“Art Stories Are Being Rewritten”: Métis Artist Jason Baerg Brings Extensive Work to Art Toronto

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Queeries is a weekly column by CBC Arts producer Peter Knegt that questions LGBTQ art, culture and / or identity through a personal lens.

This weekend, Art Toronto – Canada’s only international art fair – will return to an in-person event after a year off, with over 60 galleries heading to the Metro Toronto Convention Center in addition to several virtual events. And with that comes a very busy weekend for Torontonians Jason Baerg. The queer Métis artist will exhibit with Vancouver FAZAKAS GALLERY in addition to presenting a preview solo exhibition of Art Toronto with Soho House Toronto.

Baerg, who works with digital interventions in drawing, painting, and new media installation (and notably also developed and implemented the National Métis Arts Program for the Vancouver Olympics), is part of a Focus on Indigenous art at this year’s Art Toronto, where over 10% of exhibitors are Indigenous-run galleries and about 25% of the entire fair will feature Indigenous artwork. We spoke to Baerg about his work and what people can expect to see at the fair.

Congratulations on Art Toronto and all the work you have presented there. Do you want to chat a bit about what people can expect from you at the fair?

Thank you Pierre!

As a pioneer in the use of manufacturing technologies in my art studio, laser cutting has been a key aspect of my practice since 2012. I will present new works that illustrate my interest in the advancement of painting by through digital interventions. Art Toronto receives a new large installation piece that pays homage to my spiritual name as well as the great Norval Morrisseau, who is a copper and red 9ft Thunderbird.

I have also created a new series of paintings and prints activating the same iconography, which will be seen both at Art Toronto and at the associated opening at Soho House in Toronto. Art Metropole will also carry my new catalog, Tawâskweyâw / A path or a hole among the trees, at the Publishing Fair, which will also take place at the Metro Convention Center during Art Toronto.

Ispisîhêw ᐃᐢᐱᓰᐦᐁᐤ S: He stands up. Acrylic on Wood. (Jason Baerg)

Can you tell us a bit about your career and how it has evolved in relation to what you are expressing?

“Broadening our way of seeing and being” is at the heart of my artistic practice. I am here to make a contribution to culture conceptually, as well as to advance my artistic discipline in a formal way. As I learn, I create and share, hoping the messages and visuals inspire others to move forward dynamically in our continuum.

The paths for many, including myself, have been part of this 25 year journey. It is a real job to be Métis, but I am grateful to stand in solidarity with my Indigenous parents, to support and celebrate our people, our cultures and our future. It’s not just about me; some of the ways I have illustrated my commitment to capacity building in our community in the past [have been] by co-founding The Shushkitew Collective and The Métis Artist Collective. I have also been a volunteer chair of organizations such as the Indigenous Curatorial Collective and the National Indigenous Media Arts Coalition. Teaching at OCADU is also an aspect of this process.

Times are changing and as indigenous people it is vital that we culturally participate in larger conversations to advance our ideas and offerings. I am delighted to be part of a large movement for recognition and inclusion beyond the expectation of what we should look like, where we should be seen or how we should make our art.

Jason Baerg laser cut piece. (Émile Askey)

This year, Art Toronto is focusing on Indigenous art, with over 10% of exhibitors being Indigenous-run galleries and over 25% of the entire fair showcasing Indigenous artwork. Does that give you any hope as to the direction in which we are heading to finally focus the work of aboriginal artists?

We’re just amazing, to be honest! I remember the first Indigenous art jury I sat on, in what was then called Indian and Northern Affairs, in 1998, and I was blown away by the exceptional level of talent offered by our Indigenous peoples from coast to coast to coast. Powerful. The art world has also been rocked to a point where social phobias and racism will no longer be tolerated. Art histories are being rewritten and the canon now includes contributions from all four directions from time immemorial.

It is undeniable that what was brought by ancestors of the past informed much of what has been called “modernism”; it only takes a visit to the Great Hall of Oceania at the MET in New York to realize this. In a contemporary art context, when you consider what the best Indigenous creators have to offer, POW! The deep goods are here and are delivered sizzling.

In the wake of the completion of the Anthropocene, the only culture that will matter is the one that leads us to safety and survival. Yes, systems are changing and settlers are beginning to understand that what we as Indigenous people have to offer is not only legitimate, but also necessary. The secrets of the earth are anchored in our languages, our knowledge and our practices. We need our dreamers, our visionaries, and that’s us, the artists.

A piece from Jason Baerg’s solo exhibition at Soho House. (Jason Baerg)

Can you talk about your own experience as an Indigenous queer artist and how it appears in your artistic practice?

What is a Queer Spirit or an offering? I have been taught that I am sacred, and traditionally some of the roles and responsibilities align with healing, seeing and helping. As a maker, it is possible to engender the aesthetic, because everything has a sensuality, and these guidelines are non-binary. Works of art can also be sensitive if the artist realizes that he can participate in the birth of something.

In fashion at Ayimach Horizons, I challenge myself to fold clothes into spaces that embrace dexterity in design. Most of the pieces are gender neutral and can be worn in a number of ways. The transformation / change of shape is at the heart of the brand.

A lot of people have told me that they find something sexual in certain works of art. I would do wrong to deny these energies the occasional infiltration of production. It is also one of the sophisticated windows of abstraction: it allows us to deliver codes to our audience in complete confidentiality.

This interview has been condensed.

Art Toronto will take place October 29-31 at the Metro Toronto Convention Center. Due to COVID-19 protocols, tickets must be booked in advance online and scheduled in half-hour increments. Festival visitors must also show proof of full COVID-19 vaccination.



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