Radical Stitch: Stitching Together for Transformative Power

Installation view, Radical Stitch, Mackenzie Art Gallery, 2022. Photos by: Don Hall, courtesy of the MacKenzie Art Gallery.

03 October 2022

With ties inseparable – the Radical Stitch symposium.

I recently had the honour to be part of an exhibition, both as artist and co-curator. The reasoning behind the dual role, as my co-curator (and co-artist) Amy Malbeuf so eloquently explained during an in-person curatorial tour, was the desire to be able to “engage materially”[i] with the other artists of the exhibition. Having curated a series of exhibitions together, each of us wanted to make some kind of physical objects that we could place in the space of the gallery. Our works allowed us to explore the thematic of our exhibition, and to relate to the artists not only from an intellectual, curatorial place (i.e. with thoughts and words), but from a place of making something to be sensed in different ways, with touch, with sounds, with feelings, with heart.

There is something magical about being in the presence of others. It offers a feeling of potential, of the possibility of transformative interactions, mixed in among the more day-to-day interactions of greetings, meetings and catching up with people. There was a palpable excitement that buzzed through the Radical Stitch symposium attendees as everyone crowded into the theatre space for the opening remarks and panel discussion with the curators, Sherry Farrell Racette, Michelle Lavallee and Cathy Mattes. Looking around the theatre I was impressed by how many people were in attendance. It was possibly the largest crowd I had seen in a long time, likely ever, since moving to Regina at the beginning of the COVID pandemic two years ago.

As everyone gathered into the space, I could feel an almost electric hum of discussions as old friends and new acquaintances came together. The crowd took a few minutes to quiet down in order for the opening discussions to start. The introductions, although officious, maintained a tone of openness and ease, punctuated by laughter, as various people presented their opening remarks. In a moment of pure being, elder Barbara Blind’s great grandchild ran up to the podium from which her great grandmother addressed the audience. The timing was perfect and elder Barbara, without missing a beat, took the opportunity to acknowledge that it is the child that binds us together,[ii] the past, present and future. It’s these unforeseen moments occurring in the presence of others that assert a presence for the future, and for future generations, to which we are all tied. I am reminded of a favourite quote from Nikola Tesla that speaks to the wonder of being, and of being together: “Though free to think and act, we are held together, like the stars in a firmament, with ties inseparable. These ties cannot be seen, but we can feel them.”[iii]

After the opening remarks we split into groups to participate in the various workshops that were offered as part of the symposium. Most workshops were hands-on, including a quillling workshop (by Judy Anderson and Katherine Boyer), a beaded needle case session (Jennine Krauchi) and a hanging amulet (Audie Murray), as well as a discussion session with Gregory Scofield about his ongoing personal project of repatriating Metis material culture items from various auction houses, antique markets and online shops from around the world. While the latter focused more on discussing rather than making work, there was still a deep engagement with the materiality of Scofield’s practice as attendees at his workshop were able to see some of the old pieces from his personal collection, which were presented to us for close examination. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to have seen these works up close as I come from a family that, for a number of reasons, no longer retains any old bead work, embroidery or other material culture pieces, as is not uncommon to other (but not all) Métis families. The possibility to feast my eyes on this delicate, finely crafted work was an important material engagement for me.

At lunch I met another local Métis artist who happened to be beading an image of David Bowie as the Goblin King in the 1984 movie Labyrinth onto an old t-shirt. Excitedly I pulled out my ongoing beadwork project on a hoodie of a UFO hovering over a forest with the words I Want to Believe in bold, block letters in the trees (an image that figured somewhat prominently in the television show The X Files). I imagine that I would have met this artist eventually, however, the Radical Stitch symposium simply expedited this process. It was a beautiful synchronicity that we would both bring our somewhat out-of-the ordinary beading projects to this place.

While our particular beading projects were a bit odd in their subject matter, they were definitely in good company among the diversity of projects both in the Radical Stitch exhibition and at the afternoon beading circle that closed the symposium. Guided by two guest beading groups (The Brandon Beading Babes and daphne beads: perler/parler), symposium attendees were encouraged to bring their beadwork and other stitching projects to the Salon of the MacKenzie Art Gallery for one of the biggest beading circles I have ever attended. Dozens of beaders huddled around many tables spread throughout the room working away on personal projects while also taking the opportunity to lay out finished and in progress works for others to look at. Tips and tricks were shared and compliments offered as beaders took breaks to circle about the room and look at each other’s work. Beaders from various communities were present, including some of the artists from the name sake exhibition. Intermittent stretching sessions were guided by daphne beads because, as any needleworker will tell you, the delicate act of beadwork is physically demanding! These stretching sessions were accompanied by many sighs and the occasional bout of laughter as we stretched our arms and hands to the sky, as though acknowledging the invisible ties that held us together for the day.

 

Blind, Barbara. “Opening Remarks.” In Radical Stitch Symposium. Regina, SK: MacKenzie Art Gallery, June 25 2022.

Malbeuf, Amy; Short, Jessie Ray. “Curator’s Tour.” In Lii Zoot Tayr, edited by AGYU. Art Gallery of York University: AGYU, 2022.

Tesla, Nikola. The Problem of Increasing Human Energy: With Special Reference to the Harnessing of the Sun’s Energy. s.i.: Merchant Books, 2020.


[i] Amy; Short Malbeuf, Jessie Ray, “Curator’s Tour,” in Lii Zoot Tayr, ed. AGYU (Art Gallery of York University: AGYU, 2022).

[ii] Barbara Blind, “Opening Remarks,” in Radical Stitch Symposium (Regina, SK: MacKenzie Art Gallery, June 25 2022).

[iii] Nikola Tesla, The Problem of Increasing Human Energy: With Special Reference to the Harnessing of the Sun’s Energy (s.i.: Merchant Books, 2020), 6.

Jessie Short