Early in 2019 I was thinking about a new series of beaded works, which I had titled Beaded Baroque. The original concept was to bring contemporary beading into conversation with the Baroque period of art history. I’m interested in this period as a time when European nations were accumulating great wealth from the colonial project, which fuelled artistic production. I was thinking a lot about how the Métis fit into this, but are absent from the visual record of the time. Living close Venice, where beads prized by the Métis originated, when I thought about what my Grandmothers and Aunties would want me to bring back from this place, the answer was beads, lots of beads, and my stories. These where the first thoughts about this series of work, which evolved considerably after its inception.
As the first stage in the project, the final months of 2019 where spent conducting artistic research in the private collection Claudio Leoni, an entomologist from Brescia, Italy. During this phase, I photographed specimens and worked on preliminary sketches that would inform the works to be created.
My next task was to find a studio space in which to complete the project. There are areas of Italy that are under recession, becoming depopulated as the youth leave for the cities and other countries in search of work. I was looking for a studio space for this project in such an area when I stumbled upon an old country house that had been closed for over a decade. The house was inspiring to me from an artistic perspective in that its last inhabitant was an antiquarian who had amassed an amazing collection of objects. The house had remained as he left it for many years following his passing, slowing undergoing the natural process of decay, reclamation by the land, and occupation by thousands of insects. I lived and worked in the house while I created this series of beaded works, allowing the objects, history and insects it contains to fuel my artistic practise. While working, I began to see parallels between the process of beading and various activities undertaken by insects. The project became more about relationship to the the site, the insects, the objects, and the process of beading and less about the Baroque period, so I now refer to the project as The Antiquarian’s House. Some of the objects I worked with can be considered instruments of violence, others are related to loss. Some of the objects have been encased in beads while others provide the support material onto which I’ve beaded. Can encasing an instrument of violence in beads change its nature? Will the destructive history of such objects contaminate my hands as I work? These were questions I asked myself as I was completing the works.
Of interest, a ceremonial mask was found in the house, they have been sent home to the Oneida Nation.
All of the works in The Antiquarian’s House series were completed in Northern Italy between late 2019 and early March 2020. The works were in transit to Montreal, Canada for BACA 2020 when the Covid-19 shutdown took place. The video below documents the guiding ideas, the site, and the evolution of the project.