My long-standing engagement with the reception of Indigenous cultural expression, particularly in North America, is reflected in my own writing and teaching. Debates and teaching in both Art History and Anthropology Departments, in combination with other professional and personal affiliations, consistently reveal the conflicting diversity of ways in which First Nations cultures are understood, by whom and for whom, and how, or whether, contradictory positions are to be reconciled. Such issues prove to be inseparable from broader contemporary methodological, political, ethical and epistemological concerns relating to art. A closer association for myself and for students with First Nations artists and thinkers, who are invited whenever possible unto our classes, may bring us closer to the contradictions in the “conversation” that Chuuchkamalthnii (Ki-ke-in) points out is not happening.
Graduate Seminar topics have included: Questioning Art History in the Era of Globalization; North American Indigenous Art – What is it?; The Northwest Coast and the Southwest: Comparing Discourses; Culture Claims and Claims for Art; An Enquiry into the Role of the Anthropology of Art and its Critique in the Construction and Interpretation of Native American Art and Indigenous Art Now: Publicity and Protectionism. This year, the 2011 graduate seminar, will work on: The Contingent and the Essential: Indigenous Art Claims.
Selected exhibitions curated: Land, Spirit, Power: First Nations at the National Gallery of Canada (1992), National Gallery of Art; Yuxweluptun: Born to Live and Die on your Colonialist Reservations (1995); Rebecca Belmore: The Named and the Un-named (2003); Backstory: Nuuchaanulth Ceremonial Curtains and the Work of Ki-ke-in (2010) Belkin Art Gallery, UBC.
Selected publications: ‘Symbolic Facades: Official Portraits in British Institutions Since 1920’, Art History, 11: 4, 1988; ‘If Art is the Answer, What is the Question? – Some Queries Raised by First Nations’ Visual Culture in Vancouver’ in RACAR: Revue d’art Canadienne/ Canadian Art Review, 21: 1-2, 1994; ‘Northwest Coast Art: the Culture of the Land Claims’,American Indian Quarterly, 1994; ‘Translation or Perversion? Showing First Nations Art in Canada’, Cultural Studies, 9: 1, 1995; ‘First Nations Culture: Who Knows What?’, Canadian Journal of Communication, 23: 1, 1997; ‘At the Margin or the Centre? – The Anthropological Study of Art’, Reviews in Anthropology, 27, 1998; ‘Let X = Audience’, in Reservation X , Canadian Museum of Civilization, 1998; ‘Conceptual Daze At NSCAD – The Mezzanine’, in Bruce Barber, ed., Conceptual Art: The NSCAD Connection 1967-1973, Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, 2001; ‘When the (Oven) Gloves Are Off: The Queen’s Baton – Doing What to Whom,’ in Nicholas Thomas and Christopher Pinney, eds. Beyond Aesthetics: Art and the Technologies of Enchantment, Oxford, 2001; ‘Struggles with Aboriginality/Modernity’, in K. Duffek and C. Townsend-Gault, eds., Bill Reid and Beyond: Expanding on Modern Native Art, 2004; ‘Circulating Aboriginality’, Journal of Material Culture, 2004; ‘Spectacular Disentanglement: A Talking Stick for the Pope’ in Les cultures a l’oeuvre: Rencontres en art, eds. Brigitte Derlon and Monique Jeudy-Ballini. Paris: Biro. 2005; ‘Ways of Knowing’ (revised), in The Anthropology of Art, eds. Howard Morphy and Morgan Perkins. Oxford. 2005; ‘The Raven, the Eagle, the Sparrows and Thomas Crow: Native Modernism on the Northwest Coast’, in Native Modernism, Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of the American Indian. 2006; ‘History Art:Nu.tka. 1996’ in Stan Douglas: Past Imperfect – Works 1986-2007 Stuttgart (2007); ‘Rebecca Belmore and James Luna on Location at Venice: The Allegorical Indian Redux’, in Location eds. Deborah Cherry and F. Cullen. Oxford: Blackwell. 2007.
Current research focuses on the social relations that inform, and are formed by, the reception of First Nations cultural expressions in British Columbia, with a book forthcoming – Masked Relations: Display and Disguise on the Northwest Coast. The past two years have been largely occupied in working with Ki-ke-in and Jennifer Kramer on our edited volume Northwest Coast Native Art: An Anthology of Changing Ideas. Texts from twenty nine contributors introduce their selections from the extensive literature which has played a significant role in shaping the directions of ‘Northwest Coast art’.
Recent papers are exploring how sensory and affective responses are imbricated in the politics of reception of Indigenous cultural expression: ‘Skin Deep’ on Brian Jungen’s new work at Catriona Jeffries and the art Gallery of Ontario, (for CJ Publications); ‘Not a museum but a cultural journey: Skwxwú7mesh political affect’ (Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Special Issue 2011); ‘Tacit Materiality’ for Materiality and Cultural Translation: An Interdisciplinary Exploration. Weatherhead Centre for International Affairs, Harvard; ‘Internal Exoticism: Maintaining Indigenous Status Distinctions in Contemporary British Columbia’, for Appropriating the Exotic: Cross-disciplinary Perspectives. Sainsbury Research Unit, University of East Anglia. 2010. ‘Sea lion Whiskers and Spray-crete: The Affect of Indigenous Status in British Columbia Today, for Materializing Identities: A Conference in Honour of Mike Rowlands. Department of Anthropology, University College London, (for publication in the Journal of Material Culture, Autumn 2011); ‘Still a Forest, Still Symbols’, in Model Totem Poles, (University of Washington Press). My text ‘Cormorant Cruises the Vertical’ is due to appear in a collaborative work with Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas, www.rockingraven.com.
Forthcoming: ‘Introduction’, ‘Art Claims in the Age of Delgamuukw’, and ‘The Material and the Immaterial’ for Northwest Coast Native Art: An Anthology of Changing Ideas, eds. Townsend-Gault, C., J. Kramer and Ki-ke-in. (UBC Press); ‘In Front of Fabulous Painted Things’, in Thliitsapilthim – Nuuchaanulth Ceremonial Curtains. (Belkin Art Gallery, UBC).
My interest in Twentieth century and contemporary art is on-going and inseparable from the above. An exhibition in the summer of 2006 at Printed Matter, New York, www.printedmatter.org, curated by AA Bronson drew on the (recently retrieved) archive that I assembled while directing the Mezzanine at the Nova Scotia College of Art, 1970-73. Since then I have been working closely with Gary Kennedy on the relevant sections of his history of NSCAD The Last Art College(forthcoming from MIT Press) which document the work and events that were mediated through the Mezzanine in the period. I helped the curators of Traffic: Conceptual Art in Canada: 1965-1980 with their research, spoke at the symposium at the opening of the show in Halifax, and participated in an on-line conversation, Early Conceptual Practices In Context, between Blair French, Lucy Lippard, Chantal Pontbriand, Mari Carmen Ramírez, moderated by Jeff Khonsary, for the Traffic catalogue.
A persistent interest in 20th century official portraiture, aboriginal self-portraiture and other public and institutional representations of the social person is ongoing and derives from an interest in the rule-bound persistence of a representational convention. Its current phase, with assistance from the Hampton Fund, proceeds: ‘From Dominion to Multicultural State: Faces for Canadian Institutions since 1945’.
I wrote ‘World Art: a Boundary Issue’ for the inaugural issue of World Art Journal (March 2011) which is working to fulfill the somewhat complex aspirations of its title.