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Artwork by Nicholas Galanin that accompanies the Indian Yard song “At Tugani.”

Artwork by Nicholas Galanin that accompanies the Indian Yard song “At Tugani.”

Art x Music: How Collaborations Between Artists and Musicians Bring Forth New Sounds
By Andy Battaglia
September 13, 2021

As the world of art broadens its borders and sets its sights on all realms of culture, ARTnews surveyed collaborations of various kinds for the August/September issue of the magazine. Stay tuned as roundups related to different categories—Art x Fashion, Art x Music, Art x Science, Art x Food, and Artists x Artists—join related feature stories online in the weeks to come.

Sound has long been among the many materials favored by Nicholas Galanin, whose multivalent art ventures into painting, sculpture, textiles, totems, and just about any medium imaginable. But music rises to the top in Ya Tseen, a band with which he recently released an album on the venerated indie-music label Sub Pop (home to Nirvana, Sleater-Kinney, Beach House, Shabazz Palaces, and numerous other notable acts).

Though Galanin, a citizen of the Sitka Tribe of Alaska, has released music previously under aliases including Silver Jackson and Indian Agent, Ya Tseen’s album Indian Yard marks a next step for him in terms of musicianship and as a new nexus for the kind of work that his art-world followers have come to recognize. “Music has always been there, and I’ve never thought of music and art as separate, even if the way that people engage with them is different,” Galanin said. “I go back and forth in the process of figuring out what music is in relation to my life and my work, but it’s always been really important to me. I’ve just never had this sort of platform.”

For the soulful and psychedelically inflected electronic pop on Indian Yard, Galanin worked with bandmates Zak D. Wass and Otis Calvin III, as well as longtime collaborator Benjamin Verdoes. And from his Sitka, Alaska, home base, Galanin has commissioned collaborative videos as well, including one by Raven Chacon, a former member of the arts collective Postcommodity, for “Back in That Time.”

Galanin also made artworks to accompany each of Indian Yard’s songs for a deluxe vinyl edition paired with a book. “I had to revisit the songs from a whole other mindset to engage them after the record was done,” he said. “But I tried to move freely without being too anchored in process or aesthetic or imagery.” For “Light the Torch,” Galanin played with digitized self-portrait scans. “The music references a kind of battleground over how we define revolution—what it might mean for Indigenous communities and how we might respond if we want to see change,” he said. “The song represents action, whatever that action might be.” For “At Tugani,” a song named after his son, Galanin created an image of his son riding a tricycle among the stars. “It’s a generational creation story for him,” Galanin said of his two-year-old, whose name translates as both “something burns bright inside” and “gunpowder.” For “Close the Distance,” Galanin turned to a glitchy image of a woman in blue lingerie. “That song is a reference to seeking connection and desire across distances when we’re living in digital spaces in a digital age,” he said.

Speaking about working with Galanin both during and before the formation of Ya Tseen, Otis Calvin III said, “We pretty much just started working on songs, not thinking of anything huge—until we did. Nicky is different than most people. The isolation of Alaska allows him to think differently. It’s not that complicated: I go to Alaska and we just go into the studio and jam. We build songs. It’s easy to be mad-collaborative.”

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