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A closer look at Seven Sisters

May 6th, 2019

Mike MacDonald. Seven Sisters, 1989. 7 channel video installation with 7 monitors, . Purchased with financial support of the Canada Council for the Arts. Acquisition Assistance program and with the assistance of the E. Wallace Fund, 2000.  2000/145 © Estate of Mike MacDonald

Artist Mike MacDonald is often referred to as the grandfather of Indigenous media art. Of Mi’kmaq and European ancestry, the Nova Scotia-born video artist and photographer was one of the first Indigenous artists to use video in a fine art context. He began working with video in the 1970s and ‘80s and frequently used it to explore the natural world and his Indigenous heritage – much like what he created in his work Seven Sisters, currently on view on Level 2 in the J.S. McLean Centre for Indigenous & Canadian Art.

Seven Sisters is a multi-screen video installation shown on seven different monitors of various sizes, similar to the Seven Sisters mountain range in northwestern British Columbia. MacDonald first encountered the Seven Sisters mountains in the 1980s when he was invited to northern British Columbia for the Gitksan and Wet’suwet’en land claim case, in which the Gitksan and Wet’suwet’en First Nations took the government to court in an effort to regain jurisdiction of their territory that was being destroyed by clear-cut logging.

Created in 1989 using aerial footage taken from several vantage points, Seven Sisters showcases the grandness of the landscape with lively mountain goats and beautiful flowers and plants. However, it’s also a document of the devastation that clear-cut logging had on the area, indicating that if action is not taken soon to protect this unique environment, perhaps this will be the only way to see it.

As it uses several cathode ray tube (CRT) TV monitors, Seven Sisters presents unique challenges for our conservation team: this type of TV is increasingly hard to find and maintain. Some of the monitors on display here at the AGO are the result of our keen-eyed team salvaging functional but discarded TVs.

You can see MacDonald’s Seven Sisters on Level 2 in the J.S. McLean Centre for Indigenous & Canadian Art, included in General Admission.

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