Richard Glazer-Danay’s installation “Shake, Rattle & Roll,” currently on display at the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts in Santa Fe, constructs a basic sacred instrument of Native culture — the rattle — from the flotsam and jetsam of today’s consumer culture. Beer cans, plastic toys, cardboard packaging: If it can be filled with corn kernels or pebbles and placed on the end of a stick, it is fair game for Glazer-Danay’s thrift-store aesthetic.
“Mohawk people began making rattles from European acquired goods at the beginning of the 19th century and carried into the 20th century” Glazer-Danay, Mohawk of Kahnawake, explains in his artist’s statement. “Of the most popular were tin can rattles made from the ‘Calumet’ baking powder cans that were distributed to tribes from government agencies. These cans came ‘ready made’ and replaced many of the natural materials previously used because of convenience and accessibility.”
INDIAN COUNTRY TODAY MEDIA NETWORK: How did you come to choose rattles as your subject matter?
RICHARD GLAZER-DANAY: The rattle series is an outgrowth of my hard hat series begun in 1978. The hard hats, worn by Mohawk ironworkers, served as a format for me to explore contemporary issues across the social, cultural and political spectrum. The same is true for my rattle series. I grew up with hard hats so it was a natural progression for me to use them in art.
The idea for rattles on the other hand, came about slowly, maybe even unconsciously. I first made a rattle as a college graduation gift for a friend in 2000. It was made of an old Calumet can I found at a thrift store. In 2007 I began collecting as many objects that I felt could be turned into rattles. In 2009 I decided I wanted to do a whole installation and created almost 400 during the next 2 years.
There is a wide variety of items here, and whether it be a Buzz Lightyear toy or a tin can, each comes with cultural meanings attached. Are these items meant to tell stories?
The only criteria for my selection was that the objects be hollow so I could make them into rattles. As to the subject matter, I used anything that I thought was visually interesting. I, only occasionally, considered objects for their “stories.” I prefer to allow the viewer to put whatever meaning they want to on the rattles. For example I am not a fan of organized religion; but I use many religious objects from many cultures. The selection for me was based on aesthetic and practical concerns: Could the object make a sound and what did it look like. If the viewer puts a political, religious, cultural or social meaning on them I think that is great. We all should be able to see the world through our own individual prism.
Do you have any favorites among these rattles?
Yes, my favorite pieces are the Calumet cans and the small dental floss piece in the installation. The cans because they first gave me the idea to make rattes; and the dental floss holder because my wife is always telling me not to floss in public.
How have museum visitors reacted to this installation?
This was the first time for the rattle installation and the opening was crowded with people who seemed to enjoy the experience. But I’m most happy that children seemed especially enthralled by the exhibition. The children got to actually shake some rattles that were set aside for that purpose and they seemed to like the toys the best.
There are 360 rattles in this display — why so many?
What I was attempting by displaying 360 rattles was to take a single concept—a rattle—and show how an object so ancient and culturally meaningful could have so many permutations and meanings.
Did you always picture them hanging from the ceiling as they do?
No, it was the museum staff’s idea to hang them all from the ceiling; my initial idea was to hang them all “salon style.” Their concept was much better, it was like a forest of rattles. I give credit to Ryan Rice, the curator of the exhibition, and his staff—Hayes Locklear, Chris Dixon, Larry Phillips and John Joe.
“Shake, Rattle & Roll” runs through the end of March at the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts in Santa Fe. For information about Richard Glazer-Danay’s upcoming exhibitions and current projects, visit his Facebook page.