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Aboriginal media artist Mike MacDonald dies at 65

Mike MacDonald, known for his video and internet-based art, died Monday in Halifax at the age of 65.

Canada has lost a pioneering aboriginal artist best known for his peaceful and spiritual butterfly gardens.

Nova Scotia-born Mike MacDonald, who broke new ground in video and internet-based art, died Monday in Halifax at age 65.

MacDonald was born in Sydney in 1941 of Mi'kmaq ancestry andwas self-taught as an artist.

Much of his work dwells on environmental themes. His Touched by the Tears of a Butterfly has seven rocking chairs in which viewers could sit to watch a video installation about a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis.

Using video as fine art

Vancouver-based aboriginal artist Danna Claxton says MacDonald was the grandfather of aboriginal media art.

"He was so instrumental in using video as a fine art — a fine art as opposed to broadcasting. And he was the first aboriginal artist to use it as such and continue to work with video in the exhibition space," she told CBC Radio.

MacDonald was a creative gardener and some of his most renowned projects are the butterfly gardens he planted in urban areas across Canada. The gardens have host plants that attract butterflies and provide breeding grounds.

"For the last many years, his work got very spiritual," said Claxton, who recently curated a group show that featured MacDonald's work.

"He grew many natural gardens out in different areas, outside of art galleries, so he was very interested in butterflies."

Macdonald has worked with video since 1979, with touching installations, such as the 1987 work Electronic Totem, that explore aboriginal heritage.

The artist also documented the testimony of elders for the Gitksan Wet'suwet'en land claim and has screened environmental videos at the Nuclear Free Pacific Conference in Honolulu and the Acid Rain conference in Washington, D.C.

He won the 2000 Aboriginal Achievement Award for New Media for Butterfly Garden, and in 1994, he was awarded the prestigious Jack and Doris Shadbolt Prize from the Vancouver Institute for Visual Arts.

His work has been exhibited internationally and across Canada.