By Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory and Maria Hupfield
Note: This interview is part two in a series where Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory and Maria Hupfield interviewed each other about their art practices. Part one can be found here.
Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory interviewed performance artist Maria Hupfield in Sweatshop Studios, Fort Green, Brooklyn NY via Skype from her home in Iqaluit Nunavut on Wednesday April 2nd 2014, 10:30am.
Laakkuluk: You’ve lived in many places across North America now. Where is home for you? What is home?
Maria: Good question. Right now I’m in New York working on a traveling exhibition that incorporates the various disciplines of my arts practice from performance and video to object making funded by the Canada Council for the Arts. I’m researching performance exhibitions in New York and share a studio in Brooklyn with my husband artist Jason Lujan who is American/Chiricahua Apache. These days the more I travel, the more I realize that my home will always be gorgeous Georgian Bay. I grew up in that region on various dirt roads between Shawanaga First Nation and Wasausking First Nation, so I know the lakes, woods and many of the people who still live in the District of Parry Sound, Ontario. Whenever I go back I recharge in every cell of my being.
Laakkuluk: It’s where your soul resides.
Maria: Yes! Exactly! I believe my soul will return there even after I die. That place greatly informs how I relate to everything wherever I go.
Laakkuluk: What has impelled you to live in places that are so different from Parry Sound?
Maria: I’m stubborn and curious. I want to see the world and understand everything. I also wanted to know how I fit into a bigger picture. Its’ been good for me to discover places that offer different experiences, but I also think it is because of where I grew up that I can go places today. I feel grounded and know myself.
Laakkuluk: It’s an incredibly brave thing to do: to know you are an artist and that to travel is to learn more about your art in the world.
Maria: It helps. There is a story about nanaboozho who was the first person for anishnaabe and it is about how he travel led to the west, past the mountains to find his father thunder bird. Sometimes I am a bit like nanaboozho traveling to find things.
Laakkuluk: That’s what I really love about your work – you really focus on playful discovery.
Maria: Play is a big part of my work. I choose to be an artist so I figure I may as well enjoy it. Things can be pretty serious, so I need to find ways through it and keep on.
Laakkuluk: Do you think some of this need to enjoy your work comes in part from being part of a family and knowing children? I find that my young mothering has definitely affected the way I see relationships, discussion, space and planning.
Maria: Being part of a large family reminds me I have a role to play in life outside of myself and to focus on priorities, one of which is to not take my work so seriously that I don’t enjoy it. It could even be that I had a young mother!
Laakkuluk: And she had a young mother too! It makes me realize that there is a knitting together here of a young, playful and female nanboozho.
Maria: Women are definitely well represented in my family, although I don’t talk much about my one grandmother. She passed away when my mom was very young. I have a video work I made called “my grandmother’s home” where I created a huge circular earthwork when my second grandma passed away. It is about filling the void of an absence and how it is possible to connect across time, maintain continuity even when there is a lack of physical presence.
Laakkuluk: It’s an exercise in realizing what you do have, even though those people aren’t around you. What a grounded way of dealing with loss!
Maria: I had to do something or risk drowning in loss. I’m a swimmer, so really there is no choice.
Laakkuluk: You mentioned earlier that you consider yourself to be stubborn. What do you mean?
Maria: Ha ha…Well I except that others call me stubborn because I don’t like to give up or change my mind easily. That’s where I get that. I prefer to call myself spirited, so I change my previous answer.
Laakkuluk: I like thinking of you as a swimmer – you come from a big lake, and you work through light and colour and movement to see the world. “Spirited” is much better and more accurate than stubborn!
Maria: The body moves differently through water. It is liberating to just dive in or float.
Laakkuluk: It’s the sensual experience of it all. You use your own body, physique and looks in your art – why is this important to you?
Maria: I want to be more present in my body. I want to connect to the world and experience life so I am always making and always doing even when I am quiet, I am thinking. Like a duck on water everything looks still but underneath the surface my feet are going crazy. I started using myself as a natural progression in my work. Earlier in my career, I was hinting at it already by doing things like leaving a roll of tape in the gallery to suggest someone was there. Then I realized the making was as important as the result. People must deal with you when you are right in front of them. There is no hiding.
Laakkuluk: Your playfulness that way (in leaving tape behind and other hints like that) mean to me that the human mind is inseparable from the human body experiencing it all and that you should make a point of engaging your mind and your body together.
