Reception: Saturday, January 13, 2024 from 3 pm to 5 pm
Jason Baerg: kisewâtisiw_miyootootow – S/he is Mercifully_Respectful
Text by Chris Gismondi
In their new exhibition kisewâtisiw_miyootootow – S/he is Mercifully_Respectful, Jason Baerg continue to explore the Cree Medicine Wheel, Indigenous futurism, and signature techniques and materials. This body of work is the third installment of the project which takes the western quadrant of water/blue/sage as its main theme. Mostly conceptualized during the transitionary fall and winter of 2023, the southern/red and eastern/yellow quadrants are still influencing and reverberating in the works. The lessons of the Medicine Wheel overall are evoked in quad groupings as these concepts build upon each other in a holistic nature. This exhibition now draws from and adds upon this circle of teachings by focusing on water’s diverse energy since it can be found naturally in all three states of matter. While Baerg has explored site specificity in the past, this exhibition and its focus may be fitting for the island of Tio’tia:ke, “where the rivers meet”. Through abstraction, conceptual exploration, laser cutting, and new larger dimension works, Baerg explores the cardinal direction where the sun sets.
Indeed, the western quadrant’s element of water evokes shapeshifting qualities reflected in the works. Beyond aesthetics, the vigor of ideas that Baerg is working through includes the dynamic space on, behind, or underneath the painted planes. It is a conceptual compliment to the darkness of night or shadows and water’s permeability in unlikely spaces. Evoking a unity, they stack compositions together as supportive groupings. They mimic the architectural space of the gallery, but also act as inviting portals or gateways to utopia. These evoke teachings related to Indigenous dwelling construction embedded within the tipi and the Medicine Wheel. Additionally in this exhibition, these painted planes are newly expanded into tondo compositions carrying weighted symbolism of the circle. Baerg also innovates this body of work resolving larger dimensioned pieces perhaps like vast expanses of water or an evening sky. To meet these challenges, they have adapted with unexpected approaches and tools applied to familiar elements like spirit orbs which vibrate with energy or Norval Morriseau’s Thunderbirds. Laser cuts continue to be used with distinct spacings drawn from Agnes Martin’s concept of visual rhythms from (1999). The signature effect of cascading fringe creates strings of droplets rolling from works and revealing underworlds beneath.
The titles of the artworks and exhibition refers to Métis teachings as Baerg develops and integrates Michif and Cree language into their work. What Grace Dillion might describe as a part of an Indigenous Futurist ethic of biskaabiiyang, or “returning to ourselves“. These practices, names, and teachings center radical conceptions of love and care. What Leanne Simpson referred to as sâkihitowask or love medicine/future love. These emotional evocations reflect the sentimentality of the west/blue quadrant and sage’s role as medicine. Baerg’s grappling with these ideas and further technological exploration cements them as a compassionate futurist. They are drawing from what already exists here/now and innovating and projecting teachings into the future for the generations that will come, again relating to the life stages of the Medicine Wheel and intergenerational community holism. Creating and imagining pathways forward is one way to care and develop future protocol. Here these teachings come through abstraction as a language beyond the rational, with colour as a light vibrating medicine that sings if we listen.