C/O nichola feldman-kiss | Artist, Bob McNair | Photographer

Artist nichola feldman-kiss presents Scapegoat, a critique of the colonial paradigm 

CW: Death, implied violence 

The latest exhibition at the McMaster Museum of Art, Scapegoat, critiques the colonial paradigm—the violent story of domination and submission—through displays of biological metaphors for the geopolitics and conflict. The exhibition will be available until Mar. 18 with advanced admission booking.  

Artist nichola feldman-kiss began Scapegoat in 2015 following a series of works after the their deployment on a United Nations Mission to Sudan in 2011 as part of the Canadian Forces Artists Program.  

The exhibition features hybrid-media installations, including photography, audio, video, digital and performative pieces. The aim is to bring to attention the injustices perpetuated by settler-colonialism structures. In the current era of heightened social awareness and responsibility, feldman-kiss’ work creates space for conversation around peace, reconciliation, recognition, decolonization and repatriation.  

Since returning from Sudan in 2011, feldman-kiss has been attempting to make sense of what they saw and experienced through projects such as Between here and there.

Scapegoat attempts to uncover what is missing or left unspoken in the narrative about wars and world conflicts which are often told and fragmented by those who dominate the conversation, particularly those in power. 

“I’m very suspicious about what is written down because when I approach what is written down, I know there is something missing. Sudan revealed to me a lot about what is missing, what is all contained in the narrative, what kinds of narratives are crafted for the Western press audience and how those of us who have not seen [the conflict first-hand] have very little capacity to imagine.

nichola feldman-kiss

Part of what is missing in these narratives are the identities and lives behind the death toll statistics. When human bodies are reduced to mere numbers, questions remain about their story, including who they were, where they lived, who is missing them, who is grieving them and why they went to war.  An initial aversion to the plight of the sufferer (Pietà), was built upon these questions to reconnect the disembodied souls.  

Between here and there / Human Toll is a sound piece in which a speech synthesizer reads the worldwide death statistic database from the Uppsala Conflict Data Program.

feldman-kiss’ worked with human skeletal sets to personify the death statistics further. .  An initial aversion to the plight of the sufferer (Pietà is a series of photographic portraits of young men cradling the skeletal set by those who approximate the age of the specimen. It may be discomforting to see — but that is the point. The demographic in the pieces reflect the victims of state violence in the global statistical records.  

The human skeletal sets used in the piece, originally intended for use in the medical field, were obtained from a Canadian osteological specimen supplier. 

“I made that purchase [of human osteological specimens], that gesture, as another demonstration of the sort of between-here-and-there that I was experiencing from the original trip to Sudan. . .I, as a regular Canadian person, that world was so far away from my capacity to perceive it through this constant [thought] of, ‘Yes, this really happened,’” said feldman-kiss. 

An important experience part of the previous project, Between here and there, and the current exhibition, Scapegoat, was feldman-kiss’ trip to India to learn about the human bone trade. A human bone specimen supplier gave feldman-kiss access to his full inventory for the video piece Scales of Justice and was a valuable resource for this project. 

C/O Bob McNair

Caption: Still from The King’s two Bodies Scales of Justice 2016. Video projection (performance mediation). 

“[Scales of Justice] came out of that experience. . .So that was an important experience for me to be able to bring empathy to the body of work which is in the exhibition Scapegoat,” explained feldman-kiss. 

Altogether, Scapegoat allows its audience to reflect on the colonial paradigm by demanding confrontation with the reality of the current geopolitical landscape—a world in which marginalized folks, including people of low socioeconomic status and Black, Indigenous and People of Colour are disproportionately targeted and represented in armed casualties.  

Through the culmination of works since 2015, Scapegoat facilitates grief, reflection and reimagination of a different, decolonized world.  

*This article has been updated for clarity. We thank our friends at McMaster Museum of Art for clarifying key aspects of Scapegoat. For more information, visit museum.mcmaster.ca/exhibition/nichola-feldman-kiss-scapegoat/.

C/O Georgia Kirkos

#HopeandHealingCanada installation by Tracey-Mae Chambers reflects on how we recover from the weight of the pandemic and ongoing tragedies

How do you mend a broken world under the weight of the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing tragedies in the news? How do we hope and heal again in these times? Métis sculptor and installation artist Tracey-Mae Chambers created #HopeandHealingCanada after contemplating these questions and recognizing the need to reconnect society. 

