Greg Staats: auto-mnemonic six nations
July 19 – October 26, 2008
Toronto-based artist Greg Staats works with photo-based media, including traditional photography and more recently, video. Born in Ohsweken, Ontario, Staats, a Mohawk, is a member of the Six Nations of Ontario’s Grand River Territory (the location of his birthplace) in southern Ontario. He has lived and worked in Toronto since 1985.
In his moving and beautiful works in both image and sound in this exhibition, Staats creates a mood and tone that are remarkable for their subtle power. Exploring themes of memory, loss, and the complexity of his own bi-cultural heritage, the artist uses fairly simple and straightforward-looking images that are important as signifiers as well as in and of themselves. To attempt to describe this installation by listing its components: four recent short videos (red oak condolence, when I left, wave, and what remains) and six black-and-white photographs from 2006 (titled collectively auto-mnemonic six nations) does not begin to give a preview of the visitor’s experience of the work. To describe some of the images: for example, the six photographs are of three natural elements: trees and branches from the artist’s childhood home, and three built forms: plywood covering a burnt church, an old wooden folding chair, and a stone tower, gets us no closer to the essential meaning(s) of his work. For in fact, Staats’ work demands a “slow” experience, that is, time spent looking at, reacting to, and thinking about his work. Much of the artist’s process has been a journey of research, observation, and thought, and the viewer must undergo something of the same process to penetrate to the heart of his art.
Staats’ initial impetus for this series of videos and photographs was his discovery of audiotapes from the 1960s that had been in the possession of his grandfather. These tapes are of hymns being sung in Mohawk harmony by three men, accompanied by the artist’s paternal grandmother, all of whom lived on the Six Nations Reserve. Staats moved in ever-widening circles from these tapes, to pull in images and found texts as well. He writes: “Drawing on an approach that combines language, architecture, photography, and landscape, I have developed works around the notions of animose (full of spirit), errance (wandering with purpose), and the performative aspect of objects, repetition (ceremonies) and traces.”
Staats has exhibited his work widely, both in Canada and abroad, and his projects have received a great deal of favourable critical reception.