Grand Forks Herald


By Lindsay Naylor
Thursday, May 23, 2013


NEW YORK — The artists commissioned for the North Dakota Museum of Art’s “Songs for Spirit Lake” exhibition bring vastly different perspectives to their portrayal of everyday life on the reservation.

The six were assembled by Laurel Reuter, director of the NDMOA, to produce work chronicling contemporary life on the Spirit Lake Nation reservation after the museum was awarded a three-year, $150,000 grant by the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation.

For Bill Harbort — a longtime commercial artist in New York who teaches at Minot State University — this exhibition meant going bigger than usual. His installation consists of a 19-foot-by-14-foot background portraying a buffalo, with seven stretched hides, made of Plexiglas and a pouring medium, holding an assemblage of natural and pop culture objects.

“For me, working this large and working with some of the same materials and some new things, it’s been pretty eye-opening as an artist,” Harbort said.

Terry Jelsing, a Rugby, N.D., multimedia artist and former director of the Plains Art Museum in Fargo, constructed a teepee structure in which the seven poles — representing the seven tribes of the Sioux — are held up by pregnant female torsos made in a cast mold with surface treatments and embellishments of glass and metal.

“It’s like real people, where they have scars in life and unpleasant parts in life, but still there’s a kind of beauty there,” he said, also calling the installation an “empowerment piece for young women.”

John Hitchcock, an artist of Comanche heritage from Oklahoma, teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His installation features simulated buffalo hides stacked on humps, representing the importance of buffalo to indigenous people, as well as a slow-motion video projection from last summer’s powwow at Fort Totten, N.D. He said his work explores the past, present and future of American Indian communities across the Plains.

“It’s the memory of home juxtaposed with what I experienced in North Dakota,” Hitchcock said.

Winnipeg artist Tim Schouten created 46 paintings for this exhibit — four landscapes using encaustic, a hot wax medium; 10 text paintings; and 23 acrylic portrait studies.

“I hope that my work somehow captures a sense of the journey I have been on to understand life in this place, to understand the ties that bind this place with the rest of us and the struggles that all of us go through to try to find a way to live together in this world,” Schouten said.

For New York artist Mary Lucier, this marks her third collaboration with Reuter and the NDMOA. The first commemorated the Flood of 1997, and the second focused on a changing way of life on the Plains.

“I got kind of hooked. I love it out there,” Lucier said. “I was thrilled to be asked back.”

Her current video installation includes footage from Spirit Lake abstracted to look like traditional Sioux star quilts as well as a projection of the Cankdeska Cikana Drum Group’s opening performances.

Rena Effendi, a native of Azerbaijan, completed a photographic installation documenting her time at Spirit Lake and the people she met, approaching the issues of abuse on the reservation that have recently come to light. Reuter said Effendi offers an outsider’s perspective for the project.