As a viewer informed by Western art, it’s hard not to think of Joseph Beuys when you see grey industrial felt in an art gallery. But, Maria Hupfield puts a crack in that canon with her work with such material. When asked how she thought of her art in relation to Beuys, she replied she was not interested in myth-making—a basis of the post-war German artist’s practice—and that her experience is so different from his, it’s hard to compare. True. As a woman, as an Anishnaabe artist growing up in rural Canada, her work draws on Indigenous traditions, personal history and very real experience.
Still, within the white walls, I can’t help but explore the connection. Beuys often wrapped objects with felt, seeing it as insulator, as protector, as layers of social and personal meaning. And, Hupfield meticulously constructs objects out of felt—a cassette tape, a canoe, a letter, a boot—the grey material has the effect of equalizing a wide range of objects, at once erasing their specificity and giving them distinction as personal and cultural symbols. The material reflects each artist’s place in time.
Whether with intent or not, Hupfield brings new meaning to The felt suit with her Snow Suit and Jingle Spiral, offering a welcome transgression to a Western tradition. She claims this heavily-coded material for herself, and challenges us to question who drives the grand narrative of art history. KW