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Copper connections

Anishinaabe artist Michael Belmore shares critical insight about his self-titled AGO exhibition.

Michael Belmore. Édifice

Michael Belmore. Édifice, 2019. River boulders, copper, 485.3 kg. Purchase, with funds by exchange from Professor and Mrs. Wm. O. Fennell, Toronto, in memory of J.H. Birkenshaw, and The J.S. McLean Collection, by Canada Packers Inc., 2019. © Michael Belmore. 2019/2317

Anishinaabe artist Michael Belmore showcases copper in a unique way. His self-titled AGO exhibition features two sculptural works – Edifice and Breadth – that explore the catastrophic environmental impact of European settlers in North America. Both large-scale fragmented sculptural pieces are accented with copper crevices which, for Belmore, speak to the metal’s sacred meaning within Anishinaabe culture. We connected with Belmore to find out more about the exhibition and the inspiration behind it.         

AGOinsider: Your use of copper in the exhibition is so powerful and multifaceted. How would you describe the meaning of the copper in Edifice and Breadth?  

Belmore: I would describe the meaning of copper in Edifice and Breadth as being very similar. I feel they both speak about the warmth found within. Copper is like the blood of the body, the blood of the land; it is the essence of what flows from the land, connecting us. Copper is what keeps out the dark, keeps us all connected. It is the lines that are crisscrossed, drawn and pulled to the edge of wilderness. 

AGOinsider: Given the diversity of wildlife that inhabits the Canadian wilderness, why specifically did you choose to depict a deer (fawn) in Breadth?

Belmore: I chose to depict a deer as it is one of the larger mammals we interact with. Deer once inhabited large expanses of land but now find themselves dispersed onto smaller patches of land, isolated from each other and it is between these patches that we as a species find ourselves connecting with them. This interaction is often at night, we are usually in a vehicle and they are crossing the road. We have this tendency to cut through the land.

Michael Belmore, Breadth

Installation view, Michael Belmore (Sept. 26, 2020 – March 21, 2021). Breadth, 2014. 2016/40. Artwork © Michael Belmore. Image © Art Gallery of Ontario.

AGOinsider: So much of the exhibition has to do with our relationship to the land, and to each other. Do you think the presence of a global health crisis like COVID-19 provides new insight into any of the themes in these two works? 

Belmore: I would say that the whole exhibition is about our relationship to the land, and to each other. Our lives are built from the land we find ourselves standing on and more and more from the land which others stand on. Like the network built of copper, we have built other globally integrated systems that leave us vulnerable.

AGOinsider: Have you been creating anything recently? Do you have any new works or upcoming projects you are excited about? 

Belmore: As far as upcoming projects, due to the pandemic, things have either been cancelled or put back a year or two. I do have a few public art commissions but I am not at liberty to speak about them. I do look forward to being able to create again as I now have the materials and tools to be productive again. This last year gave me a great amount of time to think; now I want to make. I also want to go home. I want to drive north and spend time with family.

 Don’t miss Michael Belmore’s Edifice and Breadth, on view at the AGO upon our reopening.

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