Second series of outdoor art installations coming to area around Mann Art Gallery over summer

Michael Oleksyn/Daily Herald Artist mentor Leah Dorion of Intergenerational Métis Artist Mentorship Project overlooked the painting of a bison for the first art installation at the Mann Art Gallery on Monday.

Preparations have begun for the second Intergenerational Métis Artist Mentorship Project at the Mann Art Gallery. On Monday artist Leah Dorion, this year’s mentee Ashley Smith and guest artist and last year’s mentee Danielle Castle began preparations for the first of three art installations which will begin to go up on Friday.

The project builds on last year’s project which created five art installations around the city and was a collaboration between Castle and Dorion.

“Because Danielle is now introducing Ashley to the project. So the concept is that Leah as an established Metis artist is passing on knowledge and skills and values and very practical art techniques and practices to a new generation of Metis artists and cultural leaders,” Mann Art Gallery educator Lana Wilson explained.

Wilson explained that galleries and museums have neglected Indigenous arts and cultural practices and the Mann is trying to deliberately incorporate and Indigenize the space to make up for that.

“We want to do more Indigenous art in the gallery, we want to do our part to feature and lift up Indigenous artists,” Wilson said.

The project brings together cultural practices and modern art practices.

“It’s fantastic because Leah talks about the apprenticeship model as being so important to Indigenous culture and it’s also a common technique among even artists of European origin that a younger artist will be the mentee of an established artist,” Wilson said.

“In this case it is important to pass on not only artistic skills and practices and for two artists to share ideas to bounce ideas off of each other but also to keep that strong line of Indigenous values and art making techniques going and to be able to build capacity and promote the capacity that already exists in this case within the Metis artistic community.”

Michael Oleksyn/Daily Herald This year’s Intergenerational Métis Artist Mentorship Project mentee Ashley Smith painted one of the bison for the first art installation at the Mann Art Gallery on Monday.

Beginning at 1 p.m. on Friday the artists will be installing a cardboard bison buffalo jump at the flower beds on the west side of the gallery.

“What we are doing today is we are painting the cardboard bison and horses that will be part of the Metis Bison hunt installation. So all of these bison and horses are going to be placed in the flower beds on this west side of the Rawlinson Centre,” Wilson said.

The chance to paint horses and bison took place in both a morning and afternoon session on Monday.

“The horses are going to be coming in from the side in a flanking formation and they are going to be driving the cardboard bison in a wedge shape over the buffalo jump, which in this case is the four inch curb into the parking lot so it’s a very small bison jump but that’s the idea,” she added.

During the setup of the installation the artists will be talking about the importance of the bison to the Métis and the reason for that specific hunting method.

“We will be able to talk about that to all of the people who come so that there will be some historical and tradition learnings going on there,” Wilson said.

The day is expected to be hot and the public is asked to bring a lawn chair and water if they are taking part and talk with the artists.

“The artists will be talking about the Metis values, the value words that they are painting on the bison, they are painting them in English and Michif. So these are words like love, creator, nature, balance, strength. These are all traditional Metis values and they are linked very strongly to two books that Leah has published,” Wilson said.

Those books by Dorion are The Giving Tree: A Retelling of a Traditional Métis Story and Bison Camp Circle: A Métis Culture Way of Life, which is Dorion’s newest book.

“The bison installation outside the gallery is going to be fun, friendly, accessible, it s going to brighten things up. People can come and view the art in a socially distanced way. That was a big part of the project last year. Galleries were closed, how do we create a way for people to experience art in a safer way?”

Due to COVID-19 galleries were not open part of last year and the outdoor project worked so well that they decided to bring it back with the three installations close to the gallery.

“I think that this will be a really fun way because it will also Indigenize the space around the Mann Art Gallery and the Rawlinson Centre and it’s perfect because we are right by the bridge,” she explained.

She explained that the wolf sculpture at the front of the gallery is already an attraction and with the location it should be a real attraction in the city.”

“We hope that people will stop and come to look at it because from a distance they are going to see these bright painted bison but we hope that it is going to invite them to come closer. And then they are going to see these positive messaging and words about traditional values and just really enjoy seeing these Métis cultural symbols and colours expressed in the bison so it will be really fun,” Wilson said.

The other two projects going on over the summer will be spaced out to last into September. At the end of July, dates have not been set according to Wilson, Smith and Dorion will be creating a large willow meditation walkway.

“We will invite community groups and members to come and learn who to tie willow, learn about willow teachings and the importance of willow and the right time to harvest it and we will create this meditation walkway,” Wilson said.

The walkway will again have signs that repeat the words of Metis values in English and Michif and will include stumps to contemplate the values and enjoy the green space.

“This is a way, again, to bring traditional Indigenous materials and technology for weaving the willow to this urban setting

Wilson said that they are still working with the city on an exact location.

“We are figuring out the space but it is definitely going to be around the gallery,” Wilson said.

The third installation in mid-August will see Dorion and Smith collaborate on temporary traditional Métis lobstick. They will cut down a tree and strip the tall log and mount it upright over the course of three days.

“Ashley and Leah will be here at the gallery painting and wood burning and doing a little bit of carving on the lobstick. And the public will be invited to come and watch them do it and chat with the artists. So it will really be like an artist’s residency where people watch the artist at work, hear about their practice and then the lobstick will be up for several weeks,.”

The project will all be connected to the Mann Art Gallery and serve a greater purpose.

“It will serve as that way marker, that’s what lobsticks are for, to be able to welcome people to the gallery and again deliberately Indigenize this space in a visual way,” Wilson said.