Curatorial Statement - Daina Warren

The world we carry around in our heads is a world that is connected to experiences, information, words, auditory & sensory stimulants, visual and emotional thoughts. The information that is held within ourselves gives us lessons on living, the patterning of our lives, our people, our communities - each person carrying a story that is held in each memory or experience - creating a communication web between the individual and the collective. Through these lines of connection we relay information, which can change with each retelling or narrative, adapting meaning to a specific situation.

This curatorial project looks at a survey of exhibitions that have taken place throughout the history of grunt gallery's programming, projects that exemplify contemporary art practices using story or narrative information to create stimulating visual and performance art pieces. This online project is also a collection of works from Native artists that base the work on Aboriginal stories and how story directs First Nations culture and life experience whether it is determined through traditional or contemporary tales. These projects are then contrasted with those art processes of not only First Nations artists but with the urban and non-Native communities that carry information through an oral or visual process of passing of information on events and experiences, each artist choosing to tell their story in largely distinct ways.

The first artist that I want to explore is an artist that is not only a long-established special project of this online survey, the exhibition itself is tied to an artist that is close to the hearts of many of grunt's family, Sammy Sammy; otherwise known as George dePape. Sammy Sammy lived and worked on Hornby Island and he invited the grunt staff for several retreats at his unique island home. Sammy Sammy was know as an 'outsider artist', and was incredibly prolific in his 25 year practice, creating very unusual hand crafted sculptures.

In February 1987, Sammy Sammy, exhibited his show entitled Annastasia, at grunt's first place of origin on East 6th Avenue, in Vancouver:

"George dePape's story of Annastasia lies somewhere between truth and myth. Through retelling the tale of his encounter with the long red haired girl in the Battle River Canyon of Alberta in 1927 has become fixed between the two. This myth became central to a body of work that is unique, eccentric and crudely beautiful. The lost girl became an angel or goddess to dePape and represented pure innocence. She became the core of a cast of characters that were sometimes based in truth, in dreams or in pure imagination." - excerpt taken from Sammy Sammy's project submission

Cheli Nighttraveller's and Kerriann Cardinal's performance art projects are based upon family experience however Cheli depicts her experience through the Native traditional figures of Witiko and Wesakechak. The artist tells of how the two characters left alone one fateful night, created a daughter who came into being. Both are popular figures from various locales of Native Storytelling, Witiko takes a female form in this tale and gives birth, to a new life called "Wapen", however Witiko is still only very interested in the eating of bones and has her eyes set on her daughter, and throughout the story, we learn about Wesakechak who becomes a dead-beat dad. Never once losing the thread of her story, Cheli weaves a tale of how the family structure becomes too traumatic for the daughter and in the end leaves the family to find her own path and create new experiences for herself.

Kerriann Cardinal is the flip side of the contrast between the two performance projects, her project deals with memory and the loss of her culture when her real-life grandmother passes on. She bases the performance on the re-telling of the relationship she had with her Native grandmother throughout her coming of age and the ramifications of the experience in her adult years, and in the end makes peace with herself and the memory of her main caregiver. Kerriann has been reworking the piece several times over, so her process in itself exemplifies how memory changes, how story changes and how the story develops as one matures. Both performances are tied to two of the bigger special projects to come out of the grunt, Kerriann performed during the 2001 Live Performance Art festival and Cheli's performance was programmed during the first ever Aboriginal performance art conference, INDIANacts back in November of 2002.

Subsequently is David Neel, a multi-disciplinary artist who is part of the Kwak'waka'wakw nation, he incorporates the tales from his traditional Native culture into his photography, paintings, sculptures, jewellery and west-coast carvings. Painting is new area of discipline for David and he chooses forms and figures based upon the traditional West Coast symbols. However he incorporates new materials, colors and ideas into his many and varied practices to create his own unique perspective.

I want to add in a project that is relatively new to the grunt's archival compilation. Keith Langergraber has been creating interesting installations based upon historical events in Vancouver. In this setting he reconstructs a detective's office set in 1924, the office is in the process of investigating the murder of a Scottish nursemaid, Janet Smith.

Langergraber's installation focused on the Janet Smith murder case in 1924 but as a work it sat curiously between a museum display and a movie set. Its anti narrative delivered bits of information that told many stories at once. In his talk he spoke of the 'break' with his older work this piece represented. - quote taken from brunt website.

This project not only speaks of living memory and histories within Vancouver's culture but the artwork also alludes to present day Vancouver, due to the quantity of films and made_for_TV movies that are produced in the West Coast city.

The final piece is Peter Morin's poetic story on Aboriginal life and tradition. I felt compelled to include a text piece that would frame the project, to receive a response from an artist who talks about the importance of storytelling in Native culture, why and how it is used and what it stands for each person. I am very honoured for the way in which Peter talks about the connection to our histories, the people (family, relations, and friends) and the spirituality that is such a gift to Aboriginal peoples.

Please take your time and enjoy walking through some very remarkable grunt memories, thank you.

Daina Warren
March 2006

Daina Warren is from the Montana Slavey Cree nation, in Hobbema, Alberta. She graduated from the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design finishing her BFA with two majors, sculpture and painting. After graduating from ECIAD, an internship with the grunt gallery, offered her the opportunity to participate in the Canada Council's "Assistance to Aboriginal Curators for Residencies in the Visual Arts." Since completing this residency she has acquired the position of curator and administrator at the grunt gallery and has curated many projects and exhibitions both in part with the gallery and with the outlying Vancouver arts community.

Back to top