Teagyn Aatagwéix’i Vallevand says she packed for the Kluane artist residency the same way Scooby Doo’s Daphne packs for ghost hunts — with towering stacks of luggage. The difference is Aatagwéix’i’s bags are full of beads rather than heels and purple miniskirts.
“I brought a ridiculous amount of art to work on while I was here,” says Aatagwéix’i over the phone from Haines Junction. “[The residency programmers] were like, ‘Don’t feel pressure to make a certain thing,’ so I was like, ‘Ok, well, I better bring 15 different things to work on, and I’ll figure out what I want to make from there’.”
So she tossed everything she could think of into her truck when she left Whitehorse for the Kluane National Park Artist in Residence Program this month.
The program is a partnership between the Yukon Arts Centre (YAC) and the Arctic Institute of North America’s Kluane Lake Research Station. It allows artists to spend two weeks at the research station, located on Kluane Lake (also known as Lhù’ààn Mânʼ).
Aatagwéix’i, a citizen of the Kwanlin Dün First Nation, is one of four artists selected for 2023 and 2024, along with Christine Koch, Misha Donohoe and Bettina Matzkuhn.
“Aatagwéix’i had an outstanding application,” says Mary Bradshaw, director of visual arts at YAC. “It was thoughtful and exciting how she brings together traditional knowledge with her artwork and connection to the land — in particular looking at medicines found in Kluane.”
Bradshaw says the application also brought up Aatagwéix’i’s intent to talk to researchers about those plants to help guide her focus.
That arts and science collaboration is a big part of the residency. Not only do artists have physical access to Kluane National Park and Reserve, they also have access to the scientists who visit the station from around the world to study the area’s glaciology, biology, botany, hydrology, climatology, anthropology and more.
This month, Aatagwéix’i says a team of researchers is studying plants in coastal northern areas. She appreciates the opportunity to have that scientific perspective on the natural landscape. Though she’s keeping her mind open to possibilities that might crop up while attending the residency, she came to the station with one idea in mind.
“I definitely was thinking I wanted to do a large medicine bag of some sort because it really ties into arts and science from a cultural perspective,” she says. “But maybe the design I pick will be different than what I was initially thinking.”
She wants to work the mountains, water or the Kluane Glacier into her design, though she’s not quite sure how just yet.
Of all her mediums (Aatagwéix’i also does Ravenstail weaving, formline and carving), she likes beading best because of the freedom it allows to experiment with ideas like the medicine bag.
“I’m definitely a contemporary visual artist,” she says. “I like to mix traditional styles and techniques with modern twists.”
With beadwork, she says she can bead a Barbie logo if she wants to. She couldn’t do that with more traditional forms like weaving.
“I think it’s important that you pass those [traditions] down. But I like having the flexibility as a contemporary beadwork artist, being able to have fun and showcase who I am as a First Nations person in today’s society while also reflecting back on my cultural roots.”
Aatagwéix’i says a highlight of the residency will be the three workshops she’s offering. In addition to a medicine bag workshop and a beaded cuff workshop, she’s most excited about a pattern-making workshop for First Nations citizens.
The goal is to guide participants through making beadwork patterns for their own families that can be used to adorn vests and other pieces.
Some families have patterns that have been passed down through generations, she says, but others have nothing.
“I know, having had family members go to residential schools, and all of residential schools and colonization, a lot of families lost those patterns, or they were taken from them, or they just don’t have those skills,” says Aatagwéix’i. “Being able to give that back, I think, will be really nice and very empowering for participants.”
The medicine bag workshop is drop-in while supplies last. It takes place at Mät’àtäna Män (also known as Kathleen Lake) on July 29 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. The beaded mountain cuff workshop will be held Aug. 5 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. It takes place at Thechàl Dhâl’ Visitor Centre. Participants can register for one of 13 limited spots by calling 867-634-5235.
Contact Amy Kenny at email@example.com