signed and dated 2018
13 x 9 in 33 x 22.9 cm
Collection of the Artist
1. Merriam Website Dictionary, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/synthesis
The complete medium consists of: birch bark, wood, laser cut paper, photo transfer, capacitors, resistors, light-emitting diodes, glass beads, trade beads, coated wire.
In this work, Barry Ace explores the meaning of synthesis, “a composition or combination of parts or elements so as to form a whole.”
Ace intentionally combines three types of record-keeping to form a unique configuration. Birch bark and paper, along with electrical components that signify the electronic or digital storing of data, are layered one on top of each other, as though indicating the historical timeline of their introduction into use.
The Anishinaabeg, like many cultures, used birch bark to record sacred, medicinal or historical information. The scroll-like format is rolled onto a wood stick, referencing traditional Anishinaabe wiigwaasabak (scrolls). The paper, with its laser cut embellishment, is Italian, acquired while Ace was in Paris in 2010 to perform A Reparative Act for the opening of Robert Houle’s exhibition Paris / Ojibwa at the Canadian Cultural Centre. The image, a portrait of an Indigenous man, is a reproduction of a cabinet card, a style of photographic reproduction that was popular in use from the mid- to late 1800s that replaced the carte de visite, an earlier French invention. The name refers to the size of the reproductions, which were designed to be large enough to be easily viewed when displayed on a cabinet.
Diagonally bisecting the image, Ace has added what has become his signature embellishment - the use of electronic components to reference traditional Woodland-style beadwork of the Great Lakes Region. The “bead-like” ornamentation consists of brown flat disc capacitors for leaves, with sparkling glass seed beads strung between the blue and green resistors in the stem and larger leaves. Dipped capacitors, with their multi-coloured stripes, form the petals of the flower. A light-emitting diode emerges from its centre. With their intended function to transmit electrical energy, the components are a simile for beads referred to as manidoominens or “spirit energy berries” in Anishinaabemowin, as they symbolically hold within them the charge of healing spiritual energy. Beads were also often used as a type of mnemonic record-keeping, as with the quahog shells used for Wampum Belts. Below the image “white heart” beads (red) and antique African trade beads (stripes of green) hang as a tassel. As with many colonized areas, beads manufactured in Italy, France and other parts of Europe became a form of currency. Ace notes that the trade beads, like paper and other materials that came into circulation along with colonization, “speak to the economic seduction of Indigenous people”.
The three materials - bark, paper and components - raise questions around longevity as well as sustainability. The digital and electronic devices that record our data are designed with intentionally planned obsolescence and do not easily decay. Ace sources the electrical components from surplus stores. He recycles them into his work as a way to repurpose the refuse of e-waste, taking them out of circulation and landfills. Susceptible to moisture and more ephemeral, paper comes with its own environmental cost, yet its decomposition rate is preferable when considered against the electrical components with their heavy metal toxicity. Birch bark can sustain damage from water, but artifacts made from it can last thousands of years, yet its environmental burden is light. The work begs the question, when considering what we use to keep memory alive, “Which material is the most primitive one?”
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 unframed.
This work is accompanied by a letter of authenticity and provenance signed by the artist.
Available for viewing at: Heffel Toronto – 135 Yorkville Ave
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