Shapeshifters, Time Travellers and Storytellers

First ICC-organized exhibition opens in Lee-Chin Crystal October 6, 2007

The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM)’s Institute for Contemporary Culture (ICC) presents Shapeshifters, Time Travellers and Storytellers, the first ICC-organized exhibition in the Roloff Beny Gallery in the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal. This thought-provoking exhibition showcases new and existing works by eight leading contemporary Aboriginal artists. Incorporating evocative objects from the Museum’s collections, the exhibition features video, sound, sculpture, drawings, painting and performance art, which explore the ways in which past and present continue to merge and shape one another. Co-curated by Candice Hopkins and Kerry Swanson in partnership with the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival, Shapeshifters, Time Travellers and Storytellers will be on display from October 6, 2007 to February 28, 2008.

This exhibition features eight striking installations, including more than 25 individual artworks, by internationally renowned Canadian artists Suvinai Ashoona, Faye HeavyShield, Cheryl L’Hirondelle, Isuma Productions (Zacharias Kunuk and Norman Cohn), Brian Jungen, Nadia Myre, Kent Monkman and American artist Alan Michelson. Five of the eight works have been created specifically for this exhibition.

“We’re pleased to present works by this outstanding group of artists, many of whom have had the opportunity to visit our First Peoples’ archives and respond to both the ROM’s collections and the museum’s new architecture,” said William Thorsell, ROM Director and CEO. “By linking the contemporary with the historical – a prominent theme explored by the ICC – the artists have created powerful juxtapositions for visitors to experience.”

Presented in the ICC’s 6,300 square-foot space on Level 4 of the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal, the exhibition brings together contemporary elements and historical objects from the ROM’s Canadian First Peoples’ collections, including an 1899 carved mammoth tusk from Alaska, a late 18th century woven bag, a mid-19th century Paul Kane painting and early 20th century Inuit prints and drawings. Each installation merges past and the present, truth and fiction, story and reality and challenges the idea of time as a linear narrative. For the artists, time and space occupy multiple vantage points in a manner that is cyclical, layered and, at times, paradoxical.

“We are excited to have the opportunity, the first in the ROM's history, to showcase the work of contemporary multi-disciplinary Aboriginal artists, many of whom utilize the latest technologies in their work, together with works from the ROM's collection of historical artifacts from Canada’s First Peoples,” said co-curators Candice Hopkins and Kerry Swanson.

"BMO Financial Group is proud to be a sponsor of the inaugural exhibition organized by the Institute for Contemporary Culture. It is fitting that this first exhibit features the work of some of the leading artists representing Canada's First Peoples,” said Gilles Ouellette, President and CEO, Private Client Group, BMO Financial Group. “Shapeshifters, Time Travellers and Storytellers is unique in that it links the contemporary with the historical. We hope you enjoy this evocative and truly Canadian experience."

Artists and their works:

Cree artist Kent Monkman is known for his painting, film and performance imagery that challenges the ethnographic accuracy attributed to the representations of “Indians”. In the ICC installation, Monkman reshapes the history of colonization and the North American landscape painting, under the guise of his alter ego Miss Chief Eagle Testickle. Monkman has created a new painting entitled Duel After the Masquerade (2007) based on Paul Kane’s Medicine Mask Dance (1848-56) from the ROM’s notable G. W. Allan Collection of Paul Kane paintings and sketches. The original Paul Kane painting will be on display, as well as a selection of Miss Chief’s elaborate regalia.

Alan Michelson, a New York-based artist of Mohawk descent, has created a new multimedia “painting” that explores landscape and memory. The video triptych entitled Of Light After Darkness (2007) is mounted in gilded frames and depicts industrialized areas of Hamilton and Burlington, Ontario. The real time videos - Gloom of the Approaching Night: Fort York, Toronto (2007), Dying Day Drawing To Its End: Stelco, Hamilton Bay (2007) and Glorious Light of the Setting Sun: Wind Farm, Port Burwell (2007) - mark the passage of time and its potential alienation in a cinematic homage to what was there before and will continue to remain long after.

Vancouver-based artist Brian Jungen contributes his work, Cetology (2002), a large-scale (12.8m long (42-ft) whale skeleton sculpture made of plastic lawn chairs, which hangs from the gallery’s lofty peaked ceiling. Appropriating a symbol of global production and aesthetic banality — the plastic lawn chair — and transforming it into a skeleton of a bow whale, Jungen evokes the link between industrial production and mass extinction.

