by Karina Hanney Marrero
núna (now) sat down with curator Kegan McFadden on a warm afternoon to discuss the in’s and out’s of his upcoming exhibition titled Since Then. The exhibition is part the núna (now) 2016 anniversary program, featuring the work of over 20 artists, and will be installed in four different locations in down town Winnipeg. A special thank you to Kegan for taking the time for a chat, the presenting artists and partners Platform Centre, Urban Shaman, Actual and Window.
Please join us on June 10th. It won’t be the same without you!
Until then, happy reading.
Karina Hanney Marrero: Right, so please introduce yourself?
Both laugh out loud because of the awkwardness of having to be so formal, yet playing along simply because sometimes introductions are necessary even amongst familiar faces.
Kegan McFadden: My name is Kegan McFadden and I am an artist, a writer and a curator living in Winnipeg.
KHM: So, umm, did you start out as a curator or did you start out as an artist?
KM: I started out writing, and then got into curating…
KM: Yeah, it wasn’t until I got my first job with an artist-run centre here in Winnipeg that I really started to develop an artistic practice. Because I was behind a computer, for six or seven hours a day, and I kept receiving calls for submission and information about different opportunities funneled just right into my inbox, and I started thinking about, you know, different projects that I would like to make. That whole time I was also developing a curatorial practice as well.
KHM: Ok, do you feel that that overlap of being an artist and a curator, does it benefit you? Or does it make things just a little more muddy, you know, in practice?
KM: I use to try and keep them very separate…
KM: Ahmm, and also I’m an active writer as well, and even within writing I use to try and keep those things separate too. So, you know there was like Kegan the artist, Kegan the curator, Kegan the poet, and then Kegan the critic.
And I just, well after I turned 30 I just let all that stop and blend together; it didn’t really make sense to keep them separate after a while.
KHM: No, it can kind also help each personality within yourself…
KHM: …If they kind of get to talk together a bit. Ahmm, so as an artist what kind of practice do you do?
KM: Well I don’t have a studio practice, and that sort of goes hand in hand with what I was saying about my first job and receiving information and opportunities all day long. So I developed this idea that I would send in proposals, and say I want to make this sculpture or takes these photographs or propose this kind of exhibition. And if the proposal was successful then I would go and make it. But that being said, you know, the ideas were more conceptual than pragmatic a lot of the time. So I would often have to outsource different parts of the show to be produced and that’s still the case. But I’d say overall my exhibitions are really, or my artworks anyway, are really concentrated on ideas of memory and how memory works, both within yourself and within the larger cultural context; how things are memorialized, personally but also publicly.
KHM: Funny, that’s my master thesis just there!
KHM: Yeah, but what about as a curator? What kind of work are you drawn to?
KM: Uhhmm, you know when I was running Platform, which is an artist-run centre here, their mandate is photographic and video and digital work in particular. And I tried to expand that conversation as drastically as I could. I’ve always been really interested in performance, and so some of the shows that I had at Platform involved performance and performative elements or installations. I don’t know if I was very good at focusing on one medium in particular…
KM: And so that’s why a lot of the shows had such a variety of mediums incorporated into it, whether it’s performance, drawing, sculpture, video, photography, film…
KM: … I don’t want to exclude any kind of medium. For me the ideas are far more important and generative for the exhibitions. So some of the shows that I have done, look at drug use and contemporary art, they look at boredom, petulance…
KM: … I often had this idea, that if I was interested in something I would imagine that there would be some kind of audience for that something as well…
KM: … So it didn’t take a lot to, for me to come up with ideas for shows. But then I’d also spend years researching them. So I would often be thinking about five or six or seven or eight exhibitions all at once. And then just kind of rolling them out, you know, over the years.
KHM: And do you connect with artist just locally, or are you good at looking around internationally?
KM: Yeah, I’d say I focus on Canadian art, but I have definitely done more and more exhibitions lately that involve artist from America or from Europe and throughout Canada. Like the exhibition we are about to talk about [Since Then] is a good example of that, where there are artists from all throughout Canada but also some from the States and some from Iceland.
KHM: Yeah, so just before we jump right into our main topic. What is it about the Winnipeg art scene that drew you back after grad school in Vancouver? Why were you so eager to come back and just get to it?
KM: Winnipeg is really special, for so many reasons; it provides a lot of opportunity. First of all we are in the middle of the country, so it’s sort of a six hours one way or six hours the other way kind of thing. You can be home at the end of the night if you need to be. But per capita we have a lot of galleries, a lot of artist-run centres or non-for-profit gallery spaces so there is that going on for it. Also, you know Winnipeg is manageable, it’s not a really big city, but it’s not a tiny town. So it’s kind of in between and the quality of life here is really great for a lot of people.
