Casualties of Modernity
created in 2014
installation with high-definition digital video, 14 min, 45 sec
In Casualties of Modernity Kent Monkman invites us to enter a room in the Modern Wing of a hospital specializing in the treatment of conditions afflicting Modern and Contemporary Art. On the bed lies a Cubist sculpture of a female, its distorted, fractured body reduced to flattened forms. An electrocardiogram machine monitors its heartbeat, while intravenous lines feed its twisted arms. Stepping closer, there is the faint sound of wheezing as its chest raises and lowers with each laboured breath. Holding vigil over the ailing patient is Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, celebrity artist, aristocratic socialite and patron of the arts. Appropriate to her persona and the occasion, she wears a revealing nurse’s uniform, seven-inch red patent platform heels and eye-popping diamond accessories. Opposite the bed, the television runs an episode from Miss Chief’s popular syndicated soap opera Casualties of Modernity, in which she stars with the erudite Doctor of Fine Arts and a cast of vulnerable or forgotten art traditions, including appearances by Abstract Art, Performance Art, Conceptual Art, and Romanticism.
For over two decades Kent Monkman has created a significant body of work in painting, photography, film/video, installation and performance that explores and subverts the power dynamics of European vs. Indigenous cultures. Taking centre stage in many interventions, from his remarkable re-creations of nineteenth-century paintings to choreographed music videos, is Monkman’s agent provocateur and artistic alter ego, Miss Chief Eagle Testickle. Plays on “mischief,” “tickle,” and “egotistical” reflect the wit that underpins his representations, which present serious narratives in the modes of social satire and burlesque, often using humour to deliver the coup de grâce.
With Casualties of Modernity Monkman continues his research into the dynamics of the European gaze, focussing on the modernist era. Revolutionary developments in figuration by Matisse, Picasso, Giacometti and others drew upon and perverted the traditions of Oceanic and African art, analyzing, reducing, and reassembling living things and inanimate objects as two-dimensional planes and geometries. Monkman sees the reductive character of modern art as metaphor for modernity’s compression of Indigenous cultures and their loss of identity. In her first speaking role on video, Miss Chief, channeling Princess Diana, is a sympathetic and caring soul, comforting these crushed, lifeless figures, these casualties of modernity. Is there hope and salvation in her love and tears?
— Dawn Cain, Curator, BMO Corporate Art Collection
Kent Monkman was born in St. Marys, Ontario in 1965, and raised in Manitoba. Of Cree, English and Irish descent, he is a member of the Fish River Band in Northern Manitoba. As a teenager he studied illustration at Sheridan College of Applied Arts in Ontario, followed by courses at the Banff Centre, the Sundance Institute in Los Angeles, and the Canadian Screen Training Institute, among others. Since the early 1990s, Kent Monkman’s work has been exhibited internationally and is widely represented in the collections of major museums in Canada and the United States of America. He has been the recipient the Egale Leadership Award, Indspire Award and the Hnatyshyn Foundation Visual Arts Award. Kent Monkman is represented by Pierre-Francois Ouellette Art Contemporain in Montreal and Toronto, Sargent’s Daughters in New York, and Trépanier Baer Gallery in Calgary.