“In partnership with the Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History, Eyelevel Artist-Run Centre is pleased to welcome Carrie Allison as the Artist-in Residence for its “Y-Level Emerging Artist Program.” Beaded Earth is the culmination of Carrie’s research with the Museum’s archives and collections over a three month period. In this exhibition, Carrie’s drawing, beading, and installation practice considers the histories and provenance of Indigenous quillwork, beading and botanical specimens, while critically examining and reshaping colonial methodologies of categorization, display, and displacement.” - text from Beaded Earth
Project intentions and explanation
My name is Carrie Allison and I am an artist currently pursuing my Master of Fine Art degree at NSCAD University. I am of Cree/Metis and settler descent, an interdisciplinary artist in the process of reclaiming my ancestry lost through the colonial system. My maternal family hails from High Prairie, Alberta. For the past year I have been incorporating beading into my artistic practice as a way to become more familiar and comfortable with my maternal ancestry. For my thesis project I have decided to bead two rivers that I am connected to: the Heart River in Alberta and the Fraser River in BC. These rivers are important to me and to my ancestors. I look at the history and practice of beading as an act of respect and honouring; by beading these rivers I am honouring the ancestors’ gifts to us.
To connect me to the space I have been living on for the past 7 years I wanted to honour a river in Nova Scotia. One of the most important rivers here, the Shubenacadie, is under threat: Alton Gas proposes to create two salt caverns to store natural gas underground, which would result in huge quantities of highly concentrated salt brine to enter the Shubenacadie. The local Mi’kmaq community, along with its allies, has been actively protesting the project, saying the salt caverns will destroy the ecosystem of the river and everything that relies on it. I wanted the beading of this third river of this project to be a community-based process that might benefit the people most closely linked to the river, so I have decided to facilitate a beading of the Shubenacadie River through community members and anyone else who wishes to be a part of it. This project is meant to honour the river with many hands.
Beading kits will include everything you will need to bead your portion of the river. In the beading kits you will find: two needles, string, beading felt with your segment of the river pattern drawn on it, beads and an envelope with a return address. Once you have completed your portion of the river you will carefully fold the beading into the envelope and send back to me.
The beading kits are organized at 3 levels of difficulty of: Beginner, Intermediate, and Master/Advanced
Beginners will have the opportunity to learn to bead; each kit will contain guidelines and YouTube links that will give you a step-by-step account of how to start beading one simple section of the river pattern.
Intermediate beaders have beaded before, but would like the opportunity to work on a more complex part of the river pattern.
A Master or Advanced beader has beaded a lot and would love a more challenging section of the river pattern. This can mean being responsible for a larger mass of the river pattern, e.g. a lake)
I will host beading circles/workshops at the Treaty Space Gallery at NSCAD’s port campus (1107 Marginal Rd, Halifax, NS B3H 4P7) every Tuesday evening from February 20th to March 13th, with the possibility of more dates being added later. These sessions will give anyone an opportunity to ask questions about the project, receive a beading kit and learn to bead if they are a beginner. These events are meant to be sharing circles; people can come together and share beading skills, as well as stories and thoughts around the history and plight of the Shubenacadie River.
The beading circle/workshop dates are:
February 20, 6-9pm
February 27, 6-9pm
March 6, 6-9pm
March 13, 6-9pm
PLEASE EMAIL ME IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO GET INVOLVED! firstname.lastname@example.org
Currently I am working on my MFA thesis (NSCAD University). I am trying to create a non-linear and dynamic piece of writing to accompany my final exhibition; for this reason I have decided to create a website that will be the written component. If you would like to take a look or if you have suggestions I would love to hear from you!
I have been working on these QR codes that are more detailed than the loomed ones. I am trying to incorporate Metis floral beading patterns into the QR colour design. This is my first attempt - I'll be trying again soon- I think if I made it bigger (this one is 5" x 5") maybe 10" x 10" or larger, more detail would be visible. I also think that having all the beaded lines going one direction would help the floral design show up more. Stay tuned!
