Starting in the 1970s, Carl Beam (1943–2005) was at the vanguard of a new and assertive art discourse that challenged the prevailing marginalization of contemporary Aboriginal art. Beam’s philosophical approach to contemporary art in the three decades since has contributed much in terms of a critique on the place of reason and instrumentality in the colonial expansion of Western society. His art engages his Anishinabek traditions through its recognition of the important role of dreams, the place of spirit helpers, and the lessons of his Aboriginal ancestry. At the same time, it builds intellectual bridges between the philosophical thinking of Western and Anishinabek traditions.
Beam contrasts a society transfixed by the lure of a fleeting technological utopia with the unyielding permanence of the natural world. He creates a temporal space measured in concepts of time based on natural forces, as opposed to the linear systems of time measurement that regulate Western civilization.
Consisting of approximately 50 of Beam’s most remarkable works, selected from early in his career in the 1970s to the end of his production in the early 2000s, this exhibition illuminates his investigations into the metaphysical aspects of Western and Indigenous culture, while powerfully illustrating the wide-ranging physicality of his work, evident in everything from his large-scale paintings, to his ceramics, constructions, and videotapes.
Beam works with photography and collage in an aesthetic more akin to the expressive layering of Rauschenberg than the traditional forms of Anishinabek “Woodland School” painters, confounding expectations as he masterfully combines a diverse iconography of images to express his profound musings on contemporary art and our contemporary (post?)-colonial and post-modern condition.