Spotlight on Emerging Talent
Iqaluit-born sculptor and installation artist Couzyn van Heuvelen might be most recognized for his recent artwork at iNuit blanche, shimmering silver, sealskin-patterned balloons. (Full disclosure, I was a co-curator of the festival but the proof is in the proverbial Instagram pudding.) The project, titled Avataq, consists of several handmade foil balloons resembling traditional sealskin floats.
Avataq is in keeping with van Heuvelen’s practice, which takes as its jumping-off point the physicality of fishing and hunting and their relationship extensions of the body. The artist, now based in southern Ontario, spent several weeks last year in his hometown, undertaking research into the objects of everyday life and survival in the Arctic. The result is a series of works that cleverly shift viewers’ perceptions of their use, scale and construction. Found walrus and polar bear skulls, digitally photographed and later rendered into three- dimensional objects, are made miniature in bronze and silver before being affixed to lures and harpoons. This smart reversal of the hunter and the hunted upends viewers’ expectations and recasts the weight of bone “into a precious, delicate object.” Elsewhere, polished baleen is shaped into a common spoon lure before being laser cut with repeating geometric patterns, evocative of ancient Inuit carvings, while earlier works reimagine the skulls of birds into faceted, crystalline forms in plastic, alongside variations in wax, steel, foam, ceramic and wood.
Van Heuvelen’s spare, minimal aesthetic nods to the theory- heavy leanings of his arts education—first at York University, followed by an MFA at NSCAD University, the iconic Halifax institution whose history of conceptual art looms large over the institution. Prior to this, however, the artist grew up surrounded by artmakers. His mother, Elizabeth Gordon, is a gourd artist and his sister, Lavinia, is a jeweller. “Being Inuk has always been tied to being an artist for me,” he says.
In another series, Qamutiit (Sleds) (2014-15), the forms of the archetypical qamutik and the humble pallet rack collide. Formally related, the slatted wooden objects also speak to the movement of goods and bodies, the exchange of objects and the collapse of vast distances. Although it took a few encounters for van Heuvelen to view the latent artistic potential of these objects ubiquitous with global trade, both, says the artist, “play a significant role in contemporary Inuit life.” ●
This is a profile from the Winter 2016 issue of the Inuit Art Quarterly.