"Spirit Is Alive, Magic Is Afoot"
June 16, 2021
Multidisciplinary artist Laurie Steelink is a citizen of the Akimel O’otham Nation from the Gila River Indian Community in Arizona. Exploring connections to her Native American roots, Steelink creates assemblages of found objects and reassembled paintings to question authenticity and consider spirituality.
This exhibition features mixed-media assemblages and sculptures, photographs, installations, and a video by Steelink, alongside traditional weavings and beadwork by Victoria Ferguson, director/docent for the Solitude-Fraction site in Virginia Tech’s Office for Inclusion and Diversity.
Spirit Is Alive, Magic Is Afoot encapsulates Steelink's approach to life and art. It's a mantra that signifies the energy fueling her artistic expression and embracing the magic of the moment. Taken from Buffy Sainte-Marie's song, God Is Alive, Magic Is Afoot, with lyrics from Leonard Cohen's prose poem of the same name, the show title pays homage to Sainte-Marie, a Piapot Cree Nation singer-songwriter and activist whose force and creativity inspire Steelink's practice, mantra, and understanding of the world.
Using her creativity to reconnect with and to reference her ancestors, culture, and community, Steelink defines her work as an expression of her personal identities.
Multidisciplinary artist Laurie Steelink identifies as Akimel O'otham, and is a member of the Gila River Indian Community. Born in Phoenix, Arizona, Steelink is part of a generation "that was impacted by one of the last vestiges of the U.S. Government's active attempts at full hegemonic assimilation of Native Americans through the promotion of adoption programs of Native infants into white families." At six months old, Steelink was adopted by a staunchly progressive white family allowing her to grow up with a strong foundation in political consciousness and creativity.
Steelink received a bachelor of fine arts from the San Francisco Art Institute, and a master's degree from Mason Gross School of the Arts, Rutgers University. She served as archivist for the Gilbert and Lila Silverman Fluxus Collection in New York, and was director of Track 16 Gallery in Santa Monica and Culver City, California from 2002 to 2016. In 2012 Steelink founded Cornelius Projects, an exhibition space in San Pedro, California that she named after her father. The curatorial focus at Cornelius Projects is primarily the cultural history and the artists of San Pedro and the Harbor Area. Steelink's work has been exhibited internationally, and she has participated in Native American Indian Marketplaces at the Autry Museum of the American West in Los Angeles, and at the Santa Fe Indian Market in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She is currently on the organizing committee for the four-day Indigenous cultural and spiritual event, the Many Winters Gathering of Elders at Angels Gate Cultural Center in the coastal community of San Pedro, California on Gabrielino/Tonga territory.
Steelink met her birth mother and Akimel O'otham relatives in her early 40s. Her reconnection with her biological family and cultural roots has had a profound impact on her artistic practice, which addresses the complexities of division and fragmentation in her life from a contemporary Native perspective. She says, "I'm constructing a bridge using the tools l've received — my education and experience — and embedding them in a kind of conceptual offering while paying homage to my Native ancestry. The process is an evolving decolonization exercise, a continuum where everything, including the materials, from re-purposed paintings, treated found objects, assemblage, and installation, is a constant rethinking, blending, and recovering. My practice is a form of healing."
Installation view of GATHERING POWER (Indian Market Booth), 2022
Photo by Yubo Dong, of studio
Courtesy of the artist