Meaning change meaningful to Haida artist

  • Aug. 6, 2007 5:00 p.m.

Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas says he is all about changing meaning and now he’s been invited to do just that with a new exhibit called Meddling in the Museum, showing at the Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver until December.In his three site specific installations, he’s “changed meaning” of not only the themes and conventions of Haida art, but also the way indigenous cultures are presented by institutions and are understood by the public.For Coopers from the Hood, he welded a pair of red and a pair of white car hoods together and applied copper leaf to the front, echoing the shape of a traditional copper shield. The Bone Box uses discarded storage trays that once held the museum’s collection of human remains. Yahgulanaas painted the back of twelve of these panels that together resemble the front of the carved chests displayed on nearby platforms. Cranks made of copper piping allow the viewer to turn the panels flat, revealing the collected totem poles on display in the Great Hall. In Pedal to the Meddle he flips a treasured Bill Reid canoe (also carved by Guujaaw and Simon Dick) upside down and ties it to the top of a Pontiac Firefly. The car has been painted with a mixture of autobody enamel and argillite dust and is perched on the ramp near Bill Reid’s The Raven and the First Men, looking like it’s in process of a getaway. In this way Yahgulanaas takes the notion of a sacred icon for a ride.Not only did he change the way some artifacts appear in the museum, but he also changed the way the museum does openings too. Instead of standing around drinking wine and eating cheese, Mr. Yahgulanaas wanted a more casual atmosphere for his show. He held a tail-gate party on the lawn of the museum with Haida musicians, barbequed hamburgers and more. Mr. Yahgulanaas said one of the senior members of the museum told him the opening of the exhibit set a new standard. The museum planned for 150 and 450 showed up, the highest ever number of visitors to any art exhibit opening at the MOA. Families as well as many of Vancouver’s art supporters were there, says Yahgulanaas.

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