Some interviews

“Don’t look to my work for reconciliation”: A Conversation with Andrea Carlson. JeeYeun Lee. Monument Lab, July 26, 2021.


Andrea Carlson artist profile, interview with Sheila Regan. First American Art Magazine. Summer 2018.

Fett Magazine. Oslo, Norway, 2018 issue #3

Red in the Morning

(English version, Norwegian translation published)

By Andrea Selese Carlson

Many artists in the colonized lands of North America feel as if this present moment is an unbearable premise to make under. Instead we are imagining futures beyond the now, making us beyond the grasp of Nativism, Populism and hatred espoused by the Trump White House. The effort to get into another mind space is tremendous because the urgency of the now, this now, that makes all creativity feel useless within the context of another looming apocalypse. It is under this terrible presidential regime that I find myself living in a beautiful city that was founded when a Potawatomi woman named Kitiwaha allowed her husband, Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, a man of African and French descent, to set up their home in the land of her people. I find myself in this very city, the city of Chicago, Illinois, looking across Lake Michigan, a tranquil, shimmering lake that cared for the Anishinaabe and Ho-Chunk people. I often think about the many people over countless generations who have gazed the “thousand-yard stare” across this lake while traumatic memories of violence, slavery, war, epidemics and starvation plagued their minds. I think about how many people have loved this water and who are part of this water. If a place can help heal the mind, the Great Lakes are a places of healing and renewal.

Although I live in Chicago now, I am partial to my ancestral home of Lake Superior. My grandfather was a fisherman on Lake Superior just on the Minnesota side of the United States/Canadian border. Although he died before I formed many memories about him, I remember that my grandfather enjoyed the rhyme, “Red in the morning, sailors take warning / Red at night, sailor’s delight.” His nickname was “Red” (perhaps he noted the pun) but this phrase wasn’t personal to him. The phrase is a mnemonic rhyme that offers a clue for sea-ferrying weather conditions. Teachings or clues are important for surviving lakes as large as Lake Superior. Because the land is relatively flat, one can lose sight of the shoreline on all sides at three miles out to sea. The shore will emerge like a mirage when it isn’t actually in sight. Lake Superior has taken the life of at least one of my ancestors who was pulled under setting nets, and the ashes of many more relatives rest there. Lakes, then, become graveyards or solemn places for remembrance and storytelling.

The infinite horizon that has baked itself into my mind and has become integral to how I organize information in my work. A sea/sky binary dotted with images of ornate beings, objects, texts and jagged rocks is the formula within many of my drawings. Perhaps the shore is a stage filled with washed-up nouns and the horizon is frozen time, filled with potential verbs. Long ago, monstrous ships slipped out of the horizon of oceans and into the worlds of Indigenous people. My art encompasses ideas of cultural assimilation, colonization, metaphoric cannibalism, museum ethnographic collections, exploitation film, diaspora, and the power of storytelling. These ideas are all about imagined space and the power of storytelling. They are also ideas that relate to looming apocalypses, unpeopled worlds and shores strewn with things that have lost their significance. As bleak as I paint a shore, I haven’t lost my joy. Like all liminal spaces, shores make imagining and scrying possible. Walking along the shoreline is trance inducing and hypnotic. Listening to the rhythm of the waves against the sound of footsteps and the heart beating is like listening to the oldest, universal song. If one meditates while walking a shore, poems and stories can be pulled out of that rhythm. This tranquil space has become part of my creative process, something that is not unlike medicine, health and wellness acknowledged in many teachings around the world.

The significance of the shore may also come from the traditional Ojibwe stories of my ancestors. These stories–or Aatisokaanag–are viewed as both performed sacred stories and living spirits. Aatisokaanag is an animate noun, meaning that the sacred stories are believed to house spirits. The stories are treated with extreme care: they are only told when there is snow on the ground and the storyteller is respected with reverence. Nanaboozhoo is the name of the central protagonist in many traditional Ojibwe stories. He has been described as a cultural hero, the original man, a savior of the people, and anthropologists have used other terms to describe him such as “shapeshifter” or “trickster character.” Whatever the significance of Nanaboozhoo is to the Ojibwe people, one characteristic of his stories that stands out as a beautiful testament to his Great Lakes home is the fact that he is often initially described as “walking about” or more often “walking on the shore” before he encounters something that hooks the listener into a complicated web of exchanges with animals and spirits. Without telling any stories about Nanaboozhoo or revealing anything about his character, the insistence of Ojibwe storytellers starting Nanaboozhoo stories with him walking on the shore is an observation that I cherish because I grew up walking the shores of Lake Superior, the very shores that Ojibwe people have walked for many generations. Because of my appreciation for that space, my paintings and drawings depict a seemingly infinite horizon beyond the characters, texts and objects that occupy the foreground. The shore has become a formula for how I arrange visual information.

Beyond what I have just mentioned, the significance of seascapes range from the influence of George Morrison’s abstract works of Lake Superior on my work, and seas being symbolic for colonial voyages or representing the inverse of endless sandy landscapes in Western genre films. These are all true. One gets a glimpse of these beautiful shores around the world in the films of Akira Kurosawa who’s landscapes influenced the Western genre of film-making, or the many films that feature the intimate shore of Ingmar Bergman’s Fårö home. How the shore relates to storytelling may stem from ancient people and ancient stories. Shores tend to be the bookends of seafaring voyages, they are the beginning and end of leaving worlds for other worlds, and they can lend themselves to stories of tragedy as Columbus made landfall on what he considered a “new world.” When I think of making artwork in a world of political unrest, violence, and uncertainty, I remember that many ends of worlds that have come before us and go on all around us. What survives us is the stories we pass on and some of the objects we’ve made. 

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