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   The Bindery


Nyeema Morgan (NY)

Duane Linklater (ON)

Cameron Gainer (MN)

Damien Davis (NY)

Nadia Myre (QC)

Hermione Spriggs (UK)

The Bindery Projects is pleased to present a Itasca Curated by by Matthew Schum.

Tributaries of History

As the first in a series of exhibitions contending with America’s internal colonization, Itasca starts from Minnesota’s historical insularity and from the first commodity trade that shaped the land—beaver fur. After the fur trade, lumber clear the forests and land-grabs replotted the territory. In 1858 Minnesota became the nation’s 32nd state. The vagaries of racial politics typified the settlement of the state thereafter. Itasca recalls a Minnesota before all this—a pre-American society in which a network of micro-communities flourished in the northland, forming interracial villages that supported a tradespeople too far from Europe to be defined by social hierarchy. The fur trade began in the mid-1600s. Improvised economies soon became mixed communities. For over a century the northern interior benefited Natives and landed aliens alike. The outsiders—the mostly lower-class voyageurs and coureurs des bois of yore—comprised itinerant platoons serving distant interests, but once within the nearly inaccessible frontier between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi the merchants formed uniquely global communities. Early Minnesota consisted of a system of intercultural kinship. Montreal voyageurs served Dakota, and Ojibwa Tribes and lived out the 17th and 18th centuries in relative harmony through a system of mutual dependence.

Future Head

Itasca returns to the fur trade era not because it was an idyll nor to reinforce the myth of rugged individualism that remains popular in our politics, entertainment and even fashions today. It is a return (though art) that considers how northern kinships presaged our world. Since the 1600s the trade in furs became other goods—other increasingly modern systems of exchange, codified by the sensibilities of other centuries: the Mississippi traffic has included copper, lead and iron ores; apples, corn, cabbage, potatoes and grains; cider, whiskey, moonshine, snake oil and other dubious spirits; live turkeys, chickens, pigs, horses and cattle; hemp, wheels of cheese and late-winter snows used for rosewater ice cones; and notorious soul driver steamboats that supplied slaves to New Orleans until it was lost in the Civil War, which exemplifies how made the Mississippi remained an unregulated country between the North and South. Long before all this, from premodern Minnesota, beaver furs were shipped. They went overseas where they were shaped into hat styles such as the tricorne (pictured), the D’Orsay, and the Paris Beau. Even top hats were made out of pelts culled form these colonial lands. Kinship in Minnesota’s remote north ultimately ensured that fashionable hats floated along European boulevards and fit upon the stately heads that fill our history books and urban plazas.  The shapely beaver hats found in museum collections and period films are times-tamped by dominant Western sensibilities of the day. But from the vantage of Minnesota, it evidences a largely undocumented cluster of laterally organized, microscopic trade societies. Standard headwear, which still stands as a figurehead of European gentility at the height of imperialism, began in a terra incognita. From this sense of historical asymmetry Minnesota stands out and the beaver hat itself serves as a generative image, analogizing imperialism in its animal and rarified stages of commodity. Though beaver hats represent 17th-century Europeanness in popular media, locally they can be understood as a global diffusion of consciousness representative of the North: a place outside the empire, an economic system laterally organized from within, where an overlap of impossibly distant cultures built kinship in attention to the raw material, not its beautification.


Lake Itasca, so named by Schoolcraft for being the “truth head” (combining the Latin veritas and caput), begins ever-widening flows of river swell and muddy history. Itasca suggests a fictive place where an artery of commerce remains an unobstructed link to the sustenance of not only the land but ideas that emerge from it. Itasca conceives of the imponderable idea of America’s frontiers untarnished by genocide and waste; it resists the impossible notion of the river being itself seized as a commodity, bought and sold; it takes historical cues from regions that line this central waterway; and it turns away from coastal super-saturation. ‘Truth’ in various times of disorder and reintegration have traditionally intersected the real and imaginary Mississippi.

§ Itasca inaugurates the MYSYSYPYN: an artistic platform exploring the history of the Mississippi River and its significance in our time.

The MYSYSYPYN is written and organized by Matthew Schum, PhD.


June 24th  -  Sept 3rd, 2016

Reception 6pm-9pm

Friday, June 24th