In the group Master of Fine Art show this year, at the Anna Leonowens Gallery, I showed two pieces: 150 and An Identity Metaphor. Both projects were made of loomed beadings. 150 was a project I completed for Nocturne’s 2017 Vanish themed art at night event. I made 150 loomed and unfinished ‘bracelets’, each depicting a number associated with an event in Indigenous history within the time of confederation. With 2017 being a celebratory year for Canada, I wanted to bring awareness to the fact that not everyone in this country was celebrating. Along with the 150 unfinished bracelets there was a beaded QR code which took the viewer to a website that acted as a decoder for the piece. Viewers were then able to walk away with the information they needed to fully engage in the piece, as well as continue reading through the source material cited at the end of each ‘event definition’.
The process of making this work was arduous, laborious and mind numbingly repetitive. At the beginning of this project I created a system. I would research ten numbers, fact check them, write them up in an excel document, and then bead them. I created a standard size for each bracelet. It was important for me that they were structured in appearance; they had to have enough beads in the row for the greatest number and the smallest number. I decided forty-five was the perfect amount of rows for the design I wanted to make. I beaded these numbers for two months. When I started a bracelet took me 45 minutes, by the end of the two-month period I managed to shave, on average, 5 minutes off; on a good day I would finish a bracelet within 35 minutes. Leanne Simpson speaks of procuring our bodies in the process of building Indigenous knowledge. She states,
“This tells us that in order to access knowledge from a Nishnaabeg perspective, we have to engage our entire bodies: our physical beings, emotional self, our spiritual energy and our intellect. Our methodologies, our lifeways must reflect those components of our being and the integration of those four components into a whole. This gives rise to our “research methodologies,” our ways of knowing, our processes for living in the world.”
It became second nature to me; I could almost watch television while doing it. It became an embodied practice, the designs came naturally to me, I knew when the bracelet was done before having to count the rows and double check that there were forty-five. This process was embedded into my body, into my movements. No longer was thought given to the construction of it, my body just knew.
 Simpson, Leanne. Dancing on our turtles back: stories of Nishnaabeg re-creation, resurgence and a new emergence. Winnipeg: Arbeiter Ring Pub. 2015:17.
An Identity Metaphor: this was my first time experimenting with video. I am really interested in using QR codes to transmit information to the viewer and I wanted to do this in a new way. The installation of the piece was simple. It consisted of a shelf with a reflective material that held a pile of black and white beads and string. This reflective material mirrored the QR code attached to the wall-mounted shelf. The material connection of the beaded QR code on the wall and the pile of beads and string on the shelf led viewers to connect the two. When looking from the right angle viewers would see the QR code on the wall reflected in the pile of beads on the shelf. Once the QR code was scanned viewers were led to an online video. The video started with an undoing of the QR code, cut from the sides and pulled apart. Once the entire code was unraveled it was then rebeaded. I was interested in making a video that was self-reflective, both of the piece itself but also of myself as the maker. I wanted to speak to the making of the beaded object but also of the unraveling and destruction of it. I view this piece as a metaphor for building an identity, taking the pieces you already have, cutting it up, taking out the bits that are no longer needed, rearranging them and beading them back together.
For a while now I have been working on a project titled 150 Numbers and tonight it all came together. There are some things I would change in terms of the installation, but for the most part I was really happy with how it turned out. Installation took far longer than I anticipated (but that is always the way). My partner Jake and I were there for almost 5 hours before we ran home to walk our dog and head out again for the festivities. It was a great night and I am so honoured to be one in a group of amazing artists. Since moving to Halifax in seven years ago it has been a goal of mine to participate in this yearly event, fingers crossed it wont be the last!
Here is a short write up about the installation:
150 Numbers seeks to disrupt the current dominant Canadian narrative by illustrating First Nations narratives from the last 150 years. It is a beaded installation that highlights pressing and disturbing histories that are shared by many First Nations people across Canada. This installation is made from 150 beaded bracelets that depict numbers relating to First Nation experiences in Canada during the last 150 years. Numbers such as “1870”, the year the first Indian Residential School opened; “1990” the year of the Oka resistance; “150,000” the number of Metis, Status and non-status First Nations, and Inuit children who attended residential school (this is based on federal government estimates); and “11” the number of treaties in Canada that have been signed and broken.
