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Wintercount first page


KC Adams page

Roger Crait page

Colleen Cutschall page

Lita Fontaine page

Leanne L'Hirondelle page

Neal McLeod page

Louis Ogemah page

Linus Woods page

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Acknowledgements

Wintercount, hosted by Gallery One One One at the University of Manitoba was generously supported by The Canada Council for the Arts, The Manitoba Arts Council, Hobbs and Associates, and departments and groups at The University of Manitoba including Public Affairs, The School of Art, and the Students of Fine Arts Students Association. Additional institutional support for the project was provided by Brandon University, Plug In Institute of Contemporary Art and Urban Shaman.

A project of this magnitude beyond the scope of the gallery walls and the entrenchment of bureaucracies — across institutions, ideologies, histories, and artistic practices requires faith and imagination of many kinds. Special thanks to Kim Glugosh of Viacom, Cliff Eyland and Robert Epp of Gallery One One One for their management skills, Catherine Mattes for her special lecture, Kelly Legge for technical support, Lori Blondeau for her performance and KC Adams for her installation at Gallery One One One. We are particularly grateful to all the artists for their thoughtful contributions.

Wintercount was presented at the time of the traditional Plains New Year — early spring — when the ground becomes visible once again and winter's blanket of snow is gone. It is then, the community retelling and remembering begins, while the artist listens, visualizes and makes memory signs in the urban landscape.

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Colleen Cutschall and Amy Karlinsky


Wintercount Spring 2002 by Amy Karlinsky

Wintercount was conceived as an opportunity for artists of Aboriginal descent to explore and intervene into the political, historic, social, and spiritual dimensions of Winnipeg's inner city through a public art project, based on the premise of the Plains cultural practice of “wintercounts.”

Formerly produced as painted buffalo robes and later translated to ledger books with crayons and colored pencils, these mnemonic symbols and recorded oral histories were a form of public art that included community reflections and affirmations of specific events.

Artists living in both rural and urban landscapes, working with various media and at various stages of their respective art practices were invited to define and update the confluences of tradition, history, and politics by creating a new wintercount for the modern age.

Artists from the central and northern prairies, including Anishnabe, Plains Cree, Mètis, Dakota and Lakota were invited to participate in the project to challenge and stimulate the current iconography. As a result, new memories, tellings, issues, and ideas were spread across the city of Winnipeg — reinventing the advertisements in bus shelters as sites for public art.

Wintercount was conceived as a way of moving art out of the gallery and into the “built environment” of the city — in those spaces where walking, waiting, and driving typically take place. The visual saturation of the city with the competing clutter of ads, street signs, buildings, murals, and posters often defies the opportunity for intervention. Bus shelters with their large back-lit advertisements interpellate the subject within the cityscape as part of a mass address to buy and consume and remake one’s identity within the social landscape. The message of the trans-national corporation overrides the local with the global. Advertisements function to propel the subtle and overt authoritarian voice of the mass media, burying previous trends, fashions and consumer goods with the advent of the new and the even more distinct.

Oppositional, negotiated or compliant readings of these messages occur within an instant.A drive-by. A distracted wait for a bus. A glimpse of a back-lit jewel on a dark corner.

In addition to usurping the role of the mass media as a site for public art, Wintercount also worked to provide a forum for the engagement of Aboriginal artists within an environment already filled with iconographic messages related to Aboriginality. Winnipeg’s downtown is the place where many urban dwellers form their impressions and understanding of “Aboriginal Art.” Much of the iconography relates to an earlier period and style of image making, often dominated by the Woodland School. Wintercount thus afforded the potential for staging the significant work that contemporary Aboriginal artists are producing in new media and in new experimental ways. The project was conceived in order to challenge and stimulate the viewer by offering new definitions of First Nations and Aboriginal iconography.

Wintercount seemed especially suited to this task. Long before the encroachment of the colonial state with its monopoly on History, the Plains culture had developed an approach to the recording of history that validated and perpetuated events significant to the group through the wintercount. The symbolism on buffalo robes, however, has often been interpreted and celebrated more as a function of a symbolic art-making practice than as a practice of historic memory.

