Karolina Bialkowska and Tomas Jonsson
A guest blog by Jessie Fosty. Jessie Fosty is pursuing a BFA Honours at Brandon University in the Department of Visual and Aboriginal Arts. She works closely with Peter Morin. Her mediums include painting, drawing, and ceramics, and her themes include the impact of residential school and the plight of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.
Across the Table: Cathy Mattes and Leah Decter’s Tattoo Performance
On July 29th 2016 at the UBCO FINA Gallery Cathy Mattes and Leah Decter held a collaborative tattoo performance called ‘Across the Table.’ Cathy is a Michif curator and writer who works as an Assistant Professor at Brandon University. Leah is an inter-media artist and scholar, and works out of Winnipeg, MB. Cathy and Leah’s tattoo performance created a deep sense of community through inviting people to participate in an emulated Métis ‘kitchen talk.’ The viewers were invited to sort seed beads around a table. Nearby both artists were to be tattooed by Dion Kaszas in the traditional Indigenous style techniques of hand poke and skin stitch. The public was invited to share stories aloud with everyone that was in the space. If someone told a story they were gifted a little bag of beads (A symbol for Cathy’s beading practice), and needle threaded with some beading thread (a symbol for the horizon line that reoccurs in Leah’s art practice). Videos were projected on two of the gallery walls. The one wall showed some Alberta prairie hills (for Cathy), and the other wall showed a cultivated field with a distant view (for Leah).
The performance began with an audio recording of Cathy talking about how she learned to bead, and her Auntie’s strong influence on her. Leah also had a recorded narrative play. She spoke about her Jewish grandfather’s story from before he came to Canada. During the performance beautiful stories were shared by the viewers. As time passed during the tattoo performance, as a viewer you could feel a sense of inclusion. The dialogue that was shared was intimate and filled with knowledge. Cathy was tattooed first by Dion in hand poke technique, where she received green hills on her right shoulder. The tattoo resembled beadwork. Despite Cathy’s phobia of needles she seemed grateful to be carrying an important narrative to her on her skin. Leah received her tattoo second. She received both skin stitch and hand poke technique from Dion. Her tattoo represents her grandfather’s story and showed three river crossings with a horizon line. In Leah’s audio recording she spoke about how her grandfather swam across the river three separate times; the first time to escape from chaos, the second time to see what happened, and then to safety the final time. Both elements of her tattoo: the river and horizon line, are attributed to saving her grandfather’s life. At the performance Leah said she knew that she wanted to get these two elements tattooed on herself for a long time. After the performance when photos were being taken, both ladies were beaming with happiness. Together Cathy and Leah successfully created a performance with strong; visuals, engaging dialogue, viewer participation, with an overall affecting atmosphere.