Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Artist represents Muskoka and Métis community at G20, "Métis Voyageur", Fall 2010

A photo of me with my pass to the G20 Media Centre.

In June, 2010, Muskoka Tourism and the Huntsville/Lake of Bays Chamber of Commerce approached the various arts organizations in Muskoka and Parry Sound to name artists to represent Muskoka at the G20’s Media Centre. Out of sixteen artists who were nominated, I was one of the final eight selected to participate at the Northern Ontario pavilion of the Experience Canada event. The excitement of being selected for such an important event was incredible! I knew there would be 2500+ media there from around the world but other than that, I didn’t know what to expect. After all, the only news that seemed to be circulating in public was about the “fake lake”.  When the day finally came for my “shift”, I ended up having a truly unforgettable experience!
My volunteer job as Artist Ambassador was to display, demonstrate and discuss my art with the media and government representatives from around the world. I was filmed and photographed, was interviewed and had conversations with journalists from Canada, India, Spain, the US and Russia. Since art is a common thread among all people and all cultures, this wasn’t just a great opportunity to show my art to the world, it was also a great opportunity to tell people about the distinct Métis art form.
A good portion of my art includes my interpretation of traditional flower patterns like the ones Métis women embroider or bead onto clothing, shoes and other textile or animal skin items. I like to include my own signature flower designs on my art to add special significance to the subject matter, or sometimes simply for embellishment just as the Métis women would embellish clothing. Animals are also common central figures in my art. I often deal with subjects such as hunting with links back to the fur trade. My art is an expression of the combination of my French and Algonquin heritage. It is neither European in style, nor First Nations in style, but rather a mix of the two. Like being Métis!
Because our Métis ancestors never signed their embroidered and beaded artworks, the art of the “Flower Beadwork People” would have become totally lost was it not for traditional knowledge handed down from generation to generation. My own personal side-mission as a Métis artist is to honour this art form and I am always happy to discuss Métis art history with anyone! Interestingly, as I spoke with journalists from across the globe, they would relate stories back to me of the traditional craftwork their mothers used to make and how sad it was that the practice was no longer as highly regarded today. The more we spoke about Métis art, other cross-cultural topics would also come up such as ethics in hunting, environmental conservation and the preservation of storytelling, not only proving the power of art but the cultural relevance of Métis art!
As for the “fake lake”, I wish the general public had been able to see it so they could understand what went on inside the G20 Media Centre. It’s one of the reasons why I chose to share my experience here. It really is a shame the “fake lake” was blown out of proportion to become the centre of attention at an otherwise significant event. Yes, to our Canadian standards, it was small... a water feature really. But it was never meant to reproduce Canada or Muskoka. The Northern Ontario pavilion and the rest of the event were created to impress visitors from other countries. From my vantage point, working on my painting and meeting people from that very cedar dock, I felt myself strangely immersed into the Muskoka feeling. So many people from around the world who didn’t know what Muskoka was (or who had never come to Canada) were in awe of the fantastic imagery that was being displayed on this massive screen as they sat in total comfort in a Muskoka chair with the smell of cedar surrounding them. They would not only hold meetings and interviews on the dock, they would literally rearrange the 4-chair groupings to face and watch the video that was being shown on the big screen! And they would stay... for a long time... captivated! It was a very successful marketing tool. Watching the effect of the “fake lake” on our visitors, I realized just how much we take our forests, lakes, resources and lifestyle for granted in Canada and how important it is to preserve them. (As a Métis citizen, I am glad to know that we have the MNO’s Lands, Resources and Consultations Branch working to protect our interests!)
As for other areas in the G20 Media Centre, there were chefs creating tasting menus, samplings of wines and spirits, and an impressive digital technology display that spoke to Canada’s capabilities in broadcast and within the film industry. I was thrilled to discover that every single item I was witnessing being promoted during this event was 100% Canadian. If a presenter talked about wine, our guests were not only given a sample to try but also told about the history of the grape, the region where it’s grown and the people who run the company. The same went with other spirits, foods and regions. I listened as Chef Jamie Kennedy told media about the local family who brings him fresh trout (some of which they were about to eat) and how they use sustainable practices.
Ultimately, the important factor to consider when we hear about the costs of the G8/20 is that a significant amount (if not all) of the money that was spent on this event was spent in various regions of Canada, on various Canadian products, for the promotion of Canada. And our visitors were extremely impressed. They were genuinely interested in Canada, in the beauty of our landscapes, our culture and in the art history of the Métis. And lucky for me, they seemed genuinely interested in my art.
There is no way I could have bought the kind of exposure I was lucky enough to get through my volunteer participation at the G20, regardless of any outcome. I am very fortunate to have been a part of it. I am extremely proud to have been able to show my art, represent my part of Canada and the Métis heritage to the world.
PS: I’d like to send a special thank you to Susan Greenaway, Mary Rashleigh and the Huntsville Art Society for putting on the show “Eight Back From the Lake” at The Art Space gallery in Huntsville. The show featured all eight G20 Media Centre artists together for the first time and included photos, video and memorabilia of the event. The show opened on July 23 and ran until August 29, 2010, finally giving the general public a chance to see who and how they were represented during the G20.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Moss Flower series

Bloomin' Moss, 2009, 11" x 14" (sold)
The inspiration for the Moss Flower Series comes from long walks in the woods in Muskoka. In the spring, there are these tiny little plants that grow out of the moss. They're incredibly bright, bold and sturdy yet so small that no one ever notices them unless they're pointed out. These tiny little moss flowers are also extremely invasive within their environment, covering large swaths of the Canadian Shield to ultimately provide the medium and nutrients needed for other, larger future plant growth.

These moss flowers remind me humans. We are so small within the scope of the universe yet we are incredibly invasive within our environment on planet Earth. The question is whether we ultimately provide for future growth.

There are only 6 of the 12 works left in the series. They are mixed media pieces with texture mediums to create three dimensional reliefs. I’ve also used iridescent, metallic and gold/silver/copper pigments in many of the pieces. The combination of techniques makes it so that the paintings change throughout the day with the filtering of natural light, as if to bring the work back to the natural space it was inspired from.

To see the series online, visit http://www.nathaliebertin.com/.
If you are interested in personally viewing or purchasing any of these remaining pieces, please contact me at nbertin@rogers.com.