KHM: Yeah, it’s kind of financially manageable. Like you can have a studio and you can have a house, it’s really appealing, I agree with that. So did you find that similar vibe going on when you visited Reykjavík? When did you go?
KM: The first time I went was in 2011 and then I went back in 2014. Yeah, I definitely find that there are a lot of similarities between Winnipeg and Reykjavík. The size for one, you know it’s a very small city. The culture is topical there, there is a bar on every corner with live music or a DJ or whatever. And lots of galleries. And of course the contemporary art scene is known internationally, and the same could be said for Winnipeg. There has been some theorizing about Winnipeg that we were left alone for so long that we are sort of the feral child that had to rear itself and just figure itself out. And I think maybe Iceland has some of that going on as well. There is a history of colonization and things come about and emerge.
KHM: We are also just like an island in the middle of the sea…
KHM: You know what I mean?
KM: I went to the Harbor House (Reykjavík Art Museum Hafnahúsið) for the first time in 2011. And was so blown away by that place. There was a collection show showing and, but even the collection is so eclectic, collecting new media, but then also lots of drawings and painting and things like that and sculpture. I was really blown away by just the over all building, and the quality of exhibition I saw. And then when I came back in 2014, it was another collection show, I guess they do those in the summer?
KM: It was wonderful.
KHM: 2014, that’s the year that you started working on Since Then or?
KM: I would say so more or less. Since Then came about because I knew núna was approaching their tenth anniversary, and I had suggested to the curatorial committee via Freya (Bjorg Olafson) that they should really start planning ahead. Maybe take a couple of years to organize and exhibition, instead of like a few months. And she totally understood that. And I don’t necessarily want to promote that idea that it always has to be very well thought out, exhaustive process as opposed to something more spontaneous. But I think that for certain occasions it can make a difference.
KHM: Yeah, definitely.
KM: And I knew around that time I was developing an idea of survival for the exhibition. And it’s based on the reality that núna would be turning ten, and to consider what it mean for a festival that has almost no resources to speak of, they didn’t even have a staff person, to survive. So how does an entity like that stay afloat for ten years, let alone look into the future. And I think that kind of precarity is very prevalent in a lot of not-for-profit spaces in particular in the visual arts. So I wanted to investigate that as a metaphor and I started thinking about the history of Icelandic and Manitoban in terms of cross cultural survival. How the Icelanders who came here in the 1800s they were just so out of sorts, and didn’t really know how to make things work here right away, of course. And then I found out through various researchers that the First Nations people here in Manitoba had a real role in showing those immigres the lay of the land. Particularly around inland fishing and things like that, that Icelanders might have not been so good at. You would think that they would be very adapted to inland fishing but it was more variations of ocean fishing. A very different approach!
KHM: Yeah. Exactly.
KM: So anyway, I liked that idea. And also, my background in exhibition making has always been to try to see exhibitions as conversations and so to never really promote a very insular conversation, where it’s the same kind of artist speaking to one another over and over again because I think that that happens so often in Canada anyway and probably more so abroad.
KHM: Are you then talking about the same mediums talking to each other?
KM: Yeah. Or even the same kind of people, like it’s an all Icelandic show, or it’s a show with all South Asian artists, or all Indigenous artists. So I wanted, right away, to mix up that thing were a lot of people organizing a tenth anniversary show about núna would think, well it’s only going to be Icelandic artists. So right away I threw that idea out of the window. I still wanted to promote Icelandic artists both Canadian Icelandic and Icelandic artists from abroad. But I didn’t want it to be insular, and I wanted to reflect the First Nations or Indigenous historical resonance as well. And then I started looking more closely at three aspects of or three kinds of artwork. So artwork that depicts survival and the kind aesthetics of survival. Artwork that references a historical survival, and then artwork that in and of itself carries with it the signs of survival as a sort of conceptual model. So from those examples I started to pull artwork together or maybe I started finding artwork and that lead to examples, who knows anymore!
KM: I’m really excited to be bringing in Garry Neill Kennedy because, he’s not Icelandic or Indigenous, but he does have this ongoing project about Maher Arar who was a Canadian citizen who was disappeared through an extraordinary rendition program in order to be questioned about Al Qaeda in Syria following 9/11. He was essentially labeled a terrorist by the Canadian government. He (Arar) spent almost a year in prison, being tortured / questioned, detained with no actual charges. The Syrian government has stated that Arar is completely innocent, but his whole life has changed.
KHM: Is he still alive?
