A. McKay        Projects, 1988 - 1999

I think of my work as about landscape, place and identity, and certainly at times, with perhaps misguided romantic notions. Through that I have also addressed the often fraught relationship between the Dominant Euro Settler Culture and First Nations here in North America.

Point of Departure (In my Fathers’ Footsteps), a performance and installation on two continents 1993/98, Scotland performance/installation detail, 2x3 inch prints and print montages, shoes (soil, wood, leather, brass tacks), size 9 UK, (42 Europe), reflected ironically on the dilemma of settler culture. A response to Jimmie Durham, Cherokee artist, said, "There is a basic problem in the U.S. [and Canada] from which most other problems come: the denial of reality. The U.S. is not here, within these specific lands. It is in Europe. It is Europe's ghost, and as a pure spirit it is everything Europe would like to be. (I speak of the European states, not necessarily the peoples.) It has brought Europe to the "New World", where it sits a few inches off the savage, dangerous ground." Making literal Durham’s words, I went to Scourie Bay, Scotland where my ancestors departed for Canada and cut footprints out of sod just outside of a McKay filled graveyard. Once home I made shoes to house the living fescue so I could walk on my Native soil a few inches above “this savage, dangerous ground”.

An Exploration of the River Thames, England, 1994, a performance (paddling canoe from Oxford to London over several days), with canoe prop (made from black and white photographs of birch bark on fiber glass with wood and birch bark trim, about 12 & 1/2 feet long), 4 x 6 photos and photo montage, an ironic inversion of exploration and discovery achieved through moving over the pastoral/picturesque landscape. Images of canoe assembly (Oxford), points on the journey and take out point (Twickenham) where the Thames becomes tidal. It went largely unnoticed except by an excited child on the bank doing a War Dance and shouting, “Look Mummy a Red Indian Canoe”.

Treaty Canoe, 1999, linen paper (courtesy of Papier St Armand, Montreal), glue, cedar, copper wire, ink, red ribbon, birch bark, 12 feet x 2 feet x 32 inches. The ‘treaties’ for the work were produced by a group of volunteers transcribing treaties from printed text onto the linen paper using dip pen and ink, much as the originals would have been hand-written onto similar paper. Most of the participants had never read a treaty before. Treaty Canoe speaks of mutual, sacred bonds of honour. When exhibited it hangs by a thread balanced on a central pivot point above its one thwart. It responds to the slightest breeze of a passer-by, rocking and turning. Lit from above the craft becomes translucent; in casting a shadow it becomes two canoes, floating in the same current on separate but parallel courses.

Sweat Lodge in a Pontiac, 1989, a 1975 Pontiac with trailer, sod, fire, water, rocks, canvas, & sound track, 10 x 6.5 x 22 feet, installed in Detroit MI (Michigan gallery). An ironic RV, licensed, insured and fully mobile absurdist sculpture that functioned as a participatory performance space, which reflected on conquest versus connection, and moving through the landscape.

A Re-enactment of the Killing of Dudley George, Video 49 seconds, and installation, 2003

This work is not meant to condone in any way the killing of Dudley George, in fact it is a condemnation - but also a commentary on the forces, cultural and political, that lead to his tragic death.

Installation shot (see Quicktime video for performance). Dudley George was the only person killed in Canada during a land dispute between First Nations and the Crown in the 20th century. He was killed by an OPP (Ontario Provincial Police) officer in 1995. In 2003 I shot Peter Edward’s book supporting George’s cause One Dead Indian, three times, as Dudley had been shot. I used an 18th c musket. Dudley was a descendent of an important Indian leader, Chief Tecumseh, who fought with the British/Canadians during the War of 1812. Dudley died by the hand of the Crown not far where Tecumseh died at the hand of the Americans. Dudley was on land given to his people because of the efforts and loyalty of Tecumseh, and others like him, in defending the Crown. The Crown took the land for military training at the onset of the Second World War, promising to return it at the close of the war, which they did not. Many of Dudley’s people fought and died for Canada and Britain during the two World Wars and continue to be play a major role in Canada’s military. In December of 2007 at the close of a long enquiry on the cause of Dudley George’s death the Ontario Provincial Government announced its intentions to return the land Dudley died for to his people. The Crown represents the Dominant Settler culture. The Crown represents me. I shot Dudley George, not just the police officer.

The video, played on an innocuous 7” monitor, is edited to sound like a modern high powered rifle. The Gallery installation is evocative of an evidence or museum exhibition. On the wall we see the musket and accoutrement, the shot book (Dudley), the circles of paper (flesh) punched out of the book by the 3/4 inch musket ball, and photocopies of pages of the book explaining Dudley’s relationship to Chief Tecumseh. Below is a small monitor playing the video looped. The musket shots echo throughout the gallery.

The Voyageur, after E. Hahn, 1998, B&W photograph on RC paper mounted on plywood, oil paint, bronze powder and ink, powdered Catlinite, birch branches and bark, 50 x 43 inches. This was Canada’s silver dollar from the early thirties through the early seventies. I question the qualifications of the sterns-man.

Treaty Canoe is, of course, text. Its sister piece, Treaty of Niagara 1764 (birch bark, copper wire, red paint, about 24 x 12 inches, 1999) is mute. Some say that the Treaty of Niagara is a ‘lost treaty’ reiterating and reinforcing the First Nations’ understanding of The Royal Proclamation of 1763, that recognized the sovereignty of the First Nations. It is remembered and recorded by the First People as a Two Row Wampum.

Colombo and Mondo Tondi, my MFA thesis work, (School of the Art Institute of Chicago, 1992) was done in response to the Quincentenary and the celebrations of Columbus’s ‘discovery’ of America. The images are the Dove and Globe from the Visa and Mastercard credit cards, photographed through a microscope. I felt them to be a ‘thumbing my nose’ at the hoop-la and a commentary of credit run out. 7 x 7 foot painted photomurals on canvas with gilt frames.