First American Art Magazine No. 21, Winter 2018/19 - Page 82

REVIEWS TORONTO Rebecca Belmore: Facing the Monumental Art Gallery of Ontario A S THEY STEP OFF the elevator onto the fifth floor of the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), visitors are greeted with the sound of rushing water. The smell is distinct and invites the visitor around the corner into the first of many closed gallery spaces. Inside, a sheet of falling water creates a mist in the air and serves as a projection screen for Rebecca Belmore’s Fountain (2005). A visceral piece in every sense of the word, the video shows Belmore struggle to move freely in the waters of Iona Beach, pulled and jerked by its power. When the artist finally achieves balance, she lifts a bucket out from the water, walks toward the camera, and hurls red liquid at the lens, thus transforming the room into a bloody scene and joining Belmore and the viewer in a brief moment of shared space before the loop continues. Rebecca Belmore (Lac Seul Ojibwe) is a multimedia artist based in Vancouver. Regardless of medium, it is apparent that her 31-year-long career as a practicing artist is deeply rooted in the art of performance. Facing the Monumental dedicates an entire gallery to a compre- hensive overview of Belmore’s recorded performances. The exhibition also features a number of installations, sculptural and photographic works that often return to questions of bodily autonomy as it relates to the natural world. Belmore worked closely with Wanda Nanibush (Beausoleil Ojibwe), AGO’s assistant curator of Canadian and Indigenous Art, to develop the intensely profound show that is Monumental. It is the largest survey of Rebecca Belmore’s work to date. This show comes at a time when the AGO is seeking to reassert its commitment to the land’s First Nations and its people. In an effort spearheaded by Nanibush, the gallery recently renamed Canadian artist Emily Carr’s 1929 painting from its original title, Indian Church, to Church in Yuquot Village. In conjunction with Belmore’s solo show, AGO also held a two-and-a-half-day symposium, aabaakwad (it clears after a storm), to discuss the future of global Indigenous arts. In addition to Rebecca Belmore, the symposium featured panelists Jolene Rickard (Tuscarora), Megan Tamati-Quennell (Māori), Alan 80 | WWW.FIRSTAMERICANARTMAGAZINE.COM Michelson (Mohawk), Heather Igloliorte (Inuk), Kent Monkman (Cree), Adrian Stimson (Siksika), Lori Blondeau (Cree-Saulteaux-Métis), and Tania Willard (Secwepemc), among others. For Belmore, the future convenes in the same realm as past and present. In the elevator up to the exhibition, a quote from the artist on the wall reads, “The world will be a different place in 20 years, and we have no idea what that looks like. I think that’s why we have conversations, that’s why we have to listen, that’s why we make art.” This sentiment can be thought together with the piece At Pelican Falls (2017), which includes a sculptural work inspired by a photograph of a group of boys taken at the Pelican Falls Indian Residential School in 1955. All dressed in denim coveralls, the boys are gathered together on a rock watching a man fish. The accompanying sculpture is made up of denim and mimics the pattern of the water. In the center, a headless torso dressed in the coverall uniform emerges from the sea of denim. With this piece, Belmore touches on the material and immaterial legacies of residential schools as well as the violence of namelessness. The viewer is left to meditate on what there is to return to after trauma. Monumental devotes a great deal of its attention to the naming and recognition of Canada’s missing and murdered Indigenous women. A severed log of wood sits on a table in one gallery. This piece, One thousand One hundred & eighty One (2014) is the result of a performance in which Belmore hammered 1,181 nails into its surface to serve as markers for the 1,181 missing and murdered Indigenous women reported by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) in 2014. Above this table the words ONE THOUSAND ONE HUNDRED & EIGHTY ONE are spot lit and painted orange, signaling caution to the viewer. A nearby wall lists the names of missing women as reported by the RCMP in 1998. Belmore’s work has a minimalistic quality but resists this categorization outright. She works with natural and recognizable, everyday objects to respond to the happenings of the world around her, around Indigenous people. The politics of her work only come as an