MYSYSYPYN Nemeth Art Center May 4th - July 15th, 2017
The MYSYSYPYN is a platform for exchange and art exhibitions on the histories, cultures, and lands along the Mississippi River. First Colony is the second in an ongoing series. Staged near the Mississippi headwaters, the exhibition of contemporary art and historical pieces continues an exploration of America’s colonial interior. First Colony makes use of Nemeth Art Center’s holdings: old European masters and African arts and craft works. First Colony features multigenerational artists working with unconventional media who offer contemporary readings of imperialism by Aaron Spangler, Damien Davis, Joan Bemel Iron Moccasin, Jon Gomez, and Kelly Sena.
The exhibition has three inspirations each fostering innumerable counter narratives. The title references the United States’ first colony, which was neither a Pacific paradise nor a Caribbean canal but the Midwest. What began as the Old Northwest Territory, established in 1787, became the modern states of Ohio (1803), Indiana (1816), Michigan (1837), Wisconsin (1848), and Minnesota (1858). The amalgamated land would have been contested by European proxy wars for over a century by the time it was absorbed.
A second inspiration is Minnesota History. Within this first colony, from 1787 to 1858, Minnesota secluded the deepest of imperial domains—not just in North America but perhaps the world. Hopelessly landlocked, Minnesota remained an obscurity. Steamboats that rolled up the Mississippi in the 1800s found St. Louis a commercial and cultural cutoff. Even the many-tiered path of the Great Lakes would not be truly opened by seaway until 1959. Outsiders who did come here went to the inner ring of a budding empire yet to manifest. We might imagine, then, that when Henry Schoolcraft so-named Lake Itasca in 1832 he found his own insufferable Midwest notion of what would later be Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness.
A third concern is a chapter in Modern art history. The fabled and fraught 1931 Surrealist exhibition “The Truth about the Colonies” resorted to championing African, Oceanic, and Native American art in an effort to draw attention to French imperialism. As with many Modern Anti-Imperialist efforts by white artists, the subversive exhibition amounted to a reinforcement of colonial narratives. The organizers of the immediately infamous show did their militant duty by turning away from legacy of imperialism—against the harms of capitalism, against the fictions of supremacy, against the cleanliness of French paradigms that then governed the national mindset. Rather than revolution, an imperceptible impulse to turn away guided these Surrealists. Today the desire to turn away has never been stronger for the conscientious observer and progressive spirit. Peeling away has always been elemental to empire. Outsiders who first came to Minnesota knowing no harm knew nonetheless, subconsciously or otherwise, that they were turning away.
As any collective logic guiding the U.S. becomes increasingly remote, First Colony considers where to turn under the urgent conditions of the Midwest’s ongoing colonization.
§ The MYSYSYPYN is initiated and written by Matthew Schum, PhD.
“This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota, through a grant from the Region 2 Arts Council, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.”