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May we suggest

News / May 9, 2019

Nadia Myre and Alan Michelson Recraft Venice’s Links to Indigenous Peoples

With glass beads and ocean buoys, Myre and Michelson address Venice as a place where some of the first European books and maps about Indigenous peoples were published
Foreground: Nadia Myre, <em>Volume 1</em>, 2019. Earthenware, beads, threads. Background: Nadia Myre, <em>Damask (Volume 0)</em>, 2019. Wallpaper installation. Photo: Karolina Sobel. Foreground: Nadia Myre, Volume 1, 2019. Earthenware, beads, threads. Background: Nadia Myre, Damask (Volume 0), 2019. Wallpaper installation. Photo: Karolina Sobel.
Foreground: Nadia Myre, <em>Volume 1</em>, 2019. Earthenware, beads, threads. Background: Nadia Myre, <em>Damask (Volume 0)</em>, 2019. Wallpaper installation. Photo: Karolina Sobel. Foreground: Nadia Myre, Volume 1, 2019. Earthenware, beads, threads. Background: Nadia Myre, Damask (Volume 0), 2019. Wallpaper installation. Photo: Karolina Sobel.

Lately, artists Nadia Myre and Alan Michelson have been doing a lot of thinking about how the city of Venice, Italy, connects to the past and present of Indigenous peoples in what is now called North America.

“In the 16th century, publishing was centred around Venice,” Michelson says. And as a result, Venice was where some of the first European maps and books of North America were published.

“Venetian beads were used as money around the world,” adds Myre. “They were used as ballast in ships that were then traded for slaves brought to North America, were traded for land.”

“So we as native people are implicated in that history. We are part of that history, in a way,” says Michelson.

Now, these artists’ creative recraftings of those histories are on view along the Fondamenta Sant’Anna in Venice as part of the exhibition “Volume 0.” The show, opening today and running until July 31 to coincide with part of the Venice Biennale, is curated by UK-based Max Carocci and presented by Zuecca Projects.

Myre, an Indigenous and Quebecois artist from Montreal, has chosen to present three new works at “Volume 0.” One, called Damask (Volume 0), is a wallpaper installation. Another, Volume 1, is a sculpture composed of earthenware, beads and threads. And Oceanus Procellarum, created with Brian Gardiner, is an eight-minute audio piece that permeates her installation.

“Max had invited us to think about ‘Volume 0’ as our story before, in a way, all these volumes of printed material” became available in the 16th century, says Myre. “So I was thinking about the beginning of creation and made a work that reflects on how the world was started in sound.”

The wallpaper, another element that dominates Myre’s exhibition space, has important roots too.

“The wallpaper has the story of Sky Woman falling to earth,” says Myre. “And another design is tobacco, and the sacred heart—that last element being around the idea of missionaries and grabbing territory through the church.”

Michelson, who is a Mohawk member of the Six Nations of the Grand River, took his considerations in a different but related direction.

“I made a four-channel video piece where videos are projected into sequence onto four large globes,” says Michelson. “Part of the impetus for that was Cellarius’s atlas that showed the Copernican model of the universe, with four earths around a central sun. So in some ways my work appropriates that and returns it to the sacred number four.”

Michelson’s installation is called Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (Theatre of the World) and includes a variety of imagery and sounds. Among the elements are pictures of the Oka standoff, footage from an Idle No More rally, views of a Haudenosaunee boy doing a war dance, and stock clips of galleons at sea.

“I also cut in some comments from Ellen Gabriel, a Mohawk activist,” says Michelson. “They’re these kinds of stinging critiques of the explorers: ‘These weren’t the greatest minds of their generation—they were pirates!’”

The audio in Michelson’s installation also includes excerpts from Jean-Philippe Rameau’s 1735 opera-ballet piece Les Sauvages, which was composed after Rameau saw Mitchigamea chiefs from the Midwest dance in Paris in 1725. Michelson’s audio ends with a recording of two Catholic hymns being sung in Mohawk.

Foreground: Nadia Myre, <em>Volume 1</em>, 2019. Earthenware, beads, threads. Background: Nadia Myre, <em>Damask (Volume 0)</em>, 2019. Wallpaper installation. Photo: Karolina Sobel. Foreground: Nadia Myre, Volume 1, 2019. Earthenware, beads, threads. Background: Nadia Myre, Damask (Volume 0), 2019. Wallpaper installation. Photo: Karolina Sobel.
Alan Michelson, <em>Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (Theatre of the World)</em>, 2019. Four-channel video with sound, marine buoys, variable dimensions. Alan Michelson, Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (Theatre of the World), 2019. Four-channel video with sound, marine buoys, variable dimensions.

Curator Max Carocci says he is impressed with what the artists have created.

“Though Venice never had its own specific colonization project in North America, it had an indirect role in the diffusion of knowledge about North America in ways perhaps not matched by any other region,” Carocci contends. “What the artists have done is highlight moments or contexts in which these histories converge.”

Interestingly, both Myre’s and Michelson’s works also have a somewhat nautical theme that also converges with the Venice setting—Michelson’s “globes” are actually nautical buoys, and the deep blue of Myre’s wallpaper echoes the shades of the Rio di Sant’Anna canal outside the exhibition space.

The project itself will also travel overseas a bit: “I do have an opportunity to present part of it in Montreal this summer,” says Myre, while Michelson indicates it’s possible Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (Theatre of the World) could be included in his Whitney Museum solo show this fall. Carocci also plans to present about “Volume 0” at a UK conference in July.

“Volume 0” is situated in the Castello district of Venice between the Biennale’s Giardini and its Arsenale, so it is hoped that even busy Biennale-goers will be able to drop in.

“We’re in one of those historic Venetian spaces, with crumbling walls on one side, and then the sculpture and sound,” says Carocci. “It has an aesthetic impact that you cannot escape.”

“Volume 0” opens at Fondamenta Sant’Anna 994 in Venice today, and continues there until July 31. For more information, visit the Zuecca Projects website.

Leah Sandals

Leah Sandals is a writer and editor of white settler Canadian (Irish and Ashkenazi) descent. She is also content editor at Canadian Art and has written for the Toronto Star, National Post and Globe and Mail, among other publications. Sandals welcomes tips, corrections and comments anytime at leah@canadianart.ca.