Bright “Hunter-safety” orange, primer white and fur visually unite the work in Hybrid, an exhibition of sculptural assemblage and collage created by emerging artist Tim Moore out of everyday objects gathered in Northern Saskatchewan: excess materials from construction sites, deer hide and bones, small appliances, discarded toys, magazines, even the UPC stickers from grocery store fruit. Curated by David Garneau for the Organization of Saskatchewan Art Councils (OSAC) and touring Saskatchewan this winter, Hybrid is part of a burgeoning discourse on contemporary Métis identity and Canadian culture, taking place internationally through the work of the Aboriginal Curatorial Collective/Collectif des Conservateurs Autochtone (ACC/CCA) and locally, with such events as the Métissage conference held in Regina this October. Moore’s work is a very personal, funny, and sometimes painful embodiment of his own experience in coming to terms with his cultural identity; it asks what have the Métis become, and therefore, what is Canadian? Are we, as John Ralston Saul suggests, all métis people? Will the mixing of cultures erase histories that have already suffered from being over-written? How does our heritage, history or ethnicity relate to what we do each day?
Moore grew up in Prince Albert, Northern Saskatchewan, experiencing a profound state of cultural diaspora. Many in his community had hybrid ethnicities, but did not discuss or show pride in their aboriginal, Métis, or other parent cultures for reasons that ranged from feelings of not quite fitting a perception of “real Canadianness” (as seen on TV) to fears of racist reprisal. In his artist statement, Moore states his grandfather “masked his identity in order to marry my grandmother…the Métis identity was degraded so much so that we didn’t even want to acknowledge our own indigenous heritage.” Passing, a type of assimilation, depends on secrecy; it is lonely, closeted. A condition Moore’s collage, “Me Métis” (2010) describes well: a veiled fashion model holds a shushing finger to her lips, antler-shaped magazine cover cut-outs sit on her head, looking wrapped in pop culture. Ransom-note lettering spells out “little secrets” and “half breed”; shaky printing asks “Me Métis?”
Moore writes that initially, “I had no notion of what Métis was. I simply thought of it as being half-Indian.” Since the late 20th Century, Maria Campbell and other artists have shared their stories, and today more people are aware of the Métis histories that trace back to the time of the fur-trade. But what form does this culture take today? Moore states, “The old stereotypes are no longer pertinent. Buffalo, Red River carts and trap-lines speak more to the past than the present.” In 2004, Moore began research into a new visual language to express his feelings of being “two cultured” during his mentorship with Canadien/ Métis artist and educator Michel Boutin, and discovered the Dada movement and collage. Fragmenting and recombining images, placing conflicting elements side by side, collage analogously conveys that meaning is neither universal nor fixed, and explodes convention.
Moore describes his first mixed-media sculptures as “a fairly simple combination of materials that could be fashioned to create a hybridized object. You could still see the object and the promise that originally came with it. But it had changed.” “Jerry” (2010) is a gas can covered in hide and “Blender” (2010) is a counter-top drink mixer with furry controls. They contrast the urban/manufactured with rural/natural, but their function seems awkward. Moore’s work, “Carrier” (2011) is a clearer depiction of falling between two cultures. A fur-covered case opens to reveal a standing doll, naked and painted white, eloquently expressing the feelings of inadequacy held by those who are “between cultures”. There are many metaphorical pejoratives to describe people who are changed through cultural diffusion: apple, oreo, bamboo, nisai, half-breed. Each of these terms implies a loss of expertise through degradation. Why is changing negative? It brings uncertainty. Those who are uncomfortable and yearn for the “good old days” resist by calling for authenticity. However, like purity, authenticity is a false ideal. It confuses historical practice for values; mistakes the letter of tradition for the spirit; denies that culture is an active practice. Negative stereotypes of the hybridized do not allow for the idea that the adapted person also has new skills.
In his curatorial essay, Garneau observes the vitality that can come from social métissage, “Think of what First Nations and Métis artists have done with European glass beads and fabrics; how Native youth have reformed urban music to suit their contemporary experiences; and how Canadian Settlers generally differ from their parental home cultures due to cultural mixing and Aboriginal influence.” Moore gathers material details from his everyday life hunting, working in construction, fixing cars, shopping; his collages and sculptures embody his daily concerns. There are no easy answers to the question of what it means to be Métis and Canadian; we are pluralistic, but this exhibition is part of a growing discussion that seeks to define our values.
HYBRID: TIM MOORE
Art Gallery of Moose Jaw Crescent Park
Sept 13-Oct 28th, 2012
Chapel Gallery, North Battlefield
Nov 1- Dec 23rd, 2012