#HopeandHealingCanada is an installation project Chambers began this summer to promote conversation, reflection and reconnection between people and with the environment during the current pandemic. The only material used in the installation is a vibrant red string. The string is intermingled and merged with the surrounding environment and it is up for only a limited amount of time—usually constructed and taken down on the same day. 

One of her latest installations of the project can be found outside of the McMaster Museum of Art and it will be up throughout the fall semester. This is Chambers’ 18th stop out of 63 venues she will visit. The project was originally intended to be showcased only in Ontario; however, it has since gained great attention and will now be displayed in locations across Canada. 

C/O McMaster Museum of Art

The string used in the piece illustrates a tangible connection in a time when many are deprived of real, physical interactions. The colour red, as the colour of blood, symbolizes powerful emotions such as passion, courage and anger that unite people together. 

“During [the] COVID-19 [pandemic], the community became very small for us . . . and I felt like I didn’t know how to get back to the community at large,” said Chambers. 

Through her work, she wanted to emphasize not only reconnection with friends and family, but also new connections with strangers. As part of this narrative, she also reuses the string to build the next installation after it is taken down and unravelled. 

“So, the string itself is actually travelling the country too and I like that because the stories themselves that happen at each place go with the string,” said Chambers. 

“So, the string itself is actually travelling the country too and I like that because the stories themselves that happen at each place go with the string.”

Tracey-Mae Chambers, Métis sculptor and installation artist

The string has already travelled to multiple parks, galleries and art museums. Chambers sets no limits when it comes to the kinds of environment she is willing to work in and no two installations look the same. In fact, the painstaking and transformative nature of the project is part of the message: to adapt to the new realities of the pandemic. 

Before the installation at each venue gets taken down, she documents it through photographs. At the end of the project, the photographs will be used to create an art exhibition as well as a book. Additionally, each photograph will be accompanied by a story related to the location.

C/O Tracey-Mae Chambers

For example, in the photograph of her installation in Black Creek Pioneer Village, the red string can be seen forming a long house over rows of desks in a classroom. The classroom is located inside a residential school which was the template for the model of residential schools Egerton Ryerson had designed and promoted. The composition of the installation represents the lost and forgotten children being brought back to their homes and communities. Building the installation at historic locations such as this is one of the ways Chambers has found opportunities to heal from the intergenerational trauma experienced by her Indigenous community. 

Stories of the Indigenous communities are important to the project because there is still much awareness that needs to be raised and healing to be done from the history and treatment of First Nations communities in Canada. When the remains of 215 Indigenous children were discovered at Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia, Chambers felt confused by Canadians who were surprised by the news.

“I think settler culture is feeling this massive guilt and shock, but the Indigenous communities knew those graves were there, so it’s shocking to me that Canadians didn’t know that,” she said. 

"I think settler culture is feeling this massive guilt and shock, but the Indigenous communities knew those graves were there, so it's shocking to me that Canadians didn't know that."

Tracey-Mae Chambers, Métis sculptor and installation artist

However, for both sides involved, the settler culture and Indigenous community, Chambers hopes her exhibit will be part of the healing and conversation. For Chambers personally, the project has been important to managing both the pandemic and processing the long, painful history of her ancestors and community. It has also helped her to feel more powerful, get back on her feet and realize the importance of finding support, connection and community. 

C/O Georgia Kirkos

Looking ahead, Chambers is excited to travel across the country with her project and capture more pictures of the installation in the winter. When #HopeandHealingCanada is complete, she wishes to continue to explore the stories of residential schools. Currently, she is still trying to make sense of the way in which lost Indigenous children are being discussed, as though they are abandoned and left unprotected. 

“There is a lot of information to try to sort through and come to terms with, but it's a thought in process that will end up in something,” said Chambers.

Chambers’ installation reminds us of hope and healing amidst global unrest. More importantly, it provides a space to reflect about our past and future relationship with the Indigenous community. It can feel difficult to reach out to communities you do not belong to or feel unwelcomed in. However, Chambers and her art relay the message this does not need to be the case. She encourages students to visit Indigenous art centres or friendship centres and reach out. As illustrated by #HopeandHealingCanada, there are new connections waiting to happen all around us.