KM: He is still alive, he is living in Canada. And so Garry Neill Kennedy somehow, through channels, they found each other and Garry asked if he could do an artwork about Maher Arar’s experience and the former prisoner said: ‘’yeah, ok you can do that.’’ So, what we are showing of Garry’s is called The Colors of Citizen Arar and it’s going to be a mural of colorful bands, but each color is related to Arar’s experience — the orange of the he jumpsuit he wore, the black of the cable that he was tortured with, the red of his blood from the torture, and the yellow and blue from his bruises. The way Gary has organized it is that it’s going to be a series of bands of color, almost like a jail cell in a way, like bars, painted directly onto the wall. And then we are also showing a print he has made as part of that larger investigation with all those colors and then with the latin words quid pro quo which means something for something, or tit for tat. Gary is one of the most exciting artists in Canada, he has been working for 50 years or so, and he is constantly pushing conversations that seem uncomfortable. And I think it’s really important to provide space for those conversations.
KHM: I agree.
KM: So in the exhibition we can then contrast Garry’s work with something like Rebecca Belmore’s Apparition which has only ever been shown once before in a museum or gallery setting in Vancouver. It was part of a Truth and Reconciliation exhibition to do with the aboriginal residential schools…
KHM: When was the exhibition?
KM: In 2014…
KHM: Oh ok, so it was before the agreement was made public, was that not last year?
KM: The findings were adopted in December 2015. But the commission had been going on for a long time…
KM: … But the Residential School conversation has been taking place more or less since, I wanna say, as soon as they opened. But the last school closed in 1996.
KHM: Well, that’s yeah…
KHM: That’s one of the artists in the show, Rebecca Belmore, it’s a video piece right?
KM: That’s right. So it’s a single channel video. Rebecca is known as a performance artist, and she always, (almost always, there is always exceptions), uses herself in almost all of her performances…
KHM: I was just going to say, she has an extremely strong look, and I can only imagine that she has a powerful presence.
KM: For sure she does, and what’s shocking about this video is, it’s her, in her street clothes, cause she never really dresses up for her performances, it’s always her as a contemporary person. She does not seem to be wanted to be seen as out of time, a persona from the past of the future, she exists. And you have to deal with her existence, right?
KM: And she is just sitting in front of the camera, staring silently. And she actually has a piece of duct tape across her mouth. For 4 minutes. And it’s about the loss of language. You know one of the horrible ramifications about the the Residential School system, were they forced people to lose their original languages. And so when you think about how a mother and daughter have a conversation, they would just be forced into this entirely other parallel thing. Rebecca didn’t go to a Residential School, but her mother did. So she talks about how her mother lost her language and was never able to pass it on to Rebecca that way.
KHM: That’s really strong.
KM: Yeah. Even though the show is ostensibly about survival, it’s depicting all sides of that conversation. Sometimes things die out.
KHM: Yeah exactly. So Rebecca’s piece is going to be shown at Urban Shaman, right?
KM: It’s actually going to be shown at Platform Centre. But there are six video pieces at Urban Shaman. They are celebrating their 20th anniversary this month…
KHM: Happy birthday!
KM: Yeah! And I think this is one of the few instances where a non Indigenous artist has shown at Urban Shaman. So we have six videos, three by Indigenous artists; Dana Claxton, Demian DinéYazhi’ from the States, Dana is from Canada and then a collaboration between Leah Decter and Cheryl L’Hirondelle. And the other videos are by Rúrí from Iceland, Justin Sorensen from the States and Jude Norris also Indigenous.
KHM: And they are going to be shown all together in one space at Urban right?
KM: Yeah, and so it will be a direct conversation between those videos. It won’t be a single channel screen where you have to sit and watch one screening at a time. You can actually chose which one you want to listen to. Which reminds me of the last time I was in Iceland, at the Harbor House, they had like 30 hours of video art that they were showing. But it was controlled through an iPad so you could kind of scroll through it and change to different ones, or change the order you watched them in. I really liked that idea.
KHM: Yeah. There was something that you mentioned when we were emailing when I was still back in Iceland. That all the pieces that will be shown at Urban also have this recurring theme of water in them?
KM: That’s right…
KHM: Which is kind of interesting too.
KM: …That’s exactly the sort of curatorial thread that links these six videos, this idea of water and then there is also a lot of singing or music in them. I thought that was really important as a kind of geographical linking between the communities of Iceland and Manitoba. Of course, Manitoba has like a thousand lakes, and the fishing community in Iceland is so important to the economy. And then it was about finding videos that sort of referenced that importance of the water. So we have, Rúrí’s Dedication video that is really astounding to watch, where she is having divers recover bundles of clothing representing women murdered by misogyny. It’s a historical reference that whose implications continue to resonate today.
KM: But then it’s contrasted with Jude Norris and this video that she has from 2000, it’s a very funny animation of a red buffalo running and she is describing, in audio form, hitchhiking and being picked up by a truck driver. And the driver tells her a story about how he is in a wheelchair but how he is addicted to skydiving. And he is really bad at it kept breaking his back or whatever…
KHM: Oh my goodness!