The intent of this installation is to draw attention to these stories to engage in nation-to-nation dialogues, while learning from the past to better inform present and future understanding and actions. This work asks the audience to contemplate the past 150 years but also to imagine solutions to the next 150 years. Viewers were encouraged to take a piece of art in the form of a postcard with a question on the back. Along with the question there was a QR code that took the viewer to an online survey which they were asked to answer.
In the month of June I went to Alberta to conduct some research on my family history and ancestry, visit archives, local museums and libraries; I also wanted to visit the land that my ancestors once occupied. My Great Aunt Ivy, my grandmothers’ sister, lives in Grande Prairie and she opened her house to my mom and myself. We stayed there just over a week, visiting family and helping around the house. Along with visiting relatives I went to local archives and libraries, including the library in Grouard where my grandmother went to residential school. Ivy agreed to take a day trip to High Prairie to show me the dairy farm she grew up on, I was hoping to get some recording of oral stories and histories while I was there and include them in my show at the Anna Leonowens in July (the one that just passed). Unfortunately while my mom and I were visiting my Great Aunt Yvonne, Ivy’s sister, passed away from complication at the hospital. It was an incredibly sad week. Ivy, understandably, couldn’t bring herself to take a day to drive around High Prairie and talk about the times passed.
Knowing that I wouldn’t be back in the area for some time I decided to take a drive to around the area on my own. Ivy drew me a map of where the old farm once stood and we had long discussions about the area and her time there. While driving I was struck by the expansive landscape, the Albertan landscape appears endless; you can see the weather moving in on you. This was the first aspect that inspired my installation piece at the Anna. After driving for a few hours and taking numerous photos I starting thinking of creating a document of the land. Something tactile and factual, something that replicated the articles I was looking for in my research. I sat with the thought while driving, thinking over and over again about this document of the land. While driving I finally came across Heart River, I parked on the side of the road and started walking along the river. Without really thinking about it I started looking at the plants along the river, imagining how people before me once stood here, in a completely different landscape, and looked at these same plants. Or did they? Have these plants changed with the construction of pavement roads, industrial farming equipment, oil pumps and green houses? As I thought of these things I started picking parts of the plant, not decimating the plant but removing parts of the leaves, small flowers and stems. I had an entire arm full when I got back to my car. I did this three times and then decided I had enough for the idea that was forming in my head.
The concept for this piece was to create a document of the land by using plants from the land of my ancestors in paper and assemble an installation that mimicked the landscape. As some of you may know, I just completed my first year of the Master of Fine Arts at NSCAD University. During this year you are required to write papers on various subjects as well as a draft of your thesis. I am a very tactile learner, I have to edit papers with a pen in hand and a draft copy in front of me, so, as you can imagine, all these drafts and papers added up to a lot of used paper. I had decided during the year to keep these and somehow reuse them later. While formulating this piece it occurred to me that this would be the best opportunity to reuse the papers in my recycling bin.
I went home and started work, there are about 140 pieces of hand-made paper made from reused academic readings and writings, and plants from the edge of Heart River. I spent days on my deck in the sun pressing the paper and drying it out. Once all the pieces were prepared I assembled a hanging device out of chicken wire and hung fishing line from it, later to be attached to the circular paper sheets.
I was extremely happy with the outcome of this installation piece. When I applied for the Anna Leonowens exhibition I imagined a show that consisted of research, documents, photographs and maps; I wanted to show what I had collected. I feel that this piece is a truer representation of what I had learned and what I had gained from the trip. This was the land of my ancestors, collected and mixed with all the work I had done in the month’s prior. It was a cathartic experience to use the paper I had collected throughout my first MFA year. The action of combining the plants from the land of my ancestors and used paper was like combining two worlds I had previously thought of as so separate.
