Sugarbush Shrapnel

Olivia Whetung

September 24 – November 18, 2020

Curated by Kimberly Phillips,  Assisted by Julia Lamare

Olivia Whetung’s artistic practice extends across a range of media to examine how translation and the transfer of knowledge can be understood, in her words, as “acts of/active native presence.” A significant strand of the Mississauga-Nishinaabe artist’s research has explored ways that knowledge is carried by language, land and bodies of water.

Whetung’s most recent beaded works involve embroidery, a method where beads are sewn with needle and thread onto a surface material that provides the support and background for the imagery. For Whetung, beadwork is a mnemonic device. Knowledge is indexed not only in the beaded image itself, but through the artist’s technique—the embodied act of beading—and encoded in the materials with which she works.

Sugarbush Shrapnel, 2019, 11/0 Delica beads, 6lb Berkley Fireline, rock dust, wood ash
Photo credit: Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver

Whetung also considers questions of climate change and its impact on the animals and plants of her home territories, as well as the transfer of cultural knowledge. Ultra-thin panels of maple, birch and cherry wood veneer stretch vertically from the gallery floor to ceiling like a stand of trees. In the sparest of bead-embroidered and wood-burned lines, sewn through and drawn upon the near-translucent surface of the wood, Whetung traces the fragile—and often undetectable—relationships between species in the forested region in which she lives.

Stand, 2019, 11/1 Miyuki seed beads and wood burning on birch, cherry, maple and oak veneer, river stones, flagging tape
Photo credit: Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver

Whetung expands these material and conceptual investigations to consider her own connections to the complex ecosystem of her home on Chemong Lake, Ontario, particularly the importance of food sovereignty and the fragility of symbiotic relationships in an era of accelerating climate change and environmental destruction.

Olivia Whetung is a member of Curve Lake First Nation and a citizen of the Nishnaabeg Nation.

Sugarbush Shrapnel is generously supported by the Audain Foundation.