KM: .. Eventually he had to start skydiving right into water…
KM: … in order to save himself from injury.
KHM: That’s even more spectacular somehow!
KM: And then in stark contrast to that is the piece called Hope by Dana Claxton, where she is trying to piece back together a broken bowl. It’s broken into three or four parts, so it’s just broken enough that she can never actually hold it all together again without it falling back apart. And it’s really hard to watch and it’s kind of a metaphor for broken communities, a history of colonization and how you rebuild when everything is decimated. There is so many approaches to it but almost not any of them seem to work.
KHM: So, this exhibition Since Then is taking place in three different, four different venues actually? So it’s going to be at Urban Shaman, Platform, and the Actual Gallery and than at Window?
KM: Yeah, at Window. Window is an experimental, sort of site-responsive or context-responsive space that I started in 2012. It’s great because we are working with Synonym Art Consultation which is Andrew Eastman and Chloe Chafe. I kind of wanted to open up the curatorial gesture in a way too, so I invited them to curate that space and they chose Helga Jacobson who is a Winnipegger but is living in Sweden right now I think, and she is of Icelandic descent and so are both of them, Chloe and Andrew. And so it’s nice to bring more Icelandic / Canadian artist into the mix. Helga is working on something called Sigel and it has to do with women and witches and witchcraft history, but also persecution. It actually references the Rúrí piece really nicely.
KHM: Yeah, yeah, for sure.
KM: So, a lot of these pieces, even though they might not be in the same gallery space, I am seeing the show(s) as a whole. You know, there will be these nice conceptual links from one piece to another when you go watch and look at them all.
KHM: Are there any other works you want to highlight regarding the other spaces?
KM: There is another piece at Platform that I am really excited about by Hekla Dögg Jonsdóttir. Núna is bringing her back. And that’s a nice thing too in terms of recognising the history and the anniversary of núna, she is an artist that came here I think in 2009 for a solo show. Her piece is this glowing electric heart, and so again it’s like you have a sentinel to survival there. Something that keeps growing and glowing.
KHM: Yeah, hope for sure. How do you feel about curating an exhibition of twenty-five artists in three different spaces?
KM: It’s exciting!
KHM: Yeah, isn’t it?
KM: Yeah, as each space offers it’s own opportunity. Like we couldn’t have had the six videos at Platform be so in conversation but we can at Urban Shaman, because it is going to be in this Media Gallery and very intimate and I want them to be seen in conversation. Whereas we probably couldn’t have had a Garry Neill Kennedy’s mural anywhere but at Actual, space wise. And there are a bunch of other prints that we are bringing in that are going to look great at Actual which might have not really been a good fit at Platform.
KHM: It is an amazing thing to be able to take over four spaces at the same time too.
KM: Yeah, I have never done this before, it’s really exciting!
KHM: Exactly, I can’t wait to see it come to life!
Current obsessions: Podcasts; Memory Palace and Between the Covers a poetry podcast.
Dream collaboration: ‘I want to collaborate with a publisher to collect the dozens of texts I’ve written about artists and their work since 2005. I want to bring those together, somehow.’
Coming up: Since Then at Platform Centre, Actual Gallery, Window and Urban Shaman June 10 – July 23 2016 in Winnipeg; Punchered Landscape at The Âjagemô Hall May 12 – October 2, 2016 in Ottawa, and Yesterday Was Once Tomorrow (A Brick is a Tool) at at Artexte, Montreal, 14 April – 23 June 2016 in Montreal.
Since 2003 Kegan McFadden has devised a hybridized practice as artist – curator – publisher – writer, orchestrating opportunities for the presentation of contemporary art and publishing with an emphasis on issues related to melancholy, exploratory research, and artist publishing. Over the last decade he has organized exhibitions and screenings throughout Canada and internationally for artist-run, university, and public galleries. Kegan was the Director / Curator of PLATFORM Centre for Photographic + Digital Arts in Winnipeg between 2007 and 2012 where he focused on rigorous, thematic group exhibitions, commissioning new work by emerging artists, strengthening presentation networks nationally, and intensifying the Centre’s publishing program. As a curator, Kegan’s interest in contemporary art is focused on divergent photographic practices, performance-based research and presentation, and artist publishing. The recipient of numerous grants and awards from municipal, provincial, and federal professional funding agencies, Kegan holds a graduate degree in Critical and Curatorial Studies from the Department of Art History, Visual Art, and Theory at the University of British Columbia (Vancouver, 2007), and was one of only two Canadians among the inaugural participants in the Curatorial Intensive (NYC, 2010) organized and hosted by the prestigious Independent Curators International. In 2013 he was award the Manitoba Arts Council’s Major Arts Award for his curatorial prowess.