Currently I am on a research trip in Edmonton, Alberta. My mom was nice enough to offer to come along with me; sharing the experience has been amazing. Tomorrow we’ll drive up to Grande Prairie and onto the Lesser Slave Lake area where my maternal ancestors lived since time immemorial.
Along with researching my maternal genealogy and the place they once lived I have brought along posters of Elsie. I screen printed over 200 of them before I left Halifax, and plan on posting them up along my travels. Yesterday my mom and I hit the streets of Edmonton and posted her up. Elsie is a character I created based on a historical classroom photograph of St. Bernard Indian Residential School, where my grandmother attended. Aesthetically she is meant to represent every female student but is individualized by her name, which was my grandmothers. Elsie seeks to engage the viewer with her eye contact, confronting the viewer and asking them to question the space in which she is placed. Posting images of Elsie up along this trip is an act of indigenizing, decolonizing, resisting and claiming space.
Untitled Plant 1 is a 91cm square painting that depicts a common houseplant juxtaposed with a pattern background. I have chosen to depict houseplants in this painting to draw attention to the shared histories of plants and human beings. Imperial and colonial projects touched both plants and humans at the point of European discovery. The histories of domesticated plants parallel indigenous histories in ways such as being taken and exploited to the point of extinction. This painting also addresses issues of authenticity and tradition with the use of design and pattern development. The plane of the painting is fragmented to add tension and to speak to my personal history of feeling fragmented and disjointed.
Plants have always had a special place in my heart. Since I was a child I have enjoyed their company. I have always surrounded myself with them all my life; they are a source of comfort on winter days and a live subject for drawing exercises when I need some inspiration. I chose domesticated houseplants for two reasons; first, I could rely on my own documentation for the paintings. In the past I have got my image sources from the Internet, as I was painting endangered plants. Secondly I see parallels between the history of plant cultivation and indigenous colonial histories. From the Age of Discovery at the end of the 15th century Europeans have been documenting their discoveries of these “New Worlds”. Royals sent out scientists and artists to document, collect, dissect, and name new and foreign beings (‘beings’ in the sense of anything living). From that moment on humans and their objects, as well as plants, have been used for imperialist advancement, most notably in the form of consumerism. As Anne Whitelaw states, “Anthropologists in particular were concerned with collecting as many and as varied specimens from such cultures before the inevitable assimilation with European culture became too evident. While there was little desire to ensure the survival of human members of such cultures, great care was taken to safeguard the more elaborate and significant objects these members produced.”  Indigenous arts, artifacts, and crafts have been collected, or rather stolen, to be shipped back to the Imperial powers and placed in museums and private collections. Throughout the centuries these objects have been taken, now being mass-produced in other places and then shipped back. You can see this in dollar dream catchers made in China or the souvenirs shops that sell totem poles made in Indonesia. The same can be said for plants around the world. Periods in time such as Orchid Mania and fern fever, or pteridomania, were eras that decimated certain species, which even today are not found in their original habitats but can be found in your local flower shop.
In Untitled Plant I there is the inclusion of patterns and designs. This, for me, is an act of reclamation. Beading patterns and designs adorned Metis and Cree garments to signify tribal and familiar affiliations as well as Metis garment production during the fur-trade. As I am just becoming familiar with my own family’s history and ancestry I am creating my own patterns and designs responding to archival research. The technique I am using to create these patterns is no less laborious than beading; the act of this laborious practice connects me to my ancestors through the dedication of time and practice. Through acts of connects me to my ancestors through the dedication of time and practice. Through acts of designing, taping and painting I am celebrating and claiming ancestral practices in contemporary painting techniques. By engaging in this I am building my own traditions and creating body memory similar to beading techniques. Much like Christi Belcourt I am engaging in notions of beading of my ancestors but also European influences. Robert Houle states,
“Today, there is an emergence of a new art by a new generation of young artists. These come from two different aesthetic traditions: North American and Western European. The first is deeply rooted in tribal ritual and symbolism; while the latter is an irreversible influence committed to change and personal development. This new art is traditional and contemporary in source. Also, it is innovative and sophisticated in style and technique.”By activating both these aesthetics, I invoke a contemporary indigenous mixed-race art practice.
