Natalie Bruvels with her painting “Colossus” 

Photo Credit:Willie Carroll

LVNDSCVPES playfully uses the image of the ‘vagina dentata’ (latin for toothed vagina) to illustrate the fear and awe of a Canadian settler sailing into the St. Lawrence River.

“When you’re coming into the St. Lawrence, it’s almost like you’re going into a vagina dentata. A toothed, harrowing, man’s greatest nightmare” said Bruvels.

The title, like her series, is a play on the fusion of landscape with figurative painting.

“It’s somewhat a play on the ‘vagina dentata’ and people have been looking at my paintings and saying ‘Does she know they’re not landscapes? Does she get it, what is she doing?’” Bruvels explained.

However, Bruvels’ work is anything but harrowing. It’s a sensual orgasm with its vibrant, boldly dripping palette.

“Rainbow Connection” displays a seemingly abstract landscape of two figures making love.

“I like it cause it’s like the colours are being drained out of the rainbow and put into the amorist couple. It’s very lively,” she said.

Gallery director Guy Bérubé was pleased with Bruvel’s return to her beginning emphasis on the female nude after a brief depart to explore the innocent subject matter of a baby’s face in her June 2012 solo show Baby Beast.

“The content, where we’re obviously looking at physical landscapes of people fucking, I was surprised not because it was graphic in content, but because I thought they were vulnerable once again,” he said.

“Are we looking at content that’s personal, or that’s fantasy, or imaginary, or is it something she pulled from the Internet? I’ve never asked her. I just took them for what they are.”

Bruvels said she hopes viewers will take away “the playfulness of sex” from her work.

“I just loved the female form and I am drawn to it. I am drawn to the beauty, from the seemingly grotesque to absolutely everything about the female form,” she said.

“I know a lot of people who love the colour I use but they wish I would change the subject matter. I’m not trying to do anything to try and make someone uncomfortable. It’s not invading your privacy. It’s something that most of us enjoy and it’s also interesting to me.”

“Colossus” is a risqué landscape interpretation of a statue known as “The Colossus of Rhodes,” one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The statue was believed to stand over the harbour as boats came in between its legs.

Bruvels translates this into a stoic female penetrated by the penis.

Bruvels said she considers “Colossus” a landscape because it has certain qualities.

“There’s the trees in the background and it’s almost like the mountains are making out. It’s silly but its playful and its fun and doesn’t always have to be ultra-serious,” she said.

“Her work reminds me of Holgate, the eighth member of the Group of Seven,” said artist Michael Ashley, whose work has shown at La Petite Mort gallery before.

“He was notorious for taking the Group of Seven landscapes but also putting nudes in them.”

Ashley even described the series as “amusingly kinky.”

As for Bruvels, she said she hopes people who view the exhibit can really appreciate the female form.

“If I had to make a single comment,” she said, “It would just be how awesome is it to have a naked lady on your wall and to be comfortable with that.”

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