Thunderbird by Wally Dion (Scott Benesiinaabandan)
Visual art doesn't necessarily explain itself these days, which is why a guided tour can be a great way to experience a far-reaching, brain-busting show like Close Encounters: The Next 500 Years. Sprawling across the downtown core, this massive multi-site exhibition features over 30 indigenous artists from across Canada and around the world, who draw on past encounters between native and non-native peoples while offering some radical, redrawn visions of a shared future.
Many works combine traditional indigenous beliefs and motifs with the buzz of pop-culture imagery and cyber technology, making for a heady mix.
Check out these highlights: Wally Dion, a member of the Yellow Quill First Nation, forms a breathtakingly beautiful image of a Thunderbird out of recycled computer circuit boards, while New Zealand-based sculptor Brett Graham`s Te Hokioi is a cool modernist cross between a legendary Maori bird and a stealth fighter plane.
Australian Jonathan Jones reinterprets the Métis infinity symbol with tube lighting, while Doug Smarch Jr., uses trippy computer-generated animation to re-create a legendary vision of how life for the Tlingit Nation would change after the construction of the Alaska Highway. (I actually got dizzy watching it.)
Mary Anne Barkhouse of the Kwakiutl First Nation cleverly critiques the apocalyptic destructiveness of western culture by modifying old coin-operated kiddie rides. (And, yes, you can saddle up, so bring your quarters.)
Kent Monkman, a Toronto-based artist of Cree ancestry, places a melancholy, mascara-stained mannequin of an aboriginal drag queen in a meticulous - but completely surreal -- recreation of a 19th-century parlour. Packed with Victorian knickknacks, '70s disco glamour and taxidermy coyotes, this is not your average museum diorama.
Issues like environmentalism, identity and the tricky interface between humanity and technology put this art at the cutting edge of the contemporary scene. And while the show is dense with complex ideas, the gallery tours, led by young volunteers and students, are informal and easygoing. Participation is encouraged, but don't worry: There are no pop quizzes!
Alison Gillmor, CBC Local Reviewer