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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 Itasca curated by Matthew Schum.

Itasca inaugurates the MYSYSYPYN: an artistic platform exploring the history of the Mississippi River and its significance in our time. Itasca returns to the fur trade that initially made the land between Lake Superior and the Mississippi River a colonial outpost. It features artists working with unconventional media who offer contemporary readings of imperialism. To this end, the works assembled create allusive relationships to an insular history. Yet, each piece is an island on its own, marking distance between it, recent trends in visual art and the ever-shifting landscape of commodity culture. Felted beaver hats (such as the tricorn pictured above) comprised the first commodity market in the land that became Minnesota. These now-strange, outdated objects served as a premise for creating the exhibition and for responding to a regional history that was nonetheless global, even in the 17th and 18th centuries. 

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 cleared the forests and land-grabs plotted 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 their own uniquely global communities. Early Minnesota consisted of a system of intercultural kinship 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 that contemplates, though art, how these northern kinships presaged our world. Since the 1600s the trade in furs has become other goods—other increasingly modern systems of exchange, codified by the sensibilities of other centuries, and Mississippi traffic has included copper, lead and iron ores; hemp, apples, corn, cabbage, potatoes and grains; cider, whiskey, moonshine, snake oil and dubious spirits; live turkeys, chickens, pigs, horses and cattle; whale oil, wheels of cheese and late-winter snows for rosewater ice cones. Notoriously, before the Civil War, soul driver steamboats stowed slaves headed south on the currents of an unregulated third nation. But beaver built Minnesota. Pelts were shipped overseas. There they were they were shaped into hat styles such as the tricorn (pictured), the D’Orsay, and the Paris Beau. Even top hats were made out of pelts culled form these colonial lands. Cooperation and kinship in Minnesota’s remote north 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 time-stamped by dominant Western sensibilities of the day. From the vantage of Minnesota, these hats evidence undocumented clusters 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 historical asymmetry Minnesota emerges; 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 diffusion of Northern consciousness: a place both in- and outside empire, an economic system 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 and fold around being. By taking historical cues from the regions that line this central waterway Itasca conceives of imponderables: such as American frontiers untarnished by genocide and waste, the notion of the river being itself seized as a commodity, bought and sold. Itasca pivots away from coastal supersaturation. ‘Truth’ in various times of disorder and reintegration traditionally intersect the real and imaginary Mississippi.

Nyeema Morgan (Brooklyn, NY): Cast and painted found objects in Untitled, No. 1 (I, Rhinoceros), 2014, undermine the ubiquitous readymade. Ultra-real hands form grapples on the gallery wall holding mass-produced junk lamps as though they are offerings. Held out as reliquaries of kitsch and conceptual art, the triptych seemingly asks what might distinguish artist from petitioner after Duchamp. Even less certain is the viewer’s role in receiving such offerings, especially by an unseen body, arms outstretched, presumably on the other side of the wall. Standardized, westernized and ironized commodity-thing-as-appropriation-art meets Morgan’s meta-critique of dominant museological codes and phantom systems of attribution that earmark contemporary art. 


Duane Linklater (North Bay, ON): A fur trapper’s bag accompanies the spare image of a mink hung by a wardrobe hanger. The State that I Seek to Name, 2014 bridges the fashion industry and the ancient cultivation of pelts along Algonquin waterways that include the so-called Arrowhead of present day Northern Minnesota. For First Nations communities in parts of Canada the procurement of furs is a real and extant economy. It is not a vestige to be found in living museums, Hollywood movies or strutting on catwalks. Fur remains indicative of the violence that swells beneath the surface of modern life. Today it includes a violence done to the very notion of woman by fashion industry precepts. Lest furs be mistaken as obsolete symbols of status, recent estimates put the current global trade in furs at $50 billion.


Damien Davis (Brooklyn, NY): Lips, conch shells, teeth, fronds, sphincters, lanterns and ghosts join emblematic Maure heads, Nefertiti profiles and Stone Age Venuses flattened into vivid glyphs. Beauty and violence overlap in colorful relief. Rotation, 2016 invents heraldry in a design as much quilt as renegado flag flying over the stormy seas of artistic expropriation. Easily identifiable symbols in multitude remain irreducible to a single culture or meaning. Floating signifiers ripped from history rehearse the uncertain formation of identity—be it a human being, a new nation or a post-studio artwork.        


Nadia Myre (Montreal, QC): In 2002 Myre used pages of Canada’s Indian Act (1876) as stencils for Native beadwork. The resulting images revised and redacted the controversial treaty. The print series Orison, 2014, shows the obverse side of these beaded artworks. Contractual phrases seen from this vantage are photograms. Rather than twisted lines of legalese Myre pictures a morphology of knots holding the beadwork in place. The serene video Portrait in Motion, 2002, of a canoeing figure on a misty lake needs no explanation in Minnesota. The artist shown as archetypal rower here emplaces state identity within a much older Algonquin history, its technology, territories and the familiar topography of waterways falling along the Laurentian Divide. 


Cameron Gainer (Minneapolis, MN): Shot, 2006, proves that in the youtube age the medium is indeed the message and that McLuhan’s “Global Village” forms around nearly anything that can be transmitted as lifestyle. The reframing “shot” is pure repetition: of slain deer (aided by shotgun) and triumphant hunters displaying their trophies (captured by digital camera). Photographic evidence of these spoils are sped-up in Gainer’s montage. The work pushes the slow pace of rural hunting traditions toward the unharnessed speed of "information" populating the internet.


Hermione Spriggs (London, UK): For Thames River, 2016, Spriggs employs noted cartographer Edward Sanford’s 1853 map of the Thames River. Leading to London, this waterway would have been a final stop for many of the pelts and products culled from colonial America. As the artist sees it, western maps are entirely conceptual, produced to streamline commerce as virtual landscapes. Spriggs puts this conceptualization at cross purposes with standard visualization by lending the river the aspect of sound rung by a self-playing piano. The machine in a sense improvises the sound of nature, as the Thames. The abstract concept of musical notes double as random dots on a map. A pianola sheet perforated by the mouth of the Mississippi accompanies the video.


§ The MYSYSYPYN is initiated and written by Matthew Schum, PhD.


June 24th  -  Sept 3rd, 2016

Reception 6pm-9pm

Friday, June 24th