Esker Foundation group show seeks to open conversations

The Esker Foundation’s newest show welcomes you with a tall papery totem pole and leads you in a bit of a spiral to a final cabin-like installation work. Then once you’ve had your fill you retrace your steps and revisit all the artwork again on your way out.

This physical journey through Fiction/Non-fiction parallels the exhibition’s approach to history and story to fact and fiction and to multiple and suppressed perspectives. “The levels and the complications of history are so great that everyone’s perspective has value and I think we need to come to a place where all of those perspectives have value and it shouldn’t be as lopsided as it is and so one-dimensional and unicultural” says Naomi Potter who curated the show with Wayne Baerwaldt and Steven Loft. “What you’ll see in the show is an investigation of not only identity but also history and stereotypes and cultural appropriation.”

Dean Drever’s totem pole at the entrance of the exhibition might tip you off that Fiction/Non-fiction has a strong aboriginal focus; and while that’s true the show is too complex for simple labels. “I think that if people walk into the show and they think it’s an indigenous show or an aboriginal show they’re going to see that with that filter and nothing else” says Potter. “We think we know what an aboriginal does or what they make; there’s an assumption there and I want to undo that assumption…. I think that that’s the only way that we can start having a dialogue that’s the only way that we’re going to be able to mend heal and move on.”

With the work of 13 artists (not all of whom are aboriginal) Fiction/Non-fiction is diverse and immersive. Near the entrance is Jonathan Jones’ glowing infinity loop made of fluorescent lights a sculpture created in consultation with the Canadian Métis people for whom the infinity sign is a powerful symbol. In a long corridor in the centre of the exhibition you’ll find Jeff Funnell’s Notes From the Inquest dozens of sketches and commentary about a controversial investigation into the acts of J. J. Harper a northern Manitoba Cree chief.

Around the corner you’ll find hot orange paintings by Brenda Draney depicting stories from the Slave Lake fire; rows of stitched rawhide boxes that Jeffrey Gibson made with Alberta College of Art and Design students; and a shimmering mosaic-like piece by Wally Dion made from of all things circuit boards from tractors. The work at the exhibition’s terminus is a finely detailed installation by Kent Monkman a cabin split into two somewhat mirrored scenes where life-size mannequins enact the roles of cowboys and Indians.

Two videos chosen by Krista Belle Stewart showcase the historical scope of the show. Stewart’s mother was the first aboriginal woman in British Columbia to get a nursing certificate and was the subject of a breezy jazz-scored film created by the CBC for the 1967 Expo. However in an adjoining room Stewart is showing her mother’s recent testimony of her experiences as an aboriginal Canadian for the Truth and Reconciliation commission which tells an entirely different story.

For an art show premised on the concept of history Fiction/Non-Fiction in fact has as much if not more to do with our present day and our future. “This isn’t the end of the conversation at all” says Potter. Exhibitions she says “[are] not intended to answer questions and they’re not intended to be the final answer or the final discussion. It’s like a series of questions.”

As viewers we’re free to come with our own questions and determine our own answers.