 Trepanier, France, and Chris Creighton-Kelly, eds. Understanding Aboriginal Arts in Canada Today: A Knowledge and Literature Review. Rep. Ottawa: Canada Council for the Arts, 2011. 46. Print.
 “These orchid hunters desire for discovering and collecting, and the insatiable demand for the flowers in Europe and America, was devastating to the native orchid populations as well as the trees on which the epiphytic flowers grew. There are still areas in Central and South America in which the plants never recovered.” Amelinckx, Andrew. "Old Time Farm Crime: The Cutthroat World of Victorian Orchid Hunters." Modern Farmer. Modern Farmer, 01 Aug. 2014. Web. 09 Apr. 2017.
 "Pteridomania." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 27 Feb. 2017. Web. 09 Apr. 2017.
 “Frugality, efficiency, family labour units, and an acute sense of shifting market trends enabled Metis women to maintain access to consumers. The longevity and volume of their production, and their use of marketing strategies ranging from contractual arrangements with fur-trade companies to community-based entrepreneurship, suggest that much of the material in museum collections came from their hands.” Racette, Sherry Farrell. "Sewing for a Living: The Commodification of Metis Women's Artistic Production." Contact Zones: Aboriginal and Settler Women in Canada's Colonial Past. Ed. Katie Pickles and Myra Rutherdale. Vancouver: UBC, 2014. 41. Print.
 "Christ Belcourt Bio." Christi Belcourt. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Apr. 2017.
 Trepanier, France, and Chris Creighton-Kelly, eds. Understanding Aboriginal Arts in Canada Today: A Knowledge and Literature Review. Rep. Ottawa: Canada Council for the Arts, 2011.17. Print.
This series of silkscreen prints was made from an exposure of a beading I made on an embroidery loop. The original beading design was adapted from an archived photo of the garments on the Museum of Anthropology (MOA) website. The beading contains three colors, blue, white, and black; the shape is a long rectangle with three evenly spaced diamond shapes hanging from the bottom.
The prints are a circular shape with a semi-translucent fabric, when exposed to a silkscreen the weave of the fabric is accentuated and the beading becomes muted, the delicacy of the beading almost completely disappears. This series was about process rather than exercising printing techniques. The process of this print series was to continue printing until the image disappeared. The result was a series of over 50 prints that resembled moon cycles, from a complete circular shape (full moon) to a half (half moon) to a sliver (crescent waxing) to finally just speckles of faded colour (new moon). This process of degradation could point to notions of disappearance or of emergence, which is reflective of my concepts in lost histories and traditions but also point to building memory which is what my practice aims to do.
This project is a series of synthetic moccasins adorned with oil company logos. Drawing from my Cree and Métis ancestral histories, I am currently exploring decorative and garment production histories of my Cree and Métis ancestries and how these traditions changed with the introduction of cultural exchange with settler peoples. According to the research put forward by researchers at the Canadian Museum of History, Métis women started adorning their garments with floral designs after contact with Europeans as well as due to the inter-familial relationships with the Cree nation. Adaptation and innovation with technologies and materials, which are recognized by Indigenous scholars such as Sherry Farrell Racette and Steven Loft saw the change by historic Métis artists from quills to imported beads. My produced concept imagines the future of North America with the continual over taking of capitalism and expansion of resource extraction sites and engages with the notion of Indigenous cultural traditions of adaption and continuities to explore the idea of inverting the traditional moccasin into a synthetic and non-disposable object of the future.
They say the first semester is the busiest. They say you have a lot of academic work that takes priority. They say studio time takes a bit of a hit. They were RIGHT!
The first semester of your MFA at NSCAD you are required to complete Pedagogy (a class based on teaching and learning practices), a seminar class, which I substituted so I could do a research/internship with the MSVU Art Gallery and Walking With Our Sisters (so I have to take that next year), and studio worth 6 credits. It doesn’t sound like much but trust me it wasn’t easy. Especially because in the middle of the semester you are encouraged to write a SSHRC grant application that takes far more time than you think it will.
