Power Poles, series, 2010

The NTL: A Delegation of Power
Acrylic and oil on wood

Power Poles: Bringing Light
Acrylic, Oil and Charcoal on Wood

Power Poles Theory

I painted a series inspired by my experience in a native village where the skyline had traditional totems mixed with power poles. These paintings reflect my interested in Aboriginal communities that rely as much on technology and contemporary culture as the traditional for survival and sustainability. In one painting of this series I depicted a First Nation’s pole raising ceremony where a telephone pole replaces the totem; another is a billboard-size image where totem pole are also telephone poles (Bringing Light). During this process I studied the art of Canadian artists, Brian Jungen and Rebecca Belmore who’s work draws on indigenous experience to add depth and meaning to their art without being limited by fixed narratives or interpretations. By doing this, Jungen and Belmore render hierarchies perpetuated through “social codes and institutions” insufficient through social awareness and by elevating non-western signifiers to those of Western art history (Augaitis 10).

Contemporary First Nations artists, such as Robert Davidson, Susan Point and Canadian icon, Bill Reid, are also renowned in the contemporary art scene for using varied mediums and abstracting traditional Northwest Coast formline and design. These artists use contemporary mediums and methods, even abstracted forms, but the reading of their ‘hybrid’ artwork is limited by a fixed narrative or experience. This is a relevant topic when Canadian original identity is being shaped by popular iconography that manifests as significantly First Nations. Aboriginal artists of the past, who rely on indigenous iconography to create concept, or who make binary inspired hybrid art, have become building blocks for aboriginal artists to open up a ‘third Space’ creating depth through Aboriginal stereotypes or troupes, by doing so, adding Aboriginal signifiers to the repertoire of signs to create meaning.

Similar to “Whitewashed”, the Power Pole series were important in my praxis to come to where I am now. Studying the work of Belmore and Jungen inspired me to push these concepts I had been already working on, the hybrid and depicting the native now, to attempt to join a new aboriginal cannon of works drawing on indigenous experience to add depth and meaning to my work, being careful to not limit my art by fixed narratives or interpretations.

In the final piece from the power pole series I depicted the Spectrum mountain range, an iconic symbol of northern BC and the Tahltan people, with a small power line, representing the NTL. “The Northwest Transmission Line: A Delegation of Power,” shown with the series, speaks about a reliance on both the contemporary and traditional; shown on its own I am speaking about claims of “green power” replacing environmentally decimating diesel-fueled power in small northern communities, but initiated and prioritized to supply mineral exploitation. With this painting I wanted to talk about power politics that accompany this venture and ask what it means to ‘open up the north’? This painting epitomized my attempt to create a space for education and space for open-ended conversation.

Works Sited:

Augaitis, Daina. “Prototypes For New Understandings”. Brian Jungen. Vancouver, BC: Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver/ Toronto/ Berkeley: Douglas & McIntire 2005.

Spectrum Range:

All rights reserved, Tsema Igharas, 2018