Maria: Very much so. Everything is connected. Our bodies are part of our surroundings. To look at a painting is to only see part of a bigger picture. I am not so interested in separating everything into small boxes. Life is messy and complicated, things overlap and interweave. It is beautiful. We are separated enough and I don’t want to separate further from my body, nature, others, spirit, etc…
Laakkuluk: I’m guessing this is one of the gifts of your home (your family, culture and land) that makes you see the beauty in our complicatedness. It’s kind of un-Christian of you. :P
Maria: ha ha…for sure. Another example would be the drum.
Laakkuluk: You mean the drum as an interweaved piece of beauty?
Maria: Yes, a drum looks simple enough, just a circle made of stretched hide. But it can really wake up and come to life like a heartbeat. The beating of a drum reminds me I am alive and a part of all things and that I can keep going in the face of adversity just like those who have come before me. I don’t use a drum in my work because my heart is the drum. Instead I use repetition and contemporary materials that speak to the complex realities of our times like commercial industrial felt and silver survival blankets. I want my materials to be transferable across cultures and various social economical dichotomies.
Laakkuluk: The drum centers itself in vibrancy and human celebration. Many people call you an anishnaabe artist – how does this make you feel? Is it your own label?
Maria: Jason and I talk often about labels because we are from different Native nations— different sides of the USA/Canada border and are both artists. We often come back to the same answer that all artists are different and have their own reasons for making work; there isn’t just one way to be an artist. I’m an artist my work is about many things and well I am anishnaabe, I have always been. I identify with my people and this informs my work along with all the other things I am and that are in my life. My mom once told my dad that she wasn’t trying to “be” native that she just “is” native. I’m not trying to be an anishnaabe artist: I am trying to be a good artist and I am a proud anishnaabe.
Laakkuluk: Ha ha ha! I love that – I’m not trying…I just am
Maria: Yeah she was pretty good my mom :)
Laakkuluk: I wish I could have met her
Maria: Me too.
Laakkuluk: We’re lucky we’ve had such good parents, you and me.
Maria: It’s good to be thankful. For sure.
Laakkuluk: When we collaborate, you and I tend to touch on the revolutionary, on the need for change. What are we asking people of themselves?
Maria: I am asking people to work together, be accountable, to own their actions and to do their part. Whatever that is. Does that come close to what you think?
Laakkuluk: Yes – I think that’s one of the great commonalities we have in our work – that mischievous way of asking, “what if you believed in your own accountability?”
Maria: We can be even more specific with it…”What if you believed in your own accountability, yesterday, today and tomorrow?”
Maria: Thank you!
Laakkuluk: Chi meegwetch my good friend
Maria: :) Aakkuluk
Laakkuluk: Ha ha ha! Yay!
Maria: the force of creation is strong with you – for real
Laakkuluk: :) In you too
Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory
I am an advocate for the deep human need for all people, but especially post-colonial indigenous people to express themselves at a level of creative excellence. I am a mother, wife, student, writer, community organizer and performer based in Iqaluit, Nunavut. My two children speak Greenlandic, Inuktitut and English – all languages part of their heritages. I have been a performer for more than 15 years involved in uaajeerneq – Greenlandic mask dancing, music, drum-dancing, storytelling and acting. My career has allowed me to travel all across Canada and to many wondrous parts of the world. I am passionate about spending time on the land – hiking, snowmobiling, boating, hunting, camping, eating wild foods, building cabins and cultivating raccoon tans are all activities that figure largely in my family.
Maria Hupfield is based in Brooklyn New York and a member of Wasauksing First Nation, Ontario Canada. Hupfield is a 2014 recipient of the Joan Mitchell Foundation Painting and Sculpture Grant and the AIM residency at the Bronx Museum. Her performance “Contain That Force: 7 Solo Acts” was presented by the National Gallery of Canada for the exhibition “Sakahan: International Indigenous Art”, with SAW Video and Media Arts, Ottawa Canada. She performed “All is Moving” in response to the paintings of Artist Jaune Quick-to-See Smith at Accola Griefen Gallery, Chelsea NY and participated in A Conversation on Performance Art: Women Redrawing/Performance, organized by The Feminist Art Project at SOHO20 Chelsea NY. She has shown at the Museum of Arts and Design New York, Toronto Power Plant, and 7a*11d International Performance Festival. Her project “An Artist Tour Guide” was commissioned by The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, New York. She is currently completing a travelling solo exhibition funded by the Canada Council of the Arts.