mixed media, 2017
28 x 15 x 15 1/2 in 71.1 x 38.1 x 39.4 cm
Collection of the Artist
1. Peabody Essex Museum, Native Fashion Now, 2015, wall panels
Karen Kramer, Native Fashion Now: North American Indian Style, 2015, a similar work titled Reaction reproduced page 135
The complete medium consists of: found shoes, vintage wooden shoe stand, vintage round circuit board, coated wire, capacitors, light-emitting diodes, resistors, vintage wooden shoe lasts, metal hardware.
Completed in 2017, Barry Ace’s Efface builds on his body of work referencing the traditional “trailduster” moccasins he encountered in an aquatint by Swiss-French artist Karl Bodmer. Two Numakiki (Mandan) warriors stand in ceremonial attire that includes moccasin footwear with fur extensions attached to the heels. The illustration was published in Travels in the Interior of North America, a book by Prince Maximilian of Wied-Neuwied. The purpose of his expedition and the accompanying book was to document what was then being termed “The Vanishing Race” of Indigenous people on the North American continent. As with Nigig Makizinan (Otter Moccasins, 2014) and its companion piece, Fox Tail Moccasins (2016), Ace has created yet another assemblage that references the historical documentation of this Indigenous footwear. In all three, rather than adorn a pair of animal skin moccasins, he has chosen modern leather shoes. With Efface, their playful façade belies a more sober intent - to dispel the notion of cultural stasis and that Indigenous cultures were destined to become a footnote in the annals of history.
Unlike the Nigig Makizinan and Fox Tail Moccasins with their fur appendages, here Ace switches to telephone wire. Ace also uses the technique of the trailing strands for his bandolier bags such as the Trinity Suite (collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario). Rather than weighting the pieces to the ground, the wire visually propels them upwards to the Sky World and galaxies beyond, providing a futuristic element that can be seen in much of Ace’s œuvre. His re-imaginings are what Anishinaabe cultural theorist Gerald Vizenor categorized as examples of Indigenous “Survivance,” a concept that has become associated with post-millennial Indigenous art, a strategic act that invokes creative agency to envision different worlds and possibilities.
Efface is also a material reverberation of Reaction (2005), Ace’s initial work referencing traildusters using a pair of his own shoes. Aptly named after the brand of shoe, Kenneth Cole Reaction, the title also calls to mind a reaction to the occurrences of government monitoring of our movements in cyberspace. The wires in both works symbolize the need to erase one’s digital tracks. Reaction was featured in two touring exhibitions: the Museum of Art and Design, New York City’s Changing Hands: Art Without Reservation in 2012 as well as the Peabody Essex Museum’s Native Fashion Now (NFN) in 2015. Curator Karen Kramer selected the work, as she sees Ace as being a part of a group of “New Radicals,” Indigenous “provocateurs” who “embrace the experimental and erase boundaries between art and fashion.” Works such as Ace’s shoes “demonstrate remarkable craftsmanship and at the same time hurl familiar materials and forms into entirely new dimensions.”
The shoes used for Efface are from a vintage apparel shop purchased while Ace was attending the opening for NFN in Salem, Massachusetts. Their presentation is uncanny - propped up on an antique shoe stand as though ready for a window display, they resemble something familiar and at the same time not yet experienced. In the Great Lake floral motifs, based on medicine flowers, Ace uses electronic components as a substitute for beads. “They are an aesthetic irony” he notes, when the meaning of bead (manidoominens), a spirit energy berry, is compared with the magnitude for energy contained within the capacitors, resistors and light-emitting diodes.
The title, on one hand, connotes colonial erasure; when the meaning is flipped it may also signify the nullification of colonization, presenting an opportunity for regeneration. Ace stated “As Indigenous people, we embraced technology and have always been innovative.” Ace’s modification of these Oxford-style shoes is another stunning example of his ability to Indigenize as well as Indigitize everyday accouterments promenading a distinctive Anishinaabe aesthetic into the 21st century and beyond.
We thank Leah Snyder, digital designer and writer, The L. Project, for contributing the above essay. Snyder writes about culture, technology and contemporary art, and is a regular contributor to the National Gallery of Canada's Gallery magazine and other Canadian art publications.
All quotes attributed to the artist unless otherwise noted.
Please note: This work is accompanied by a letter of authenticity and provenance signed by the artist. This work will also be included in the forthcoming exhibition Indigenous Glamour: Fashioning North America at the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA, August 19, 2022 – January 8, 2023.
Available for viewing at: Heffel Montreal
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