Tyler Eash17.11.23 - 13.01.24
All the World’s Horses is the second solo exhibition by London-based artist Tyler Eash at NıCOLETTı. Opening with a 75 min performance repeated during 24 hours (17–18 Nov, 6 pm – 6 pm), the exhibition includes sculpture, painting and photography through which Eash explores the silenced history of their homeland of California, meditating on their own dual identity – which embodies descent from both the British Isle and Maidu tribe –, the Genocide of Indigenous populations, and the desire to reconnect with ancestral cultures and nature.
The title of the exhibition is inspired by the findings of Lakota Nakota Cheyenne scholar Dr. Yvette Running Horse Collin, whose research proved that horses were an integral part of Native culture before the arrival of Europeans. Questioning the colonial and Eurocentric paradigm that influenced the writing of North America’s history, All the World’s Horses evokes the challenges faced by the First Peoples of Turtle Island – the name given to North America in Indigenous cultures – in being heard, visible, and granted the authority to contribute to the history of their land and the world at large.
Eash takes the anthropological argument surrounding the apparition of horses on the continent of Turtle Island/North America as a point of departure to evoke their own struggle to decolonize their identity and retrieve their existence as a ‘2 Spirit’ — the way in which queer Natives are referred to, marked by the presence of masculine and feminine energies, which grants them cultural and spiritual roles that don’t exist in colonial cultures.
Eash introduces these ideas in Ínyana (2023), a performance in 3 acts comprising sound, poetry and choreography. Titled after a word created by Maidu after hearing British settlers calling them ‘Indian’, Eash’s performance confronts the traumatic history of Indigenous populations of California by evoking the progressive disappearing of their languages – the work features sequences of Maidu poetry translated into English –, as well as borrowing movements and gestures from traditional ceremonies that use powers of individual transformation and social connection to healing ancestral wounds.
Performed during 24 hours, the durational aspect of Ínyana references two histories of dance in California: the ‘Ghost Dance’, indigenous durational dances performed to protest against colonial occupation and genocide, and the Great Depression era dance marathons, where impoverished people would dance until exhaustion for cash prizes to entertain the wealthy, as depicted in Sydney Pollack’s film They Shoot Horses, Don’t They (1969).
Considering the body as both a medium and an archive in which residues of historical processes are embedded, Ínyana is accompanied by series of works that conjure a tension between the culture and aesthetics of ‘white’ working class California – what Indigenous people would term as ‘anglo-settler-colonialism’ –, and those of Maidu traditions. In All the World’s Horses, Eash addresses this duality in relation to their reconnection with their own ancestral teachings, a process made difficult by the harsh reality of the California Genocide, which saw the Maidu population plummet from 10,000 to 330 between 1850 and 1870, as well as the ‘Act for the Government and the Protection of Indians’ that stripped the rights of natives and legalised native slavery in California.
In this context, the first room of the exhibition features a series of photographs documenting Eash’s research trip to Maidu and Modoc territories, showing, for instance, their mother in a Modoc museum, the portrait of a Maidu boy after a grieving ceremony, as well as ancient sacred petroglyphs vandalised with graffiti, and images of holes carved into Earth (used in healing ceremonies to hold heated sacred rocks) and stone (used to grind acorns, one of the main food staples for Maidu).
These direct memories and experiences are then translated into a series of sculptural assemblages combining materials referring to anglo-settler-colonial aesthetics – e.g. a ‘Marlboro’ patch, a British hunting horn, shotgun shells–, with elements foraged in Maidu territory, such as vulture feathers, bear grass, and willow bark, paired with materials collected from London’s Lea River, including goose wings, a crashed windshield, a mossy discarded dolly and willow branches.
Exposing processes of extraction and appropriation – a number of works contain buffalo horn toggles from the brand Burberry, and another uses a Sir Terence Conran glass table as a plinth, both symbolising British luxury and popular culture –, these sculptures are accompanied by a monumental painting on cowhide, a material alluding to life conditions in rural California, as well as Indigenous culture, in which it has historically been used to make paintings.
Part of Eash’s series of Angel/Kákkini, these works address the artist’s multi-ethnicity by revisiting the biblical figure of the angel, departing from its European representation as a human-like being to reconnect with its translation in Maidu (‘Kákkini’) as a benevolent spirit who communes in the dance house with the shaman. In this tradition, ‘angels’ impart themselves as an apparition and are regarded as an abstraction that symbolises the holiness of nature and the inherent power of psyche and spirit.
Through these techniques of mixing and reshuffling materials, iconographies and stories, Eash addresses the conditions of violence and poverty, as well as the issues of cultural erasure faced by the First Peoples of Turtle Island, using spirituality and historical references to evoke their mode of perceived existence as ‘living ghosts’: a way of life defined by a desire to embody the blessed and traumatic memories of ancestors while being denied the basic material condition of subsistence and expression.
This exhibition has been supported by research funded by Arts Council England, and further supported by the materials, efforts, and resources from the California Language Archive and the American Indian Education Program.