13 April 2000 - 20 May 2000
Opening Reception 13 April 2000 8pm
First on the agenda of any respectable military regime’s list of things-to-do is the restriction, or outright prohibition, of free cultural expression. Take recent events in Afghanistan, for example. Who would have thought that at this pinnacle of civilization an 8 x 10 glossy could strike such fear in the heart of the militia that they would go to the extreme of making photography illegal? I mean, REALLY! They have the guns and the bombs and all we have is some paper and developer. As ever before, the fight for freedom of self-representation in all its aspects is a war being waged at many levels all over the world.
Enter one Greg Staats, a fellow raised simultaneously on the Iroquoian Great Law of Peace, the punk rock advocations of X-Ray Spex as well as the bluesy admonitions of Muddy Waters and Bessie Smith. Hmmm… punk rock and blues. In its original Brit-rock incarnation punk lyrics often consisted of the observation and criticism of the exploitation of people and land by multi-national powers and thoughtless government. And blues? Well, that has exploitation written all over it as well – but more directly along the lines of the human heart and the human soul. Contingent to both was a collection of individuals who felt they had no voice in their own situation, be it political or personal, so they took it for themselves, took their message to the streets and put
it to a 4-4 beat. Musical allegories aside – sound familiar?
What else is the juxtaposition of fine art photography presentation with a snapshot aesthetic if not rebellion? Since the age of sixteen, Staats’ world view has been mediated through the lens of a camera. Recognized and acclaimed for his virtuosity in the tradition of classic portrait photography with the myriad faces of our Aboriginal constituents, he has shifted gears into the disclosure of other aspects of his reality. The portraits are a legitimate part of his life and artistic production, as are the castoffs found daily in our urban environment. They are a gentle reminder of our own mortality without being obviously morbid (although the foam wrapped in plastic is more than a little reminiscent of a body bag). The title of the show -Animose – makes reference to one interpretation of the word which is to be “full of spirit”. In some fashion all things have life. Whether it is a weasel or a wolf, a chickadee or a cherry tree, or a rock or a rug, there is existence. Not that the rug, bundled up and left by the curbside, is alive per se but that the rug is possessive of a certain measure of memory and extinguished purpose. So what, you may ask, is so rebellious about a rug? In this case, the insurrection is of an artistic nature that speaks of frustration with the repetitive mechanical demands of the darkroom combined with the conceptual demands of a public that has preconceived notions of what candid aboriginal photography should be about. Where native art-making is concerned, some people only want to see the poetic reflection of the noble face of the indigenous. Upon moving from the rural to the urban, many native peoples have encountered the fact that there exists certain prerequisites of language, appearance and history for being An Authentic Indian. Greg lives, and has lived, within the closely knit community of the reservation and within the relative anonymity of the city. To his credit he wishes to acknowledge both. Refusing to pander to any stereotype, these latest works fit into a greater continuum of Staats, relationship to people and place.
The objects portrayed in the exhibit speak of passage and absence. Greg’s “belief in travel and observation as a vehicle for transforming (his) perspectives ,” and perhaps those of others, prevents the images from spiraling down into a bleak vision of urban decay and cultural cynicism. Instead, they form a basis for dialogue about our own shared and individual histories.
“Use your brain, think for yourself, speak out, take action or let the Silence bury you alive.” Wise words by Ken Lester, former manager of DOA from the back of the Bloodied but Unbowed: The Damage to Date album cover.
Not about to be Silenced or buried alive, Staats continues to represent a positive and pro-active viewpoint in relationship to his own past and a collective future.
– Mary Anne Barkhouse
Greg Staats was raised on the Six Nations of the Grand River Territory in Ontario. He has pursued photography as a means of expression using relationships as a principle of organization, influenced by the Great Law of Peace of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) tradition. Selected exhibitions include the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography, the Walter Philips Gallery, the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, the Mira Godard Gallery, the Indian Arts Centre, and the Smithsonian Institute’s Reed Centre.
Mary Anne Barkhouse is a graduate of the Ontario College of Art and Design. She is a member of the Kwagiutl First Nation and part of a notorious family of artists and fisherman from the northwest coast of Canada. A multi-media artist, Barkhouse exhibits nationally and currently resides in the Haliburton Highlands of Ontario with two terriers and a mink.