Audain Art Museum - Storytelling through Art

That Infinitessimal Unit, 2009
oil on canvas
54” x 48”
Image courtesy of Diaz Contemporary, Toronto
Photo by Toni Hafkenscheid

Go outside your comfort zone. Take a risk. Send it. The spirit of Whistler lives in these mottos. This winter, the Audain Art Museum will embody the spirit of risk and embark on a bold new initiative with an exhibition by artist Joseph Tisiga titled “Tales of an Empty Cabin: Somebody Nobody Was ...”

“Museums normally have more retrospective-type exhibitions of artists that have been established for 30 or more years,” says Dr. Curtis Collins, director and chief curator of the Audain Art Museum. The “Tales of an Empty Cabin” exhibition, open Feb. 16 to April 29, 2019, is unique in that it offers a young artist — at an early point in his career — the opportunity to undertake an ambitious program of work that is an installation of both existing pieces and projects that are still in production but will be present for the opening date.

Tisiga’s exhibition will not only feature paintings, photography and installation art dating to 2009, but the selection will also include new, large-scale artificial turf assemblages. Tisiga is a First Nations artist from the Kaska Dena Nation — whose traditional territory extends across northern B.C. and the southern Yukon — and his artificial turf installation will explore references to the manipulation of land and territory, the false reproductions of nature, and the juxtaposition of First Nations’ relationship to territory as a central part of their identity.

Joseph Tisiga
No Home in Scorched Earth, 2014
Digital black and white photograph
Photo courtesy of the artist

“A lot of Joseph’s work kind of flips on itself in material ways,” explains Collins, “but also in the context of First Nations values.” The name of the exhibition itself, “Tales of an Empty Cabin: Somebody Nobody Was …” plays on the name of a collection of short stories written in the early 20th century by Grey Owl, an Englishman who masqueraded as an Indigenous person, and whose real name was Archibald Belaney.

Tisiga’s artistic practice of creating a conceptual flip is shown in the original “Tales of an Empty Cabin” series of digital colour photographs documenting a performance. In the photos, Tisiga wears moccasins and a corporate suit embroidered with fur, leather and beading. As a First Nations man wearing a mix of traditional and corporate attire, he moves through empty office spaces. In the pieces he flips the concept of Belaney’s impersonation and cultural appropriation, as well as commenting on the business world’s takeover of First Nations identity for the purpose of corporate branding.

The two modalities of colonial and First Nations perspectives are integrated and mixed in a way that are unique to Tisiga’s work, and are represented in the oil-on-canvas painting “That Infinitessimal Unit.” One of the reasons Tisiga is such an exciting artist is his contemporary and youthful view on what it’s like to be a First Nations person in Canadian society today.

The importance of Indigenous peoples’ connection to the land is one of the central concerns of the Audain collection and is further explored in the special exhibition “Ancestral Modern: Australian Aboriginal Art” from the Kaplan & Levi Collection, organized by the American Federation of Arts, showing until Jan. 28, 2019. Step into the gallery and be mesmerized by the radiating lines, dots and repeated feather forms in nearly 50 artworks by Australian Aboriginal artists.

While the paintings appear to feature abstract forms, they are symbols that represent animals, people, tracks or aspects of the landscape such as a camp or freshwater hole. Together the symbols tell stories of common human problems and desires.

Many of the paintings, such as artist John Mawurndjul’s “Mardayin Design”, use natural pigments in colours of ochre, black, red, yellow and blue, all associated with the desert landscape of Australia. “Not only are the artworks about the country, they are the country,” Collins says. “Mardayin Design” is painted on eucalyptus bark, and Yvonne Koolmatrie’s woven fish “Pondi (Murray River Cod)” is created from native spiny sedge grass.

A number of the artworks are made by collectives of men or women who work together on a single piece of art, which is highly unusual in the context of Western art. Seven women known as the Yuendumu Women’s Collective painted “Mina Mina Jukurrpa (Mina Mina Dreaming),” which involved a journey to their Mina Mina (home or living place), where ancestral women would pause to rest and collect bush tucker such as edible fungi and bush raisins.

Gunybi Ganambarr
Dhanbarr (Hollow Log), 2006
Natural pigments on hollow eucalyptus log
96 1/4 x 5 1/2 in.
Promised gift of Margaret Levi and Robert Kaplan to the Seattle Art Museum
© Gunybi Ganambarr - Courtesy American Federation of Arts

During your visit you can pick up an information sheet to help you identify symbols in the paintings and understand the stories.


Janangoo Butcher Cherel
Girndi (Bush Plum), 2003
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
17 11/16 x 29 3/8 in.
Promised gift of Margaret Levi and Robert Kaplan, in honor of
the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum
© 2017 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VISCOPY, Australia
Courtesy American Federation of Arts


Dick Nguleingulei Murrumurra
Nadulmi the Kangaroo, ca. 1970
Natural pigments on eucalyptus bark
22 13/16 x 33 7/16 in.
Promised gift of Margaret Levi and Robert Kaplan
to the Seattle Art Museum
© 2017 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VISCOPY, Australia
Courtesy American Federation of Arts





Yvonne Koolmatrie
Pondi (Murray River Cod), 2003
Native spiny sedge grass
27 3/16 x 47 5/8 x 7 1/16 in.
Promised gift of Margaret Levi and Robert Kaplan to the Seattle Art Museum
© 2017 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VISCOPY, Australia
Courtesy American Federation of Arts


In addition to the special exhibitions, the Audain Art Museum hosts a spectacular visual journey of nearly 200 works of art in its permanent collection. Most recently, on Sept. 22, 2018, the largest artwork, a cedar carving titled “The Dance Screen (The Scream Too),” was activated through a dancing-in ceremony by master carver and hereditary Haida Chief James Hart and his troupe of Haida dancers. Wearing traditional regalia, dancers passed through a small doorway in the screen to allow for a transition between the spirit realm and the human realm. Eagle down was blown through the nostrils of the central bear crest to float all through the room.

Beyond the collection of Northwest Coast First Nations masks, visitors tour through galleries featuring a large collection of works by celebrated artists including Emily Carr and modernists E.J. Hughes, Gordon Smith and Jack Shadbolt. Contemporary B.C. artists include the internationally renowned photo-conceptualists Jeff Wall and Stan Douglas, among others.

Jeff Wall, The Arrest, 1989
Transparency in lightbox
163 x 136cm
Audain Art Museum Collection. Purchased with funds from the Audain Foundation

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