A critically-acclaimed exhibition from Toronto-based multidisciplinary artist Rebecca Belmore opened at Remai Modern on February 1, marking the only Western Canadian stop of Belmore’s retrospective.
Entitled Rebecca Belmore: Facing the Monumental, the exhibition surveys the artist’s career of more than 30 years, showcasing works in sculpture, installation, photography, video and performance. Curated by Wanda Nanibush, the show first opened at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) in 2018.
Rose Bouthillier, who organized Remai Modern’s presentation of Facing the Monumental, said “it’s extremely significant” to have the exhibition come to Saskatoon.
“It’s really, I think, a testament to the new potential of the Remai Modern,” said Bouthillier, Remai Modern’s curator (exhibitions).
Bouthillier added that Saskatoon’s new modern art museum was built to take ambitious projects such as Belmore’s career retrospective.
“Our building is just singing with this exhibition — you know, able to present it to its fullest potential,” she said.
“We’re the only other Canadian venue that’s participating in the exhibition tour, and that was an intentional choice on the part of the AGO — partly because our building suits the exhibition so well and can accommodate it, and partly because it’s important that the work be shown in the Prairies and in Western Canada.
“A lot of the sort of revisions we’ve done to the exhibition checklist are specifically works that do relate to this place. Rebecca’s had a long history of making work here and making work in relation to issues that are specific to the Prairies. So it’s important for our audiences to be able to see the work here, in this sort of environment and location that connects so deeply to some of these works.”
Belmore, a member of Lac Seul First Nation (Anishinaabe), is rooted in the political and social realities of Indigenous communities. Two works with Saskatoon connections have been added to the presentation at Remai Modern. A sculpture entitled Freeze (2006/2019), a collaborative work by Belmore and Osvaldo Yero, has been installed outdoors nearby. The museum is also featuring video documentation of Omaa (2014), a performance Belmore did at Wanuskewin Heritage Park during the symposium Stronger Than Stone: (Re)Inventing the Indigenous Monument.
As well, a significant piece from Remai Modern’s collection, the large-scale installation titled blood on the snow (2002), has returned to the museum from the AGO.
The sculpture Freeze is dedicated to Indigenous youth Neil Stonechild. Stonechild was 17 years old when he died in 1990 as a result of exposure to extreme cold, his frozen body found in a vacant lot in Saskatoon’s north industrial area. A commission of inquiry, held in 2003 by the Government of Saskatche-wan, found that the teen was last seen alive in the custody of two city police constables.
The officers were fired despite their claims of innocence, but they were never formally charged. The events surrounding Stonechild’s death were similar to other allegations, spanning years, of police picking up Indigenous people and dropping them off on the city’s outskirts.
Originally created in 2006, Freeze is a temporary artwork that begins as large blocks of ice with the name STONECHILD carved inside. Over time, the ice will slowly melt and the sculpture will disappear.
Bouthillier said “it’s really significant” that Freeze will be shown for the first time on the Prairies through the exhibition.
“It’s never been shown in Saskatoon, which is ground zero — the place where these events occurred, Neil Stonechild’s death,” she said.
“Saskatoon has changed a lot since 1990, but I think we all know that there’s a lot more to be done in terms of changing people’s perception and awareness around this type of event and the discrimination that Indigenous people face in the city from law enforcement and from many other directions. So it’s an opportunity to really pause and think about that, and then also think about how the museum can be a place for these conversations to take place.”
Remai Modern has created live programming to accompany Facing the Monumental, which includes performances, talks, book discussions and films that offer additional context on Belmore’s work. The full schedule can be found online at remaimodern.org.
On Feb. 5 at 7 p.m., the museum will launch Fireside With Lyndon, a new conversation series that will be held in the museum’s public atrium. The inaugural event will address reconciliation and the Saskatoon Police Service in the era following the Stonechild inquiry. Lyndon J. Linklater, Remai Modern’s Indigenous relations advisor, will be joined by Saskatoon police Chief Troy Cooper, police commission chair Darlene Brander and Angela Daigneault, Aboriginal relations consultant for the Saskatoon Police Service. No admission is required.