Monday, February 3, 2020

Displacement | October 2019

I was introduced to Eli Hirtle through another artist named Shawn Shepherd who I was introduced to by Deborah Page, a collector from Palm Desert. One things leads to another. I was on my summer travels discovering artists and places in the PNW and beyond. Eli lives in Victoria, BC and is a nêhiyaw(Cree)/British/German filmmaker, beadworker, visual artist and curator. Eli has made several films about indigenous language revitalization and makes work related to his journey of reconnecting with his true heritage.

In 2018, I was looking for residencies that could fit into the Unseen Face/Unheard Voices focus that I wanted to bring to the program. While a lot of good art is made in the Joshua Tree region, very little of it addresses the pressing social issues outside of climate change and I wanted to kick start the discussion. I had been looking for emerging contemporary artists with an Indigenous background and was disappointed to find a vacuum in the Southern California art scene. 

Eli and I spoke honestly about the challenge of bringing someone from a very different heritage to the Joshua Tree area to make work and take up the issue. We determined that as long as he was able to meet with some local Indigenous artists and research the local context, we could use the lens of dislocation to view the process.

On the back of an extensive tour for screenings of his latest film in Western Canada, Eli arrived at Boxo at the beginning of October, 2019. Gerald Clarke, a Cahuilla artist who has participated in the Joshua Treenial, agreed to spend a day with Eli touring him to the Morongo Reservation and familiarizing him with local traditions. Gerald is currently the subject of a solo exhibition at the Palm Springs Art Museum. 

When Eli arrived, he was taken with the night skies we enjoy in the region and decided that his residency project would involve telling the alternate stories of the constellations which are derived from his Cree traditions. Using the medium of beading, he created an evocative piece beaded onto black leather. In addition to beading the constellations themselves, Eli beaded their names in the nêhiyaw language. 

Eli's open house on October 12, engaged viewers with discussion of the parallel dark histories of Indigenous people in Canada and the US as well as the possibilities of different tellings of the stories of our skies. There was a very lively discussion and several attendees followed up with articles and emails demonstrating the appetite in the region for discussing these issues.

We were also able to have Eli included in programming at the Palm Springs Art Museum where he screened his newest film, Voices on the Rise, and again engage the audience in a discussion of the issues.

A huge thank you to Eli for venturing so far south to help raise awareness and for the wonderful work he was able to accomplish while at Boxo.


No comments: