Mercer Union presents the first Canadian exhibition of Native Art Department International (NADI), a long-term collaborative project created and administered by Toronto-based artists Jason Lujan and Maria Hupfield.
While Hupfield and Lujan have respective artistic practices, their work together is authored under the designation of NADI, a collective that produces artworks, exhibitions, events and screenings. Their collaboration employs administrative language in order to frame their area of expertise and responsibility. This strategy provides NADI with greater freedom to contextualize their work on their own terms. As a result, they short-circuit potential expectations and stereotypes built into the name of the collective itself, communicating in terms that are broader than and strengthened by the work of its members and allies.
Working across various platforms, NADI’s projects and exhibitions prioritize kinship, relationality and non-competition in order to liberate artists, artworks and aesthetics from classifications ingrained in systems of power and interpretation. Their a multi-disciplinary practice—comprising performance, sculpture and video—engage in a collaborative approach to bypass essentialist readings of contemporary artworks and reject reductionist positions projected onto the work of Indigenous cultural producers. Bureau of Aesthetics is comprised of a selection of objects that highlight NADI’s varying methods.
For instance, NADI has produced neon signs that use electrically transmitted signals and instructions to redirect the viewer’s attention. Their work Untitled (Carl Beam) (2017) was developed after the artists experienced Beam’s retrospective at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian in New York City (2011). Hupfield and Lujan took note that the works on view without clear Indigenous references or traditional signifiers were not purchased by major institutions, galleries or private collectors. In their response, NADI overlay a “No U-Turn” neon sign onto an artist proof of Beam’s 1977 lithograph entitled Traffic. This intervention recognizes the significance of Beam’s work in art history and signals a commitment to continue moving forward and expanding Indigenous discourse, calling for a simultaneous need to reroute value beyond fetishized identity.
Maintaining Good Relations is a lightbox that was originally installed in the window of Artists Space, New York (2018). When the work was lit, it signaled that the artists’ daylong audio broadcast was live and on location. The program had a variety of guests who – like the cast of NADI’s public access television styled video series Everything Sacred is Far Away (2019) – were drawn from the artists’ network of peers. This strategy embodies NADI’s desire to build solidarity and pursue progress through collaboration that promotes non-competition. Another important illustration of NADI’s ongoing subversion of expectations is their work There is No Then and Now; Only Is and Is Not (2018) with Bronx-based artist Dennis RedMoon Darkeem. Their video together features the artist and member of the Yamassee Yat’simioli dancing in an empty theatre, dressed in his Powwow regalia. His dancing is interspersed with text in his own words that describes his experience as an Indigenous man outside of presumed racial and visual codifications.
These works and more are situated on the walls of a temporary structure at Mercer Union that practically and metaphorically acts as a supporting edifice for the works on display. Here, artworks are pulled away from the confines of the institution and installed on a nomadic structure that fully embodies the ethos and visual language of NADI.
Bureau of Aesthetics is NADI’s first solo exhibition in Canada and follows the artists’ exhibition at KADIST, San Francisco where Mercer Union was the inaugural guest of the Art-Space Residency. Mercer Union conceived of the residency as an incubator to consider approaches of working small-scale, where together with Native Art Department International they took up a series of questions around collaboration and strategies of resistance.
Native Art Department International (NADI) is a collaborative long-term project created and administered by Maria Hupfield (Canada) and Jason Lujan (United States). NADI focuses on communications platforms and systems of support in the art world while at the same time functioning as emancipation from essentialism and identity-based artwork. NADI seeks to circumvent easy categorization by comprising a diverse range of activities such as curated exhibitions, video screenings, panel talks, collective art-making and documenting, and an online presence, however all activities contain an undercurrent of positive progress through cooperation and non-competition.
Bureau of Aesthetics is presented in partnership with the Images Festival, 16 – 22 April 2020 and Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival: 1 – 31 May 2020.