Lita Fontaine has utilized this aspect of historic memory to investigate memories related to urban geography and family narrative. In Tenth Winter, she utilizes a photograph of her mother at the age of ten to enhance a personal memory related to her family album. Personal explorations of the recent past are juxtaposed with compositions that suggest an even more remote and glacial past in Then Now — Sea, where the concrete jungle of the pavement is infused with a place and space that resonates with the originary markers of the collective unconscious. Fontaine references an early memory about art and artistry in Winnipeg, where she has lived for over thirty years. Fontaine grew up conscious of her specific racialized and artistic identity. Before After — Selkirk Avenue denotes a specific city street where the murals of Jackson Beardy provided a hallmark of success as both Aboriginal and Artist. Fontaine recalls watching Beardy work: “It had a dramatic effect, seeing these images materialize before my eyes, transforming the environment. I knew then, that I wanted to be an artist.”

The specific thematics of each artist’s work varies greatly within the Wintercount project. Contemporary local concerns related to the downtown core were taken up by artist KC Adams who produced her imagery from a map of the city. Her work, simply titled Eatons, takes up an issue that catalyzed developers, politicians and citizens of Winnipeg — that of tearing down the historic Eatons building to make way for a new downtown sports arena in Winnipeg. The controversy pitted arts groups against developers and the Mayor’s Office for months, with daily articles, e-mails, and debates. Adams’ visual intervention is based on a digitized map of the city. Her interest lies, not in the further polarization of whether the City Council should have made deals with the private sector behind closed doors, nor whether one proposed façade was better than the others. Rather, Adams intervention creates a space for more contemplative consideration. Her map becomes a focal point for public discussions, invigorating the cityscape with a marker that embodies both the past and the impending future. The map, in lurid green and orange hues presents a bird’s-eye, aerial view of the city with flowing rivers, city blocks and empty spaces.

Adams map defined the geographic boundaries of the proposed sports complex. Her wintercount was housed in each of two bus shelters, located north and south of the then vacant Eaton’s building. Her quick-time video with its LCD display was installed at Gallery One One One, at the University of Manitoba’s Fort Garry campus, serving as a moving counterpoint to the large graphic maps installed downtown.

Adams defined a civic issue as the legitimate concern of the wintercount tradition. Artists Leanne L'Hirondelle and Louis Ogemah chose to address broader issues of globalization through the examination of the role of the United States, and the events of September 11th, respectively. Both artists have been important figures in the development of the Aboriginal artist’s centre, Urban Shaman, located in Winnipeg’s Exchange District. L’Hirondelle was Director for many years and Ogemah has been a significantly involved with the organization. Urban Shaman is located under the anarchist bookstore Mondragon, [note: Urban Shaman has been relocated to McDermot Street] which generates a steady stream of Anti- American and anti- globalization material and L’Hirondelle took up the gauntlet for her wintercount, employing strident images and text about the United States that pointed towards its history as a colonizing power.

L’Hirondelle, like Adams worked with digital images in In God We Trust (Account) and Because We Must (Accountability) to create a two-part work whose effectiveness turns on its blatant and histrionic echoes of political propaganda. Capitalism, consumerism and the rhetorical strategies of America are shown in L’Hirondelle’s work to be complicit with 9-11. L’Hirondelle’s appropriation of American symbolism takes an accusatory twist.

Louis Ogemah’s approach in Opening the Western Door is startling in its difference. This is a memorial that combines Western perspectival conventions with the symbolism of the Midewiwin Society of the Anishnaabe. We see a plane converge on a building. We note the importance of the almighty dollar, while a ritual involving various clans ensues. We are encouraged to layer real historic events with biblical references and Aboriginal symbolism. The layering of cultural references is enhanced by the mixing of media — stretched skin, encaustic and paint. Ogemah’s image, like many of the wintercounts attracted a lot of curiosity and interest because of its incongruous look and unusual placement in the messy, dirty, cold, and public space of the bus shelter. Many of the images, and particularly Ogemah’s were layered with graffiti as the public art exhibition went on.

