by David Neel
Organizers: On Edge (Vancouver) and Nuova Icona (Venezia)
Curator: Elspeth Sage
Venice Producer: Vittorio Urbani
Opening Date: Thursday, June 10, 1999.
Time: 12:00 noon
Location: Palazzo Dandolo-Priuli-Bon, Campo San Stae
Vaporetto N. 1, stop "San Stae" Grand Canal, Venice, Italy
On Edge (Vancouver) and Nuova Icona (Venezia) presented an installation and performance based on carved wooden (red and yellow cedar and alder) masks and a traditional dug out ocean-going canoe by Kwagiutl artist David Neel in a site-specific context at the opening of the 1999 Venice Biennale under the title Walas Kwis Gila.
The installation presented Neel's work within the dialogue that he currently finds himself and within the specific context of the city of Venice. His work is not completely accepted by traditional practitioners because of his subject matter and questioning of traditional norms, nor is it understood outside "the Native Art market" by the contemporary Canadian art community. His masks are subject to the same kind of commodification for the tourist market as the omnipresent tourist masks of Venice. The intention was to present his work outside its presentation as highly saleable and collectible, and rather as a part of challenging living work.
Venice is known as the City of Masks and like the carvers of the North West Coast of British Columbia, Venetians do not view their mask tradition as one of just an art form. The fetishizing of these masks by collectors and museums alike is a foreign concept to both Venetians and the people of the North West Coast of Canada.
The name of the exhibition is that of Neel's ocean-going canoe, Walas Kwis Gila (Travels Great Distances). This canoe, 26-feet (9 meters) in length, was carved by Neel out of an old-growth red cedar log from Vancouver Island in the traditional method of his ancestors. Like his masks, Neel's canoe is used as a working vessel. He lives near the water in North Vancouver and uses the canoe to teach his young children about their culture. It is frequently used for fishing, recreation or paddling excursions up the West Coast, just as canoes would have been used hundreds of years ago. The project included shipping the canoe to Venice for a ceremonial opening performance along the Grand Canal.
The site is a 12th century palazzo at San Stae on the Grand Canal.
Venice Crew & paddlers:
The Canada Council Exhibition Assistance Program, Dept. of External Affairs in Ottawa, the Canadian Embassy in Rome, B.C. Gaming Commission and the British Columbia Arts Council.