The Nanaimo Art Gallery is wrapping up its year-long thematic inquiry, ‘How can we speak differently?’ with Athut/Words Bounce, an exhibition that examines the effects culture and language have on one another.
NAG Curator Jesse Birch said that while the previous exhibition The Poetics of Space was about the language of space and Earthlings was about the language of artistic collaboration, “this show is precisely about language and the ebbs and flows of language.”
The exhibition features the floor-to-ceiling murals of Toronto-based Filipino-Canadian artist Patrick Cruz, large digital photography prints by Joi T. Arcand, a Plains Cree artist living in Ottawa and a digital video by U.K.-based American artist Susan Hiller.
The exhibition opens on Thursday, Jan. 24 and continues until March 31. During the show the gallery space will also be the site of a Hul’q’umi’num class by language advocate Adam Manson, as well as readings by poets including VIU professor Sonnet L’Abbé and Vancouver’s Fred Wah.
Last week Cruz spent four hours painting the walls inside the NAG with a dense tangle of hieroglyphics that resemble numbers, letters and symbols for his piece, Step Mother Tongue. The improvised paintings are inspired by cave drawings and graffiti.
“The title refers to how the Spanish colonized the Philippines and basically took our original language and replaced it with Spanish, therefore Spanish became our stepmother tongue to a point. And then when Americans came and took out Spanish, replaced it with English, that also became another stepmother tongue,” he said. “So in a way it’s kind of about that narrative of replacing languages and hybridizing them … where the translation is lost but there’s some familiarity with it.”
Cruz said each iteration of Step Mother Tongue is different, with this version, his third, including a ceramic element. Local potters Bronwyn Arundel, Graham Sheehan, Marcelle Glock, Joe Lyons and Bari Precious created pots in the style of traditional Filipino pottery which Cruz then painted to match his murals.
“I always am interested in also, I guess, decolonizing my own practice in some way, so finding ways to change how I approach the same medium because I use painting a lot but I also like to use other mediums and hybridize that conversation,” Cruz said.
Arcand’s photographs feature Plains Cree captions that grapple with being a non-speaker of one’s cultural language, while Hiller’s video is a compilation of 23 endangered languages.
“I think the works in the show are in conversation with each other in the different ways that they treat language,” Birch said. “And when I started thinking about this show I was thinking about our annual question, ‘How can we speak differently?,’ and for the last exhibition I wanted to be as clear as possible. I wanted to include works that were as specific as possible in relation to languages.”
WHAT’S ON … Opening reception for Athut/Words Bounce at the Nanaimo Art Gallery on Thursday, Jan. 24 at 7 p.m. The exhibition continues until March 31.