By: Abeera Shahid

McMaster University is located on the traditional territory shared between the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and the Anishinabe nations, but the history of this land is often unfamiliar to the larger McMaster community.

The resilience of Indigenous people can be witnessed through the Unapologetic: Acts of Survivance exhibition at the McMaster Museum of Art, which opened on Jan. 12.

The exhibit brings together works of prominent Indigenous contemporary artists from the 1980s whose work continues to challenge assumptions about Indigenous arts and affirm a presence for Indigenous artists in the modern art world.

Curator Rhéanne Chartrand began to conceptualize the exhibition in 2015, during which she worked on the Aboriginal Pavilion at the Pan Am Games.

She is currently the first Indigenous Curatorial Resident at the museum, and earned her Bachelor of Arts in History and Anthropology from McMaster.

“It seemed that my interests and what I wanted to explore conceptually, artistically, could be fulfilled at McMaster… I was interested in looking back, acknowledging where we, [Indigenous people], came from,” said Chartrand.

The show includes a range of works, from a mixed media piece with the writing, “Preserve our language and culture,” splashed across the centre, to a piece titled, “If You Find Any Culture, Send it Home,” which features an ancestral mask with a corresponding letter from a father to his son about selling the mask. The observer is prompted to reflect on the ongoing challenges Indigenous people face as a result of colonialism, and the way in which these issues are confronted in galleries and museums.

Chartrand selected the pieces through a non-linear and often chaotic approach.

“For me it’s about really allowing the works to speak to me… I am very interested in how works relate to each other, the conversations I can create with work. The process is very much back and forth, trying to map out the narrative I wanted to construct,” said Chartrand.

The conversations created by the show are as bold as the artists involved. The artists featured in the exhibit include, Carl Beam, Bob Boyer, Robert Houle, Gerald McMaster, Shelley Niro, Ron Noganosh, Jane Ash Poitras, Edward Poitras, Pierre Sioui, Jeff Thomas and Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptu. Chartrand sees naming the artists as an important part in acknowledging their activism to create a place for Indigenous work in the contemporary art world.

In the 1980s, these artists spoke against the exclusion of Indigenous art in contemporary art museums and how they were only featured as a relic of the past in history or anthropology museums. They challenged the norm, becoming documentarians of Indigenous experiences at the time, and paved the way for current artists to continue the work.

The exhibition honours the contributions of these artists, but it also makes the job of curating their work intimidating.

“I initially felt very daunted with taking on the responsibility of curating work by such foundational artists… it was really overcoming my insecurities as an emerging curator and saying I do have something of value to say about this work, I do have a new analysis to offer,” said Chartrand.

When we talk about indigeneity, sometimes diversity is neglected. However, this exhibition features artists from different Indigenous groups in various geographical contexts.

Government policy and popular representations have often tried to treat all Indigenous groups as the same, but each group has its own unique perspectives which are reflected in their art. For instance, Bob Boyer’s blanket painting uses motifs and symbols from the plains, referencing the traditions of his respective region.

The exhibition, open at the museum until Mar. 25, conveys Indigenous people as survivors rather than victims of hardships they have endured. It is a powerful depiction designed for all of us to rethink our relationship to the land we stand on.

By: Michael Dennis

When walking through the McMaster Museum of Art this season, you can expect to come across the elegant and refined works of Bertin and Boucher from the Enlightenment.

You might also discover powerful, thought-provoking works from Indigenous artists like Rob Noganosh and Jane Ash Poitras. But there is no other exhibition quite as curious, fun and explosive as the work of Paul Cvetich.

In his most recent work titled Kuniyoshi vs. Cvetich: Gangnam Style, Hamilton-born artist, and McMaster alumni, Paul Cvetich ties together his own playful sculptures with elegant woodblock prints by Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

Paul Cvetich was raised in East Hamilton before completing his undergraduate studies in Fine Arts and Art History at McMaster, and his master’s in Fine Arts at University of Guelph. In the Hamilton community, he is best known for his Day of Mourning monument in front of City Hall, as well as his twisting, colourful, polychrome wood sculpture pieces.

Kuniyoshi, on the other hand, was one of the late masters of Japanese ukiyo-e style of woodblock prints and painting. He died in 1861.