Geography, like politics functions at both the local and global level. Colleen Cutschall’s Rattlers Defending Turtle Mountain reconfigures or un-maps North America in order to reinstall the early and pre-colonial sites of Aboriginal inhabitants. Cutschall has re-appropriated her history from the pages of National Geographic, embellished with the flourishes of a glue-gun — re-inscribing political and historical significance through oral history and potent symbolism. Cutschall unravels a story of Lakota inter-tribal accommodation as an important aspect of her wintercount, contributing to her ongoing work of writing the history of pre-contact times.

During the installation, many of the images in Wintercount suffered the ravages of the elements. They curled up under pressure of wind and humidity, were tagged by irate or bored citizens, or, as in the case of Cutschall’s work — were stolen from their moorings.

The iconic work of Neal McLeod was originally produced as a large scale painting for his exhibition at Urban Shaman. Nimosômipan II/ My Late Grandfather II was inspired by McLeod's investigation of his Northern Cree ancestry but invigorated with the painterly techniques of abstract expressionism. The purely visual expression of an ancestral portrait draws upon Egyptian motifs, confronting the viewer with an ambiguous and haunting presence.

Where Did They All Go? is Roger Crait's billboard image for Wintercount, installed at the River and Osborne Street billboard, owned by Plug In ICA. As the only billboard in the exhibition, the site offered an opportunity for Crait to work with a simpler and more graphic series of images in a horizontal format. Crait chose to develop a cryptic allegory about Mètis existence in the face of white colonialism. The style and statement are distinct from his bus shelter work Where’s the Shame in Being a Shaman?

The latter work is a spectacular and expressive moment of explosive painting. Where’s the Shame in Being a Shaman? Is a detail from a larger canvas. During the exhibition, it was located within a bus shelter near a store front on Portage Avenue. The image originally included some gang symbolism, which was inadvertently cut off by the photographer who produced the digital proof from Crait’s painting. Crait’s penchant for vivid colour, surrealist narrative and dynamic rendering are exploited in this detail, where urbanity and absurdity enliven the dreary locale.

Indeed, producing the digital images from original works in painting and mixed-media proved to be a challenge and a learning curve for some of the artists in the exhibition. Resolution, composition, level of detail, cropping and exact colour matches became concerns for artists. The process of moving from the original to a digital form and again through the commercial manufacture of the large scale images meant transformation and some distortions.

As with any group show, where artists are invited to address a curatorial thesis, the thematics of each artist’s wintercount work reflected their individual concerns and methods of working.

Linus Woods collaged compositions explore Plains symbolism with their interest in colour, organization, symmetry and harmony. Woods makes use of advertising, fashion photographs, pretty women, Edward Curtis photographs, slides, texts, and other things which catch his bricoleur eye. (Silver Jeans), (Fubu) and (Tommy) are three such wintercount texts from his prodigious practice. As indicated by the titles, Woods appropriates the label and the corporate symbolism, whether its for Silver Jeans FUBU; or the abstract geometry of the Tommy Hilfiger.

The appropriation of these signs functions as a send-up and celebration of fashion by the modern flaneur — absorbing all that is savvy, sexy, smart and of the moment —ironically appropriating the abstract geometry of the signs back into a Plains visual lexicon. After all, the Hilfiger logo, its colour and geometry looks oddly like a Plains parfleche. Well, at least in the diminishing light of the street, in a bus shelter, against the grey Winnipeg sky.

Wintercount has come full circle.

Postscript:

The wintercount project began as a conversation between myself and Colleen Cutschall five years ago, that took us through many discussions about the way in which Aboriginal art is defined in this region, and how this region in turn, is defined by the kinds of images one is likely to encounter in Winnipeg, on murals and underpasses, in gift shops and commercial galleries, and in the public imagination.

Colleen Cutschall graciously tried to teach me a story about a rock, which is her story to tell. And we talked about a show that would move people to rethink: the wealth, the industry, the inspiration, the intelligence, the critique, and the heritage of Aboriginal people in this region.

I thank Colleen for her good humour, her wisdom, her even temper, and her willingness to enter into a cross cultural discussion- all necessary in an exhibition of these proportions.

Why not, we argued, invent a show for artists that would appropriate the authoritarian voice of the mass-media, and provide a forum for the artists and the public to engage with each other?

Wintercount was borne out of these discussions, and a modern retelling by contemporary artists of the significant events and themes of the past year — a Plains tradition — was reinvigorated.