The article you just read was brought to you by a few thousand dedicated readers. Will you join them?

Thanks for coming by The Tyee and reading one of many original articles we’ll post today. Our team works hard to publish in-depth stories on topics that matter on a daily basis. Our motto is: No junk. Just good journalism.

Just as we care about the quality of our reporting, we care about making our stories accessible to all who want to read them and provide a pleasant reading experience. No intrusive ads to distract you. No paywall locking you out of an article you want to read. No clickbait to trick you into reading a sensational article.

There’s a reason why our site is unique and why we don’t have to rely on those tactics — our Tyee Builders program. Tyee Builders are readers who chip in a bit of money each month (or one-time) to our editorial budget. This amazing program allows us to pay our writers fairly, keep our focus on quality over quantity of articles, and provide a pleasant reading experience for those who visit our site.

In the past year, we’ve been able to double our staff team and boost our reporting. We invest all of the revenue we receive into producing more and better journalism. We want to keep growing, but we need your support to do it.

Fewer than 1 in 100 of our average monthly readers are signed up to Tyee Builders. If we reach 1% of our readers signing up to be Tyee Builders, we could continue to grow and do even more.

If you appreciate what The Tyee publishes and want to help us do more, please sign up to be a Tyee Builder today. You pick the amount, and you can cancel any time.

Support our growing independent newsroom and join Tyee Builders today.
Canada needs more independent media. And independent media needs you.

Did you know that most news organizations in Canada are owned by just a handful of companies? And that these companies have been shutting down newsrooms and laying off reporters continually over the past few decades?

Fact-based, credible journalism is essential to our democracy. Unlike many other newsrooms across the country, The Tyee’s independent newsroom is stable and growing.

How are we able to do this? The Tyee Builder program. Tyee Builders are readers who chip into our editorial budget so that we can keep doing what we do best: fact-based, in-depth reporting on issues that matter to our readers. No paywall. No junk. Just good journalism.

Fewer than 1 in 100 of our average monthly readers are signed up to be Tyee Builders. If we reach 1% of our readers signing up to be Tyee Builders, we could continue to grow and do even more.

If you appreciate what The Tyee publishes and want to help us do more, please sign up to be a Tyee Builder today. You pick the amount, and you can cancel any time.

Support our growing independent newsroom and join Tyee Builders today.
We value: Our readers.
Our independence. Our region.
The power of real journalism.
Get our free newsletter
Sign Up
Culture
  |  
Art

‘Interior Infinite’: The Rich, Heady and Contentious World of Identity

Walking through this spiky, carnival-like exhibition at North Van’s Polygon Gallery is a great pleasure.

Dorothy Woodend 30 Jun 2021 | TheTyee.ca

Dorothy Woodend is culture editor of The Tyee. Reach her here.

Identity is just one word, but it encompasses a bewildering, occasionally deeply divisive, number of interpretations of late.

Interior Infinite, a new exhibition at the Polygon Gallery in North Vancouver, takes on different forms of creative identity in all its fragmented, mirrored, sometimes contradictory manifestations. Some are celebratory and festive, while others are more introspective.

The title of the show derives from a quote from Russian philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin’s Rabelais and His World: “The interior infinite could not have been found in the closed and finished world, with its distinct fixed boundaries dividing all phenomena and value.”

Not to overly simplify, but author and actress Marlo Thomas’s 1970s paean to self-determination, expression and liberation, Free to Be… You and Me, could equally apply.

960px version of Shonibare_UnBallo.jpg
Yinka Shonibare CBE, video still from Un Ballo In Maschera, 2004, HD digital video, colour, sound, 32 min. Courtesy the artist and James Cohan Gallery, New York.

Polygon curator Justin Ramsey explains that the concept for the exhibition was inspired by two separate events.

In 1992, after the beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles police, American artist Nick Cave (not to be confused with the Australian musician of the same name) was sitting in a park, thinking about how to react, when he noticed a little twig lying broken and abandoned on the ground. Cave gathered up all the broken bits of wood he could find, took them back to his studio and created his first ever “soundsuit.”

Part armour, part disguise, part musical instrument, the idea has informed the artist’s practice for almost 30 years.

582px version of NickCaveSoundsuit.jpg
Nick Cave, Blot, 2012, HD video, sound, 00:42:57. Copyright Nick Cave. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

Ramsey was inspired by Cave’s story, as well as the police murder of George Floyd. From these two related tragedies sprang a wealth of ideas, linked together by the human propensity to make meaning and beauty out of pain.

An early soundsuit from Cave is featured in the show, as well as a video of one in action. But this is just the beginning.

Interior Infinite is filled to the rafters with impactful work from around the globe: photographs, films, sculptures and installations from artists like Dana Claxton, Carrie Mae Weems, Zanele Muholi, Aïda Muluneh, Skeena Reece, Sin Wai Kin and Zadie Xa.

In this highly varied selection, there’s a great deal to unpack: identity, resistance, carnival, mythology, gender performance. The list goes on. Most of the artists represented are queer, trans or non-binary, and each work comes with its own complex history and theory.

582px version of DanaClaxton_Handtooled.jpg
Dana Claxton, Hand Tooled (For Ellen), 2020-2021, C-print, 60” x 48”. Courtesy of the artist.

It’s easy to fall down the hole of the supplemental material that often accompanies contemporary art practice, but there’s also the pleasure of simply walking through the show, letting different pieces make themselves known in all of their spiky, challenging and often funny ways.

If identity is a word, it’s also a world, a shapeshifting blur of transformative change that can sometimes feel destabilizing and other times feel freeing, depending on where you stand. Into this churning, mixmaster moment, art comes charging in.