His work demonstrates a unique blending of Japanese artistic conventions and a western representation of landscape painting and caricature.

Kuniyoshi’s prints often depict images of battle, landscape, and Japanese mythic heroes, which contrast Cvetich’s abstract sculptures that will jump out of the wall at you in a mixture of colour and shape.

Yet Cvetich’s sculptures were not directly inspired by the prints that accompany them at the McMaster art gallery. Rather, Cvetich discovered and fell in love with Kuniyoshi’s art while teaching in Japan.

He was unaware that McMaster had a collection of Kuniyoshi’s prints, and he found a connection between the shapes and movements of the historic prints, and his own abstract works.

“I'm having fun and I hope people can read that from the work,” Cvetich said.

“[I hope] they feel that this guy must be having a ball, and then… maybe make these associations with the other work, [Kuniyoshi’s prints].”

While Cvetich’s work depicts a cross-cultural union spanning over a 150 year period, it more accurately aims to simply show fine art’s more playful side, a trait often lacking in cold and austere art galleries.

Through this, Cvetich also wants to put on display parts of McMaster’s incredible collection unknown to members of the public. One of the most striking aspects of Cvetich’s work is the title itself. Kuniyoshi vs. Cvetich: Gangnam Style is named after the popular pop single written by South Korean pop star Psy. Like Psy's music video, Cvetich’s work when paired with Kuniyoshi’s prints evokes the same sense of playfulness and imagination.

“I thought something kind of goofy, like Kuniyoshi vs. Cvetich: Gangnam Style… might appeal to people who think art is so serious. It's not that there isn't a place for it, but I've come to think why not? Why not a bit of goofiness?”

Kuniyoshi vs. Cvetich: Gangnam Style is available for public viewing from Jan 12. to April 15. at McMaster’s Museum of Art. There will also be an artist’s talk on the piece at Mill’s Hardware in Hamilton on Thursday, Jan. 19, 7:30 pm.

By: Alex Florescu

Midterm season is upon us, school has begun to pick up and I’m starting to feel the stress. Last Friday was no exception.

However, in between group meetings, library study sessions and online quiz completions,

I found free time to visit Ian Johnston’s exhibit The Chamber at the McMaster Museum of Art. I went from frantically dodging the 20-minutes-after-the-hour-crowd on my way over the museum to being the only one in a cavernous, nearly silent room.

I say nearly silent because, as it was, there was a familiar sound emanating from the corner of the room. I ventured over and discovered that what I thought was a corner is actually another room. It is in this room that I found Johnston’s Chamber, a dynamic installation that towers above you one minute and lays flat on the ground the next. More specifically, it is an inflatable white bag that covers the surface area of the room. When fully inflated, the installation fills the room in a white mass. In this state, the installation is accompanied by a recording of trickling water. It is this sound that first drew me to Johnston’s art piece, a sound that seemed so out of place in a museum.

As I stood in front of the piece, I noticed, with surprise, that the installation was changing. The bag was slowly deflating, the sound of water was gradually replaced by the sounds of a crackling of a fire and the dimmed lights became strikingly bright. By the time all of the air had been vacuumed out of it, the bag had become completely plastered against the mass of objects piled underneath it. Through the nearly translucent nylon bag, I could make out familiar forms and colours. There were pots, pans, plates, board games, bins, lampshades and other common-use objects. As it turns out, these items were removed from a waste stream in Medicine Hat and incorporated into the installation - a comment on the detrimental effect of consumerism on the environment.

Intrigued to delve deeper into the motivation behind this piece, I watched an interview with Ian Johnston. The architect-turned-sculptor began his career in art by creating large-scale ceramic installations. However, he soon discovered that he had a passion for vacuum forming the art of placing a bag over an object and vacuuming the air out of it. He would do this to any range of objects, from bicycles to telephones to cappuccino makers. What fascinated him most was the bag, and how it would inflate and deflate to reveal and conceal its contents.

It is from this discovery that he drew inspiration for The Chamber and the other pieces in his series of works called Reinventing Consumption. To Johnston, The Chamber represents the things we know exist but choose to ignore, things like consumption and refuse. With exhibits in several places around the world, one thing is for sure; Johnston’s message is loud and clear.

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