New GoMA exhibition examines exchange, bartering, trade and migration

New GoMA exhibition examines exchange, bartering, trade and migration

A new exhibition which examines ideas of exchange, bartering, trade and histories of human, animal and botanic migration is launching at Glasgow’s Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA).

‘Amik’ is an immersive artwork by Canadian artist Clara Ursitti, featuring film, scent and sculptures, that explores the links between Scotland – specifically Glasgow’s former Royal Exchange building, now home to GoMA – and Canadian fur-trading legacies, particularly the Hudson’s Bay Company.

Opening in Gallery 3 at GoMA, managed by Glasgow Life, the charity that delivers culture and sport in Glasgow, on Friday 24 June and running until late January 2023, ‘Amik’ stems from the Glasgow-based artist’s interest in making connections between the places of her past and present homes and follows a research residency in North Eastern Ontario, Canada.

The title for the exhibition, which translates as ‘beaver’ in Algonquin, a common language used by indigenous people in Canada, refers to the inspiration behind Ursitti’s work. With the beaver an iconic Canadian symbol relating to the British and French colonial era, the artist regards the beaver pelt (skin) trade as crucial in defining the relationship of colonial settlers with the land and the natives they stole it from.

A key starting point for the exhibition, which will open with a performance commissioned by Ursitti, was castoreum: a substance collected from beaver glands as a by-product of beaver trapping, used to scent tobacco and perfumes and as a natural food flavouring to replace vanilla, yet unlisted on ingredient labels.

Intrigued by the attraction and repulsion castoreum generates, and the ways in which the substance is used by trappers in lures, Ursitti shifts the focus away from beavers’ popularity as cute animals with a view to haunting her audience with a more embodied version. To achieve her aim, Ursitti uses sculptures, including found objects; film recordings and sound work from residencies in Canada; scent; and a whole tree ethically sourced and prepared by Glasgow-based environmental community GalGael.

As part of her research, Ursitti collaborated with Katie Bruce, GoMA Producer/Curator, to study beaver histories in Scotland and the use of imported beaver pelts and other items contained within Glasgow Life Museums’ collection with connections to the history of the city’s Royal Exchange building. The Mitchell Library’s archives also helped the artist to explore the Canadian fur trade’s ties to these shores.

Through a research residency with White Water Gallery in North Bay, Canada in 2019, Ursitti visited and learned from indigenous communities in the area where she grew up, before producing the exhibition’s film and sound recordings during trips to Nipissing Nation Reserve and Teme Augama-Anishnabai Nation Reserve in February 2020.

Katie Bruce, GoMA Producer/Curator, said:

“‘Amik’ has been a really interesting commission to work on, with so many enjoyable conversations and research threads generated with Clara over the last four years. I’m excited to see the works in the show and how she is working with the spaces we have here through sound, scent and sculpture. The context of GoMA’s history is thoughtfully considered, with works referencing the former use of the building as the Royal Exchange where goods would’ve been traded, as well as Scotland’s historical links with Canada.”

Clara Ursitti said:

“It’s been fun and fascinating to work with Katie and access material, both in Glasgow Life Museums’ collection and in The Mitchell Library archives, in the development of this new work. The opportunity to reflect on where I was born and raised in relation to the linked history of Glasgow and the GoMA building has been invaluable. I am also very grateful to all the people I worked with in Canada, including those from the Temagami, Teme-Augama Anishnabai, Nipissing, North Bay and Algonquin-Mètis communities, and at GalGael here in Glasgow.”

Ursitti, who also lectures at Glasgow School of Art, often works with scent and social space, creating ephemeral installations and interventions and has exhibited in galleries around the world, including: the Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow; the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London; Gothenburg Biennale, Gothenburg, Sweden; Museum Tinguely, Basel, Switzerland; Kunstverein, Wolfsburg, Germany; YYZ, Toronto, Canada; and the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne, Australia.