So now that that is all over here is a synopsis of my studio practice…
In my studio I have been working on a variety of different approaches, alternative mediums, and attempting to expand my methods of practice. I have been experimenting with different mediums such as beading, gouache and books. Specifically I have been working on two very separate practices; continuing to explore plants and their symbolism, in regards to colonial histories, globalization, westernization and Indigenous knowledges, practices, and methods, and Elsie, a character that was created to speak to these same themes and concepts.
Elsie, the character.
Elsie is a character I created in order to talk about things I was having a difficult time saying in my previous work. Although conversations in my work have revolved around colonizing, aboriginal histories, westernization and globalization, I have never strayed from portraying subtle and gentle critiques using botanicals. Elsie was created with the intention of being loud and direct. She is an outlet, a statement, a friend, and a memory. Elsie is inquisitive, thoughtful, and outspoken (in her own way). Elsie is based on a historical photo of residential school students I found in the St. Bernard Indian Residential School (Grouard, AB) archive website. She represents every female student in the fact that her haircut is the same as all the other female students, her uniform mimics theirs and her quiet demeanor replicates each individual student. The name Elsie was my grandmothers who attended St. Bernard in the 40s, she passed from complications in 2008. Elsie represents every female residential school student but is individualized through her name.
Elsie, the painting.
Elsie is a 4 by 5 foot portrait painting of the character I created. She is painted in oil paint with little detail, simply a line drawing blown up. I was looking at artists such as: Clare Rojas, Yoshitomo Nara, and Barry McGee. Elsie is engaging with the viewer through direct eye contact and holding a sign that reads “Decolonize”. She is critiquing multiple institutions: the university, the gallery, the space, the city, the province, and finally the country/ies. By engaging with the viewer she seeks to have the viewer question the space and institution. By not detailing who Elsie is in the title or in other modes of communication, during the exhibition, my aim was to reference the fact that so many residential school students haven’t had their stories spoken about. So many of them were lost in the terrible histories of residential schools. Even today many residential school survivors don’t feel comfortable telling their stories. With Elsie’s quiet critique I aim to draw attention to these histories but also seek to promote change within institutions though this small act of resistance.
These paintings are an experiment that is in progress. My intentions were to form a conversation between the last series of paintings, titled It’s Bigger Than This…, that depict endangered plants across North America and the current series that are supposed to represent invasive species across the country. It’s Bigger Than This…is a series of paintings that portray different endangered plants in a realistic, naturalistic, and soft style. The paintings are perceived to be incomplete because certain parts of the plants anatomy are simply outlined instead of painted in; this is meant to symbolize the act of disappearance. The current series consists of sketches and paintings that portray the invasive plants are painted in bright, jarring, and noisy colors. My intension for this current series was to create a conversation between the two series. The current series is meant to be intrusive to the viewer, they were intended to ‘steal the show’ with color and vibrancy.
My intensions were met with disappointment; I do not think that the current series was successful. Alex and I have been talking and we think that the next step will be to revisit this intension but with an alternative method. I plan to make images (sketches, paintings, drawings, prints) that explore multiplicity. I will take an image of an invasive plant and multiply it several times on one plane. During the winter semester I will also be an exploring print media, I would like to experiment with both lithograph and screen printing in order to explore the theme of multiplicity in a new medium.
It's been a great month. It was so nice to be given the chance to show my work at the Craig Gallery. Here are some photos...
I apologize for not writing sooner. I decided to take September off and just focus on getting settled into my new place. Now half way through October I finally feel like I am in a groove and that I am fully ready to get back to work. I finished setting up my studio space this week- I am ready to write, paint and draw my days off away. I wanted to share some photos of my new studio space (which is my living room). It's a small space but thankfully I was made small so I fit quite nicely.
I am very happy with my space, I am very excited to see what I create in the coming months. I have lots of ideas and have started planning some out. I have a show coming up in March at the Craig Gallery in Dartmouth so I am working on some new works to include in the exhibition. Now that I have my space set up I am feeling inspired and ready to get to work! I'll keep you posted!