Known for her impressive pen and ink drawings of Cape Dorset landscapes, Nunavut artist Suvinai Ashoona offers a bird’s eye view of the northern landscape through three topographical pencil drawings portraying scenes of her Cape Dorset community. Composition (Tent Surrounded by Rocks) (2004/05), Composition (Camp Scene) (2001/02), Composition (Opening the Tent Door) (2005/06) illustrate an Inuit perspective of the land, where proportionality exists in its relativity to daily life.

Alberta-based artist Faye HeavyShield carries on the traditions of beadwork in a modern political context as a means of demonstrating the continuum of history, both in its beauty and its brutality. Inspired by the ROM’s collections of Blackfoot/Western Plains beadwork, HeavyShield draws from her experiences growing up as a Blackfoot woman on the Blood Reserve to create hours (2007), a new delicately hand-beaded piece, representative of a book.

Montreal-based artist Nadia Myre incorporates themes of love, desire, language, loss and identity in sculptures, paintings and videos. For the ICC exhibition, Myre presents a new work entitled The Dreamers (2007), an installation featuring a cluster of wooden spear-like sculptures inspired by traditional Innu harpoons and fishing nets.

Zacharias Kunuk and Norman Cohn of Isuma Productions, Canada’s first independent Inuit production company, present Nunavut (Our Land) (1995), a 13-episode drama series in Inuktitut that explores how the Inuit in the Igloolik region of the Canadian Arctic lived on the land in the 1940s. Based on stories from Elders, who still remember their early days growing up just before government and settlement life begun, Nunavut recreates a nomadic lifestyle that continues to influence Inuit life today.

Vancouver-based artist Cheryl L’Hirondelle connects ancient stories with modern technologies in a new binaural installation, hearing in coyote daze (2007), based on the sacred Dreamer’s Rock on Manitoulin Island. Visitors can climb onto a rock-like structure and, with headphones, listen to sounds that the artist captured during time spent at the rock.

Special Performances:

As part of the public preview of the exhibition on Friday, October 5, 2007, Vancouver-based artist Peter Morin will perform A Return to the Place Where God Outstretched his Hand. Co-presented by Winnipeg’s Urban Shaman Gallery, the performance references a Tahltan transformation story as told by the artist’s grandmother. On Friday, October 19, 2007, Kent Monkman, in the guise of his infamous alter-ego Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, will perform Séance as part of the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival, Canada's largest platform for Canadian and international Indigenous-made film, video and new media art (October 17 to 21, 2007. Séance is made possible through the generous support of Partners in Art. Both performances will take place at 7 pm in the Hyacinth Gloria Chen Crystal Court on the main floor of the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal and are included in general ROM admission, as part of the relaunched ROM Friday Nights program.

Other information:

The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue edited by co-curators Candice Hopkins and Kerry Swanson. Published by ROM publications, it features essays by prominent Aboriginal writers and scholars. It will be available in early December 2007 at the ROM Museum Store for $39.99 plus tax.

Shapeshifters, Time Travellers and Storytellers is the second exhibition to be presented in the new Roloff Beny Gallery and one of the feature components of the ROM's A Season of Canada. Celebrating the inaugural year of the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal, the ROM presents Canada Collects: Treasures from Across the Nation, featuring approximately 70 vital objects from leading Canadian institutional and private collectors, on display in Garfield Weston Exhibition Hall on Level B2 from October 6, 2007 to January 6, 2008. On October 6th, the ROM also unveils the new Sigmund Samuel Gallery of Canada on Level 1 of the Weston Family Wing. This new permanent gallery examines the evolution of Canadian identity and the beginnings of the country's multicultural society through an outstanding selection of objects drawn from the Museum's decorative arts and Canadian picture collection. From October 6, 2007 to February 28, 2008, the paintings by Canadian multimedia artist Charles Pachter will be projected onto the walls of the Museum’s Hyacinth Gloria Chen Court for the vivid digital presentation entitled Charles Pachter’s Canada (II).

The best way to experience this and future exhibitions and galleries is through Membership. A ROM membership delivers numerous benefits, including free general admission, newsletters, events, previews, and much more. For an additional $50, members can join Friends of ICC and experience contemporary culture from a unique ROM perspective. For more information, please call 416.586.5700 or

About the Institute for Contemporary Culture

The ROM’s Institute for Contemporary Culture plays a vital role in a museum whose collections embrace many civilizations, as well as the record of nature through countless ages. In the context of the ROM’s lively documentation of history, the ICC explores current cultural issues through exhibitions of art and architecture, lectures, film series, and informal gatherings. The ICC provides a unique forum where the new encounters the historical and anthropological. It explores both the continuity and discontinuity of cultures—their relationships across space and time, to each other and to the natural world. The ROM’s collections provide context and depth to contemporary issues addressed by artists, architects, and participants in ICC events from around the world. For further information, please visit the ICC website at