Taking Haida art to interpretive heights

  • Aug. 26, 2015 8:00 p.m.

By Evelyn von AlmassyHaida Gwaii ObserverSEI , an unconventional work of art with Haida origins by Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas’ was unveiled at the McArthur Glen Designer Outlet, at the Vancouver Airport, July 9, 2015. The sculpture, made of highly polished stainless steel, standing four-metres tall and weighing at 3,800 kilograms, is named after the sei whale, one of the largest. The wide, imposing arch of the sculpture represents the whale out of water. However, Mr. Yahgulanaas says the whale is but one element of the installation designed to reflect the mind and thoughts of the observers themselves. Mr. Yahgulanaas was born in 1954 in Masset, with his Haida name, Yahladaas, meaning White Raven, and he is of the Saangaahl IIaanas Sdastaas clan.”Public art is where the voice of a single artist is exchanged for the chorus of many. SEI was designed to be accessible, interactive and engaging for vast numbers of people over great spans of time. SEI is now beginning a journey that depends on those observers to find meaning and direction.” He adds his art, and the SEI piece in particular, is both the object and the observer. The design was 18 months in the making. Mr. Yahgulanaas was highly influenced by English artist and sculptor Barbara Hepworth’s work, which also played heavily with negative space.”Who controls that invisible space? It is not controllable; it’s the negative space, the opposite to filling the space.”He adds, the piece is also about the reflection. “See it for what it reflects – that’s what the piece is all about. It’s going to outlast us all; is it made out of high marine steel – it is built to last; it is as much about the ovoids as in the Haida art form. “SEI is a large selfie, as you can contemplate yourself as the art work.” When the Observer reached Mr. Yahgulanaas, he was on his way to the First Seattle Arts Fair, where his work, “RED: A Haida Manga” was being promoted on four billboards. Haida Manga is an art form created by Mr. Yahgulanaas, where the form combines the bold lines of traditional Haida art with the narrative form of Asian comics. Mr. Yahgulanaas believes in the observer of art needing to make more decisions. For art on a canvas for example, the notion is that “there is no dominant horizon. How do I hang this? Figure it out yourself.” Besides the work in Seattle, and a car hood auction at the Vancouver Art Gallery, his work will be at the New York American Museum of Natural History in October. From Sept. 18 to Jan. 2 Mr. Yahgulanaas’ Haida Manga work will be on display at the Kay Centre in Skidegate.

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