New monumental sculpture shows Dena’ina’s orientation

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A new art project sponsored by the Bunnell Street Arts Center examines a question common to wandering Alaskans: where do we find our place in this vast landscape?

This month, the Bunnell Street Arts Center received a $ 50,000 Our Town grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to fund “Tuyanitun: Tuggeht,” a monumental sculpture by ninilchik artist Argent Kvasnikoff to be installed at Bishop’s Beach . Matching in-kind contributions will come from artist and landscape designer Rika Mouw and the city of Homer. Support for the design came from the National Performance Network.

“It’s just very complicated, this project,” artist Ninilchik Argent Kvasnikoff said of his art. “I want it to be as much a process as it is a project. “

“Tuyanitun” (pronounced “tee-yah-nee-toon”) is the Dena’ina name for a guidance system created by Kvasnikoff based on the oral traditions of the Nignalchint / Ninilchik village tribe and his study of local geography. Tuyan is the name of a highlight of the Ninilchik Dome in the Caribou Ridge area, northeast of Homer. “Tuggeht” (pronounced “to-get”) is the Dena’ina word meaning “to the shore”. Kvasnikoff said Tuggeht doesn’t just fit Homer’s political realm

“Homer is built in several parts,” he said. “There’s the Spit, there’s the interior coast, there’s Diamond Ridge. ”

In the Tuyanitun system, the dome of Ninilchik represents the center of a grid with five segments like pie slices which are directions from the dome. The main direction – the ‘north’ of the concept – is Yunch ‘, anchored in the drainage of Deep Creek going all the way to Tikhatnu or Cook Inlet. The Yudu direction is heading towards Homer Spit and Kachemak Bay, or generally south-southwest.

Stacks of stones or orientation markers placed relative to the dome would indicate the distance by the number of stones and then the orientation in that grid. Each stone represents a day’s journey, Kvasnikoff said, with a day equal to around 10 kilometers.

The sculpture would show this concept. Approximately 12 feet high and made up of large acrylic pieces to be manufactured by Midton Acrylics of Lochgilphead, Argyll, Scotland, the pieces would be stacked on a metal pole similar to Fisher’s rock-a-stack toy. -Price. Kvasnikoff said he saw the graduated sculpture as a tree.

“This is something that I want to reflect a bit – the trees that you see on the beach and its surroundings,” he said.

Bunnell Street Arts Center artistic director Asia Freeman said she would be referring to the Bishop’s Beach Tsunami Warning Tower. Freeman described the sculpture as “like a heap of translucent blue rocks”. Solar lights will make the sculpture glow at night. Kvasnikoff said he wanted the acrylic slabs to be like sea glass as well. A post at the top like an agate stone will crown the art.

“The rocks will float above the ground like a lighthouse, like something magical,” Freeman said.

“Tuyanitun: Tuggeht” will go to the east end of the Bishop’s Beach parking lot, near the end of the boardwalk trail. The sculpture will anchor a redesign of Bishop’s Beach Park to include new bathrooms, a ring of fire and other amenities. The colors of the sculpture will give ideas of themes and colors, Freeman said. The city has launched a master plan for Bishop’s Beach which is due to be completed by spring 2022.

The inspiration for “Tuyanitun: Tuggeht” came from the land reconnaissance efforts in recent years by Bunnell. Kvasnikoff started working on his idea in 2019, and in August 2020 he spoke about it at a land recognition workshop sponsored by Bunnell. On his website, Freeman describes his land recognition work as a way “to reinvent this space, to foster and build this community as a place of cultural richness and opportunity for all.” We all benefit from aligning with Indigenous practices of investing in community and sharing what we make, sharing our cultural richness. Many of Bunnell’s recent projects invite Indigenous artists to work and create.

Of those projects, Freeman said, “We’re just trying to show a full, in some ways more complex, full story of this place. Artists help us do it.

Kvasnikoff said Bunnell invited him to develop his concept.

“Without Bunnell this wouldn’t have happened. It’s something they got their noses into and started asking questions, ”he said.

As an Alaskan Native artist, Kvasnikoff could be seen as practicing the ethic encouraged by the late Inupiaq artist Ron Senungetuk, who advocated that Native art should not be locked in the past and that Native art be considered contemporary and modern.

Kvasnikoff said part of the recognition of culture is seeing that indigenous people are not based on a past period.

“The more children can understand that they are part of this group and that the culture is not based on this period, the more they can make their own,” he said. “They can be whole people and actualized with their own goals and values. … I want people to understand that we’re not just a particular look or special badges or something like that. It’s beyond this. What connects us is conceptual. It’s as relevant as anything else in this world.

To get permission from the city, Bunnell had to go to the Parks, Arts, Culture and Recreation committee and get approval from Homer’s City Council to accept art on his property. Kvasnikoff also considered it important to also obtain the approval of the Ninilchik Traditional Council, the government of the Nignalchint / Ninilchik village tribe.

Something that surprised Bunnell especially when we were working on this design and this project, I told them, ‘That’s good, but we can’t say that this recognizes the tribe or the story if we don’t. not their approval, “Kvasnikoff mentioned.” It opened my eyes. ”

To learn more about “Tuyanitun: Tuggeht,” including Kvasnikoff’s previous speeches, visit Bunnell’s website at www.bunnellarts.org/tuyanitun-marker-design.

Contact Michael Armstrong at [email protected]

This photo illustration shows the design of the sculpture “Tuyanitun Tuggeht” by Argent Kvasnikoff to be installed at Bishop’s Beach in Homer, Alaska. (Photo courtesy of Argent Kvasnikoff and the Bunnell Street Arts Center)



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