Reflecting Irrational Economies

For the upcoming edition of The Natural and the Manufactured exhibition, art projects by Bill Burns, Deborah Stratman and Steve Badgett hold the lens up to the marketplace.

The Natural and the Manufactured (N&M) series started in 2005 as a joint project of the Klondike Institute of Art and Culture (KIAC) and the ODD Gallery It was conceived as a research and presentation forum exploring the relationships between economic, social and environmental systems.

The artists are now busily working on their projects, as they consider how irrational markets influence everything from land use to personal relationships.

Steve Badgett and Deborah Stratman’s work includes architectural installations and films addressing militarization, surveillance and natural resource management.

The Chicago-based artists have exhibited in major institutions including the Whitney Museum (New York), and the Tate Modern (London).

Bill Burns takes a humorous approach to politically loaded issues. The Toronto artist is widely known for his project Safety Gear for Small Animals, exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and visually quoted in a 1996 episode of The Simpsons.

Safety Gear consists of absurdly cute miniature kneepads, flotation devices, safety goggles and other protective attire for vulnerable critters. While humorous, the work also exposes a dark reality, pointing to the incapacity for animals to survive in a world manipulated by human interests.

Burns’ art practice encompasses relationships that are spiritual, economic, personal and psychological and he is constantly working to bring these realms together.

Dawson’s unique mix of resources and creative minds presents a challenge, he says.

“There are people here who are educated, writers and artists, people who have been here for generations that know the history deeply, then tourism brings in cultures from abroad.”

While elements of his installation for N&M are still in flux, Burns aims to blend fine art, craft, tourism and resource economies.

He will carve renowned names onto logs, a gesture that references traditions of monument making, from colonial acts of naming of buildings to gravestone inscriptions. Specific names remain undisclosed, but will include local historical figures and international art stars.

Burns believes that celebrity status increases an artist’s capacity to activate social change, but feels that real change happens at the hands of regular people.

“Artists should not think their work is more important than that of other citizens. Someone who puts together a recycling system for Dawson City is probably doing more than me.”

Burns will also show work from an autobiographical project about his professional art relationships, mostly “around the idea of brown-nosing.”

He is not shy to reveal that “to incur goodwill in the art world, you have to take curators out for drinks.”

He has also led curators and editors on wilderness hikes, and his watercolours depict his professional adventures.

Sharing Burns’ fascination with irrational economies, Badgett and Stratman are reflecting on the mining industry.

Badgett explains that he finds gold particularly interesting because of its romantic status and rising market value.

“Gold was a bad investment 20 years ago, but now it’s a great investment. The manipulation of the marketplace seems outside of control.”

Stratman adds, “Economic value is like a spooky religion; when you see the changing price of gold and you look at the graphs, you realize how foundational it is, but also how tenuous it is.”

Badgett and Stratman’s project involves the construction of a giant reflective disc installed across the river from the ODD Gallery, and two giant telescopes.

One telescope will point at the disc, the other towards the fluctuating price of gold displayed in the bank window. The disc can be interpreted “as jewel or a hole, merging notions of desire, extraction and emptiness,” says Stratman.

The structure will be surrounded by a curious audience of artificial ravens, visible only through the telescope.

Badgett and Stratman were inspired by ravens after reading First Nation creation myths originating from the Yukon region.

“We love the idea of the creation myth in the Jungian sense that people make their own worlds and it solidifies their own existence,” says Badgett, “rather than adhering to a singular god.”

And because ravens are “attracted to shiny things, connected to sun myths and to tricksterism,” Stratman adds, she hopes they will activate a variety of interpretations.

Before arriving from Chicago, Badgett and Stratman imagined the land housing their reflective disc would likely be a mining claim, however they are now exploring a variety of possibilities.

Whatever site they choose, the artists must negotiate with land owners as they seek permission to install their project. Badgett and Stratman enjoy the negotiations, seeing the process of building relations as an integral and beneficial component of their work.

The Natural and the Manufactured exhibition opens with an artist reception on August 11 and continues to September 16.

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