Duane Linklater Wins the 2013 Sobey Art Award

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Art Gallery of Nova Scotia Curator Sarah Fillmore and last year’s winner of the Sobey Art Award, Raphaëlle de Groot, congratulate Duane Linklater. Photo: Steve Farmer. Courtesy of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia

“A mixture of shock and happiness.” That’s how Duane Linklater describes his reaction upon learning that he’d won the 2013 Sobey Art Award. “I feel really honoured to have gone through the entire process from longlist, to shortlist, to 2013 winner,” says Linklater during an interview two days after the big announcement.

Known as Canada’s pre-eminent award for contemporary art, the $50,000 Sobey Art Award is presented annually to a Canadian 40 years of age or under. It recognizes an artist’s body of work, and Linklater’s is particularly impressive in its relevance and range.

Based in North Bay, Ontario, Linklater is Omaskêko Cree, originally from Moose Cree First Nation. His work often investigates notions of authorship and histories, the authority of language, and Aboriginal identity, offering what the panel of deciding curators described in a statement as “refreshing positions on contemporary life.” And he does so in an array of media, including film, video, site-specific installations, performance, photography, and sculptural objects.

One of those objects is Tautology, currently on display in the Sobey Art Award Exhibition at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. Tautology depicts a series of bold neon birds—an image that Linklater says he “appropriated” from the Norval Morrisseau painting Androgyny.

“I first encountered this painting on television, as the result of watching political events in Rideau Hall, where it hung until last summer. I thought it was a very interesting and complicated place for this painter to have his artwork,” explains Linklater. While exploring ideas of repetition, ritual, signage, and symbols, Tautology is also a nod to things that get “lost in translation” and the “idea that tautologies are often produced by translation problems,” adds the artist.

However, Morrisseau is not the only artist who’s had an influence on Linklater’s practice. “Where I grew up in Northern Ontario, my mother had several prints throughout the house. One of the prints that stuck with me over the years is Benjamin Chee Chee’s Learning,” says Linklater, referring to the iconic image of Canadian geese.

Linklater’s recent exhibition at Toronto’s Susan Hobbs Gallery was fittingly called Learning. In it, he says he explored “how a person might construct a self at a very young age” through works that referenced components of his former teenaged self. For example, in Je me souviens, a kind of photographic couplet, the artist juxtaposed images of Oka warrior Richard Nicholas and Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain: pictures that used to hang on the young Linklater’s bedroom walls, but that are, he notes, embedded with tragedy.

Wherever he shows his work, Linklater’s interventions in the gallery space are often thought provoking and unprecedented. In 2012, he planted 12 raspberry bushes in New York’s Family Business Gallery. The resulting work, (Untitled) A raspberry garden for 21st Street, explored the “idea of berries being animate beings,” says Linklater—something that comes from his Cree culture and language.

As for what’s next, Linklater’s works are currently featured in several exhibitions across the country. And although he’s hesitant to reveal too much about works in progress, he hints that they might speak to some of the other projects he’s done, while also introducing new material. It’s clear that Linklater is excited about what’s on the horizon. And so are we.

Duane Linklater’s work is currently on display at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in the 2013 Sobey Art Award Exhibition; at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal in Beat Nation: Art, Hip Hop and Aboriginal Culture; and at Calgary’s Esker Foundation in Fiction/Non-fiction. Modest Livelihood, a collaborative film with Brian Jungen, opens at the Art Gallery of Ontario on 26 October 2013.

For information on all 2013 Sobey Award Shortlist nominees, click here.

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