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Materials and meaning in art and curatorial practice

Materials and meaning in art and curatorial practice

Lisa Myers

Professor Lisa Myers is a member of Chimnissing, also known as Beausoleil First Nation and is a continuous learner of her maternal Grandfather’s first language – anishinaabemowin. Her father’s family is of English and Austrian heritage. She is an internationally recognized artist and curator with a research focus on contemporary Indigenous art and curatorial practice. Myers has a keen interest in interdisciplinary collaboration.

Beyond formal educational systems, Myers acknowledges and reflects on how her work as an artist, curator and educator is informed by her early experiences of growing up on a farm in Milton, her work in community, and by her family stories and history from the Georgian Bay and Lake Ontario regions. During the many years she worked as a cook and garden coordinator at Enaahtig Healing Lodge and Learning Centre she developed her culinary knowledge in Indigenous foods and medicines. This work also led her to design and facilitate an art and food program for youth at the Georgian Bay Native Friendship Centre. These experiences highlight the important meaning that food holds for people but also the role and approach of a cook/jiibaakwe – a person who facilitates spaces of sustenance and understands food as medicine; works collaboratively; and brings care to one’s work by considering carefully the conditions and context in which people work together. Myers carries this cook approach into her practices as a curator, artist and educator.

Her art practice involves using material processes in natural plant and berry dyes, food, fibres and wood as metaphors signaling social interaction, exchange and assimilation. Through printmaking, stop-motion animation and performance her work uses anti-colonial mapping and the animation of berries to tell stories. Inspired by the early use of plant dyed quills, Myers uses colour from berries – anthocyanin pigment – in her animation and screen-printed maps. Myers ongoing project Shore Lunch involves creating spaces of sustenance, where she shares berries and other food items from the Great Lakes region with incidental audiences in public spaces. These gatherings share and respond to place calling for a reflection of the sustenance gained by acknowledging the underrepresented histories of these places. She has exhibited her work in solo and group exhibitions including Raise a flag: works from the Indigenous Art Collection (2000 – 2015) at OCAD University; The Work of Wind, Land and Sea at Blackwood Gallery, University of Toronto Mississauga; Resilience as part of the National Billboard project, and at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Recently, she won the Artist Prize Finalist Award from Toronto Friends of the Visual Arts 2020.

Through her curatorial practice, Myers has worked with many different artist run centres and regional public galleries across the country. Her curatorial research is broadly concerned with addressing representation of Indigenous art in public institutions and considering concepts of value on elements such as sound, food, land and environment. Myers has curated five exhibitions that toured nationally and that have accompanying publications: Wnoondwaamin|we hear them (2016-2018); Carry Forward (2017-2020); Beads, they’re sewn so tight (2018-2019); Recast (2014-2016) and co-curated with Rachelle Dickenson Reading the Talk (2014-2017). Myers is currently editing an upcoming anthology for the exhibitions Carry Forward and Post Script (2018), which is a collection of essays, interviews, poetry and artwork (September 2020). International recognition of her work includes an invitation to participate in the Canada Council of the Arts in 2016 Tri-Nation International Exchange with Indigenous curators from Australia, Aotearoa/New Zealand, and Canada. This exchange continued with the launch of an anthology of essays written by participants in Becoming our Future: Global Indigenous Curatorial Practice (2020). Her writings have been published in art publications and peer-reviewed anthologies and journals including C Magazine, Inuit Art Quarterly, Senses and Society, and The Public Journal.

Through these creative practices, and by considering artists as knowledge holders, Myers introduces innovative approaches to knowledge mobilization that take a social and artist-led perspective. Myers is the principal investigator with co-investigator Professor Sarah Flicker on a student led project by FES Ph.D. candidate Charlotte Lombardo and MES student Phyllis Novak. Funded through the SSHRC Connections grant, this project “Making With Place: Youth Living Homeless or on the Margins as Creative Agents of Change” embarks on research with young Indigenous artists in Toronto and is in partnership with Sketch Working Arts.

Medicine and Butterfly Garden, Mike MacDonald at the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery, 2019. Photo Dana Prieto.

Myers is also a co-investigator with Professor Sheila Colla in a New Frontiers Research project called Finding Flowers, which focuses on pollinator conservation through ecology, art and pedagogy. This research adopts a biocultural and interdisciplinary approach to investigate plant-pollinator biodiversity in Canada, while also expanding Indigenous art history and curatorial practices. Within this project Myers is researching the Butterfly and Medicine Gardens created as artworks across the country by the late Mi’kmaq documentarian and media artist Mike MacDonald. Myers brings Indigenous curatorial and socially engaged art approaches to thinking about MacDonald’s garden spaces and other Indigenous gardens as the source of food and medicines but also as knowledge systems. Through this project she works with a team of research assistants and community members to replant gardens and then works with artists to make relational work adjacent to the garden spaces. This project also encourages knowledge sharing about native plant and pollinator species, which resonates with other faculty initiatives. Myers recently organized the annual Eco Arts and Media Festival taking up the theme of ‘pollination’ in terms of plant pollination but also as a metaphor for the exchange of ideas that create new ways of addressing issues of colonialism, land rights, racism, environmental degradation and ongoing effects of climate change. Myers is also researching for a retrospective exhibition of Mike MacDonald’s artwork for the Kitchener Waterloo Art Gallery in 2022/2023. This exhibition, Powerful Glow, features MacDonald’s video installations, documentaries, net art, photography and quilts.