In the Flesh: Lance Belanger, Dana Claxton, Brad Isaacs, Meryl McMaster

June 21 to September 8, 2013
Lance Belanger, Dana Claxton, Brad Isaacs, Meryl McMaster

Opening: June 20, 2013, 5 p.m.

Disclaimer: Animals in this exhibition are not presented in the artworks to pacify our nostalgic desire for our proximity to them, rather to explore their historical significance to our collective narrative.

In the Flesh examines the hierarchical relationship between humans and animals within a cultural and museological context, and investigates colonial politics, as well as issues of gender as they relate to the mastery of the natural world. 

In her installation Buffalo Bone China (1997) which illustrates the decimation of the buffalo as a result of British colonial practices, Dana Claxton (Lakota) points to its irreversible and distressing effects on the First Nations people and the landscape. Her experimental video contains images of the giant animals running and the broken fine bone china in the centre of the room illustrates the aftermath of the deliberate slaughter. Whereas forever in a motionless suspense, Untitled (1996) works by Lance Belanger (Maliseet) are as convincingly decorative as they are positioned unsettlingly between the artifice of natural history and as objects of contemporary culture. These re-constituted animals are articles from a colonized land, disfigured and mounted on restrictive frames. The works question how western cultures construct their own histories while commenting on our power to destroy nature and transform it into a commodity.

The politicized space of the museum and the practice of taxidermy are investigated by Brad Isaacs (mixed heritage) in a series of colour photographs of animal hides and wildlife dioramas taken at North American and Canadian museums. Isaacs explores the notion of “camera hunting,” where the camera is a substitute for the rifle and the photograph becomes a trophy. In contrast, through self-portraiture, Meryl McMaster’s (Plains Cree and mixed heritage) In-Between Worlds series (2010- 2013) explore her mixed heritage. McMaster transforms for the camera using talismanic props and sculptural extensions of her body; performatively investigating the mix of dream and reality inside the hunting ground while symbolically evoking her bi-cultural identity in a strategy of resistance. 

In the Flesh grants us visual access to nature while calling into question the politics of representation. As the guest catalogue essayist Ariel Smith notes: “With In the Flesh, the Ottawa Art Gallery participates in a city-wide indigenization of gallery spaces to coincide with the National Gallery of Canada's Sakahàn: International Indigenous Art exhibition. This indigenization does not exist within a vacuum, and we must reflect on the ways in which these acts of claiming space respond to and are in conversation with both the current and historical politics of Indigenous cultural sovereignty.”

Ola Wlusek, Curator of Contemporary Art

A bilingual, colour catalogue accompanies the exhibition.