Jimson Bowler: Muskrat Love (Zhusk Ode Min)

They don’t come any more original than Jimson Bowler. When I walked down the ramp at the Art Gallery of Peterborough where his show Muskrat Love (Zhusk Ode Min) is installed, I started squealing with delight. This is full blaze gonzo art at its finest.

There is a 10 foot guerilla pirate space ship or something suspended under the stairs and it’s flying at warp speed through a Mad Max universe of cultural delusion. It’s got a bug-eyed boombox and a small engine prop at its prow; a glowing red heart, 3 accordions, a turtle rattle, some scrimshaw and a pressure gauge are strapped to its haunches with some buckskin fringe, and a bunch of sticks fly out the back-end like a primal exhaust. It looks like it’s about to bust through the cosmic veil.

Along the ramp, there is a collection of cheesy wall art overpainted with imagery that spills over the frames, effectively overwriting a romantic, malformed vision of colonial heritage. Bowler’s nod to Anishinaabe/Woodland style intertwines stories of man, spirit beings, animals and the land through his personal lens. To me these paintings collapse time and bring past and present, seen and unseen, into a unified field.

In the stairwell, a tribe of Travellers is looking at us not so much confrontationally but as if we were aliens. There’s insouciance in the postures of these nomads on wheels, rigged out for the journey in overcoats, motorcycle helmets and sunglasses. And outside in the garden is a motorcycle with some antlers and a saddle ready to blast off into the mystic.

Over at Gallery in the Attic, he’s got some of his silver and turquoise rings on display, sitting in line in a touristy miniature birchbark canoe like voyagers on a spiritual odyssey brought to life from the Petroglyphs. They’ve got personality. But it’s the display that really blows me away – not many artists can take a taxidermy fish, a toy tank, some antler and bone and a plastic flashlight cartridge and make it come alive. Then there’s a sculpture called Electric Pow Wow Assemblage, glowing like a neon lava lamp with a pile of obsolete cameras stuck all over. You turn it on and well…the video is little rough, but see for yourself:

Bowler took us on a revisionist tour of Peterborough during Ode’min Giizis last year, relating histories predating the occupying settlements. I would never have known about the simple rock marking an aboriginal grave site in a Brock St. parking lot or the publicly unacknowledged burial sites of First Nations ancestors unearthed in Confederation Square.

He designed a stunning versatile set for Mysterious Entity’s production of Beside Herself out of birch branches. Seats became tables and tables became beds. For me it was a highlight of the production.

My advice is don’t try to understand it, just let it take you for a ride, because this is Muskrat Love. For all its idiosyncratic style, there is nothing haphazard about this work. I love its joyous, fearless spirit and lack of conceit. Bowler has the trickster spirit down in spades, a junk master of colonial detritus and misconception. He is a contemporary indigenous creative, a free man on his own timeline, living off the land, even if his hunting grounds are now recycle bins. In the tradition of elders all over the world, his work is a teaching and a healing: honest, funny and crazy like a fox.

Jimson Bowler is a new breed of artist – urban, true to his roots, generous in his vision and one whose work is both an education and a joy to behold.

Jimson Bowler: Muskrat Love (Zhusk Ode Min)
Curated by Carla Garnet
June 8 to Sept 1, 2013
Art Gallery of Peterborough  »

Look for more of his sculptural works coming this summer to Gallery in the Attic »

Reclaiming Spaces/Places: Revealing a forgotten Indigenous visual narrative in Peterborough, by Spacing Magazine, May, 2015 »

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