If only it was as simple as "Free to Be... You and Me" ethos. But it’s never that straightforward. Humans being contrary, often downright obstreperous creatures, the politics of identity are cause for folks to go war over the most benign of things. Take your pick, whether it’s identity politics or Olympic sports.

582px version of CarrieMaeWeems_MissingLink.jpg
Carrie Mae Weems, Missing Link, Happiness, 2003, Iris print on paper, 37” x 26”. Copyright Carrie Mae Weems. Collection of the Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University; gift of the artist.

French surrealist Claude Cahun’s photographs provide an entrée to the show and highlight many of the themes that run throughout. Cahun’s life story reads like an Anaïs Nin novel in hyperdrive. She lived with her stepsister/lover, fought the Nazis during the occupation of France, and occasionally dressed up and performed as an angel in a nearby church graveyard.

As Cahun wrote in Disavowals or Cancelled Confessions, the artist’s subversive version of an autobiography, “Under this mask, another mask; I will never finish removing all these faces.” Masks, as a means of both denying and revealing identity, figure large in many of the works.

Yinka Shonibare’s film Un Ballo in Maschera, taking inspiration from Verdi’s opera of the same title, abandons music and words, but keeps choreographic language to tell a tale of intrigue, murder and a lot fancy dresses.

Carrie Mae Weems' portraits of dapper creatures, impeccably attired in top hats and tails, is a pointed indictment of the power of wealth and privilege in Louisiana, with its tradition of masked balls and Mardi Gras.

582px version of MartineGutierrez_DemonsYemaya.jpg
Martine Gutierrez, Demons, Yemaya 'Goddess of the Living Ocean,' p94 from Indigenous Woman, 2018, C-print mounted on Sintra, hand-painted artist frame, 41.5” x 29.5”. Copyright Martine Gutierrez. Courtesy of the artist and Ryan Lee Gallery, New York.

One of the most startling visions on offer is that of Martine Gutierrez, whose images channel the icy allure of high fashion with motifs taken from Indigenous culture. The subject of a New Yorker profile, Gutierrez’s work references Cahun’s earlier images, moving easily between the gloss of fashion and contemporary art, two worlds that frequently bleed together.

Ursula Mayer similarly mixes worlds. In Eternal Vomit Ground of Reality, a digital avatar idles in midair, channelling video game aesthetics with gender ambiguity, all sluiced down with a sheen of sex and futurism. The work makes reference to Donna Haraway’s A Cyborg Manifesto, as well as trans woman and fashion model Valentijn de Hingh. It is both fascinating and a wee bit sinister.

A different female figure pops out in the form of the Greek goddess Baubo, infamous for flashing her pudenda at Demeter while mourning the loss of her daughter Persephone. Goddess of Mirth, Baubo is depicted in sculptural form in the Polygon’s exhibition, where Estonian artist Kris Lemsalu let her kick up her heels and other bits.

Indigenous identity is another facet in the exhibition. Lacie Burning’s mirror-fragmented figure from the Reflection Series curled in on itself like a beaten child, while Dana Claxton uses leather-tooled purses clumped around a human form to make mordant comment on the weight of cultural baggage.

With such a rich and heady mixture, it’s tempting to waltz through the show, dipping a toe into one set of ideas, but some works require more of an investment in time and attention.

851px version of ZadieXaChildMagohalmi.jpg
Zadie Xa, Child of Magohalmi and the Echoes of Creation, 2020, HD digital video, colour, sound, 55 min. De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea UK. Photo by Rob Harris. Courtesy of the artist.

Zadie Xa’s film installation Child of Magohalmi and the Echoes of Creation is one such work. Born in North Vancouver but currently based in England, Xa’s film installation uses Korean mythology, nature films and animation to weave together different stories into an entirely new narrative.

Xa combines the story of the orca matriarch Granny (otherwise known as J2) who led her pod until her death in 2016 with the figure of Magohalmi. As the artist describes her, Magohalmi was a legendary creator who fashioned the Korean landscape out of her own bodily emissions.

Despite her significance, Magohalmi faded from popular knowledge when oral traditions of storytelling were supplanted by written versions. In Xa’s work, she returns.

The artists featured in Interior Infinite offer up a universe of different personas whose only limitation is human imagination. Identity is what you make it.  [Tyee]

Read more: Art

Share this article

The Tyee is supported by readers like you

Join us and grow independent media in Canada

Facts matter. Get The Tyee's in-depth journalism delivered to your inbox for free.

Tyee Commenting Guidelines

Comments that violate guidelines risk being deleted, and violations may result in a temporary or permanent user ban. Maintain the spirit of good conversation to stay in the discussion.
*Please note The Tyee is not a forum for spreading misinformation about COVID-19, denying its existence or minimizing its risk to public health.

Do:

  • Be thoughtful about how your words may affect the communities you are addressing. Language matters
  • Challenge arguments, not commenters
  • Flag trolls and guideline violations
  • Treat all with respect and curiosity, learn from differences of opinion
  • Verify facts, debunk rumours, point out logical fallacies
  • Add context and background
  • Note typos and reporting blind spots
  • Stay on topic

Do not:

  • Use sexist, classist, racist, homophobic or transphobic language
  • Ridicule, misgender, bully, threaten, name call, troll or wish harm on others
  • Personally attack authors or contributors
  • Spread misinformation or perpetuate conspiracies
  • Libel, defame or publish falsehoods
  • Attempt to guess other commenters’ real-life identities
  • Post links without providing context

LATEST STORIES

The Barometer

Do You Think the Injunction at Fairy Creek Will Be Reinstated?

Take this week's poll