As you walk toward Bockley Gallery at night, a pattern of glowing eyes greet you. The gallery windows of the Kenwood storefront are masked with fabric, with eye holes cut out. Peek through them, and you encounter a video being screened that features different old TV clips that switch from one to another almost as if someone is flipping TV channels. One clip shows a woman cooking a caribou head, and another shows chef Emeril Lagasse stirring meat. There are “American Gladiator” clips, and clips from “Seinfeld” and “The Simpsons.”
Multidisciplinary Inuvialuk artist Kablusiak says they were interested in exploring a ghost motif — something they have used often in their work — when they first created the installation in 2019 for the Esker Foundation in Calgary. For the artist, the ghost eyes are a way to show the concept of seeing without being seen. “It’s a foil to talk about being an urban Inuk and what that looks like,” Kablusiak says.
The nostalgic TV clips, according to Kablusiak, are purposefully nostalgic. “It’s almost as if you’re like changing the channel with your mind,” Kablusiak says. Meanwhile, the cut-out eyes are at different. Some are too high for a human to see through them, making it deliberately difficult to access the world behind the fabric.
Curator Erin Gleeson first encountered Kablusiak’s when Gleeson was working in Vancouver. When Gleeson took over as director of FD13, a residency program based in the Twin Cities that houses international artists, they asked Kablusiak to be a part of the programming.
For the artist’s three-week residency, they are a visiting artist with the University of Minnesota’s art department, where they will be visiting studios of masters of fine arts students, and giving an artist talk on Feb. 9. FD13 is also partnering with the Great Northern Festival to present the exhibition at Bockley, and with the festival also will be hosting a curatorial talk co-presented with the Emerging Curators Institute at All My Relations Gallery, and a tasting event with North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems, a nonprofit run by the Sioux Chef (i.e. Sean Sherman, the award-winning owner of Owamni).
According to Gleeson, FD13 asks each resident artist to incorporate an element of “liveness” to their residency, which can mean different things to different artists.
The notion of “liveness” made Kablusiak think of a project they had kicking around their brain — the act of sharing food together. “I was thinking a lot about Metis Kitchen Table Talks,” Kablusiak says, referring to a practice popularized and written about by Metis scholars Cathy Mattes and Sherry Farrell Racette, where a group of people gathers around a large table eating, sharing and exchanging stories and knowledge.
“The act of sharing food together is something that’s so intimate,” Kablusiak says. “You’re putting something together and you’re giving it to somebody to put in their body. It’s sharing and reciprocation.”
Kablusiak says they provided NATIFS a list of food items from Inuit Country: “I passed along my list of dream foods to the chefs,” Kablusiak says. “And they came back with their interpretation and substitutions.” Kablusiak’s dream foods include caribou, cloud berries, snow goose, and dried arctic char. “Honestly, I just wanted a way so I can eat country food without hounding my mom,” they said. “How do I access an integral part of my being, but, in an artsy way.”
Kablusiak’s family hails from off the Arctic Ocean. They currently have a studio at an artist center called the Bows, based in Mohkinstsis, the Mohkinstsis (Blackfoot) name for Calgary.
When they were asked to be a part of the Great Northern Festival, they were a bit taken aback, since Minnesota is far south of their home. There’s also a similarly named festival called the Great Northern Arts Festival in Inuvik. “I don’t want to gatekeep ‘North,’ but I’m going to gatekeep North,” Kablusiak says jokingly.
Gleeson said they intentionally wanted to be a part of the Great Northern for that reason. “I wanted to ask, ‘whose North is this?’”
It’s a question that continues to be an important one for cultural institutions in Minnesota in general, as land acknowledgements and other gestures of care toward the earth and the historic keepers of this land become more commonplace. Mainstream institutions do seem to be making some movement toward holding Native and Indigenous artists as a vital voice in the landscape of this place.
Upcoming events featuring Kablusiak:
Qiniqtuaq: Solo exhibition by Kablusiak
Runs through Feb. 5 at Bockley Gallery (free). More information here.
Mamaqtuq! Tasting event inspired by Inuit Country Food
Thursday, Feb. 2, at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. at Bockley Gallery. (Registration required. More information here).
Atautchikun | wâhkôtamowin: A Curatorial Talk by Kablusiak
Feb. 1, at 5.30 p.m. at All My Relations (free) More information and registration here.
Kablusiak Artist Talk
Thursday, Feb. 9, 6 p.m. to 7: 30 p.m. at IN FLUX Regis Center for Art – East. More information here.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Erin Gleeson’s name and the name of North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems, as well as to correctly specify Inuit Country, the material covering gallery windows and the type of berries the artist specified.