CRITIPEG: locating the little heartbeats

Runs Jan. 10 to Feb. 16 at Gallery 1C03

As the 13-month run of her work our future is in the land: if we listen to it at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in New York comes to a close, Dr. Julie Nagam mounts another immersive, multifaceted work at the University of Winnipeg’s Gallery 1C03.

Though the local artist has exhibited her art in Brazil, Chile, England, France, Iceland, New Zealand and the US, this is only the second time any of Nagam’s work has been shown in Winnipeg. In locating the little heartbeats, she shines light through Indigenous medicines toward the rest of what the earth offers.

It’s a little show in a little space about little things in the big picture.

The dimmed gallery is dotted with five glowing boxes, each of them a window into Nagam’s exploration of medicinal plants traditionally used by Manitoba’s Indigenous peoples.

Rustic paintings of bearberry, blueberry, tobacco, Labrador tea and fireweed plants fill themselves in from bottom to top. Digitally animated, Nagam’s paintings bend and stretch inorganically in an artificial wind, emptying themselves before the cycle repeats.

Nagam’s animated windows float in the voices of a landscape where their representative contents could be foraged. Sounds of weather through flora and echoes of fauna are dotted with evidence of humans: crackling fire, crunching footsteps, the hollow knock of an oar on a canoe.

Nagam’s own recent works speak to the value of land-based knowledge through contemporary technological media. Projected images and sounds flaunt the detachment of an urban art gallery from the ecosystem on which Nagam bases her manufactured recreations.

With locating the little heartbeats, Nagam continues her archival and promotion of that knowledge in the anti-inflammatory properties of fireweed and the use of Labrador tea as an expectorant.

Without auxiliary research, the significance of each of these herbs is unclear to those unfamiliar with Manitoba’s indigenous plant life and its medicinal or ritual bounty.

In the exhibition’s book – available to read in a brightened spot – brief descriptions of each plant’s uses can be found in Dr. Niigaan Sinclair’s essay. His response, though diaphanous at times, is an emotionally
generous one.

In the age of climate change, she is another creative warrior trying to nudge the collective consciousness back into reverence for Earth – a consciousness rooted in symbiosis with its cycles and the variety of life it supports.

To ensure its survival, Nagam’s little heartbeats call humanity to listen to its home more carefully.

Gallery 1C03 is open Monday to Friday from 12 to 4 p.m. and Saturday from 1 to 4 p.m. Admission is free.

Published in Volume 73, Number 14 of The Uniter (January 17, 2019)

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